From Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
Scores of the Nigerian civil war veterans on Wednesday staged a peaceful protest in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, over the non-payment of their entitlements by the Federal Government in the past 44 years.
The civil war, also known as Biafran War, was fought for 30 months between 1967 and 1970. The leader of the Biafran Republic then was Chief Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, while the Military Head of State for Nigeria then is Gen Yakubu Gowon (retd).
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The protest, which took off from the state secretariat of the Nigerian Legion at American Quarters, Idi-Ape, Ibadan, ended at the entrance of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). The civil war veterans trekked from their secretariat to NTA and the majority of them did not show any sign of fatigue at the end of the protest.
The protesters carried placards with inscriptions, including ‘We are the civil war veterans’, ‘We were used and dumped by the Nigerian government’, ‘We are dying in silence’, ’44 years unpaid pension to the Nigeria Civil War veterans’, ‘We laid down our lives for the unity of this country, but punishment was compensation’, ‘We were verified in 2015 and issued with genuine pensioners’ certificate but no payment’, ‘Is it a crime to defend a nation?’ ‘Majority of us were on sick bed, suffering from stroke.’
National Coordinator, First Intake Able Voluntary Retired or Discharged Ten or More Years in Military Service, Pa Babawande Philips, told journalists during the protest: “We have been so much deprived of our pensions for the past 44 years. They have denied us of our pensions. The irony of it is that they said we are not qualified because we didn’t clock 15 years in service.
“It was Decree 102 they used against us. This Decree 102 was not supposed to be used against us because they didn’t use it against the Biafrans, that fought against Nigeria. One thing I know that is sure is President Muhammadu Buhari, has not been aware of what is happening because we were ‘Buhari’s Boys’ during the civil wartime.
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“In our early 20s and late 30s, we all enlisted into the Nigerian Army and we fought for a period of 10 years and above. When the government depopulated Nigeria’s workforce, some of us crossed to various places like the police, customs, immigration, schools and so on.
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“So, we have been on this agitation since 2002. In 2007, there was a biometric capturing and out of a lot of us, that they captured, a few people were being paid, and they are collecting their pensions since then.
“We had been on litigation and Femi Falana (SAN) has been our lawyer. We were in court for several years. We had a series of court adjournments. But when it got to 2015, they said we should settle out of court. They called on us to do another verification in 2015. Then, we were issued with biometric data paper, where they wrote genuine pensioners. Since then, we have been waiting to receive our pensions, but all to no avail.
“Now, they (Nigerian Army) are claiming that anyone that doesn’t serve up to 15 years is not qualified to receive pensions. But they have forgotten that there was a circular that came out in 1977, where it was stated that any soldier man that clocks 10 years or more, but less than 15 years, is qualified to receive pensions, and they would be entitled to 40 per cent of their terminal salaries.
“I don’t know whether they are not aware of this circular. If they are not aware of it, they should go and search for it. We have all these documents with us. We have the verification papers, biometrically captured in 2007 and 2015. We all have it with us. So, we don’t know the reason why they should continue to punish us. A lot of my people are in abject poverty, many have died.
“We laid our lives for the unity of this nation. I wonder why they are treating us like this. We want the whole nation to know that we are being cheated. Those who fought from the Biafran side have been paid, and that is the irony of it. Why were they paid and they left us unpaid; we that laid our lives for the unity of this nation? The whole world must know about this.
“On the nominal role, we have 780 of us that have not been paid. The number may be more than that. So, we appeal to the Federal Government to yield to our clarion call. If a person used a day in the war front, you can’t equate it with somebody who used a year outside the war. The Biafran soldiers were paid in batches and they have all been paid to the last kobo. The last batch was paid last year, about 112 of them.”
Secretary, First Intake Able Voluntary Retired or Discharged Ten or More Years in Military Service, Lance Corporal Joseph Also Popoola, who also spoke with journalists, said: “It has been hard. We are suffering in silence. We appeal to all Nigerians and Federal Government to see to our problems.
“We have been on this since 2002. We were in court till 2014 when the rtd Chief Justice, Inang Okoro said we should go to the National Industrial Court. President Muhammadu Buhari was elected in 2015. Then, we were asked to come for pension board verification, which we did. But still, we didn’t hear from them.”
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