BusinessDay

We’ll not back down on our demands – Retired teachers tell Delta

...Ready for the 8th protest next month as govt disowns them

“Protesting pensioners not retirees of Delta State Government but Local Government,” a statement by Charles Aniagwu, the Delta State Commissioner for Information, is seen to be raising more dust as the elder statesmen and women are poised to embark on another round of protest next month.

The protest to hold in the 8th month of the year would be the 8th protest the teachers would embark upon over the non-payment of their over N54 billion gratuities running into seven years.

The retirees seem especially unhappy over Aniagwu’s comment that claimed the protest they embarked on, on July 14, was politically motivated and have vowed to sustain their protests until their demands are met.

During our protest, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, through Ovie Agas Festus, his Chief of Staff, had assured us he would pay us, they said, but they frowned at the statement made by Aniagwu a few days later, saying he was disrespectful and insensitive.

In a statement signed by Helen Ejieh, the chairman, Delta State Primary School Retirees and made available to BusinessDay Sunday in Asaba, Wednesday, said they would not back down on the demands for the payment of over seven years gratuities owed them since they retired after 35 years of their meritorious service to the state.

Ejieh told the state government to be ready for them next month (August) as they are coming to the streets of Asaba, the state capital, to protest for the eighth time, the complete neglect and abandonment of primary schools’ retirees by the state government.

“We will teach the state commissioner for information, Charles Aniagwu, the difference between pensioners and retirees,” Ejieh declared.

Ejieh did not deny her membership of the All Progressives Congress (APC), a major opposition political party in the state. She however, said she is not the Women Leader of the party in Delta North Senatorial District as alleged by Aniagwu.

Aniagwu at the media briefing on Monday, July 18, had told newsmen in Asaba that the protest embarked upon by retirees and pensioners in the state was politically motivated to impugning and maligning the reputation of Ifeanyi Okowa and his administration.

The retirees carried out the protest at a period Governor Okowa’, the running mate to Atiku Abubukar in the 2023 presidential election, were in Osun State campaigning for the victory of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the Osun gubernatorial election of last weekend and for the victory of the party in next year’s general elections.

The protesters who stormed the gate of the government house, Asaba on that fateful July 14, 2022 even called Governor Okowa a wicked governor and that he would not win the 2023 election if he continues to own them. As the protesters demanded to see their governor face to face to explain to them why he refused to pay them, Agas, the Chief of Staff, appeared and addressed them on behalf of his principal, assuring that the governor would do the needful.

Aniagwu, the mouth-piece of the state government seemed to believe that there was more to the protest going by the time and manner it was carried, hence he accused Ejieh of working for APC against the state government. He even disclosed Ejieh’s office address and said she and her co-protesters were not employees of the state government but of local government.

Aniagwu said it was not the duty of the state government to pay pensions and gratuities to primary school teachers but that the government had always intervened in paying them as the LGs were unable to do so.

According to him, “the leader of the protesting retirees is Mrs Helen Ejie, APC Delta North Woman Leader and accused her of misleading the public on whose responsibility it was to pay the pensioners.

“We have it on good authority that the incessant protests emanating from a section of pensioners in the state have become politically motivated.

“The leader of the protesters is Mrs Helen Ejie, a retired teacher from Iyiatu Primary School, Utagba-Ogbe in Ndokwa West. She retired in 2016 and is the coordinator of APC women in Delta North.

“We have seen some stage-managed protests by individuals who ordinarily are supposed to appreciate what the state government has done.

“It is public knowledge that primary schools are under the local government councils in terms of how they are remunerated and how they operate.

“Sometime last year, this same woman led a few persons contrary to the reality of what we are doing they come to Asaba, rub themselves on the ground, pour invectives on the governor in line with what those who have asked them to go and demonstrate.

“They will begin to shout and cast aspersions on the person and office of the Governor. I have never seen where somebody will work in UAC and proceed to LEVENTIS to receive salary.

“What we have always done is to assist them because we believe that they are Deltans and you can recall in 2015 when we came into office, we met over seven months’ salary arrears owed local government council staff and primary school teachers.

“We assisted them to clear up that arrears and even when we got bailout from the federal government we gave them a grant of N3billion which aided in clearing the backlog,” he said.

On the issue of pensions, Aniagwu said the state government didn’t employ the staff but assisting because the local government councils are not in a financial position to do so at the moment.

“In the area of pensions we have also assisted them to pay, as at when we came they were getting N150m to tackle pensions and we upscaled it to N300m and to fast track it further, we increased it to N500m monthly.

“We have so far cleared Local Government Pensions to early 2018 and Primary School Teachers owed several years of arrears of pension to August 2016.

“We have said that in addition to the N500m monthly grant, when we access the N150billion bridging finance we will release the sum of N10billion as grant to offset part of the pensions owed these pensioners by the local government councils,” he said.

Ejieh accused Aniagwu of “lacking information on the state of affairs in Delta State thereby misinforming the state government and the general public with fabricated data just to keep earning salary at the detriment of Delta State Government.

“The commissioner for information has contributed 80percent of Governor Okowa’s failure in governance due to his continuous misinformation on the state of affairs in the state.

