[From BONIFACE OKORO, Umuahia]
Abia Council of Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) says the state government owes her members 37 months arrears of pensions.
NUP is also lamenting that the state government stopped paying gratuities to retiring Abia workers 20 years ago, adding that the new payment of local government pensioners through the Ministry of Finance was doing both the retirees and Union more harm than good.
Rising from a situation review meeting with regard to the fast deteriorating welfare of her members, the Union urged the state government to immediately declare a state of emergency in the Pensions and Gratuity Sector of the economy as such a drastic step would help in effectively addressing the unhealthy situation and redeeming the “ugly image” of the state.
The Union maintained that its members were groaning under a huge debt of 37 months of pension arrears.
In a communiqué issued at the end of the meeting in Umuahia which was jointly signed by the Acting Chairman of Abia NUP, Chief John Ekpendu and the Assistant State Secretary, Elder Uma Kalu, the group said it was very embarrassing and unacceptable, the situation where some pensioners who were verified and captured in the system were being skipped whenever pensions are paid.
The breakdown of the 37 months pension arrears, according to NUP, consist of: 2014 -5 months (August to December); 2015 – 4 months (January to Apri); 2018 -12 months (January to December); 2019 -11 months (January to November); and 2021 – 5 months (August to December), explaining further that about six or seven months of 2021, the members were paid half of their monthly pension.
The communiqué read in part:
“The Council is not comfortable that this pension slashing was a unilateral decision of Government which did not specify how long it will last or what will be done about the slashed percentage. These questions are begging for answers and the Council-in-session demands satisfactory clarifications.
“The Council seriously frowns at the present mode adopted by the Ministry of Finance in remitting check-off dues from the Local Government Pensioners since the Ministry took over the payment of Local Government pensions. This new arrangement shortchanges the Union and should be stopped.
“The Council-in-session considers as very embarrassing and unacceptable, the situation where some pensioners who were verified and captured in the system are being skipped whenever pensions are paid. Moreover, when affected pensioners report the omissions, the error is simply rectified without payment of the resulting arrears. This development seriously affects the amount of check-off dues earned by the Union. The Council demands that this trend should not continue.
“The Council-in-session reviewed the recent takeover of Local Government Pensions payment by the State Ministry of Finance and regrets that it has done more harm than good with its many hitches and inconsistencies. The Council is not satisfied and therefore demands that Local Government Pensions payment should be returned to the newly reconstituted Local Government Pensions Board soonest.”
On the stoppage of payment of gratuity by the state government, NUP said:
“The Council-in-session observes with serious concern that the Abia State Government has completely forgotten the issue of gratuity. The Council recalls that payment of gratuity was last made in 2002. This is very unfortunate and should be condemned by all well-meaning citizens of God’s Own State.
“The Council calls attention of the Government to this serious lack of concern and insensitivity, and hereby demands that deliberate efforts should be made to restore the payment of gratuity to deserving pensioners in the state,” the group said.
NUP equally accused the government of not implementing consequential adjustments arising from Federal Government Approved Minimum Wage and Minimum Pension of April 2-19.
“Pensioners of Abia State deserve to be accorded this sense of belonging. This Council-in-session demands that Government should set up the relevant Committee for purpose of the implementation,” it said, adding that “the above review of the Pension and Gratuity Payment Position in Abia State, makes it clear that the sector is in a grave crisis situation.”