Hundreds of pensioners today in Borno State barricaded the entrance of the state secretariat in protest over unpaid entitlements.
The protesters comprising aged retirees, their wives and children lamented the hardship they were plunged into due to the unpaid emoluments.
The pensioners stormed the premises of the secretariat along Kirikasama road, post office area, Maiduguri at about 9 a.m asking workers to stay out or be locked up inside.
All pleas by government officials, especially permanent secretaries, for the pensioners to allow them gain access to the secretariat fell on deaf ears.
The aggrieved pensioners said they had not received their pensions and gratuities in the past two years.
According to them, their travails started since 2016 when the state government commenced the verification of its workforce using biometric data capturing of all serving and retired workers.
Though the exercise had yielded government’s desired results of pruning out ghost workers and saving millions of naira, it however left many, whose biometric data could not be captured in a dilemma.
Those affected are the retired workers who claimed the exercise had stopped their monthly pensions from hitting their bank accounts. Some said they have not received their gratuities since retirement five years ago.
The protest caused heavy traffic gridlock along Kirikasama road, which is the route leading to Maiduguri’s major commercial centre.
Heavily armed police personnel deployed to the secretariat, by the state police command, were seen asking motorists to navigate through alternative routes.
The state deputy governor, Usman Mamman Durkwa, arrived the gate of the secretariat at about 1pm to plead with the protesters.
The official informed the crowd that the state government was aware of their plight and had mapped out plans towards resolving it.
He said a meeting with the labour union leaders had been slated to hold by 2pm today.
“We know you are all aggrieved, but there is not much we could ask of you than to further solicit for your patience and also to let you know that His Excellency , Governor Kashim Shettima, personally asked me to come here and beg you all for patience,” he said.
“The governor also asked me to kindly ask you to nominate 10 representatives that will be at the meeting slated for 2pm today during which all the issues relating to your grievance would be resolved.”
Babagana Biji, who was representing his retired aged father, spoke on behalf of the protesters.
“We have heard the deputy governor and on behalf of our poor parents here, we will go to the meeting,” he said.
“But I want to assure the deputy governor and everyone here that should we not end the meeting with a concrete resolution that will translate in us getting alerts in our bank accounts, we shall return to this gate and lock it up.
“We are saying this because we have had enough of this suffering. Today is about two years that pensioners in this state have not received a dime.
“Our plight started with the so-called biometric exercise that have denied many workers and retirees their emoluments. Gathered here are also serving civil servants that have not received their salaries in the past two years even though they have concluded their biometric data capturing exercise; we still have many pensioners that have not yet been called to get their biometric data captured and their salaries have been stopped.
“We have widows, who have not received their deceased husbands’ gratuities and related benefits. Our agitation is genuine and we have vowed to pursue it to it’s logical conclusion till our rights are given to us,” he said.
A civil servant with the Borno State Agency for Mass Literacy, Muhammed Jidda Saleh, told PREMIUM TIMES that the last time he was paid salary was in October 2016.
“I concluded my verification exercise on the 28 July 2016, and after then I got my salary for three months then it stopped,” he said.
“I contacted the biometric data capturing team who said I needed to update some of my documents like the declaration of aged, which I did and submitted to them.
“But till date, nothing came to my bank account in the name of salary. Many people, including pensioners, have similar problems,” he said.
The Borno State Government in May this year, said it saved N5.5 billion which would have been used to pay 11,876 ghost workers and pensioners. The credit was given to the verification and biometric data capturing exercise of serving and retired workers.
Prior to 2016, the state state government said it had a total workforce of 27,971 with a monthly wage bill of N2.2 billion.