Suffocating pensioners is worse than Boko Haram
The scourge of Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria’s Northeast region and the bloodthirsty, marauding herdsmen that have killed many; ravaged homes and sacked communities across Nigeria, particularly in Central Nigeria may appear to be the gravest challenge facing Nigeria, but alas, it is not. The deliberate scheme hatched by some state governors to deny pensioners/workers their meager monthly stipend and salaries is a worse affliction than Boko Haram and herdsmen killings.
It is not that there is no money to pay these unfortunate citizens, the shear mismanagement of available resources is at the root of the wickedness. Priority is not given to the plight of the old and weak pensioners; their welfare is not countenanced. Instead, the unscrupulous governors develop thick skin and close their ears to the hues and cries of the poor and dying pensioners while chasing other frivolous projects. This is condemnable in any sane society. Is it a crime to work and retire in government?
While the ravages of Boko Haram and herdsmen killings are receiving local and international attention and support, the pauperized victims of no pension affliction are on their own suffering and dying in silence. Also, while the number of the dead from Boko Haram and herdsmen onslaught could be estimated, there is no statistics on the thousands of retired men and women who are suffering/dying and their families traumatised. The Boko Haram and herdsmen killings are localised but the ravages of poverty and deaths on pensioners are nationwide. Virtually, every state government is a culprit.
My heart bleeds as I write these comments, for I know scores of former school mates who retired from the civil service and now languishing at home in abject poverty. All the school they attended and the effort they put to make life better have come to naught. These people bemoan the day they decided to join the civil service only to end up as the wretched of the earth. Their pitiable situation is a great embarrassment to them and their families, which they cannot help as bread winners.
The suffering of pensioners/civil servants is all over the federation. Two states in particular, Kogi and Imo appear to hold the unenviable banner of states silently tormenting their pensioners. In Kogi State, for instance, the frustration has given rise to suicide epidemic. Frustrated civil servants have resorted to committing suicide and nothing is being done about it.
The pathetic story of a Director in the Kogi State Civil Service, Mr. Edward Soje, who reportedly committed suicide by hanging himself on a tree in Lokoja, made headlines.The News Agency of Nigeria reported that the dangling body of Soje was found on a tree behind the mammy market at the Maigumeri barracks.
Soje, (54), a Grade Level 16 Officer in the Kogi State Teaching Service Commission, was being owed 11 months’ salary arrears as at the time he took his life. This happened barely 10 days after his wife of 17 years gave birth to a set of male triplets in a private hospital in Abuja. The couple had been childless before then. Apparently, unable to cope with the financial demands, he decided to end his life, thereby plunging his family into more crises.
Shortly after that, another civil servant, 47 year-old Abdullahi Uye Zhiya from Oguma in Bassa Local Government of Kogi State reportedly killed himself by drinking a dose of substance suspected to be poisonous chemical. His frustration was not unconnected to the non-payment of his salaries of about 12 months. Close family sources said that for over one year, life had not been favourable as everything turned for the worst for him.
The situation in Imo State is more pathetic and disgraceful. The sorry state of two retired former classmates of mine provoked me to once again expose the wickedness of a system that suffocates its own people.This morning, I received a text message from an unfamiliar telephone number. As a journalist, I endeavour to seek out to such unrecognized texts/calls based on experience that one could miss important call. I sent a reply text to the number enquiring who sent the SOS message to me. That was when my old friend who retired as a director in a ministry in the Imo State civil service called and screaming that I should please call him back as there was no credit in his phone. I did and he bemoaned his ordeal with a revelation that the whole money in his life was the N150 in his pocket! He lost his wife recently. He was literally crying that for over 11 months he had not received anything as pension.
The second man in the same pitiable situation retired as a school principal but is now a shadow of himself in Owerri. Unfortunately, he lost his wife and is alone carrying the burden a fending for his four children who are still in school. The pressure has made him almost go blind until some Good Samaritans helped him to undergo eye surgery. Both men portray the picture of thousands who have lost their dignity over non-payment of pension across the states.
Whereas, the ravages of Boko Haram and herdsmen are in the public domain with victims receiving local and international attention/assistance, the victims of state inflicted affliction by way of non-payment of pension and salaries are suffering and dying in the corners of their homes unknown to the public.
Available records indicate that over 20,000 people have been killed and over 2.6 million displaced all as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency, the number of pension victims should be more. The scourge is a national epidemic of unimaginable proportion ravaging people’s lives and families. The denial of people of their legally deserving pension/salaries is a deliberate assault on what a decent society stands for. It is sad that unscrupulous federal authorities and governors at the state level are perpetrating this wickedness. The plight of pensioners is pathetic. The group represents people who could be said to have wasted their youths serving the nation.
What else is left in a retired man or woman who literally shed his/her blood for 35 years with the hope of living whatever is left with the meagre pension and gratuity that is not paid? It is scandalous and unimaginable that governments in Nigeria are suffocating citizens, whose crime was that they chose to be civil servants. Many of them are in wheelchairs. Others are blind, deaf, sickly and can no longer walk. The unending pension verification is a fraud designed to deny suffering oldies their hard-earned pension.
Nothing could be more heartless than for retirees to be left in penury and afflicted by poverty. The National Assembly should pass a resolution mandating state governors to pay pensioners their money or have it deducted from source. Enough is enough of this wickedness.