Emotions, joy as retired Nigerian Biafran policemen receive pension, 47 years after
Decades after the end of the Nigerian Civil war, the events of the war have continued to re-echo in the polity. Not because the war has not ended, but because its consequences continued to haunt the country, especially the Igbo.
But in spite of the promises and agreements that brought the war to an end, none of the memorandums of understanding has been fulfilled or implemented, thereby leaving the vanquished (even with General Yakubu Gowon popular dictum of no victor, no vanquished) devastated and agonising.
That is why some believe that the wounds of the 30-month civil strife have healed, but the scars still remain. That was why agitations for a sovereign state of Biafra by some various pro-Biafran groups in the Southeast escalated in recent times.
The agitations were not unconnected with the perceived marginalisation of Ndigbo since the end of the civil war, particularly since the President Muhammadu Buhari government assumed office. Before the present administration, successive governments have promised Ndigbo several things, but not many of them were implemented.
That was why many were surprised recently when the news broke that some retired Nigerian policemen from the South-South and Southeast regions who fought on the Biafran side, were paid their pensions 47 years after the war.
They had actually waited for their pensions in the last 47 years. They had prayed, agitated, paid visits and hoped that one day it would come. It finally came last week Friday when the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) started paying the accumulated entitlements into their accounts.
The development brought life back to the old men and family members of deceased relatives. To demonstrate the joy of the exercise, most of them had danced to the music “I don get alert, God win” that was being provided at the background, moments after their money hit their accounts. The alerts from their mobile phones confirmed the development.
Speaking to The Guardian on the development, a retired police officer, Donatus Uchendu, who was disengaged from service for participating in the Nigeria- Biafra civil war said: “This is my happiest day. I never knew it could be this way but I give glory to God that finally the injustice that cut short my career has been addressed today. Now, I can tell you that the war we fought has not been in vain. Although not enough, but I am happy”.
Uchendu, who stated that he would remain grateful to God that he lived to see the development, stressed that he almost gave up hope, especially when some members of the group started receiving their pensions with the names of many (himself inclusive) missing from the list.
“I thought it was a wasted effort. I thought that all the days we waited to see our dismissal converted to retirement had been in vain. Although, what they are paying cannot compensate for our sudden dismissal from duty that put our families in pains, it is still remarkable because today, I am officially listed among those collecting pensions in Nigeria. I can now happily say that I served the country in my youth,” he said.
Another beneficiary, Francis Okeke said the payment was a turning point in his life, stressing that it was a clear indication that the Nigerian Civil war was indeed over for good.
Okeke, who said life had become so unbearable, especially after the war, said he had been able to provide for his family by divine grace, adding however, “what I have today can give me a new lease of life. I am a happy man because I am rich.
“I didn’t know we will receive this money, not after all that we have passed through and moving from one office to another and being told stories by those who felt that we should be treated like outcasts. Since this has happened, I know it will continue.”
These were police officers, who fought on the Biafran side during the Nigeria Civil war between 1967 and 1970. However, soon after the war, they were dismissed from service, irrespective of their rank on the allegation that they prolonged the war.
While other categories of civil servants who participated in the war were reabsorbed and the period of the war for them calculated as “leave of absence” for them, these ones were asked to go without any form of settlement.
However, they came together in the South-East and South-South geo-political zones to ask to be reabsorbed into the civil service. Their matter never received attention until year 2000 when former Head of State, Olusegun Obasanjo granted them amnesty and converted their dismissal to retirement.
They were given letters of retirement by the Police Pensions Office about four years after, but pegged their retirement date at February 1971 instead of May 29, 2000. They were, therefore, being paid their gratuities based on salary scale of 1971 and predicated on the number of years each officer served at the end of the civil war in 1970.
The development created a sharp division between officers who served for 10 years and above and those who served for below 10 years. While the former were entitled to pensions, the latter, which formed a larger bulk of the retirees, were denied pensions by the police pensions office relying on the provisions of the general orders and financial instructions.
Therefore, the retirees under the aegis of the Association of Retired War Affected Police Officers from South-East and South-South (ARWAPO) had since then been protesting against the anomalies.
However, last week Friday, those who were omitted for the first time started receiving their pensions and this time based on the salary scale of year 2000, while those who had been short paid based on the 1971 salary scale will receive their backlog in due time.
At the ceremony that began the exercise in Enugu, Executive Secretary of PTAD, Sharon Ikeazor, stated that it was part of President Buhari’s effort to ensure that “Nigerians who spent the productive years of their lives serving the nation will not experience difficulties in getting their pension”.
She stated that the exercise would to mark the end of the civil war memories, especially on the side of those affected by it due to the inability of government to fulfill its obligations towards them and thanked the beneficiaries for their patience.
While the beneficiaries are happy about the development, some people are questioning the timing and motive of the payment. Some have insinuated that it was a political move and part of Buhari government’s plans to curry favour from the South-East ahead of the 2019 general elections. This is after the government has marginalised the region in appointments and infrastructure development.
Speaking to The Guardian, a chieftain of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Guy Ikokwu, said that whatsoever is worth doing is worthy doing well, irrespective of who does it and where.
Ikoku said: “It is immaterial which government paid ex-Biafra policemen their pensions and entitlements. If it is the present government, the effort is highly commendable. Anything good is good. It is always a means of healing old wounds.
“After all, successive governments before this present government did not do it. Why? We still have the issue of abandoned properties in Port Harcourt and they have not been returned to the rightful owners.
“The present PDP state secretariat along Aba road in Port Harcourt is my father’s property that was a victim of abandoned properties policy. They have not given it back to our family till date. What is bad is bad. That is the bitter truth. Paying retired Biafran police their pension 47 years after is a welcome development that should not be politicised,” Ikoku said.
In the same vein, former president general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dozie Ikedife, said the development was a good thing, even though it was belated.
“But if it is a means of healing the wounds of the past, it is too little. Unless we regard it as a new beginning, hoping that more reconciliatory approach will come soon.”
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