Under the hot and unforgiving sun, they trudged to the Edo State Government House, veterans of years of service to the state. They were not messing around, and the placards they wielded said as much.
They were unhappy on a number of legitimate but misinformed accounts. They were members of the Local Government Pensioners Association, and they were leading a sombre protest to the Government House where they intended to ask for settlement of their outstanding gratuities. They figured they could also ask for settlement of their outstanding pension arrears, enrolment of newly retired pensioners, harmonisation of their pensions, and regular payments of their monthly pensions.
Upon arriving at the Government House, they immediately demanded to meet with the governor and would not settle for less until they espied the Deputy Governor of the state, Comrade Phillip Shaibu, himself an activist, who would not idle about until justice reigned supreme. He was engaging. He took his time to listen to each of them as they took turns to vent their grievances while others offered prayers.
Without mincing words, the Comrade Deputy who wore humility was polite and respectful as ever when he made them know that the reason they had not been receiving their entitlements was that the local government officials, who should have made sure they got their money, had gotten greedy and mismanaged their retirement plans.
The state had ceased managing the internally generated revenue from the local government since 2008 and this included the money the pensioners had been setting aside for when they finally retired.
He continued that it was not fair for the money to have been deducted from their salaries while they were working in the hope that upon retirement, they would have access to it, only to discover upon retirement that a great fraud had been done which would leave them desolate for the rest of their lives.
He therefore promised that the state government would wade into the matter even though the damage was done by the local governments, and in addition to bailing out the local governments, it would set modalities in place to ensure pensioners received their entitlements.
The pensioners were not unreasonable. They understood, from Comrade Shaibu’s explanation that the fraud was not a result of the state government’s negligence. To the contrary, the state government was only involving itself in the matter out of its genuine concern for all the citizens of the state.
With renewed hope from the precise, practical words of the Deputy Governor, a comrade at heart and a brother in the quest for good governance and economic justice, the pensioners relaxed. They warmed up to him and saw in him a genuine Comrade, who was concerned about their welfare.
In what will well be remembered in the annals of history, the aggrieved protest soon turned to a congenial engagement as the local government pensioners and the deputy governor of Edo State met minds, had a laugh or two, and took photographs.
It was epic, this meeting of comrades; it was progressive; and it was an epitome of the better life Governor Godwin Obaseki’s administration heralded for the people of Edo State.