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“The protest carried out on the July 14, 2022 was not done by pensioners but retired teachers of Delta State and for the records, it’s the 7th protest organised and self sponsored by the Retired Teachers and LGA retirees over the complete neglect of the state government to pay up their pensions and gratuity since 2015.

“It is very disappointing that the commissioner for information lacks understanding of the difference between Pensioners and Retirees. We shall teach him the difference in our next protest if our demands are not met by next month.”

The protest by the retired teachers was not and have never been politically motivated as insinuated in his make believe speech.

“It is quite unfortunate that the commissioner for information would condescend too low to label our genuine demands for our rights as retired teachers in the state as politically motivated protest just to curry public sympathy and divert the attention of the public and sympathisers of the plight of abandoned retirees in Delta State.

“This shows the level of inhumanity of the commissioner for information and Governor Ifeanyi Okowa towards workers welfare in the state.

She said there wouldn’t have been any protest in demand for pensions and gratuity if the government had been faithful in payment of teachers’ pension and gratuity as at when due.

“We also wish to educate the commissioner for information that the pension and gratuity is a contribution deducted by the state government from monthly salary and not a government allowance like what he earns for misinforming the public.

“Aniagwu stated that the protesting retirees are not of the state government but under the local government thereby justifying Governor Okowa’s refusal to pay the retirees but little did he know of what the local government bureau which was created by the state government stands for.

She wondered where the information boss was

while the protest was ongoing at the government house when Agas assured that the state government would pay up the retired teachers as only the governor’s red biro is what is needed to pay pensioners and retirees.

She stated that “Aniagwu’s accusations and false data presented in his statement against my personality, the Chairman of the Association of Contributory Retirees of Primary School, Hon. Chief Mrs Helen Chionye Ejieh (JP) is only meant to misinform Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and also malign the genuine efforts of both parties (Delta State Government and the leadership of Association of Contributory Retirees of Primary School) in resolving the lingering issues bothering on payment of gratuity and pensions as far back 2015.

She said it is her civic right as a citizen to belong to any political party she feels is people oriented and can deliver dividends of democracy.

“Also, members of the protesting teachers cut across political parties which include PDP, ADC, SDP, LP etc. So which of the Political party is sponsoring the said politically motivated protest? she asked.
“On the contrary, I am not the Delta North APC woman leader and cannot be cowed to back down a genuine demand for my entitlement of 35 years of service by a political propaganda.

I got my appointment as a teacher in the year 1981 and was not appointed by PDP or APC Government hence labelling me and other retirees who have served the state for 35 years in Service and have been denied our pension and gratuity as political stooges is the highest point of irresponsibility on the commissioner for information and the Delta State Governor His Excellency, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, she fumed.

“I retired at Eke Model Primary School Kwale and not Iyatu Primary School and the purported claim by Charles Aniagwu that the state government had paid Retirees and Pensioners up to 2016 as authoritatively stated in his speech is not just false but insensitive and misleading to the general public.

“On the demand for the retirees for 10bn to be injected in to the bureau to offset the backlog of pensioners, it is very disheartening that Governor Okowa is depending on the 150bn he is seeking to borrow in other to pay but had to spend billions of naira of Deltans treasury in the just concluded PDP Presidential Primaries which earned him the Vice Presidential Candidate of the PDP.

It is not far-fetched that Governor Ifeanyi Okowa pays lip service and is insensitive to the plights of the Delta State retirees, said the chairman.

“Despite Governor Okowa’s receipt of Paris fund for four consecutive times in 2019, he failed to use the fund for what it was released for but channelled it to his political sojourn ahead of 2023 leaving the retirees to their fate.

“It is very unfortunate that Governor Ifeanyi Okowa instead of seeking a favourable way to pay up the accrued pension and gratuity of senior citizens of the state who have faithfully served the state and retired since 2015, he has resorted to bullying the protesting retirees through his commissioner for information.”

According to her, “Information at our disposal is that the governor has mandated Aniagwu to mastermind the arrest of the leaders of the protesting retirees should they protest the non-payment of retirees by next month.

“Although we are aware of this, we will not back down on our demand for our rights and cannot be intimidated by hired thugs of the government as this protest continues on monthly basis should the governor fail to pay all retired teachers till 2022 as demanded in our protest held on the 14th of July 2022.

“The fact that the Delta State Government through the commissioner for information could outright deny and disown the Retired teachers is not only an act of wickedness and deceit but inhumane. Governor Okowa’s refusal to pay the retirees has caused a lot of deaths of our members and the living ones are not sure of receiving their gratuities anytime soon.

Despite any form of intimidation from Gov Okowa and his political thugs, we shall be going on another protest by August 2022 if they fail to adhere to our demands, she said.

Also, Delta APC in a statement signed by E.V Onojeghuo, the publicity secretary and made available to journalists in Asaba, the party told the state government to “use whatever time it has left of its life to redeem its tattered image by addressing the non-payment of pensioners/retirees entitlements and other multifaceted challenges currently besetting the state,” rather than casting aspersion on the party.

Onojeghuo stated that the party is set to rescue the state by building a new Delta with EDGE agenda come 2003, and condemned the state government for accusing the APC of sponsoring the protests.

Many believe that the issue of payment of gratuities and pensions of retired teachers and local government workers would continue to linger as long as state governments including Delta State are yet to implement the law granting full autonomy to Local Government Councils.

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