Edo state Governor, Godwin Obaseki, has told pensioners in the state that they cannot intimidate or frighten him, advising that they should adopt a rational approach to their demand rather than being combatant.
He appealed to the aggrieved pensioners shield their sword so that not to create confusion and anarchy in the state.
The Governor, who said this at the Annual National Pensioners Day Celebration in Benin city on Monday, which ended on a rancorous note, told pensioners that they cannot frighten or intimidate him.
He siad despite its huge indebtedness to state pensioners which amounts to over N3.9bn pension arrears, Edo state is still the most pension friendly in the country.
He frowned at the attitude of some of the pensioners in the state over their series of protest over non-payment of pension arrears, spanning several months, saying that the problem was inherited from previous administrations and should not be used to tarnish his government.
“You have a Governor, who understands the problem, who is trying to resolve the problem, and the government’s will is that we work together to resolve this problem.
“Please, let us prove the facts from the fictions, let us not be emotional, because it is about your life, it is about your money. Let people not create confusion so that we cannot resolve this problem.
“We have not solved all the problem, we know, but if we have made progress, admit that we have made progress so that we can resolve the problem. The arrears were accumulated because between 1996 and 2000, no pensioner was paid and the arrears almost got to N10bn.
“In his wisdom (former) Governor, Adams Oshiomhole put up a scheme and we put everybody in batches and we have been paying to those batches.
“From N10bn, today, we are under N4bn, and people say we have not progressed? This is wicked! It is very, very wicked when people can’t agree and appreciate us for the small thing we have done. Most pensioners are grateful, it is only a few who are trying to create confusion
“The problems are so many that we cannot address them in one go. Every month, we set aside N100m to begin to address the arrears. However, as our revenue improves, that amount will be increased so that we can solve the problem.
“Nobody is going to frighten me, I will tell you the truth as it is. I am not afraid, don’t threaten me. The problem did not start today, arrears did not start today, arrears built up in the past.
“The pensioners’ issue happened because the management of the people who governed the people long time ago did not provide for the pensioners. The money they made, they put it in their pockets. You are not demonstrating against those people today, you are demonstrating against the people who are trying to resolve the problem.
“When people are now antagonist, and now want to fight, we have to be careful. Maybe somebody has sent them to disrupt what we are doing.
“As your Governor, I understand your case, because I have been part of this for almost 20 years. I was part of the people who looked at the problem and said we would not have such problem and we set up PENCOM. And since I have come as Governor, I put pension as a front burner item and I promised myself and my God that I will resolve it.
“All I am asking from you is that, please, trust us. If there is any issue, let us work together to resolve them. The current attitude of you versus us fighting will not resolve it. If you have a Governor who was not listening, then, you have every right to demonstrate everyday. But if you have a Governor who is prepared to listen, then let us sit down and look for a common solution,” Obaseki said.
Earlier in his address, Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners, Edo State Council, Comrade Pullen Noruwa, said the celebration will afford pensioners the opportunity to appraise how Edo State pensioners have faired in the past one year, vis a vis, the payment of its members’ monthly pension, payment of pension benefits, the constraints and the way forward.
Noruwa said: “The struggle to ensure the payment of pension benefits to the pensioners in the state has not been easy. This is so because successive administration have refused to listen to the cry of the pensioners. The pension benefits of the pensioners are not addresed inspite of series of meetings/dialogues with the government.”