The serenity at Wellington Bassey, Uyo was punctured on Monday, 26th April, when next of kin of late Primary School Teachers stormed the exclusively reserved area that houses the Akwa Ibom State government house and other key facilities like the Traditional Rulers Council Secretariat, Nigeria Police Force, A Division and the Federal High Court, Uyo; to stage a peaceful protest.
The next of kin of the late Primary School teachers numbering over 100 defied the scourging early morning sun to protest what they described as ‘audio’ promises from Akwa Ibom State.
The group were seen flagging down different placards with inscriptions like ‘we have been fooled enough, Pay us. Don’t take advantage of our weakness. We don’t want radio payment again” at cars making their way into the government house and other adjoining offices. Curses at whoever tried to solicit calmness from the group was also heard, accompanied with shout of anguish and pain.
Also, the road was flooded with men of the Nigeria Police Force and security details from the governor who tried to ensure the protesters didn’t take their protest beyond the Federal High Court.
Speaking with newsmen, Chairman, Coalition of Families, Widows/Next-of-Kin of late Primary School Teachers in the State, Mr David Edet, hinted that the group was compelled to storm the street in demand for their payment after several failed promises from the government.
Edet noted that despite meeting all the requirements in the verification process, the state government had failed to come forth with the payment or show concern to their plight.
Also speaking, the Secretary of the group, Mr Benjamin Benson revealed that since 2015, none of the members have been captured in the payment (deceased persons entitlement).
He expressed with dismay that the state government only came on radio to announce the commencement of payment after getting a tip of the proposed protest, and that none of the several promises made by the government had greenlight of hope.
He added, ”After series of agreement, verifications and meetings, the state government have refused to pay. They have announced on radio that they were going to pay several times but they’re yet to pay as we speak. There’s no seriousness in what the state government is saying, for instance, they said they will begin today, Monday, 26th April but we’ve just spoken with the Chief of Staff to the Governor, Akparawa Ephraim Inyang-Eyen who said we should give him the next 48hours while the NLC Chairman just said, payment will commence this evening. Don’t forget the verification was over one month now. So what stopped them from paying during the verification?” he enquired.
On her part, Miss Unyime Akanimo Paulinus, a third year dropout from the Law Department, University of Uyo, wept bitterly over the challenges her family has experienced due to inability to access their entitlement since the demise of her mother who she revealed died in 2016.
Paulinus who further pleaded with the state government to heed their cries, revealed she had dropped out of school and now, her brother was down with kidney problem. She added that the entitlement if paid on time will go a long way to save her brother’s life as they have nowhere else to source for his medical bills.
In the same vein, Mrs Cecilia Samuel, a widow and mother of four lamented that life was hard for her children due to the failed promises from government. She pleaded with governor Udom to look into their yearnings and act on because their situation was epileptic and needed urgent attention.
Another next of kin, Mr Dan Stephen on his part disclosed that his father died in active service 20years ago when he was in JSS2. He hinted that despite fulfilling all the verification criteria and clearances, there was no sight of hope for them, noting that the comments from the government spokesman and the NLC leader was contradictory and filled with discrepancies.
Also, Stephen stressed that the newly announced payment by government does not capture their interest as the tranches to be paid included only living and deceased persons from 1991-2000, he added that such move was wicked and insensitive as the said tranche were less than 30 persons compared to those from 2000 -2018
Expressing sadness over the matter, another next of kin who didn’t want to be named, revealed the group were assured in September, 2020 by Comrade Ini Ememobong, the Commissioner for Information and Strategy when they planned on embarking on a peaceful protest and negotiation reached to resolve the payment.
He explained, ”on the negotiation, government had promised they will pay and that we should not protest on that Monday. That Monday, the first people that got the money were retirees and it was 750million naira, we were not paid. Another committee was set up in December, and 200million naira was approved which was on air. Out of the 200million, 70million was allocated to next of kin, 130million to retired teachers again. Up till today, retired teachers are getting their pension while next of kin are yet to get anything. I want to know is it that, government enjoys the process of protest?, he quizzed.
Earlier, the Chief of Staff to Governor Udom Emmanuel, Akparawa Ephraim Inyang-Eyen who addressed the group hinted that governor Emmanuel hears and feels their pain.
Inyang-Eyen while pleading for their cooperation and patience said, that government was putting final touches to ensure the payment is done within the next 48hours.
On his part, Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Akwa Ibom State Chapter, Comrade Sunny James said that protest was their constitutional rights because he had discovered after due findings and evidence presented that ‘the group have been neglected of their rights for the past 31years.’
James noted that an agreement was signed in December, 2020 and a committee set up to address all the pressing issues raised by the group. He maintained that since he took over the matter, the matter has been on a ‘progressive nature’.
On why the group is yet to get their entitlement till now, the NLC Chairman explained that ” the bureaucratic nature of government has not allowed some of you to get the first alert. By Thursday last week, all of you who were supposed to be in the first tranche of the payment would have gotten your first alert.”
The NLC Chairman while soliciting patience and understanding from the group said that he has been able to get the first tranche from government and payment was to commence Monday, evening. He assured that going forward, issues of delay in payment of entitlement to next of kin to late Primary School teachers will not be heard again, as he has place measures to address the matter particularly matters from 1999-2000 and from 2000 till date.