By Nick Chibunna
Imo State headquarters of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP), was last Tuesday charged as hundreds of Imo pensioners wept uncontrollably when the state chairman of the Union, Chief G.U Ezeji, recounted what he described as “Our Ordeal” in the hands of Imo State government.
The event was a sympathy visit by a coalition of six human rights organizations in Nigeria.
The human rights groups which included, Youths Education on Human and Civil Responsibilities (YEHCR), Hope Civic Initiatives (HCI), Advocacy for Partnership and Good Governance (APAGG), Women Aid Initiatives-Prayer and Counseling (WAI-P and C), Women Aid Collective Energy (WACE) and another said they were in Imo State to see things for themselves as the mass media, both local and international, especially the social media are awash with pains, agony and sufferings of Imo pensioners.
Led by Barr. Onyinyechi Nwachukwu of WACE, the civil society groups said that they came to brainstorm with the Imo pensioners on the way out of their present predicament which has brought untold hardship to the senior citizens and their dependants.
Recounting the ordeal of the pensioners to the august visitors, Chief Ezeji described the day as a red-later-day, and thanked the civil society groups for coming.
Chief Ezeji, who described the present state of affairs in Imo as a dark period of history, fraud, illegality and insincerity, said that Imo pensioners have been reduced to hewers of wood and drawers of water in a country and a state they laboured so much to build.
He said that the Ikedi Ohakim administration owed Imo civil pensioners three months before the government of Owelle Rochas Okorocha came on board on May 2011, and on July the same year the three months arrears were paid at Dan Anyiam Stadium amidst joy and jubilation.
According to Chief Ezeji, payment of pensions continued until January 2015 when government stopped payment for reasons best known to it and it accumulated for nine months in November 2015.
The union boss said that when the union pleaded with the Imo State government to pay the backlog in November, only three months where paid, and since them no other payment was made to them.
This, he said, triggered off series of peaceful protests after five fruitless verification exercises were carried out by the government.
According to Chief Ezeji, every effort by the union to get the Imo State government to pay their pensioners and entitlements fell on deaf ears.
Recently, the government came up with plans to pay only 40% of their total entitlements which the union refused to accept. Chief Ezeji said that in order to break the rank and file of the union, government claimed that it had set aside N16 billion to offset all arrears of pensioners, thereby, luring less than 1% of gullible Imo pensioners to sign a controversial form that they have been paid their entitlements.
He thanked the organized labour in Imo State, and the Nigeria Bar Association for their solidarity. He specifically thanked Archbishop A.J.V. Obinna for his concern on the plight of Imo pensioners, describing him as a true man of God and father.
After several hours of brainstorming, the NUP, Imo State Council in collaboration with the coalition of the civil society groups resolved to take the matter to the National Human Right commission to consult Human right lawyers among other resolutions.