The Bayelsa chapter of The Nigeria Union of Pensioners on Wednesday took to the streets of the State capital on a peaceful protest to the government house in Yenagoa urging the State government to settle its four month arrears.
SaharaReporters gathered that security operatives protecting the seat of government and official residence of Governor Seriake Dickson mal-handled a photojournalist who captured the protest in pictures.
The leader of the Department of State Security Services (DSS) team at the government house had seized the camera of the photojournalist and deleted photos that were considered inimical before returning the equipment and warned the journalist never to attempt taking photos of the pensioners in government house gate.
The pensioners, numbering over 1,000, began their protest from St. Peter’s Primary School, Ovom, singing solidarity songs and carrying placards with various inscriptions to drive home their demands.
The State government had in a panic mode rushed to the state owned radio to announce that government had ordered immediate payments effective from today but the announcement fell on deaf ears as the pensioners dismissed the radio announcement as a trick to save the government from the embarrassment of a protest by senior citizens of the state.
Some of the inscriptions read: “Pensioners are dying every day; please pay us our gratuities; Dickson, be good to pensioners’’ among others.
The Coordinator of the pensioners, Mr. Bodi Amarah, said the protest was to call government’s attention to their four months pension arrears and demand immediate, describing the stance of the Dickson led administration as insensitive.
“We are not protesting to cause breach of the peace or disorder but all we want from Bayelsa government is to pay us our four month arrears; we have serve the state and retired after the 35 years of work, we deserve to be paid.
“Most of us do not have any other source for a livelihood; our children school fees is from that stipend, so, we want the state government to pay us, a bleak Christmas is staring us in the face.
“Our members are dying every day because the money is not regular; we have been denied our gratuity and harmonisation,” he said.
Mr. Tarigboro Happy-John, who retired as Director in 2009, said the protest was carried out because pensioners have been pushed to the wall, urging the state government to pay them without further delays.
“Let the government pay us our money, we were paid last in August and what we are crying for now is four month arrears; let the benefits of our late colleagues be paid because we have done our 35 years meticulous service.
“There is a backlog of unpaid gratuity for our members who are retiring over these past years and nobody is remembering them, the government has been insensitive to the plight of retirees.
“Our pension is not negotiable or used for politics; let it been paid to us to enable us feed our family,’’ he said.
Mr. Talford Ongolo, Chief of Staff, Bayelsa Government House, stood in for Governor Seriake Dickson, who ignored the pensioners and later made a broadcast which failed to address the demands of the pensioners.
The Chief of Staff to Dickson however told the angry pensioners that government would work out modalities to settle the liabilities.
“We are urging you to maintain the peace for the betterment of the state.
“We want you to organize yourselves and let us go on a round table discussion to resolve the issues based on dialogue and discussions,” Ongolo said
The Pensioners had blocked the government house entrance to vehicular and human traffic for several hours while the protest lasted.