I try as much as possible to remain fair and objective in analyzing critical issues happening in Imo State. The state has rather turned to another theatre of protests in recent times occasioned by government’s insensitivity to address certain issues that bother on peoples’ welfare. Like I stated in this column last week on the fundamental duties of any government that centres on the welfare of the people, such government should try to meet the sustainable development goals (SDGs) as outlined by the United Nations, a globally accepted indicators that contribute to good governance.
In that column, I had captured the essence of the global indicator for sound and good governance which the SDGs presents a wake-up call to every government that cherishes the development of her citizens. The United Nations General Assembly outlined the concepts of the SDGs as a collection of 17 global goals (No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Good Health and well-being, Quality Education, Gender Equality, Clean Water and Sanitation, Affordable and Clean Energy, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, Reduced Inequality, Sustainable Cities and Communities, etc) designed to be a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all”.
Globally, peaceful protests have been identified as a measure of registering people’s dismay on an insensitive government. When a government fails to meet up with the common good of the people, then they (people) protest. Their target may not mean dislike of the government but to prompt it up to listen to their grievances. Expectedly, payment of workers’ salaries and pensions need not be a matter of politics but a fundamental right of every worker and pensioner.
For Imo pensioners to be protesting regularly over unpaid pensions does not speak well of the government. Even though, government officials claim that no pensioner is being owed, there is no way some group of pensioners would have been receiving their pensions monthly and still had the guts to troop out to protest. So, who is lying here?
This brings me to the issue of some suspected thugs flogging protesting pensioners last Tuesday in front of government house at the State capital, Owerri. The pensioners are made of senior citizens who sacrifice their youthful years working for the development of the state. They are very old people, most of them feeble and fragile to handle. They cannot even stand or walk for too long. As sick as most of them are, they could manage to lean on a few strong ones to demand for the payment of their pensions that run into several months. My question now is when has it become outlawed for aggrieved citizens to protest and demand for their rights?
According to eyewitness report, the attack occurred when the pensioners were protesting the non-payment of five months’ pension arrears under the Governor Hope Uzodinma’s administration.
“The pensioners, who were marching on the streets of Owerri for the fifth time in about a month, were first attacked at the Freedom Square by Warehouse junction where they gather on a daily basis to discuss their plight. One of the aggrieved pensioners, Ebenezer Ibekwe, told journalists that they were first attacked by the thugs with water missiles when the thugs poured buckets of water on them and hauled water sachets on the senior citizens. Due to their huge number, they defied the attack and the barricades of security operatives and marched on to the Government House. Again, as they approach the Government House roundabout, thugs wearing head gears of the Imo State Environmental Transformation Commission (ENTRACO) emerged with additional number of thugs dropped by an unmarked ‘Bus Imo’.
“The thugs, now numbering about 15, wielded canes and whips and immediately attacked the pensioners, trying to break up the protest. The senior citizens, who were resolute, defied the attack as the thugs pounced on them, flogging anyone within reach. While the retirees, numbering over 500 surged, a detachment of police operatives led by an Assistant Commissioner of Police, A. J. Moses, arrived the scene and dispersed the thugs without arresting any of them. The senior police officer then appealed to the pensioners to work with the appropriate organ of government to resolve the pension quagmire.
“The pensioners, however, told journalists that they had reached out to every relevant organ of government without result and regretted that it was the same people who urged them to be patient that turned around and called them ‘ghost pensioners’. The pensioners accused the state government of being inhuman and insensitive in their dealings with retirees. Ibekwe said that there was nothing else to hold back as they had already been subjugated and beaten to the ground by the government. He alleged that the thugs were sent by the government.
He said: “I retired as a secondary school principal in 2011, after meritoriously serving my state and here I am being beating by young men who should be my children, denigrated and pelted with water sachets for demanding what is rightfully mine”. I pity them because they have dug their graves.
According to media report, the Senior Special Assistant to Governor Uzodimma on Print Media, Modestus Nwamkpa, who reacted to the incident denied the flogging of the pensioners by the thugs but reiterated government’s position against any illegal protest in the state.
He, however, stated that the protesting pensioners were allegedly hired by the opposition. One could imagine such irresponsible statement from a government official. Ordinarily, he supposed to be pleading for calm and pacifying the battered senior citizens instead of playing to the gallery. This agent of government maintained that the government had discovered that most of the protesters were ‘ghost pensioners’ who were being used by the opposition politicians to discredit the performances of the state government.
Responding to government accusation on the opposition, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the main opposition in the state described the brutality of pensioners as a “wicked act and a crime against Heaven and Earth, God and Humanity”.
The Party through her State Publicity Secretary, Ogubundu Nwadike stated “these men and women being tormented and tortured today by the Uzodimma regime were heroes and heroines past, who gave the very best of their lives to bequeath the present generation legacies of dignity of labour among other things”.
My take on the whole quagmire is that government should see herself as government of the people and not of the very few who continue to sing her praises of falsehood. The era of brutality is long gone and because we are in a democracy where people should be allowed to vent their grievances as a way of correcting certain unpopular policies of government need to be tolerated by any reasonable government.
Above all, government should as a matter of urgency pay these pensioners instead of calling them ‘ghost pensioners’. People who are living and had been collecting their pensions for several years since they retired from civil service cannot be said to be ‘a ghost pensioner’. In Igboland, one cannot be said to be dead when the person is still alive and the consequences of such pronouncement is usually heaven on those that pilot the rumour, so to say. Therefore, let our able Governor Hope Uzodimma take the issue of payment of salaries and pensions very seriously.