Insight

Old, sick and dying LUTH pensioners demand gratuities 10 years after

Bank, hospital, anti-graft agency in conspiracy of silence

 

Pensioners of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) are old men and women, who retired about 10 years ago. They have been waiting for the balance of their gratuities totalling over N1 million each. During the 10-year wait, many have fallen sick, many have died while others are dying. Those alive say they want their money before death comes. JULIANA FRANCIS captures their story

 

Traders, workers hurrying to their offices and motorists at the Ojuelegba area of Lagos State, took some minutes to stand and watch in sympathy as old men and women gathered under the bridge, chanting soulful solidarity songs. The time was 10a.m. and the year was 2018.

 

These old folks are retired workers of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba. They were armed with placards, claiming they were short-changed in the payment of their gratuities 10 years ago.

 

Among all the old and frail looking pensioners, it was Mr. Bamgbeelu Adetayo that caught the attention of everyone. While others stood, armed with their placards, Adetayo sat on a slab with his. He sat, not because he wanted to, but because his fragile legs couldn’t bear his weight for too long.

 

When he tried to get up everyone rushed to help him so that he wouldn’t trip over. Adetayo is 65-year-old and a stroke patient. The fact that he was at the scene, indicated just how desperate he wanted his money. He said he had to come because he needed government to act fast so that he could have some money to buy his medicine.

 

The old man said he had to nag and beg his son to take him from their Ogijo, Ikorodu residence to Ojuelegba, the venue of the protest. It was quite challenging especially since he and his son had to reach the venue in public transport. His tired and frustrated son left him at the venue, promising to return anytime Adetayo called him, to take him back home.

 

Adetayo said: “I left home as early as 6a.m. I got to Ojuelegba about 10.30a.m. I worked at LUTH Security Department. I worked there for 20 years. After all my efforts during my active years, they planned and took our money. We were duped!”

 

Adetayo said that for years now, he and his wife had been living on the groceries she sells, right inside their apartment. This was even as he revealed that his monthly pension was N15,000. He wished that the balance of his gratuity would be paid because of his failing health. He said: “My medicine is very important. Right now, many of us don’t have money, thus we now have to resort to shouting, so that government will hear us.”

 

As Adetayo’s feeble voice narrated his ordeal, song of, “All we’re saying give us our rights,” rend the air. These pensioners said that the protest was to alert the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation and President Muhammadu Buhari of their plight and hope something would be done swiftly.

 

Before they agreed to meet under the bridge for the protest, they had paid many visits to different media houses. Indeed, they had been to the New Telegraph Ikeja office more than 10 times, demanding that their story be

heard and justice be done. They came, armed with several documents. Each time they come, they come with additional story of pains, despair, frustration and tears. Since the beginning of 2018, the pensioners had renewed their agitation to get balance of their money from the Federal Government.

 

These pensioners are former drivers, kitchen workers, cleaners, security guards, nurses and matrons. Ten years ago, they were supposed to be paid their full gratuities and expected their cheques. But when it was time to pay, they discovered that the money the Federal Government was supposed to pay, which was already spelt out on the ‘Retiree Severance Pay Slip’ was cancelled by an unknown person, with a pen.

 

The bankers, who came to pay them, handed them already filled out bank tellers. When they checked the tellers, they realised that their gratuities had been slashed. They were nonplussed and outraged. Mrs Omotayo Oserinde, 63, spokesperson for the aggrieved pensioners, said: “We protested that we wanted our full money.

 

We carried the protest to LUTH, where the Director of Administration back then, Ayo Olagunju, urged us to collect the money. He promised that he would do everything within his power to ensure that the balance of our money was paid. It has been 10  years already since the first half of the money was paid, yet we’re still waiting to be called upon to collect our balance.”

 

Oserinde, who said that they were over 500 affected retired staff, disclosed that so many had died while waiting for this money. She added: “We live in poverty and we are losing hope, waiting for our money.”

 

Oserinde, who appears to be suffering from waist pains and could barely stand upright, added: “We want the Accountant General of the Federation to be aware of what is going on with the payment of the balance of our money.” She said her story was similar to those of her colleagues, noting that she is a widow and had to bring up five children alone.

