|Biafrans in the South-east|
Considering decades of agonising agitation for the pardon of these ex-servicemen as well as the prevarication that characterised the payment of their pension since they were granted pardon on 29th May 2000, the present administration deserves commendation for the courage to do the needful at this time, in spite of the long years of frustration.
Without doubt, the attendant anguish which the delay in payment of pension and gratuities had caused potential beneficiaries; some of whom had died; waiting to be compensated for their services to the nation, would be difficult to quantify. Nevertheless, it should be a great relief to the immediate families and dependants of the beneficiaries, dead or alive, that the long-awaited entitlements are finally being settled.
While the federal government should be applauded for taking a step in the right direction, we, however, demand that the government should undertake a ramified consideration of all outstanding issues that are yet to be addressed and which, nevertheless, continue to unleash bitter memories of the Nigerian civil war.
We therefore unequivocally urge that government should seize the unique opportunity of this new vista of hope, which the settlement of entitlements of ex-Biafra policemen symbolises to embark on total healing of the wounds of the past.
The Executive Secretary of Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD), Mrs Sharon Ikeazor, who coordinated the payment of pension benefits to ex-Biafra policemen noted that the unfortunate civil war which began in July, 1967 and ended in January, 1970, led to the dismissals of some men of the Armed Forces, the Nigeria Police and paramilitary agencies, on account of the war. The PTAD boss also disclosed that implementation of federal government’s directive on payment of pension to the pardoned officers followed a thorough verification of claims by potential beneficiaries, which was carried out by the defunct Police Pension Office and as well by PTAD and the Police Service Commission.
According to reports, no fewer than 162 ex-Biafra policemen have been enlisted in the pension payroll, while entitlement of death benefits were paid to 57 next of kin of affected beneficiaries. In addition, no fewer than 155 ex-servicemen already on the payroll but who were being short-paid are also believed to have been listed for settlement, as part of the continuous payment of the pension.
It is, however, unfortunate that in spite of the presidential pardon granted the affected ex-Biafra policemen by the administration of former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, and the subsequent formalisation of their retirements, the payment of their entitlements took years to implement. Following a presidential pardon, the delay in processing and payment of entitlements to affected officers was indeed unnecessary and ought to have been avoidable. It is recalled that the verification of the claims of entitlements by this category of ex-servicemen only commenced in late 2014 through early 2015; five years after they were pardoned, which led to the identification of close to 500 police officers, whose services to Nigerian state were disrupted in the wake of the civil war.
More importantly, however, it should be instructive that decades of political contemplations and pronouncements which eventually culminated in the settlement of the entitlements of ex-Biafra policemen portend a huge lesson that would remain useful in the route to nation-building that has become compelling more than ever before. Rather than pretend that all was well, prior to the recent decision regarding the payment of pension to ex-Biafra policemen, the event should be seen as a turning point that offers huge prospects for imbuing the spirit of unanimity, towards collective aspiration and destiny in a united Nigeria.
In the light of renewed separatist agitations and rancorous clamour for restructuring which has become deafening in recent time, the acclamation that attended the payment of pension and gratuities to this category of traumatised citizens serves as a useful message, to the effect that the wounds arising from the lingering gory picturesque of civil war could, indeed, be healed. The development offers a ray of hope for a new Nigerian spirit and passion that could be ignited across the country if government and leadership continue to demonstrate willingness and courage to address genuine grievances and feelings of marginalisation.
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