CITIZENS COMPASS —The 127 local government health pensioners in Anambra State who retired between 2015 and 2019 have lamented years of unpaid benefits by the state government.
The workers also lamented the death of four of their colleagues while awaiting the benefits.
They attributed the deaths to hardship occasioned by non-payment of their retirement benefits.
Most of the pensioners, mainly women, said they put in 35 years in the service of the country and had hoped to use their gratuities to take care of themselves at old age, but it had not been so.
They lamented that their hopes had been dashed as the state government was yet to pay them since their retirement eight years after.
In fact, they said for the past two and a half years, they had been borrowing to pay legal fees to fight their cause, hoping to pay back when they eventually pay their entitlements.
Following what they described as the discouraging stance of the officials of the state Ministry of Local Government and the state Joint Account Allocation Committee (JAAC), to pay them, even after the court had ruled in their favour, they decided to organize a prayer session for God to touch the hearts of the Commissioner for Local Government, Mr. Collins Nwabunwanne and the secretary of JAAC in the state.
At the prayer session, which they also used to mourn those who died without receiving their benefits, they called on the state governor, Professor Chukwuma Soludo to intervene in the matter in the interest of fairness and equity.
The prayer session was also used to seek God’s grace to avert more deaths among them and to survive what they called inhuman oppression and intimidation meted to them by the state government officials who they claimed, are responsible for non-payment of their gratuities of N850 million.
Chairman of the group, Raphael Okoye said it is unfortunate that people who spent their prime in the civil service, would be denied their entitlements when they need it most.
For over three hours, they prayed to receive their money before their death because they worked for it.
According to Okoye, their four members died because they could not afford to pay their medical bills at a time the government is withholding their entitlements running into millions of naira.
Displaying placards with inscriptions, such as, “Gov Soludo please direct JAAC to pay us”; “Our gratuity is our right”; “Attorney General’s signature and seal are legally binding”,
they informed the governor that there are people in government undermining his administration by deliberately sitting on their pensions and gratuities from 2015 to date.
In a nine – page memo addressed to Governor Soludo, the health pensioners recalled that the state Head of Service, the Local Government Service Commission, the Local Government Staff Pensions Board and the Auditor General for Local Government had, since July, 2015 vetted and approved their entitlements, lamenting that some ministry officials have refused to pay them.
The memo, which was signed on behalf of the pensioners by Raphael Okoye, Dr. Emmanuel Obiano, Lawrence Onuorah and Rose Okeke read: “The consent judgment ordered the payment of the health pensioners’ accumulated arrears in four installments starting from May 2023 and ending in August 2023.
“At four instalments, this will translate to a monthly payment of N221, 240, 395.12. Section 7(2) of the Anambra State JAAC Amendment Law 2014 provides that not more than 10 per cent of the monthly statutory allocations of local governments shall be set aside as first line charge to pay any accumulated pension or gratuity.
The monthly statutory allocations received by JAAC from May 2023 when the consent judgment order was delivered by the Industrial Court, range from N5 – N6 billion.
“Ten percent of this allocation translates to about N500 – 600 million per month; which can pay off in just two months, the N884 961 580.47 owed the health pensioners.
“Even five per cent of monthly statutory allocation received by JAAC can pay off in four months, all the entitlements owed the health pensioners.
The affected health pensioners have therefore resolved to embark on special prayer sessions to seek the grace of God to sustain and preserve them through this ordeal, so that they will live to secure the payment of their entitlement.
“ We therefore seek the support of Anambra people to join us in prayers, whether in the homeland or in the Diaspora.
To this end, the 3rd Sunday of every month has been earmarked as special prayer Sundays for local government health pensioners of Anambra State in all churches, until their entitlements are paid in full.
“Accordingly, all Bishops, Rev. Fathers, Reverends, Pastors, Evangelists and Prophets, are enjoined to assist the oppressed health pensioners by observing this special prayer sessions in their parishes and churches until the health pensioners are paid their entitlements in full. “