Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State on Friday appealed to protesting pensioners to vacate the Government House premises as arrangements was being made to pay them two months of entitlements.
The pensioners had besieged the Government House in Makurdi since Wednesday and refused to return to their homes on insistence that the governor who was earlier away from the state meet their demands.
Addressing them at the gate of the government house at 11:40pm on Friday, Ortom apologised profusely and begged the pensioners to give him more time to sort out their demand while he disclosed that two months entitlement would be made available to them by Monday.
“I apologise for this situation you find yourselves, you don’t deserve this. It is sad that this is happening during my time. I’m pained to know that you have been here since the last three days and I’m ashamed before you all for my inability to pay you your entitlements,” he said.
Ortom blamed the worsening plight of the pensioners on the N34 billion pension allowances and gratuities which he inherited from the previous administration.
He noted that of the amount, he had paid N18.6 billion, since coming on board in 2015, adding that his administration recently set up the State Pension Commission so as to access PENCOM fund to permanently resolve future challenges associated with payment of pensions.
The governor therefore appealed to the protesters to be patient with his administration as everything possible was being done in the interim to make the pensioners in the state comfortably access their entitlements.
Responding, the chairman of the protesters under the aegis of Concerned Pensioners in the state, Peter Kyado, rejected the governor’s plea, saying that they would continue to occupy the government house until all their demands amounting to over N28 billion entitlements owed them by the state government are met.
Kyado, however said that the immediate demands included payment of all our outstanding pension arrears to both the State and Local Government Pensioners. Subsequently, the monthly pension to both the state and local government pensioners as and when due.
He added, “Monthly release of N1billion only for the payment of the gratuities till all the outstanding gratuities are settled. The release of the 15 percent of the statutory allocation to the LGAs for pension payment at the LG levels.”
Kyado further told the governor that one of them died early hours of Friday after falling ill on Thursday night as they tarried in cold at the Government House gate in Makurdi.
In another development, the Chairman of Nigerian Union of Pensioners (NUP) in Benue State, Joseph Kume, told newsmen in Makurdi, that the leaders of the protesting pensioners are not genuine members of NUP in the state.
“They are suspended leaders of NUP who went to mobilise pensioners. Before, the general elections in the state, they were working as politicians. As for NUP, we have been engaging the government on peaceful dialogue to negotiate a way out of the situation,” Kume added.