By Ogechukwu Adjure
The commencement of payment of pension benefits by Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) to Nigeria Police Officers who fought on the side of Biafra during the Nigerian Civil War from 1966-1970 is a very commendable initiative by the present administration.
It would be recalled that at the end of the Nigerian Civil War in 1970, officers of the Nigeria Police, Military and Paramilitary who fought on the side of Biafra were dismissed from service. This was contrary to the spirit of no victor, no vanquished and reconciliation espoused by the then General Yakubu Gowon administration.
Since their unfortunate dismissal from service the affected officers and their families have had to live with the unpleasant agony of being denied their benefit. The various administration is the country, both military and civilian, were unable to resolve this intractable problem which had remained a sad chapter of the Biafra saga.
However, their vanished hope was restored in 2000 when the then civilian administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo granted them presidential amnesty, which commuted their dismissal to retirement. But the process of getting their pension benefits had been quite tortuous and frustrating.
For 17 year these aged and frail former police officers had to undergo series of verification exercises conducted by the now defunct Police Pension Office, which not only lacked the capacity but unnecessarily over bureaucratic in handling pension matters.
The consequence was that before now many retired police officers had to go through harrowing experiences in processing their retirement pension benefits. Such was the case of the retired ex-Biafra police officers. What makes their matter very interesting and unique is that 47 years after the civil war ended and 17 years after the presidential amnesty was granted, they now have every reason to celebrate. This is because following the approval by president Muhammadu Buhari for the payment of their pension benefits, the Pension Trust Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) has embarked on implementing the payment.
The exercise which was flagged off in Enugu on Friday, 20th October, involved a total of 162 officers who are still living and 57 next-of-kin of their dead colleagues who were paid their pension benefits. Though this was coming 47 years after the civil war, it was better than never.
Indeed, the war affected police officers may have given up hope after waiting hopelessly for so long. This explained why they were overwhelmed with joy and gratitude when they finally received their pension benefits. It was a very historic moment for the Association of War Affected Retired Police Officers (AR WA PO) and their families who had been on the struggle for the past 47 years.
One must acknowledge the magnanimity of president Muhammadu Buhari for approving the payment of pension benefits of the ex-Biafra Police Officer. This was a clear demonstration that the president has a listening ear and also willing to accommodate the interest of all Nigerians irrespective of tribal or ethnic background. It equally delivered a clear message of president Buhari’s commitment to giving people their due rights, especially those who have served their Fatherland meritoriously and retired.
Equally deserving commendation is the Executive Secretary of PTAD, Barrister Sharon Ikeazor, for the prompt and efficient resolution of the pension benefits of ex-Biafra Police Officers. The executive secretary who is barely one year in office has shown that she is capable of providing the required leadership that will redefine pension administration is Nigeria.
Prior to her assumption of office, pensioners usually go through very painful ordeal to process their pension benefits indeed, pension administration in Nigeria before now had been bedevilled with gross irregularities, inefficiency and high level of corruption which had made it very difficult for pensioners to access their benefits. It is no longest news that many people have died while waiting for their pension benefits. But the new PTAD management is changing the story.
There is no doubt that the payment of pension benefits to ex-Biafra police officers would not only be of tremendous relief to the affected officers and their families, but also help significantly to held the wounds of the civil war and promote a sense of national integration especially among those who felt to have been denied of their rights.
To a large extent, those who are clamouring for restructuring or crying of marginalisation are doing so because they feel that the country has not given them a sense of belonging. But the commitment of PTAD and the Buhari administration in the payment of pension benefits to ex-Biafran police officer and those who fought on the side of Biafra in the lifted 30 months civil war would certainly go a long way to build bonds of unity and accelerate genuine reconciliation among the people.
Ogechukwu Ajuzie , a public Affairs Analyst Lives in Abuja.