The gale against the Osun State pensioners today will at a later date in the future, not spare those presently in the public service except there is a court-ordered change of political leadership at the helm of the state affairs. ISAAC OLUSESI reports.
CERTAIN things are just not adding up well for the retirees. There is a growing restiveness in the camp as the murmuring of the pensioners in Osun State becomes a shouting match. They are brooding over many issues but are waiting for a soonest-to-be new political leadership in the state to address the issues.
Some of the retirees were the first last Thursday to congratulate the reporter on his “missing” walking stick as he’s now back on his feet. But beyond that, the retirees have a worry story to tell. “You the OSUN DEFENDER people have been alive this long while in the face of the state hostile political environment. We salute your management,” the pensioners remarked.
The reporter had hardly informed the retirees that the OSUN DEFENDER’s commitment to the people’s struggle to turn the state around is the primary motivation, when the pensioners bloated “we area a loaded pistol ready to explode soonest”.
But still bouncing in the hope for an appeal court ordered political leadership change in the state, the retirees, without prompting chose to speak with the reporter. Unlike their counterpart in the neighbouring Oyo State who not long ago opted for a protest as they shut out civil servants and took over the gates of the government secretariat, Agodi, to muscle their demands for payment of their various arrears.
According to reporters, the protesting retirees wailed and cried till 10.0am and no fewer than 60 policemen watched helplessly as civil servants were stranded. Their action paralysed bureaucratic activities in Ibadan, the state capital as it took the personal intervention of the Commissioner of Police in the state to make the pensioners open the shuts gates.
Chairman, National Union of Pensioners (NUP) in Oyo state Alhaji Lateef Adegoke read out the demand of the protesting retirees while he also called on the state government to probe the alleged double payment of gratuities to some pensioners in the state.
Like a recurring decimal, the retirees are being hunted by poverty, diseases and death. The aged, the not-too-aged retirees in Osun state go for their meagre monthly dues that often come too late, and sometimes withheld for months, some of the retirees walking stick aided, others on wheel chairs and a few mounted on the shoulders of their siblings to collect their monthly entitlements while the young pensioners also go for their pensions not without the least of agony and pains after meritorious service the retirees had rendered.
After listening to the litany of woes that the retirees are confronted with, it did not take a second for the reporter to conclude that some of the pensioners in the state never lived to have the proceeds of their sweats due to penury, abject poverty and eventual death.
In a rage suggestive of self- conviction on who is to blame for their plights, the retirees told the reporter that the state Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola is responsible for the delay in the implementation of 12 ½ present and 15 percent pay rise to the pensioners in the state as is being enjoyed by the serving civil servants.
Ironically, the civil servants in the state who certainly are the tomorrow’s pensioners are accused of taking bribes from pensioners before their entitlements are processed to final payment.
The fact is corroborated by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, at a Kaduna workshop when the anti-corruption agency noted “vouchers are delayed by serving officers who claim to be very busy but in actual fact, they are mere well rehearsed and orchestrated ploys to collect bribes or make the pensioners play ball before processing their documents. These practices are carried out brazenly and with impunity.
Indeed, it would appear that these practices define the inefficiency of the service or that they are wrong, or are part of what constitute corrupt practices for which the country is now internationally notorious.”
In the same breadth, the Head of Service of the Federation at a recent forum in Lagos warned civil servants to refrain from demanding for gratification before processing pensioners file “or face the wrath of the law”.
Reeling out a catalogue of pains, the retirees unveiled to the reporter, the Oyinlola’s unreadiness to ensure that gratuities are paid to the retirees on their last day in service to nip their hardship in the bud, his lack of stamina to sustain regular payment of retirees’ pensions and outstanding arrears, and his failure to address irregularities like omission of names of genuine pensioners, underpayment of some pensioners and the menace of ghost pensioners.
An officer at the state office of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) on the old Ikirun road, Osogbo, who would not want his name dragged into what he called the state mulky politics, frankly told the reporter that Osun State government has not taken payment of pensioners with all seriousness it deserves. Sounding philosophical, the labour officer defined pensions as lifeline of the pensioner. He regretted that the various percentage increases in pension have not been paid by Oyinlola “whereas a councilor out there in the local government and his hair dresser wife at Ayetoro junction, Osogbo, take their monthly full entitlements promptly, the labour house chieftain lamented.
In two separate interviews with Engineer Rauf Aregbesola, the Action Congress governorship candidate and arch challenger of governor Oyinlola at the appellate court, Aregbesola bared his mind on the welfare of pensioners in the state, as he comes on board as governor of the state. He stated that the AC government in the state will acquire bio-metric equipment to check fraudulent practices in the pension administration. “The equipment will curb financial leakages, ensure the retirees have access to their pensions without pains, and eliminate duplication and ghost pensioners,” Aregbesola said.
He disclosed that his government might consider a flexible strategy whereby the indisposed retirees and those ones above 70 years old are paid their pensions at home.
Aregbesola stated that he would always join forces at the national level, calling for payment of pension arrears from excess crude oil funds as against subjecting the payment of pensioners to budgetary allocation and budgetary vicissitudes. He promised that the AC government would initiate a housing scheme for the retiring civil servant at the least cost.
“It is ungodly for the federal government to deny pensioners their rights on a flimsy excuse of lack of funds when it has idle billions of dollars in the excess crude oil accounts,” he told the reporter.
The AC government in the state will reflect any review done on the salaries of the workers in the state on the pensions payable to the retirees to guarantee the longevity of the retired senior citizens and establish hope in the coming generations of retirees. “The ultimate welfare of the people of the state will be the cardinal policy of the AC government in the state, that is the only way to retain the people’s loyalty and patriotism,” Aregbesola further stated.
As if reading Aregbesola’s mindset, Chief T.A Akinyele, chairman, Association of Retired Heads of Service and Permanent Securities of the old and new Oyo State (AREHSPSON) recently called on the federal and state government to review the pension payment system. According to him, retirees should be paid their entitlements without stress. “In other countries where governance is better organized, not only do pensioners receive their retirement benefits, there are established welfare schemes generally for the elderly.
“In most Western countries, corporate bodies and the general public are enlightened to facilitate the movement of the aged and to offer seats to senior citizens in crowded buses, hospitals, restaurants and other public places. Care of the elderly is accorded priority attention, but in Nigeria, a pensioner is invariably treated like a beggar,” the AREHSPON chief stated.
Splitting fire and brimstones, Akinyele said humiliating and maltreating pensioners who had spent a better part of their lives serving the state and the country is unacceptable, and warned that except pensioners receive fair and prompt treatment, the temptation of the serving civil servants to be corrupt will be strengthened.