Men and women, who, in the prime of their lives, contributed in building this nation, are today, in their old age, living in hell. PEMBI STEPHEN-DAVID writes.
They were the toast of the town, everyone loved to associate with them because they gave their lives and time to building their fatherland. They left the comfort of their native homes for other parts of the country.
These young men and women, sons and daughters of hunters, fishermen, farmers and traders, came from Michika in Adamawa State to Agbor in Delta State, from Okigwe in Abia State, they went to Yawuri in Kebbi State, from Igbajo in Osun State, they went to Azare in Bauchi State, to serve their fatherland.
They were not only efficient and hardworking, but in a way that was almost peculiar, they were committed to building the nation, and it became part of their lives. They contributed in no small measure to making Nigeria great; but it is now hard to believe that their labour is not rewarded.
In the course of serving the nation, some of them lost their lives, some their loved ones, and only got to know weeks later. They truly gave their best. Today, many years later, they are old and all they earn is neglect instead of respect. They leave their homes in remote villages, their state or zonal headquarters and spend endless hours, days, weeks and months on queues for one verification exercise or the other.
Some of them have no homes in these designated areas and have no money to lodge in hotels, so they sleep in the open, exposing themselves to one hardship or the other. They are the heroes and heroines of this nation, yet they cannot reap their labour. They cannot take care of their immediate needs, much more their family needs.
When, in January 1962, the then 20-year-old Mallam Nuhu Dahiru Zariwaya, a native of Zariyawa town of Niger State was employed as a village scribe, everything worked for him. He was able to cater for his young family and had enough money to buy one thing or the other. Having worked for 27 years, Zariyawa retired on March 31, 2009. Today, at 70, he is unable to take care of his wife and five children.
Dahiru cannot move about because he is partially blind. He said, ‘‘I can hardly see, and the little money I am paid as pension cannot sustain my family. As you can see, I am blind and can do little to earn a living. I depend on my pension and the amount is too small to last for a month.’’ His plight is not that he is not paid regularly, but that the money when paid, cannot renovate his dilapidated house and solve some family problems.
‘‘My son, look at this building,’’ pointing at a fallen portion of his house. ‘‘I built this house in 1978 but most part of it is destroyed today and I have no money to repair it. If I say I will use my pension to fix it, what will my family eat? What will I buy medicine with? There are many questions but few answers,’’ he lamented.
‘‘I don’t understand how things are done in this country. How can you explain a situation where someone who has served this country faithfully would be allowed to suffer untold hardship? As I speak to you now, we don’t know what to eat for dinner.
My son, Usman left home to hunt in the bush since morning, we are praying that he catches some rats which we will eat, if not there is nothing to eat in this house. Can you imagine that?’’ he asked rhetorically.
She shook her head as she left one of the banks on Galadima Aminu Way, Jimeta , Adamawa State, not because she could not collect money, but ‘‘ because the money cannot solve any of my family's problems,’’ as she puts it.
The 59-year-old Hajaratu Ismaila started work as a prison warden in 1971 at the age of 19. Having spent 33 years in service, she was retired in 2004. ‘‘I knew I would retire someday, but I was retired compulsorily two years before my time. This, I must say, has affected my financial stand,’’ she said.
Speaking further, Ismaila said, ‘‘The most painful thing is that my husband also retired a year after me. We have eight children, the eldest has an NCE, four are in the university while two have just finished secondary school. The stipend paid to us at the end of every month cannot do anything. Though we live in our own house, we spend a lot to ensure that we keep body and soul together.’’
‘‘My child,’ she continued, ‘‘I am too old to get a paid job and my training will not allow me to go begging in the street. I believe you heard what some people did with police pension fund? Our God will not allow people who stole from us to rest; they will pay every kobo they stole.
A lot of people died because they could not pay their medical bills, but someone will sit down in Abuja and eat all the money,’’ she said.
Mallam Bello Usman (not real names) has lived and worked in Kaduna for most part of his life. Usman, 65, worked for the Kaduna State Water Board for more than 30 years. A father of six, Usman says life has not been easy for his family. ‘‘My son, this life is not funny.
When I was young and had the strength to work, I was paid well, but now that I have no strength, I am paid less for all I had worked for in my active years. The money cannot service my car, not to talk of paying my children’s school fees. That is life, my brother.’’
Ibrahim, 68 lives at Kaka Quarters, Gembu, Taraba State. During his active days, he had worked for the Federal Ministry of Education. Today, with a family of seven, Ibrahim survives on N20, 000 a month. He has been suffering untold hardship due to verification exercises.
And instances abound where monthly pensions of most of his colleagues have been stopped after verification. ‘‘Besides, the information during verification is often not used, which results in non-payment of gratuities and pensions of people who retired four years ago.
Mr Treseer Aor lives in Hudco Quarters at North Bank area of Makurdi, the Benue State capital. Since his retirement from his job with the Benue State government in 1996, he says his life has become a nightmare, ‘‘Catering for my five children, three of whom are students of Benue State University and the younger two in private schools within Makurdi, is a herculean task because my pension is lean and it has stopped coming for some months now despite numerous verification exercises. Feeding is now a travail, it has not been easy my son."
LEADERSHIP WEEKEND’s checks reveal that most of the states do not have a pension board, and the state bureau of pensions saddled with this responsibility make things difficult. In most of the states visited, pensioners are still waiting for one committee or the other. In some of the states, pensioners are waiting for smartcards designed by the government in order to eliminate travelling long distances for verification exercise.