It is quite disturbing that public outcry over non-payment of pensioners has become a recurring aspect of national life. Worrisome as it is, even the country’s military and para-military services are also caught in this web. Only this week, pensioners of the Nigerian military took to the streets of the nation’s capital, Abuja to protest non-payment of their arrears.
The ex-servicemen in their numbers were armed with placards carrying different descriptions to drive home their demands. One of their demands is for veterans of the civil war to be placed on pension payroll. They also want the FG to approve the payment of their minimum wage arrears from 2019 till date.
The ex-servicemen further demanded a stop on all deductions on the pensions of all retired medical officers as well as the inclusion of officers who fought during the civil war on the Military Pension Scheme.
A representative of the retired soldiers, Anthony Agbas, delivered the letter conveying their demands at the ministry of finance. Agbas told newsmen that they have fought and deserved to be paid their arrears. According to him, “minimum wage approved by the president since April 2019 up till date we pensioners have not been paid and it is in the constitution, Section 1 (72) that we are supposed to benefit from it and up till date, over 20 months now we have not been paid.”
Pension matters may not be crucial issues that can affect so much but are like the tiny yeast that can “balloon” the bread, or like those tiny toppings on the cake that can rekindle great smiles.
It is important to note that grumblings by ex-servicemen, small as it is, could portend untoward implications, not just for the Nigerian military but the entire country as a whole. These are men who have fought to keep the integrity, unity, and peace of Nigeria. They have dedicated their lives for the common good of the country.
They can misconstrue the oversight and periodic negligence as a form of betrayal, having dedicated their lives and service to the nation only to be denied their basic rights in allowances and other associated funds. Getting to a level that they feel they must protest to seek what is rightfully theirs, might propel them to a stage where they resort to working against the Nigerian State in retaliation.
This brings to front burner the concern raised by the representative of the military pensioners who noted, while speaking at the protest, that there’s a security department allowance to be paid to all retired soldiers so that they will not use the skills they acquire in the military to work against the state. He lamented that they have not received any of these allowances.
This is a very vital point because a good number of the retired soldiers might feel compelled to consider the idea of using what they had learnt in service to work against the state. They might even be tempted to align with insurgents, train them, as well as give hints on some of the tactics they have learnt in service.
Even so, it is no news that many of these pensioners live by the edge, with resources barely enough to sustain them and their family. It therefore shouldn’t leave anyone in doubt about the possibility of some unpatriotic ex-soldiers getting the urge to become available tools for the devil to work on given the way they are treated.
Apart from this, the effects such protests may have on soldiers in active service, as they see how former military personnel are being treated on issues of gratuities and pension arrears, can be far reaching and even negative. The implication is even more sensitive at a crucial time like this when we are in the war against insurgency, where confidence and mood should really be high.
Any soldier who fought in the trenches should be treated with some form of reverence and given all the benefits to show appreciation for their nationalistic altruism. Little things like arrears of pension should not even be allowed to escalate. This is not the same in other climes where ex-servicemen are treated with great dignity.
It is equally regrettable that the protesting ex-servicemen have forgotten that they are technically still in service. So whatever issues they had, should have been channelled through appropriate source without embarrassing theatrics that can dampen the morale of soldiers in active service, who might unassumingly feel the government would treat them the same way when they too have retired. Even those who want to join the military might be discouraged by such shows.
In addition, it is no news that the FG is besieged with a lot of economic challenges so the level of patriotism of stakeholders should be at a higher level now. With lecturers, doctors, civil servant, the challenges of COVID-19 and pressure for vaccines pushing from different angles, it is no news that Nigeria is genuinely faced with the problem of funding.
However, there is need for all to rise beyond current challenges and see how things can be resolved, particularly because of the highlighted implications they have on the country. All Nigerians, including protesting ex-servicemen, should know that this generation and future ones have no other country except Nigeria. There is no option other than to join hands and salvage it together.