Protesting Benue State pensioners on Sunday held a prayer session at the Government House’s gate, Markurdi, over unpaid N25 billion pension arrears and gratuities.
A correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria who monitored the prayer session organised by Concerned Pensioners, reports that the senior citizens had since September 4 been sleeping under rain and sunshine at the gate to drive home their demand.
NAN reports that the pensioners are demanding payment of over 20 months’ pension arrears and gratuity, amounting to N25 billion, owed them by the state government.
Reading from the Bible in the book of 1st Kings, Chapter 12, Verses 3 to 10, while preaching a sermon, Pastor John Awaodi urged the pensioners not to give up hope.
He said that God was with them since they were demanding their legitimate income.
Addressing the pensioners at the prayer session, their Leader, Peter Ikyado, said that they were not tired and would continue to sleep at the gate until paid.
Ikyado urged them to be steadfast and pray fervently.
He earlier told newsmen that over 500 pensioners in the state had died due to lack of food and proper medication.
He said: “We are senior citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Our motto says “Enjoyment After Retirement”, but in this case, it is suffering after retirement.”
Governor Samuel Ortom had while addressing them on Friday said that his administration would have to seek for an overdraft of N611 million to be able to complete the shortfalls from the April 2018 and May 2018 unpaid pension arrears.
He gave the assurance that the money would be paid by September 10.
Ortom said that his administration inherited unpaid pension arrears of over N34 billion, with outstanding gratuities of over N17 billion.
He said that although his administration was able to make significant efforts in the payment of the arrears of pensions and gratuities, the government was still owing over N20 billion.
He said that his administration also moved a step further by signing into law, the PENCOM Bill and constituted the state Pensions Commission in an effort to find lasting solutions to non-payment of pension and gratuities.
Ortom apologised to the senior citizens for the inability of the government to pay their entitlement as and when due.
The governor said that the government was working to get a N40 billion bond to address some of the challenges facing the state.
NAN reports that the pensioners have, however, refused to move away from the government house in spite of the governor’s promises.