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Military pensioners protest paralyse Abuja

Posted by By MOLLY KILETE and LUCKY NWANKWERE, Abuja on 2007/02/15 | Views: 719 |

Military pensioners protest paralyse Abuja

Military pensioners yesterday brought activities in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja to a stand still for over six hours to protest the non-payment of their pensions and gratuity with a warning that government must address their problem for any election to hold in the country.

•FG washes hands off non-payment of pension

Military pensioners yesterday brought activities in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja to a stand still for over six hours to protest the non-payment of their pensions and gratuity with a warning that government must address their problem for any election to hold in the country.

The pensioners, numbering over 6,000, among them widows, children and next-of-kin of deceased soldiers, were said to have converged in front of the Mogadishu cantonment as early as 6 a.m to carry out their protest and barricaded the ever busy Abuja/Keffi road with stones and other objects, making it difficult for commuters in Karu, Nyanya, Mararaba, Keffi and travelers from Jos, Bauchi, Maiduguri and Benue States to gain access into Abuja city.

Men from the FCT police command, who tried hard to disperse the crowd using tear gas, met a brick wall and got the wrath of the protesters, who chase them away from the scene and smashed the wind screen of the official vehicle of the Abuja Police Commissioner, Lawrence Alobi, with registration number, NPF-04-66, saying it was a military problem that needs no police intervention.
The pensioners also blocked the entrance to the Mogadishu Barracks and prevented movement in and out of the barracks, including school children from going to school.

The protest, which is the third to be carried out by the retired soldiers in the last one month, was carried out over alleged punishment being meted out to them by the Federal Government and alleged demand of bribe by officials of the Military Pensions Board(MPB), Abuja to hasten the processing of their documents for prompt payment.
The Federal Government has, however, washed its hands off the delay in the payment of the soldiers’ pensions and gratuity even as it said the protest was uncalled for.

The pensioners, who have been in Abuja since January 9 for the verification exercise, told newsmen that they were summoned to Abuja to collect their pensions and gratuity over one month ago and that they have been sleeping in the open since they arrived Abuja as no accommodation arrangement was made for them.

According to them, they have suffered untold hardship in the hands of the Federal Government and military authorities, whom they accused of treating them badly including wives of deceased soldiers, whom they alleged have been thrown out of the barracks few months after the death of their husbands and treated like outcasts, while wives of deceased officers are treated like angels.

“Those who invited us are not bothered that we are suffering. No food, no water, no money and no accommodation. We have been here without any knowledge of when we will be attended to.
“Most of the officers who are killed in the Niger Delta region in the course of service, after three months, their wives are thrown out of the barracks. When their wives come here to receive their entitlements, they are treated like outcasts,” one of them told Daily Sun.
They also demanded for an explanation by government over the disparity in their published entitlements and the actual payment and accused government of insensitivity.

The protesters, who finally took off the road at about 11.30 following the intervention of the minister of defence, Ambassador Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi, who was overwhelmed by the crowd when he went to the scene to appeal to them, assured them that their problems was being addressed by government, and blamed the delay and confusion in the payment of their pensions and gratuity on the office of the Accountant General of the Federation( AGF).

But the pensioners, who were not satisfied with the explanation given to them by the minister over the delay in their payment and the untold hardship that they have been going through, shouted him down and warned that if nothing is done by today, they will make every Nigerian feel the heat they have been passing through.

The pensioners, who spoke through their leader, Andy Okeke, said “We are giving them up to tomorrow (today), if nothing happened, we will make everybody to feel the heat. We will block the Kaduna , Gwagwalada and Airport roads, Government must address our problem before any election will hold in this country. It is not empty threat. We are also Nigerians with dignity,”.

Chairman, Military Pensions Board, Brigadier General Bitrus Kwaji, who was also at the scene of the protest, also joined to plead with the pensioners to give peace a chance, after which they succeeded in getting them to move into the barracks after about thirty minutes for dialogue.
While inside the barrack, the minister expressed worry over the presence of women and children among the pensioners and ordered that water be provided for them.

The heat of the protesting military pensioners was felt by visitors and workers at the federal secretariat, as they were made to present their identity cards before they were allowed entry into the premises.
Security personnel manning the gates at the federal secretariat, told Daily Sun they that they had received a security information that the protesters were planning to take over the premises of the secretariat.
But government said the protest was uncalled for as it had raised N75 billion from the financial market through the issuance of bond to finance the settlement of the arrears, adding that the money was put in a Pension Arrears Settlement Account at the Central Bank of Nigeria .

The special assistant to the president on public affairs, Mallam Uba Sani said the delay in the settlement of the arrears of soldiers’ pension and gratuity stemmed from the authentication of the retirees’ list and its verification normally undertaken before payment could be effected.
“The Federal Government is not responsible for the delay in the payment of the arrears of pension and gratuities of Military Pensioners. Once claims are verified and computations sent to the appropriate authorities, payments are speedily made”, he stated.

Saying payment is made in batches through the issuance of mandate to Central Bank of Nigeria to credit the accounts of the pensioners in 25 commercial banks, he pointed out that a total of 75,325 military pensioners had been paid a total sum of N9, 303,931,948.96 to date.

Sani further explained that submissions in respect of 1,087 pensioners for the sum of N100, 117,096.68 were returned to the Military Pension Board to provide account numbers of the pensioners.
He called for patience and understanding by the affected soldiers, describing the resort to violent protest as unfortunate as every effort is being made to pay their pension and gratuity arrears.

He said government had no problem with the police retirees whose lists had since been authenticated and verified and pleaded with the protesting soldiers to give government a little time to conclude the payment which he said was already in process.

“The government of President Olusegun Obasanjo has demonstrated deep concern for the plight of pensioners. To wipe away the tears of retirees and to inspire Nigerians to serve their country diligently and honestly, the administration has taken far–reaching decisions on the pension system in the country.
“We assure all military pensioners that they would be paid after the verification of their claims. They must exercise patience to ensure the successful completion of the exercise.

We must however warn that continued resort to violence as a way of expressing grievances would not be tolerated. Violent protests are most likely to be hijacked by agents of destabilization. Government has a duty to protect lives and properties”, he added.

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