Primary school pensioners in Imo State have passionately pleaded with the rescue government of Owelle Rochas Okorcha to prevail on the appropriate government agencies responsible for payment of their pensions and gratuities, to expedite action on the matter, in order to avert imminent disasters and mass family discomfiture.
From all the 27 local government area in the State, it is a tale of bitter lamentation.
Majority of these senior citizens who spoke to Christian Voice on the conditions of anonymity simply told this reporter; “we are being punished for rendering selfless services to our father land”. “Some of us have died without receiving their pensions and gratuities, more than 14 years after retirement”. Some, however, applauded the efforts of the present administration in Imo State for paying them five months pension arrears in March this year.
According to Hon. Michael Opara, an executives member, and former P.R.O National Union of Pensioners, Imo State wing, before 1991, there was an establishment responsible for payment of pensions and gratuities to retired primary school teachers. This establishment was very efficient, as pensions and gratuities were paid as at when due. But in 1991, following the promulgation of Decree No 3, Local Government Pensions Board was established as a statutory body responsible for the payment of pensions and gratuities to attend primary school teachers.
By this Decree, Federal, State and Local Government s were mandated to contribute and pay what primary school teachers their pensions and gratuities. This tripartite arrangement has brought untold hardship to retired primary school teachers in Imo State, as the Pension Board was not forthcoming in their statutory responsibilities. There have been accusations and counter accusations, as to what is responsible for this ugly state of affairs. It was alleged that both Federal and Local governments have not been contributing their quota, thereby putting the senior citizens in tight comers.
This prompted the Union to seek redress in the law court, and dragged the Federal Government to the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (E.F.C.C). There is also this issue of harmonization as this class of pensioners are not considered in any increment in national emolument.
According to this Union leader, who is now incapacitated in his country home Amatta, in the Ikeduru local government area of Imo State due to serious ailment, the Federal Government exonerated itself by saying, it has been contributing its quota as at when due, thereby prompting suspicion on the part of agency responsible for payment.
Another Union leader who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the situation became worse during the eight-year tenure of the former Governor Achike Udenwa. Speaking to Christian Voice, he said: “throughout that period, Imo State primary school pensions were completely abandoned, leading to what he described as mass death among members. When former Governor Ikedi Ohakim came on board in 2007, the Union made passionate representation, and was paid up to April 2011.
Until last March, when the tears of these compatriots flooded Heavens and Government House, they were paid five months pension arrears, leaving about eight moths outstanding.
When Christian Voice called at the Local Government Pension Board, behind Owerri Municipal Council Headquarters, many pensioners were seen wearing grim faces and clutching old torn bags and wallets depicting pictures of abject poverty and penury.
All efforts to speak to the authorities in the Board proved abortive . However a source said Imo State has the largest number of retired primary school teachers, adding that the federal and local government are not forthcoming in their statutory obligations.
Asked to proffer remedy to this ugly state of affairs, the official simply said, we are not allowed to speak to the press, adding that franctic efforts are being made to sort things out.
Narrating his plight catechist Goddy Njoku of the Anglican Diocese of Ikeduru said he retired in 1998 and he is yet to be paid his gratuity, adding that he started receiving his pension seven years after retirement.
On why he has not been paid his gratuity more than 14 years after retirement, he said he does not have Abraham as a father, adding that he is waiting for heavenly and Rochas intervention.
A retired educationist and School Administrator, Sir EmmaNwaneto commended the present government’s infrastructural development but pleaded that the same gesture be extended to retired compatriots, many of who are sick but cannot go for treatment.