About 49 Imo retirees die awaiting pension arrears
State govt pledges to begin payment this week
No fewer than 49 retirees in Imo State have died while awaiting payment of their four months pensions from February to date, Chairman of Imo Pensioners Association, Iyke Ohaneje, has said.
He explained that from available records, the deceased died from various ailments because they could not afford to buy prescribed drugs, as some of them were owed their gratuities and pensions for over 80 months.
“We came to beg for food and money on the streets of Owerri, which we hope to use in helping the poorest among us. We have lost 49 of our members without being paid their gratuities or pensions in the last four months.
“They were sick and could not buy drugs. Therefore, we appeal to Governor Hope Uzodimma to pay our pensions and gratuities to save our lives,” he stated.
Ohaneje maintained that the group was not influenced or sponsored by the opposition as it was being insinuated in some quarters, noting that since former Governor Emeka Ihedioha was removed from office on January 14, some members were paid last in February, wondering why all letters written to the state government on the issue were ignored.
Speaking to The Guardian, a retired teacher, Dr. Nma Olebara, demanded her four months outstanding pensions for the year, just as it was learnt that before Ihedioha administration was inaugurated on May 29, 2019, some of the retirees were owed over 80 months arrears.
But Ihedioha engaged consultants to verify the retirees including those who were in hospital and outside the country, after which the government started paying the pensions on 25th of the month.
However, when Uzodimma assumed office through a Supreme Court judgement on January 14, he sacked the consultants and stopped the payments, alleging fraud in the system.
Meanwhile, Governor Uzodimma has pledged that the retirees would be paid before the week ends.
Addressing the group, Uzodimma, who was represented by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Cosmos Iwu, blamed the delay on discrepancies arising from fraud in the payroll system and vouchers, inherited by his administration, urging them to be patient, as the state government was determined to sanitise the system.
Lamenting that the exercise had lingered longer than expected, he said, “Some pensioners’ names appeared twice with different amounts of money and Bank Verification Numbers (BVN).”
But state Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Austin Chilapku, said the congress was not notified before the retirees protested and that the congress was aware of contentious issues in the pensions payroll system.