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Open Letter To Governor Okorocha

Plight Of Pensioners And Relatives Of Deceased Civil Servants

Okechukwu Nwanguma

I write to you as a bona-fide citizen of Imo State. I am emboldened to write to you because I have a stake in the mandate you hold as the governor of my state. I worked very hard- at great risk, and as part of civil society election observation team, which played a decisive role in ensuring that the votes of Imo people counted at the April 26, 2011 Governorship elections in Imo State and the subsequent ‘supplementary elections’ that eventually brought you into office.

I am writing to you, not for any personal interest, but for the interest of an important but endangered species of citizens of Imo State. I write to respectfully bring to your attention, the plight of the teaming suffering pensioners in Imo State who have been rendered despondent by their undeserved deprivation and impoverishment. This has been brought about by the non-payment of the entitlements of retired or deceased civil servants by the state they spent the better part of their early and active lives serving.

I wish to quickly point out that the cries of these senior citizens and/or their relatives and dependants over their neglect by your administration bellies the wide claims repeatedly made at the slightest opportunity by your good self and other officials in your administration.

As a human rights defender and public commentator, I have been inundated with complaints from many pensioners who believe that I am in a position to speak out for them. They urge me to assist them in bringing their plight to your attention so that you will ensure that the state government under your leadership does not continue to withhold or delay in paying their monthly pensions and gratuities which they need to survive in their retirement.

It will be too unwieldy an exercise for me to start addressing case by case, all the complaints I have received from pensioners or others seeking to claim the benefits of their deceased spouses or relatives who died in active service. Hence, my decision to write to you to bring to your attention the pattern and prevalence of a practice that appears to be a deliberate scheme by some unscrupulous individuals or criminal cartel to deny these senior citizens the fruits of their labour.

The plight of retired civil servants and their dependants in Imo State is heart-rending. Their agonies and their cries have gone unheeded for so long. These are men and women who put in their best, serving the state at the prime of their lives. What they deserve in their retirement are rest and peace of mind, not deprivation, anxiety and agony.

Because they cannot access their monthly pension and gratuity, many pensioners are unable to take care of themselves or cater for the welfare, education and other basic needs of their dependents. In some cases, their children have had to drop out of school or engaged in some desperate but illicit and unwholesome endeavours and means to solve their needs. Many retirees have died early from curable sicknesses and diseases due mainly to their impoverishment and inability to afford the cost of their medical treatment.

For the purpose of illustrating the various dimensions of this tragedy, let me describe two of the recent cases that have come to my attention.

Case 1:

This is the case of a widow whose husband died in active service in 2006 as a primary school teacher. She has spent years pursuing her deceased husband’s entitlements. Five years ago- as far back as 2008, the Pension Section of the Cabinet Office eventually authorised the payment of the benefit; then the local government sub-treasury applied on her behalf for the payment of this benefit. But for no comprehensible reason, the benefit is yet to be paid to this widow till date, despite her repeated visits, at great cost, to several offices- from the State Secretariat, through the Probate, to the Sub Treasury, to the Ministry of Finance and up to the Accountant General’s Office.

The widow informed me that the last time she went to the Treasurer’s office in 2008, the Treasurer ordered her out of his office for no stated reason.

Case 2:

Another recent complaint I have received concerns a retiree, also a widow, who has not been paid her pension since the past 12 months.

This widow’s last place of service before retirement was at IMSUBEB (Primary School). She retired on 01/02/2010 at S/Grade Level on Retirement: 12/8.

She informed me that she received her last monthly pension in June 2012. Her July payment was omitted when others were paid. She lamented that ‘we are now being owed for 12 months; I wonder what they want us to feed on!’

She said she learnt about three weeks ago from a fellow pensioner that they had been paid for July 2012. But she did not get any alert as she would usually get when her pension is deposited into her account.

She therefore had to go to the Local Government Pension Board in Owerri Municipal Council and confirmed that payment for July 2012 had been made but her name was omitted.

When she complained, she was asked to write an application and submit her relevant credentials to the secretary which she did. But up to date, she has not received her pay for the month of July 2012 like her colleagues.

She lamented, ‘It is clear they want us to die without having our gratuity. Most of our colleagues are dying and their gratuities gone.’

‘Now my four children in higher institutions are stranded since last year because I can no longer afford to pay their school fees let alone their accommodation fees, feeding, etc.’

‘Now, I can`t even attend to my medicals and other necessary utilities, even my village necessary levies.’

‘If am given my pension my problems will not get to this breaking point.’

Your Excellency, the above two cases are only illustrative. They represent the rule rather than the exception. I will be happy to furnish you with the details of the affected individuals- and the details of others like them- if you will be humane enough to heed their cry.

I strongly believe that there are some individuals with dead conscience, a criminal cartel operating within the civil service system and hell-bent on frustrating these senior citizens by delaying, diverting and converting their hard-earned entitlements. In other climes, senior citizens are honoured.

How could any person worthy of being called human lack the compunction to covet and steal the benefits of others, and enjoy pleasure from other people’s sweat?

Why would an Accountant order a widow out of his office for asking for what she is rightly and legitimately entitled to?

Such undesirable characters are not helping your government.

There is the need to carry out a comprehensive inquiry into the pervasive corruption and underhand ‘deals’ going on in all offices involved in pension and gratuity matters at both local and state levels. All those involved in short-changing retired civil servants or relatives of deceased ones, stealing their pension and gratuity and causing them untold agony should be identified and dealt with like the criminals they are, in accordance with the law.



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