State employees, joined by members of the public, took to the streets of Owerri yesterday in huge numbers protesting unpaid salaries and the misrule of Governor Rochas Okorocha.
They blocked the entrance to the Imo State House of Assembly, preventing legislators and officials from entering the premises and also shut down several government offices. Economic activity in many parts of the city was shut down and the roads were gridlocked due to the protests.
Okorocha told the Sun newspaper recently that his government was up to date with all workers’ pay. But this view was not shared by the protesters, many of whom were said to have been flogged by the police.
Government employees are owed from three to eight months’ arrears of salary. Those that work for the state’s judiciary are owed five months, with some owed for three months. Primary school teachers are owed eight months’ pay.
The placard-carrying protesters claimed that Okorocha has no problems collecting his “security vote”, paying himself and his multitude of cronies, but refused to pay state employees. They claimed that he has sold most government land in the state and pocketed the money.
In December, Okorocha asked civil servants to sign a document in order to receive three months pay. The document waived their right to litigation in the event of being laid off. Okorocha was said to be planning to sack thousands of the workers. Many desperate staff signed the document, while others resisted.
One pensioner informed Naijiant.com that she had not been paid her pension for 12 months. Retired teachers have been owed for 18 months. The pensioner claimed that many of her former colleagues have been died of hunger, while waiting for entitlements that were not forthcoming.
The pensioner said that many other pensioners were sent by the government to their Local Government Areas where they were asked to sign all manner of documents, only to be sent away without their pensions. Many have been seen collapsing in queues while waiting to sign a document in the vain hope of getting paid.
Another Owerri resident told Naijiant.com that she dreads having to go to her village now because of the number of people begging for money to buy food.
Another source described Okorocha as “Public Enemy Number 1” in the state. He said that everywhere you go in Owerri, from public transport to markets to churches, people discuss Okorocha like he is a “curse” that was visited on the state. Some are said to ask what they had done to deserve such a “wicked” person.
A pensioner told our reporter that in her church and at prayer meetings they hold prayers for Okorocha’s death or for him to be removed from the state.