DELTA: More Pains For Pensioners
THE contributory pension scheme was supposed to be a panacea to the numerous problems confronting Delta State senior citizens. It was with open arms that they welcome the scheme when it commenced a few years back.
Way back in April 2013, the deceased interim Chairman of the Delta North Contributory Pension Scheme Retirees Association, Mr. Uwhen Ededijala, said that the genesis of the problem was in 2007, after the scheme started as the government failed to remit money to the Pension Fund Administrators over the years when the scheme started.
He said: “It is disheartening to know that some of our members who retired in 2010, 2011, 2012 and in the first quarter of 2013 are yet to be paid their full pension benefit. This because they were paid less than half of the money as a result of the template they used. So many retirees have died without receiving their money. The government should meet our demands because we are desperate.”
Ededijala, a former staff of the state owned Delta Broadcasting Station (DBS), Asaba said in the interview that when he retired in 2012, it was with high hopes that he stormed his Pension Fund Administrator but was disillusioned when he was told that the government was yet to pay its contribution.
For the umpteenth time in November of last year, the retirees appealed to Uduaghan to offset their pension arrears, which as at then amounted to a whopping N16 billion.
The Chairman of the Delta State branch of Association of Contributory Retirees (ACR), Mr. Ovwiroro Ajueyitsi Eric, recalled that in the wake of the first protest in September, Uduaghan had invited the retirees to a meeting where he reportedly ordered the immediate release of N1.5 billion for payment of the contributory pension arrears.
Ajueyitsi accused the state government of not releasing their share of the contributory pension scheme following the 5 per cent that was deducted from their salaries while in service.
So far, he alleged that no concrete action has been taken lamenting that retirees continued to die without receiving their benefits. He said that the Contributory Pension Scheme in the state is fraught with a lot of challenges, which has resulted in untold sufferings, pains and death since 2010 till date to senior citizens.
Uduaghan promised in May 2010 to put smile on the faces of pensioners by accelerating the implementation of their 142 per cent entitlements was obviously a mere rhetoric as their suffering still continued. The ex-governor had told the state branch of the Council of Nigerian Union of pensioners led by its former chairman, Chief Mathias Ubiebi, in Asaba, that the state government had already set machinery in motion to implement the package. He said he has interest in the affairs of pensioners and would continue to take actions that would make them comfortable.
Two years later, on October 17, 2012, a furious Ubiebi and the Secretary, Mr. J.Oki, accused the state government of consigning pensioners, who were already sick, fragile, and hungry and bed ridden to their untimely grave.
Ubiebi and Oki made their grievances known after an Executive Committee meeting explained that the pensioners should be paid first, decrying a situation where the government go about looking for money to pay them when it is high on Internally Generated Revenue and received very high excess crude oil allocation which is about the third/fourth in Federal Monetary Allocation.
Take the case of Elder London Abanugo with nine hungry children and a wife who has no means of income and practically lives from hand to mouth.
Truth is that the nonagenarian has not been receiving pension as he was compulsorily disengaged from the services of the Delta State Hospital Management Board in May 2012.
Bed ridden, the grizzled man can barely talk and is hard at hearing, a condition said to be associated with old age. His pathetic condition is aggravated by the alleged stoppage of his pension in past three years. His pathetic state can melt a heart of stone.
Interestingly Pa. Uwadiogbu who was employed as a driver under the Federal Civil Service drove foreigners and very important politicians shortly after the nation’s independence in 1960.
He reportedly chauffeured Queen Elizabeth II representative when she visited at independence on October 1, 1960. Again, following the creation of Mid-West region and the appointment of Chief Dennis Osadebey as its pioneer premier, Uwadiogbu was appointed his official driver.
Several letters sent to Uduaghan, Secretary to the Delta State Government (SSG), Head of Service (HOS), Civil Service Commission, Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Senate President, Speaker of House of Representatives, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, Mr. Ossai N. Ossai and the human rights commission were left unreplied.
In deep despair, he groaned: “For the past two years, I have been suffering and my children are all at home, nobody to pay their school fees. The iron they put on my waist is paining because they said after five years I should remove it, now it is six years and nobody to remove through assistance. I once wrote to the state Ministry of Health and they wrote to Delta State University Teaching Hospital (DELSUTH) to get the cost for the treatment. They cost me N2 million.
They wrote to the governor for approval since last year and up till now, no approval. My family is in hunger, no money to feed. My wife sold her clothes to feed the family.”
Mrs. Christiana Siakpere, the Chairman of Delta State Pensions Bureau (DSPB) explained that from April 2013, the government disbursed N2 billion. The first N1 billion released in April was used to pay 152 persons while the remaining N1 billion was used to pay 143 pensioners in August 2013.
Mrs. Siakpere defended the new pension scheme, saying that it has more benefits compared to the old one as it guarantees prompt payment and is well spread out through the beneficiary’s lifetime.
She said that the government had been sincere in paying its 10 per cent monthly contribution of every worker to the pension scheme, adding that part of the work of the bureau is to lift workers contribution and that of the government.
The problem, she insisted is that some retirees do not register with the bureau and left without a pin number, any money paid by the government floats, adding that the delay in the payment of some retirees is not the fault of the government but that of some retirees who fail to do the right thing at the right time.
Okowa who assumed the reins of government only last May 29 had been quick in assuring pensioners both at the state and local council levels of getting their entitlements as at when due.
In the rough and tumble world of Delta senior citizens, there is no gainsaying the fact that they have been through fire. The contributory pension scheme seems not to be working as was envisaged when it commenced. Instead of a bright light and hopeful light, it is deeper darkness they see each time they take a peep at the end of the tunnel.