Benue State governor Samuel Ortom said in the last six months the state government has been expending N700million monthly on pensions.
But the spokesperson of the aggrieved pensioners Comrade Akosu Orban, during a protest said over 500 pensioners had died in the last few years in the state due to the non-payment of their pensions and gratuities by the Ortom administration.
The pensioners who took to the streets of Makurdi, the state capital last week with placards with various inscriptions such as “Pensioners are dying, we can’t pay our children’s school fees, hospital bills, house rent,” and “We can’t even feed,” said they had not been paid for 34 months.
In an interview with one of the pensioners who identifies her name as Janet, she said the last payment they received was in April 2019.
“We have served this country for 35 years and retire and we are left on our own to die, most of the pensioners are on medication, some still have children in school some are even in rented apartment and owing to this economic difficulty what can we do to cater for our needs?” she said.
Governor Ortom in an interview with newsmen on his return from Abuja explained that the release of N700 million monthly is the result of an agreement between government and pensioners union leaders in the state, pointing out that the cause of the recent protests by pensioners despite the subsisting agreement is unfortunate and would be investigated.
According to him, N400million and N300 million are paid monthly to the state and local government pensioners respectively.
“Though the release of the funds affects payment of overheads and other logistics in some Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs of government, it has to be sustained in order to address the plight of the senior citizens who served the state meritoriously and retired,” he said.
While reiterating the fact that his administration inherited over N70billion arrears of pensions and gratuities of retirees in the state, Governor Ortom said relentless efforts had reduced the amount to less than N35billion so far.
The governor said over N1.5 billion had been saved in the PENCOM account by the state government, stressing that when the amount reaches N3billion threshold, funds would be accessed from PENCOM to clear arrears of pensions and gratuities of retirees.
According to him, the domestication of the PENCOM law by his administration was the best approach to ensure a lasting solution to payment of pensions and gratuities of retirees in the state.