Hoodlums on Tuesday assaulted pensioners who were at the Imo State Government House in Owerri, the state capital, to protest against their five months, unpaid pensions and gratuities.
This is the fifth time in less than a month the senior citizens will protest against their non-payment of pensions and gratuities by the Governor Hope Uzodinma administration.
Trouble started when thugs clutching canes formed a barricade, stopping the pensioners from approaching the Government House main gate.
The senior citizens defied the situation, which led to their being flogged by the thugs.
While the retirees were shouting and sobbing, a detachment of policemen, led by an Assistant Commissioner of Police, A.J. Moses, arrived at the scene.
The cops immediately dispersed the thugs before the police chief started appealing to the pensioners.
The pensioners accused the government of being insensitive to their plights.
One of the pensioners, Ebenezer Ibekwe, told journalists that the thugs were sent by the government.
The retiree said no amount of intimidation by the state government would stop them from demanding that their pensions and gratuities be paid to them.
He said, “Thugs were flogging us their fathers and mothers. I pity them because they have dug their graves. At Warehouse junction, while we were coming, they accosted us and poured water on us. This has never happened in this state before.
“The money we worked for and the government is sending urchins and idiots to assault people, who are old enough to be their fathers, mothers, and grandparents.”
However, it was gathered that two factions of protesters clashed some metres away from the Government House, where the protest was to hold.
According to one of the protesters, who did not want his name mentioned, one Collins Ohaneje, said to be the leader of one of the protesters, had earlier sent a text message mobilising their members to converge on the Freedom Square to protest against the non-payment of arrears of pensions owed his members.
A faction, which disagreed with the protest, hinged their argument on the earlier stance taken by Nigeria Union of Pensioners to stop the protest and allow the government to conclude its automation of members.
One of them, who introduced himself as Chief Amadi, said, “We were given text messages by Ohanaje to come out today (Tuesday) for a meeting, but I am surprised he is nowhere to be found and now, we are asked to go on protest.”
Recall that the state government had promised to pay the few months arrears owed the pensioners after its automation processes.
Most of the pensioners, according to government, had been paid up to date, except about 5,000 of them, who were still having issues with their documents.
Meanwhile, leader of one of the factions, Ohaneje, is said to be on the run as a result of his text message written to incite members to embark on the protest.
Reacting, the state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Declan Emelumba, frowned on the protest.
Emelumba confirmed that though the state government had paid the pensioners the arrears they were demanding, few of them (pensioners) were still having issues, which were being resolved by the state leadership of NUP and the state government.
“It is instructive that this particular incitement to public protest is coming when a vast majority of pensioners have been paid and when the government, working closely with the leadership of the National Union of Pensioners in the state, has concluded the identification of all pensioners, who have issues from the automation exercise, and is about to pay them,” Emelumba said.