Business and social activities came to a halt at Owerri, the Imo State capital, on Wednesday as hundreds of aged retirees defied the early morning downpour to protest against the non-payment of their pensions.
The pensioners, whose action caused gridlock on all major streets and roads, especially in Owerri, claimed the state government owed them allowances ranging from 13 to 71 months.
The retirees, whose pitiable sight attracted the sympathy of passersby, defied all entreaties from security operatives to vacate the roads, especially the one leading to the Government House.
Addressing journalists, the state Chairman, National Union of Pensioners, Chief Gideon Ezeji, noted that the Governor Rochas Okorocha-led administration had not only abandoned pensioners but also turned them to beggars.
He said, “Today, civil pensioners are owed 13-16 months as at May, 2016; Local Government pensioners, 14-17 months; retired primary school teachers, 23-26 months; Imo Broadcasting Corporation pensioners, 36 months and Alvan Ikoku College of Education’s pensioners, 68-71 months. It is indeed outrageous, how senior citizens are treated in the state today.”
Ezeji explained that the state had refused to harmonise pensions based on the Federal Government pension award of six per cent in 2003, 15 per cent in 2007 and 33 per cent in 2011.
He added that they were protesting the refusal of the state government to pay retired primary school teachers 17 months’ arrears.
He said, “We are protesting to refute the claim of the governor that he has cleared 12 years of pension arrears. We categorically state that the governor only paid civil service pensioners three months in July 2011.
“We, therefore, call on the state government to pay us our entitlements. If other South-East states, such Anambra, Enugu, Abia and Ebonyi without oil revenue are paying their senior citizens, the governor of Imo State should follow suit. We call on the state government to pay the accumulated arrears of pensions immediately.”
When contacted, the Commissioner for Internal Resources and Pension Matters, Chief Vitalis Ajumbe, promised that the state would commence the payment of allowances immediately after the ongoing verification.