 

Asked why protesting now after 10 years, Comrade Agu Virgilus, 63, responded: “We’re complaining now after 10 years because it has become too late for some of our colleagues and we don’t want it to become too late for us. Just take a look at us, we started work at a very young age, we are now abandoned at our old age. They refused to pay us.

 

Many of our members are dead! Many are in the hospitals. “We’re asking President Muhammadu Buhari to urge the right people to look into our matter. We believe he can do something. He is the one that had been saying there shouldn’t be corruption. Buhari should come to our aid. What happened to us is corruption. We have nobody to fight for us.

 

We believe that Buhari can question the Accountant General of the Federation and the pay masters who paid us half gratuity.” Oserinde and Mrs. Florence Ikuregbe, 61, said that they were both employed by LUTH in 1975. They were asked to retire in 2007.

 

Later, they were both recalled to resume work until 2008 which was their final retirement year. Some officials were sent from Abuja, from the office of the Accountant General to pay their gratuities. The workers were allegedly taken to a place around Bode Thomas called Union Bank Sports Ground, an open field, where they were paid. Ikuregbe said: “We were not allowed to use any other bank except Union Bank.

 

The field where we were paid also belongs to Union Bank. We were also asked to use the bank because it was close to our work place at Idi-Araba.” The old men and women alleged that their money was manipulated and that they were short-changed by officials that came to pay them their gratuity.

 

Ikuregbe recollected: “These officials, right before our eyes, changed the figure in the document that the Federal Government gave to us and put another figure. They filled out tellers and gave to each of us. We complained and even embarked on a protest immediately, but we were told to exercise patience, that the balance would be paid. “We protested that we wouldn’t collect the money until it was completed.

 

In fact, we went back to LUTH, where our Director, Ayo Olagunju, spoke to us. He was the person that urged us to collect the money, promising that our balance would be paid. “It has been 10 years since the first half of the money was paid. Every time we complain, we would be asked to exercise patience.”

 

Oserinde shared how she managed to survive through the hard times. According to her, since retirement, life has not been too rosy for her. She said: “I’m a mother of five children. My husband is late. The only way I survived is through catering business.” Recalling her duties at LUTH before she was retired, Oserinde, who worked in the Kitchen Department, explained: “I used to resume at 7a.m. and close at 3p.m., depending on the shift. I cooked as well as baked. I also catered for VIP patients.”

 

Ikuregbe, on the other hand, worked in the Cleaning Department, but tackled more than her own job. She said: “I worked as a cleaner at LUTH. I used to resume by 7a.m. Aside from my cleaning work, I also do some other jobs at the hospital. Sometimes, I do the work of a nurse; I clean the floors, windows, toilets, and vomits of patients. I also run emergency errands even though I didn’t work in the Emergency Department. “I worked at LUTH for 18 years. I assisted doctors and nurses in getting blood and oxygen for patients that needed them.

 

In  fact, sometimes I used to be sent to the mortuary to inform the attendants if someone dies, so that they could come to collect the body.” Ikuregbe recalled that during most night duties, she and other cleaners were only allowed 30 minutes break. She said that there was a day she was sent to the mortuary to get attendants to come and pick up a body but she experienced a supernatural occurrence.

 

She said: “In fact, there was a time a Sister sent me to the mortuary to get the attendants; someone had passed away. I didn’t know I was not supposed to shout in the mortuary. When I got there, I didn’t see anybody. I did afternoon duty that day. The time was already 8p.m. I was instructed to tell the attendants at the mortuary to come and carry the corpse of the person that just died. “The Sister said that she didn’t want workers that were coming to take over night duty to meet the corpse in the ward.

 

As I got to the mortuary, I didn’t see anyone, so I started shouting, ‘Good evening.’ Suddenly, I felt my head swell; I turned and ran. I didn’t even wait for the attendants again. I told Sister my experience. I was in shock. I was admitted at the hospital. Even my husband came to visit me at the hospital that night. I really suffered! I was attacked by a spirit in the mortuary, due to my shouting. “When I spoke about the incident to people, they said it was a dead person who answered my greeting.

 

True, I didn’t hear anyone responding, but I felt my head swelling. When I said we suffered working at LUTH, I meant we really suffered. I need the government to give me that money because I really suffered for it. There was a time I was pregnant, a patient was having chronic ulcer and vomited clotted blood on me. “I used to work in Emergency Unit and the Accident Department. I worked in those departments for 18 years before I told the woman in charge that I would like to change wards.

