By Prof Protus Nathan Uzoma
Recently in Imo state, the print media was awash with the news of one Mr. Stephen Nnadi, a retired school principal that committed suicide due to the inability of Imo Government led by Mr. Rochas Okorocha in paying his pension and gratuity. Mr. Nnadi complained severally and bitterly about the serious economic hardship he was experiencing as a result of the negligence of Imo Government to the plight of pensioners. He had no option than to commit suicide instead of watching himself rot in abject poverty inflicted on him by the government. Late Mr. Stephen is not alone in this kind of thought. Who knows how many pensioners that have died in Imo as a result of this?
The ancient Philosopher, Aesop, in his fable on the Wolf and the Crane narrated that “A wolf once got a bone in his throat. So he went to a crane and begged her to put her long bill down his throat and pull it out. ‘I’ll make it worth your while,’ he added. The crane did as she was asked, and got the bone out quite easily. The wolf thanked her warmly, and was just turning away, when she cried, ‘What about the fee of mine?’ ‘Well, what about it?’ snapped the wolf, baring his teeth as he spoke, ‘you can go about boasting that you once put your head into a wolf’s mouth and didn’t get bitten off. What more do you want?’
The situation of pensioners in Imo State and their former employers (the State Government) could be likened to the above story of the wolf and the crane. Imo pensioners have laboured themselves at youthful age, using their long bills to pull out the bones in the administrative throats of the Imo State Government. But after all the lengthy and stressful years of service, they return home fatigue, and only to wake up tomorrow morning yawning and palming plates on the Streets.
Prior to this beggary, they were employed and with full employment benefits. By their employment, there is an existent pension plan, which is “the crane’s fee” before the “wolf”. But today, the crane lives in numerous numbers under a single wolf that has different types of bones in its gullet annually, and forcefully pulled off by dedicated cranes, only to end with the wolf’s normal response of unfaithfulness and ingratitude.
Pension, we all know is just a fund into which a sum of money is added during an employee’s employment years, and from which payments are drawn to support the person’s retirement from work in the form of periodic payments. And as a result of this fact, it is a benefit plan in which a fixed sum is paid regularly to a person, or a defined contribution plan under which a fixed sum is invested and then becomes available at retirement age. It is for this reason the pension is commonly seem as the payments a person receives upon retirement, usually under pre-determined legal or contractual terms.
Unfortunately for Imo workers, both the contractual terms in pension schemes to which every employee is compelled into during active days of service, and the implied gratitude in pensions for retired workers in the State, are all treated with unfaithfulness to pact and ingratitude. By implication, it means the retiree has been deceived throughout the years of active service to fatherland. Of a truth, service to fatherland is a patriotic one, and the recompense of patriotism is appreciation and gratitude. And a situation whereby the latter are permanently absent, workers in active service tend to make-shifts in view of dark ages ahead after retirement.
One popular Christian song says, “Sowing in the morning, sowing in the sunshine, fearing neither clouds nor winter chilling breeze, bye and bye the harvest and the labour ended, we shall come rejoicing bringing in the sheaves.” Active days of service are sowing time, retirement days are harvest time. But instead of the sheaves as reward and proof of plentiful harvest, Imo workers return with empty plates, becoming modern day’s beggars. The Holy Script severally warned on the labourer and his deserved wages, and the Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel all warned profoundly on the divine punishments on denying the worker his wages.
Wages for pensioners are not wages but little peanuts for life-sustainment. Almost all workers during their active days of service live with their full salaries which do not go even half to solve family problems. What of now they are retired and their former monthly salaries slammed to almost one-quarter, and which then were insufficient for family wahala? How is survival after retirement, and how is survival during retirement especially when the little peanuts are not paid for months closing into years?
Of a truth, what the Imo State Government has turned Imo pensioners into is what the South African literary artist, Athol Fugard in his Sizwe Bansi Is Dead, called administrative death. Retirees and indeed Imo pensioners are administratively termed dead by the attitudes of their former employers immediately they step out of office. To great somewhat, it implies they are no more useful or better put, they are useless to the government. And truly speaking, no man, no matter how rich he is, will be disposed to pay anybody useless to him.
Retirement in Europe and America, are consultative stage for workers and not useless states and death-state. Retired workers over there are used for in-service-trainings, workshops and seminars for younglings in active service. But in our country and worse still in Imo State, it takes close to a decade before retirees get their gratuities. Knees must peel before pensions are paid at least on two months arrears.
The situation of Imo pensioners today, is like that of the blacks in the apartheid South Africa, which Athol Fugard criticised. In fact, this is what happens in Imo State today- The pensioners are dead, not physically but psychologically, economically and politically. And it is a gradual process that rings out the remaining resourcefulness, wisdom and energy in retirees and saps them of all wills to live. What sort of life is it, when a pensioner is heard openly wishing death as best option than a situation where one like him who some years ago was able, but now cannot see common N200 to buy rheumatic drugs to sustain life? The worst that happens to Imo pensioners is that about 85% of them have their children in whom they used their entire savings during active years of service to educate and train, roam the streets with full regalia of unemployment. It is a gory sight to behold a father or mother begging neighbours for food after retirement, and their survivors begging for food for survival at the same time.
I am very certain that among the causes of sundry crimes and corruptions in our present society, is the treatment given to pensioners after service. Poor pension scheme and unaffectionate attitudes of their former employers, dispose many to commit crimes in our country today, which Imo is no exception. Imo pensioners are first-class paupers today, seconded by peasants who have over the years adapted lower comfortable means of surviving. Poor peasants in countryside in Imo State are today better than retired civil servants. Is this good?
Imagination is a powerful tool in moral living. The Imo State Government needs to imagine the living conditions of its workers today and re-imagine on a special section, the conditions of its pensioners. Most of them, the pensioners and their children are either unemployed or under-employed, with very poor workers’ welfare scheme and motivational factors. And the present maltreatment of retired civil servants through government frustrating activities in their pension scheme and gratuity is a constant factor to the high mortality rate of retirees shortly after retirement, as excess pressures and demands of the extended family system in Nigeria, coupled with government disappointment and abandonment through non-payment of their pensions lead many pensioners to untimely death, ranging from 2-10 years after retirement.
When things turn sour like this for pensioners, civil servants in active service also learn from the treatments given to their predecessors and therein indulge in fraudulent sharp practices in guise of making savings to save the darkness ahead at pension-days in the State and country. How then can the so called fight against corruption be successful?
It is obvious that in a society where open competition for wealth is customary, the populace tend to be extremely materialist and mercantile. This further leads to the devising of means to make money big and fast. Our society values wealth and “making it” to genuine success so much that, it is convincing that those that did not “make it” even at all costs are mocked and cajoled especially when they are serving or retired public officials whose official positions give the possibility of “making it” magnificently. Thus, with societal rejection and castigation of those that failed to use their official positions to enrich themselves, it becomes psychologically challenging to “make it” by all means.