By NBF News
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It was indeed a clarion call, a distress call from distressed people. They were elderly men and women that had served their state with diligence for 35 years, while the rest had turned 60 while in service. They then quit the service, hoping to enjoy their retirement peacefully in their homes.

That enjoyment seems not to be there, though. They are being denied their benefits by the same state they spent their youthful years serving: the Anambra State government. The state, they said, has refused paying them gratuity and pension.

The old men and women recently addressed the press, narrating what they termed their ordeal in the hands of the Anambra State government.

The press briefing was addressed by the Chairman of Nigeria Union of Pensioners, Anambra Broadcasting Service (ABS) branch, Engr. Dennis Nwadukwe. He said, among other things, that the state government has, since 1996, owed them arrears of pension and gratuity to the tune of N200 million.

The workers said they were also not happy that the state government, under Peter Obi, has not been treating their former organization, the ABS, well.

'As senior citizens, we cannot sit and watch the edifice we helped to build collapse,' Nwadukwe said.

He said several attempts have been made by them to make the state government see the need to continue to develop the ABS, an organization he noted has been helping the government to inform the public about its programmers and policies as well as relaying the views and opinions of the people to government.

'We are constrained to inform the people of Anambra State that successive administrations have neglected the growth and development of the Anambra Broadcast Service in terms of funding, infrastructure, vehicles and general welfare of staff and pensioners,' he said.

Asserting that payment of pension was mandatory, Nwadukwe wondered why Anambra State government under Mr. Peter Obi should punish the pensioners unduly.

Nwadukwe said former governor, Dr. Chris Ngige, increased their pension by over 140% while Dame Virgy Eliaba also increased the ABS subvention from N8.3million to N14.3million when Mr. Peter Obi was illegally impeached. But he said the increase in salary has rendered the ABS subvention insufficient to pay the staff and the pensioners fully on monthly basis.

'We are surprised that Anambra State government cannot pay ABS pensioners after they have served the government. 'The situation in ABS has degenerated to a point that even the small monthly pension and staff salaries have been slashed to two thirds for the month of June, 2011,' he lamented, regretting that what happened in June might continue.

The pensioners are convinced that ABS must be well funded and adequately equipped for it to start making profit.

'We understand that Anambra State government mandated ABS to generate N26million monthly to fund its service. Yet ABS Radio and Television cannot be received outside Awka. Other stations like Ebonyi, Enugu, Abia, Imo and Delta are being received in Anambra State,' he said.

He said the state government deducted N4million from the company's monthly subvention for the liquidation of pension and gratuity arrears, an action which he said amounted to robbing Peter to pay Paul. 'ABS spends about N5million on monthly pension. Four million is deducted from it, leaving a balance of N1 million for monthly pension. The N4million is shared among nearly 200 pensioners which amounts to N20,000 per pensioner per month. In effect, neither monthly pension nor real gratuity can be paid. It becomes an effort in futility,' he noted.

The pensioners accused the state of playing pranks with them, adding that the government has not demonstrated any seriousness in settling their arrears. 'Anambra State government has to pay us the arrears the way governments pay arrears. There is no part of the globe where government settles pension and gratuity arrears in batches,' he said.

The ABS pensioners noted that the N200million arrears owed them is about what the government spends on constructing two kilometres of road, arguing that the lives of 200 ABS pensioners and their families are more precious than roads.

'Roads are meant for the living, not for the dead,' he said.