 

Any time I wanted to leave the department, the top staff would stop me, saying that I was hard working. In the night, we would work without sleeping. We stay inside the ward until day break. My children would be sleeping at home, while I would be at work.

 

“After that payment, Union Bank got another manager, Mrs. Kofoworola. We heard that she discovered our money in an account and made enquiries. She was told that the money belonged to pensioners, and that it should be cleared.

 

We thought we would be paid, but rather, we got information that the money was moved to another bank. I don’t know what they have done with our money. “Those people that came from Abuja used pen to cancel the amount written on our documents and then wrote what they later paid us. Since that time, we have been waiting. We have been waiting for 10 years now and we’re yet to be paid our balance. They keep asking us to be patient.”

 

The pensioners claimed that as much as N1 million was removed from each of their money. “My money was N2,350,000, but they paid me N1,502,95. We want the Accountant General to know what those people did. We want our balance.

 

We are not the only one affected. Some of our members are dead. All we want is for our money to be paid,” Ikuregbe said. Oserinde disclosed that on the day of the protest, when they had to gather under the Ojuelegba Bridge, she had to borrow money in order to be able to get to the venue.

 

The pensioners, who said that they had tried several avenues to make sure their plight was heard and their money paid, added that part of their efforts were visits to the Ministry of Justice, Citizens’ Rights, with office located at Alausa, Ikeja Secretariat. The move was, however, unfruitful. Virgilus said: “We were retired from LUTH by the Federal Government. It was called downsizing.

 

It was during the administration of the former President Olusegun Obasanjo. We were given letters in August 2007. We were also given another letter individually, asking us to go and claim our rights at Bode Thomas area.

 

The letter was given to us with a certain amount written on it, but it was at Bode Thomas that the pay master used a pen to cancel and deduct money from each of us. “This happened in 2007, at Union Bank Sports ground.

 

We complained immediately; we even refused to collect the money. It was our Director of Administration, Mr. Ayo Olagunju, who implored us to speak to our members to return to Union Bank Sport’s Ground to collect the half money. He said that we should make photocopies of the amount paid to us, that he would fight for us to collect our balance.

 

 

 

 

“We did as he asked us. We did the photocopies and gave him, but he did nothing! When we took the matter to Alausa Citizens’ Rights last year, Union Bank was invited, their lawyer came and we all met in the conference room. The lawyers asked why we were just complaining now after almost 10 years. We told them that we had been complaining for years.”

 

Virgilus said that the LUTH management was also invited twice, but didn’t honour the invitation. He added: “Where is our remaining money? Who is with it? Many of our members are dead, many are in the hospital. Look at my hair, all grey. We’re asking President Muhammadu Buhari to do something and help us. If our money goes because we have nobody to fight for us, it would be corruption.

 

We believe Buhari can help us to question the Accountant General of the Federation and those that cancelled our money and paid us what they deemed fit.” Spitting fire, another victim, Mrs. Inemona, said: “They called us to Bode Thomas, at Union Bank ground. Rather than give us cheque, they gave us bank tellers.

 

The tellers were already filled out by unknown persons. They refused to allow us to use any other bank. We have been protesting this for years; we used to gather in front of LUTH, but they chased us away. We were ordered to carry our protest elsewhere. They threatened us with police. “Many of our members have died. We’re old and getting older every day.

 

Let them pay us our money. We are hungry, sick and have no money. We have nobody except God. Some of our members have fallen sick, but have no money to buy drugs and go to hospitals. Many of us are alive today because of the grace of God. Perhaps those who diverted our money are waiting for every one of us to die, but God will help us.” Mr. Ros Fatomisin, 65, said: “We believe that the pay masters connived with Union Bank to short pay us.”

 

One of the documents the petitioners gave to our reporter is  from the office of Femi Gbajabiamila, back then Majority Leader, House of Representatives, dated March 23, 2018, addressed to the Chief Medical Director, LUTH. It was also signed by Gbajabiamila.

 

The letter entitled: “Re: Petition Against LUTH management,” stated: “Following a careful study of the attached documents, I have decided to write you on behalf of all the individuals involved in this matter, with the hope that your office will promptly resolve the issue they have petitioned me about. Attached are the supporting documents for your attention. As I look forward to a swift but positive response from your office and the management of LUTH on this matter, please accept the assurance of my esteemed regards.”

