Police reportedly tear-gas protesting relatives of retired primary school teachers


The police in Akwa Ibom State allegedly dispersed a group of peaceful protesters in Uyo by firing tear gas at them, one of the leaders, Benjamin Benson, told PREMIUM TIMES.

The incident, which happened on Monday evening around the ‘A’ Division of the Nigeria Police Barrack, opposite Akwa Ibom State Government House in Uyo, reportedly left some of the protesters injured.

The protesters, who are relatives of late primary school teachers, had early Monday morning converged at the ‘A’ Division of the Nigeria Police Barrack to protest the government’s refusal to pay their entitlements.

Not deterred by the rain, the protesters, clad in black, chanted solidarity songs and displayed pictures of their dead and retired relatives. They vowed not to return home until they are paid their entitlements.

“We were still on our peaceful protest until this (Monday) evening when DPO (Divisional Police Officer) of ‘A’ Division led a team of policemen and some of the widows were beaten up, tear-gassed, some were handcuffed and arrested,” Mr Benson told our reporter in an interview Monday evening.

Mr Benson, who is the secretary of the protesting group, said he was dragged on the tarred road and handcuffed with another protester to an iron window before he was later released. He vowed to resume the protest on Tuesday despite the injuries he sustained.

“I sustained injuries from what they did to me but the protest will continue tomorrow morning.

“I was dragged on the tarred road, handcuffed with another to an iron window and detained and was later freed to go,” he said.

Government’s failed promises

Mr Benson told our reporter that the government had made promises on several occasions but failed to honour them. He said the Head of Civil Service told them during the verification in February that the governor had set aside money to clear the issue as soon as verification was over.

Mr Benson said the government claimed to have paid some beneficiaries for the period from 1990 to 2000. But they have refused to publish the names of the beneficiaries, he said.

The Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Frank Archibong, has on several occasions made promises that are not forthcoming, he said.

“Since 2015, they’ve always told us they are going to pay but this is 2021, no payment has been made.

TEXEM

“The past government used to pay but they didn’t capture everybody in the payment until the present government came in 2015 and did not pay anybody for six years.”

“We have written letters to the government and several meetings aimed at finding the solution to the impasse but it has not been better than the promises they have been giving us,” Mr Benson said.

He said the years under contention are from 1990 till date.

Another protester, Kenneth Eno, told PREMIUM TIMES that only a few of the beneficiaries have been paid after the verification.

“We’ve been here since morning and we are going to sleep here today until we get an alert. We are not going home today, they are taking us for granted,” Mr Eno, who said he was in the 2011 batch, told this newspaper.

Mr Eno accused the government of being selective in payment and challenged Mr Archibong to publish the names of the people they have paid among the 1,838 persons involved.

This is not the first time members of the forum have embarked on the protest against the non-payment of pensions and gratuities to their relatives who either retired or died in active service.

Vanguard newspaper in April reported how members of the group embarked on a protest to Government House to demand the payment of their entitlements.

State does not handle LG fund

Meanwhile, Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Education, Ini Ememobong, told PREMIUM TIMES that primary schools are within the purview of the local government areas as the third tier of government and that the state does not handle local government funds.

Mr Ememobong referred our reporter to the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) and the state chairman of the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) for further enquiries.

Calls and text messages sent to the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Mr Archibong and the Chairman of SUBEB, Paul Ekpo, were not answered at the time of this report.

The chairman of ALGON, Iniobong Namso, who promised to call back, did not do so and did not respond to subsequent calls and messages.

The police spokesperson in the state, Odiko Macdon, did not also respond to calls and text messages for comment.

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