Traffic flow was on Wednesday halted at the ever-busy Oba Ovonramwen Square popularly called Ring Road in Benin, as Edo State pensioners staged a protest to demand the payment of their gratuities from 2008 till date.
Also affected by the resultant gridlock were adjoining streets such as Mission, Forestry, Sapele road, Sakponba, Ekehuan, Uselu-Ugbowo axis and Airport road linking the city centre.
The protest forced commuters to spend hours waiting for the pensioners to leave the routes while passengers had to alight from the vehicles and trekked longer distances to their destinations.
The retirees, drawn from the state and local government councils, carried placards with inscriptions such as “Six years of this government no pensioner has been paid gratuity; pay us consequential adjustment base on 2019 minimum wage; save pensioners from avoidable death; pay us our gratuities; enough is enough, pay us our recent age increment.”
The senior citizens said they retired between 2008 and 2013 and served the government diligently and should, therefore, be duly compensated with their retirement benefits.
According to the retirees, state pensioners who retired from service in 2012 and 2013 were screened in April 2017 and their gratuity papers known as ‘Yellow Paper’ were collected from them. This set of pensioners are yet to be paid. Some of them have passed away.
“Since 2008 to date, local government pensioners have not been paid their gratuities. In addition to the above, majority of them have also not been paid their pension arrears,” they said.
Speaking at the protest, Marcus Afekhatse, a retiree lamented that his gratuity has not been paid after eight years of retirement and it has made it difficult for him to cater for his family.
“Three groups are on the road today; our colleagues in local government who retired in 2008 and have not been paid gratuity till date.
“At the state level, pensioners who retired since 2012 and have not been paid gratuities are also here while others are members still receiving pitiable sum such as N2000, N4000 as monthly pension since they retired over 20 years ago”, he added.
He claimed that permanent secretaries that recently retired have been paid their gratuities at the expense of the lower cadre that retired several years ago.
Josephine Aisagbovomwan, another pensioner said the protest was to draw the attention of the world to their plight so that the state government can pay their gratuities.
Aisagbovomwan said she was yet to get her gratuity, lamenting that she served the state for 35 years diligently only to be denied her gratuity by the government she served faithfully.
Meanwhile, the Edo State government has said that modalities were being put in place to offset the arrears of the retirees’ gratuities.
Philip Shaibu, deputy governor of Edo State, gave the assurance while addressing the pensioners. Shaibu, who pleaded with the pensioners to give the government time to resolve the issue, said they have already set up a committee headed by the head of service, Anthony Okungbowa, to work out modalities for possible payments.