 

Although Ayo Olaguju had since retired and had left the country, our reporter was able to get him on the phone. Reacting to the allegations, he said: “It’s a very crazy allegation and I don’t know what exactly they are talking about. I also want you to verify your facts. I don’t know because I left that office four years ago.

 

So I don’t have anything to do with that. I don’t know the exact thing they are talking about, but whatever they are talking about, they should be able to have the interest of jus-  tice and fair play because at the University of Lagos, were I also trained as a journalist, where I had my journalism degree, if we are doing investigation, everything must be true.

 

“As I’m speaking right now, I’m outside the country. Whatever claim the people are making, please I’m not an accountant. I don’t have anybody’s money, and it is not in my character. I will never take anything that does not belonged to me. I don’t know what this is all about. I left the system four years ago, so I really don’t know where this is coming from. I did not work in Accounts Department.

 

So, whatever allegation they are trying to claim, let them come and prove it!” Attempts made to get LUTH management to shed more light on the incident proved abortive. Our reporter went to LUTH to speak with the Public Relations Officer (PRO), Kelechi Otuneme, he said he needed to speak with his boss and then get back to our reporter. Over a month later, he didn’t get back to our reporter. Our reporter sent him a reminder, but mum remains the word. As at the time of filing in this report, he was yet to do so.

 

Our reporter reached the Chairman, Medical Advisory Committee, LUTH, Dr. Femi Fasanmade, through a phone call. He said: “I don’t know any pensioner, I don’t know which year. That person said 10 years ago, so whoever it is, let the person write and then we can go and check to see whether that is correct, so whether it is true or not, I don’t know. I am not aware of such an incident.

 

What they need to do is to write. I will not say more than that until I see what they are talking about in writing. I don’t know anything about this. I’m not the director and I’m not the pensioner how will I know?” Fasanmade said that instead of the pensioners to go to the media, they should have come to LUTH for the matter to be crosschecked.

He added: “Anybody that is making allegation should call the appropriate authority. It is the minister or government paying them; they should write to the Chief Medical Director (CMD), who is in charge. I’m not in charge of all this.” Our investigation, however, showed that the pensioners had already contacted LUTH on the matter.

Our reporter also went to the office of Citizens’ Rights, Ministry of Justice, at Alausa, Ikeja, to find out the outcome of their mediation in the matter. She was told that the PRO had gone home. Our reporter was further advised to leave a copy of the petition of the pensioners’ she came with, leave her name, phone number and media house, that the PRO would get across to her with the facts of the matter. Three weeks after her visit, the PRO didn’t call her. Our reporter also reached out to the office of the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF).

 

The Deputy Director, Information and Press Unit of AGF, Mr. Oise Johnson, urged the affected pensioners to come down to the AGF Office with proof of being short paid before making “unsubstantiated claims”. He added: “The Office of Accountant General is not in heaven, it’s accessible. Whoever believes he or she has been short paid in his or her pension payment should come forward with provable evidence.”

 

Johnson said a pensioner, who spent 20 years in service, would be naive to expect to get equivalent pension with another pensioner who spent 35 years in service. He added: “Like I said, our doors and records are open to any pensioner with complaint.

 

Let them come here rather than resorting to unsubstantiated claims.” The reporter urged the pensioners to petition the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over the matter. The petitioners did so in a petition dated November 13, 2018. In August 2019, the pensioners alerted our reporter that the EFCC Investigating Officer, in charge of their case was forcing them to retract their statement.

 

Oserinde said: “We submitted the letter in Abuja, but we were asked to come to the Lagos office. The EFCC man handling our case here in Lagos insisted that we should do a letter of undertaking, saying that we didn’t want to continue with the case. We don’t know why.” Our reporter contacted the EFCC spokesman, Wilson Uwujaren, to find out why the pensioners were asked to write undertaking that they no longer wanted to continue with the case. He asked that time should be given to him to make some findings.

 

After some weeks, he said: “The case has been fully investigated and a report is already before our legal and prosecution department for advice.” Our reporter also contacted Union Bank in 2018 about the matter and was asked to send the questions to an email, which the bank gave to our reporter.

 

Our reporter sent the questions, but after months there was no response. Our reporter made further calls, but till filing in this report, there  was no reply.

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