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It’s unfortunate ex-servicemen are being owed entitlements when Buhari is a retired general – Durowaiye-Herberts, Leader, concerned veterans

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Abiodun Durowaiye-Herberts, the leader of the Coalition of Concerned Veterans, in this interview with SOLOMON ODENIYI, speaks on the reasons the retired soldiers embarked  on a protest last Wednesday

YoU protested at the Ministry of Finance Headquarters on Wednesday. What are your grievances?

Our grievances are many but top of all the grievances is the issue of the security debarment allowance.  That allowance was meant to be paid to every retired member of the Nigeria Armed Forces whether you served in the Army, Navy or in Air Force.  That allowance was specially created to encourage those who are retiring to invest in something that is profitable after retirement so that they are not encouraged or they won’t be enticed by any individual or group that intends to use them and their skills; the skills they acquired in the course of service; against the state.

You know we were well trained in various areas of warfare and so that allowance is actually meant to be paid to all of us so as to have peace of mind. The immediate past Chief of Defence Staff, General Olonisakin (now retired) decided that only those who retired from 2017 till date are entitled.  We said that could not be possible because what it means is that we  never served in the military or we were not trained in the same military that qualifies those the directive favours.  As a matter of fact, we were the ones that trained these people that you are favouring. So we wrote a petition, we wrote to the Honorable Minister of Defense, this incumbent Minister of Defense. I was the one that signed that letter and when he looked at it he said yes indeed something needed to be done. He invited us for a meeting. I was part of the meeting.  At the end of that meeting, a  committee was set up to look into this issue and then submit their report. The committee   submitted its reports three months after to the minister, but unfortunately as we speak, we don’t even know what the position is in relation to the report that was submitted to the minister.

Why did you decide to hold the protest at this point in time?

You do not expect us to sit back and wait until this administration expires when we have our own as the President. We have the minister who is also a veteran. We have the National Security Adviser as one of us. Some members of the Nigeria parliament are part of us. We believe this is the only advantage we have to ensure that justice is done and we get all our entitlements.  By next year, the administration will end, so we say to ourselves we need to do something.

Did you take any steps before embarking on the protest?

We wrote several letters. I signed those letters that were written, but as I speak to you, nothing was done until two days ago when we had to insist that there  must be a response to the letter and then the minister must as a matter of urgency call for a meeting.  We did all that was humanly possible to avoid this but those in authority feel we don’t deserve to be attended to. That was why we had no other options but to come out and express our grievances.

 

If it was about debarment allowance, the protest should have been done at the ministry of defence. Why the finance ministry ?

We were at the ministry of finance to express our grievance with the ministry in respect to the arrears of 24 months that have not been paid. What they are paying us at the end of the month is not enough to take us anywhere and yet they are withholding it. People in our category in civil service have received theirs; so, it’s enough for us to come out and make the noise we are making particularly when those we expect to talk on our behalf are not doing so. If I tell you the number of our members that have died because of the untold hardship this has brought to them, you will be shocked. Is that not enough for us and we are telling them that if there is one segment of the society that must not be taken for granted, it is the armed forces whether serving or retired.  The implications of what they are doing to those that are retired now is that they are killing the morale of those that are serving at the moment because if they look back and see the way we are being treated, how do you think they would have the enthusiasm to work ? They won’t give  their best and we are talking about killing corruption in this country. How are you going to kill it? When someone who is serving finds himself in a privileged office and sees someone who is retired and will he not steal enough to take care of himself after retirement?

 

What other demands do you have ?

The disparity in the pension and monthly take home of serving and retired personnel needs to be reviewed. A situation whereby a major general takes home a pension or salary three times higher than what a brigadier general takes home is not good enough. The gap must be closed.

 There is also the issue of those who retired base on medical grounds.

These are people that have lost their limbs, people that cannot see and  are battling various types of sickness. What you are paying them already is not even enough to take them anywhere and then reversing it means you are killing them and we say no and that has to be reversed. There is nothing too much to offer someone who in the cause of saving this country lost his palm, legs and  which made him practically useless to himself.  The only thing he relies on is the pension.  We also have the issue of National Health Insurance Scheme.  The Defence Health Management Limited w is the arm of the National Health Insurance Scheme for the Armed Forces and what they offer is far below what we expect at our ages. We are bound to be sick from time to time and when we go to the hospital, if we require surgery, they tell us we have to pay for it.  Why should we do that? We served this country with our minds, our sweat and blood and it’s time for us to reap the fruit of our labour.

You said many of your members have died in the last one year, how many are they?

We have  over 90,000 retired military personnel in the country. We have over 200 of us that are sick, bedridden and have lost their lives in the last one year across the country.  I don’t currently have the breakdown but anyone who is doubting this should come and approach us , we would be ready to take him round the state so he/she can see and they would be shock that it could be more. That is why we asking those in authority to quickly do the needful.

There was a statement from the Pension Board claiming to have paid the retirees who retired between April 18, 2018 and April 30, 2021 their entitlements and has implemented a new pension pay chart. Can you confirm this?

Our members are beneficiaries and that’s part of the issues we are talking about . That is what should have been done and it has been done.  That’s not a credit.  It is not the same with what we are demanding. What we are talking about now is the arrears of 24 months.

 The President approved the upward reviewed of salary in 2019 including pension.  Now for us retirees while others who are serving got their own immediately,  those of us who retired never got our own . We had to apply pressure before it was implemented.  Now the arrears that were accrued from that 2019 till date; that’s the 24 months we are agitating for. You have paid the civilians and you’ve not paid us.  Where did you get the money you used to pay the civilians? Nobody has been able to answer that question.

Making you  the ex- service men to go on the street before you are attended to;  how does it make you feel?

We feel very bad. This is very discouraging and I tell you if you go to veterans portals/ platforms, our colleagues have vented their anger on this administration and those in authority. To be fair to the President, I want to say with all due respect that there are times that the President will give directives, but people that it is their responsibilities to carry the directives will not do anything and perhaps the President is so busy that he will not get the feedback whether it has been done or not and nobody is telling him anything . Those in authority must be begin to take full responsibility of their actions.  Even those that are serving are not doing themselves any good because they will also join us. They will take letters and dump them somewhere. Two days ago after we left the ministry of finance, the permanent secretary had to call me on Tuesday to give him the copy of the acknowledgment letter that we claimed we wrote to the minister.

 

With the various meetings you have had after the protest, do you have confidence that  all your entitlements would be paid?

We are dealing with politicians and we are ready for them. Anything can happen but I can assure you that if nothing is done, we are still coming on the street and it is unfortunate and I am sure the world will not be happy that the President is a retiree and veteran and his colleagues are on the street protesting for non-payment of their allowances.

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