Retirees in Benue State have questioned the integrity of a fresh round of screening exercises by the state government which commenced on Monday, January 9, 2023 at the Makurdi Local Government Secretariat.
Speaking with National Record in an interview on Tuesday at the venue of the screening exercise, the pensioners, who pleaded anonymity for fear of persecution, said the same exercise was conducted in 2018 before the 2019 general elections without any positive outcome in terms of payment.
According to the senior citizens, the same scenario is exactly playing out this time around particularly more so as they were not even told the essence of the current exercise.
The pensioners disclosed that they have not been paid since 2020 and alleged that the government only wanted to pretend that their plight was being considered and addressed.
According to the pensioners, the documents being checked include the first letter of appointment, last letter of promotion, letter of retirement, retiree’s passport photograph, passport photograph of retiree’s next of kin, and remaining amount of gratuity arrears.
One of the pensioners said: “The way and manner they are going about it, I have seen that they are not even serious. They are just doing it to delay us and to make us think they are doing something about our delayed payment because we are in 2023 while they are talking about January 2020. So, we don’t know the effect and the various dates for every activity to the end of the screening”.
A female pensioner wondered why the state government is again conducting the screening when some retirees are sick and unable to come while others have already died after the last exercise without being paid.
“I don’t know what they will do with those people who have died and cannot be here and they owe all those years. So, we have seen that the thing has no effect, they just want to shake us,” she added, appealing to the state government to be paying them at least once in two or three months to enable them to feed and take their drugs.
She lamented that life without payment has been very difficult for her because some of her children are not working and even some who are working as civil servants are being owed and when they get one month’s payment, all family members have to share the salary which does not amount to anything.
Pensioners spoken to by our correspondent were unanimous in their complaints that the screening process was tedious and hectic as some of them stayed under the hot sun throughout the first day and only their names were written down with assurances that forms would be given to them which they didn’t see till the end of the first day and even the second day and they did not know when they would be availed the forms.
A 70-year-old pensioner said at his age, and because of his sight ailment, he was not supposed to be subjected to that hectic screening condition as he could not stand in the hot sun.
“What is happening to us, pensioners, in Benue State is as if we are foreigners, we are not Benue citizens. We are praying to God to touch the heart of our governor so that he will pay us because the suffering is too much for us to bear now,” the septuagenarian shook his head as he narrated their hardship.
Also speaking on their plight at the screening venue, another pensioner said: “We have no food, no water, we are just sitting. Some have no seats, they are just standing and going around aimlessly. We don’t know when we will finish here.”
Although three pensioners told National Record that the ongoing screening will end in May 2023 the very month Governor Ortom will be exiting office, another pensioner opened his screening form and confirmed that the exercise will be rounded off on 18 February 2023 and not May 2023.
National Record‘s efforts to speak with the State Head of Service, Mrs. Veronica Onyeke, to know the essence of the screening and whether it would lead to the payment of the pensioners who had lost hope already proved abortive as she could not be reached.
However, the Chairman, Nigerian Union of Pensioners (NUP), Benue State Chapter, Mr. Michael Vembe, told Radio Benue that the screening was meant to “put records of members straight for administrative convenience” and it’s only for state pensioners who have not been captured by the Pension Commission.
Mr. Vembe, who was said to have lamented the lack of seats for the pensioners during the screening noted that the computers for bio-data capturing were also grossly inadequate.