By SAM OSASOGIE
The last time Osagie Uduigwomen saw his father eat more than two pieces of meat was eight months ago – and that was at Christmas.
With the head of the home unable to provide for the family after being owed his pension for 23 months, the family of five had resorted to depending on proceeds from the tiny beer parlour Osagie’s mum operated in the Government Reserved Area of Benin.
In November 2015, all of that changed as Governor Adams Oshiomole, in an act of remarkable wisdom banned all social activity centers from operating in the GRA axis. He stopped further building of shops, churches, drinking bars, car wash centers and business centers in the area, He threatened demolition of any shop contravening the new order.
With the New Year came glimmers of hope that the governor would at least pay the backlog of salaries and pensions to workers all over the state. But curiously, Oshiomole has refused to pay notwithstanding that it is an election year and in complete defiance of whatever impact his actions could have on Godwin Obaseki, the candidate of his party in the September elections.
“Only God knows why a man who came to power on the strength of fighting for the common man, has turned his back against them. He’s using taxpayers’ money to build a mansion in his hometown when we are all suffering. It is not fair.”
And so, the meat ration in the Uduigwomen family dropped to one each for the parents and nothing but plain watery soup for the children. Osagie himself dropped out of secondary school to sell recharge cards just outside his house. His two sisters have gone to learn a trade rather than sit at home doing nothing.
While they battled survival, their neighbour, a retired government teacher passed on, leaving many debts to his only son who survives him. Having no money for an elaborate funeral according to customs and tradition, the son dug his grave with a rusty shovel.
The neighbouring families are two of hundreds of disgruntled and frustrated pensioners being owed their monies from 10-42 months ago, despite series of verifications of their credentials. Things reached a crescendo that fearing for their lives, they organized an interdenominational prayer service – Christians, Muslims and traditionalists – at the Rt. (Rev) Dr. S. I. Usunaele Hall at Emokpae Primary School premises in Benin City.
At the service, prayers were led by Bishop Dr. Frank I. Ojehunme (JP) and Sheik Ahmedu Ojakhue, the former Secretary of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs in the State.
Addressing his fellow Pensioners, Comrade Pullen Noruwa, chairperson of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners (NUP), Edo state urged the state government to pay all outstanding arrears of pensions including the 33 per cent pension increase.
On August 3, about a thousand civil servants, protested the non-payment of their salaries in over 18 months, moving from one end of Sapele Road to the other, wearing all black.
While they wait for the government to pay up, both the pensioners and civil servants currently in the employ of the state have had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to feed their families with some cursing the current administration.
For the Uduigwomen family, they can’t wait for the good times to be back – and good food too.