By Declan M. Emelumba
Propaganda is a two-edged sword because of the transient nature of its capacity and effectiveness. Because it seeks to supplant the truth, propaganda more often than not fails those who employ it as a weapon. That is exactly what happened last Tuesday in Imo State when mercenaries working for the sacked governor of the state, Emeka Ihedioha, met their waterloo in the streets of Owerri. Although there are three versions as to what actually transpired on the fateful Tuesday, August 4, 2020, one constant fact remains that the head of the mercenaries, one Ikechukwu Clement Ohaneje admitted that his group was actually hired to make the state ungovernable for Governor Hope Uzodimma. He found a prop in aged pensioners who could hardly support themselves physically. So long as the money keeps coming, his conscience will never prick him that he is putting the lives of those frail men and women at risk by exposing them to vehicular traffic and the elements anytime he drags them to the streets in the name of protests.
First of all, everybody in Imo State is conversant with the story of pensioners and pensions. Governor Hope Uzodimma did not create it. In fact, he inherited it. For January and February 2020, he paid them even when the records were in shambles. But when it was discovered that the pension matter was a gold mine for the departing administration and their collaborators in the Civil Service and Pension Office, the governor ordered a forensic audit. Apart from the fact that the so-called consultants hired by Ihedioha had pocketed N500 million from the pension fund, it turned out that the state was losing N1.2 billion monthly to ghost pensioners. Among them, eight persons only were collecting N300 million annually. In a bid to restore sanity to the system, a delay naturally occurred in the payment of pensioners. That had since been resolved and all verified pensioners have been paid up to date.
However, there are other categories of pensioners, a few of them, who have technical issues. Both the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) are working with the government to resolve their matters to ensure that they too receive their pensions as at when due. Because both unions are abreast with government’s efforts towards an effective and amicable resolution of all pension problems, they have been sympathetic, demonstrating uncommon understanding and appreciation and calming down the nerves of those affected. To drive home their resolve, they counseled patience.
But Ohaneje, who is neither an executive member of NUP nor a genuine stakeholder as it were, embarked upon a proxy war. Instead of heeding the admonition of NUP and NLC leadership, he decided to turn the matter into a business venture and at the same time prosecutes the agenda of his paymasters. For the past two months, he has led the aged pensioners to street protests more than five times even when it was obvious that more than 80 per cent of verified pensioners have been paid up to date. Justifiably miffed by the misguided protests, the state government warned that only genuine and recognized leadership of groups would he allowed to carry out legitimate protests in the street. The reason was simply to avoid a situation whereby hoodlums will cash-in on the situation to unleash mayhem in the state and cause a breach of the peace. Relevant security agencies were duly informed of the government’s position.
Exactly what the government feared occurred on Tuesday, August 4, 2020. Disdainfully ignoring the advice of government, Ohaneje who hails from the same community with Ihedioha, called out his band of mercenaries for a protest. To confirm his evil intent, he sent out a text message to his group, inviting them to a meeting at Freedom Square by 9:30a.m. He told them that they needed an impressive crowd to over-run whatever security measures that the government might put in place to stop them. And to clearly demonstrate their agenda, he said they must oppose the system adopted by government in the payment of pensions. In other words, they preferred the old fraudulent system that oiled the pocket of a few to the detriment of the majority. So, it is clear from where his motivation is coming from.
The media had been awash since that Tuesday that aged pensioners were flogged because they were demonstrating. That is exactly the work of the propagandists. Did the correspondent actually verify who were the hoodlums that carried out the flogging and who sent them? Did they find out what the Assistant Commissioner of Police who led policemen to the scene told the organizers of the illegal protests? And where was Ohaneje when the drama was unfolding?
Like I alluded earlier, there were three versions. One, some genuine pensioners angered by the continued unnecessary demonstration challenged the mercenaries. Two, the fake pensioners turned upon themselves to sell the dummy that agents of the government attacked them. Three, policemen deployed to the scene to maintain the peace dispersed them to avoid the breach of the peace. Knowing the antecedents of the Ihedioha’s administration, somebody cannot rule out the second version. During his tenure, a top member of his government led thugs to stop former Governor Rochas Okorocha from accessing the state through the Imo Airport. That government was also notorious for chasing former government officials with thugs in the name of recovery of government property. Therefore, violence remains their potent weapon.
As if to confirm that, Ohaneje declared in a radio programme the following day that they are besotted with the language of violence as a means of resolution of any problem, the pension brouhaha inclusive. He was paired with my humble self in my capacity as the state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, in the phone programme by My Darling FM Owerri. Ohaneje was specifically asked why he would not buy-in to the decision of both NUP and NLC to adopt dialogue with government on the matter. He categorically answered that his group will continue to demonstrate everyday irrespective of what effort government had made or is making. With such a belligerent answer, does it appear that this man and his sponsors have the interest of the real pensioners at heart?
More telling is that this self-acclaimed leader of pensioners lied on a radio programme about his own pension payment records. Asked if he had been receiving his own pensions he said yes. But when asked for specific months he said it was for January and February. That happens to be a big lie told by a dishonest man. I challenge Ohaneje to deny that he has not received his pension upto at least June. If he has the courage to do so I will publish details of his pension payments in the media for the public to know who is lying. My actual worry is that a man who is dishonest with verifiable facts will be even more dishonest with things difficult to verify, such as being paid by the opposition to make Imo State ungovernable. However, more troubling is the fact that such a man is leading a group of unsuspecting frail pensioners.
It is also instructive to note that this same Ohaneje had gone into hiding the previous day when security agents intercepted his inciting and provocative text messages and went on his trail. If he was engaged in a legitimate enterprise, why did he run away from the police? If he knew his cause was a genuine one, why did he abandon the frail men and women he called out to protest to their fate? If indeed the pensioners were flogged by hoodlums, why was it difficult for the police who were on ground to arrest even one of them?
As Othman Dan Fodio posited: “Conscience is an open wound. Only truth can heal it”. The opposition which has been sponsoring Ohaneje and his band of fake pensioners has come to the end of the road because its vile propaganda has been exposed. The era of using delayed pensions as a lame excuse to run to the streets in the name of protests is over. Their evil plan to make the state ungovernable through such protests has failed. Verified pensioners have been paid up to date and those with confirmed issues will be paid this week or latest early next week.
Declan M. Emelumba is the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Imo State