Nigerian military veterans who defended the country during the civil war are dying in abject poverty 44 years after they were withdrawn by the federal government.
Only 800 of the approximately 9,000 disengaged members, primarily from the western and northern states, have yet to be put on the pension system. Ironically, the federal government funded Biafran Army members who conducted war against the Nigerian government.
The war veterans, who volunteered to fight for the liberation of Nigerians from the Biafran Army, said they were the first intake to be able and willing to retire or be dismissed after ten or more years of military service.
Many of them, now octogenarians, stated that the reality of Nigeria’s economy has harmed practically every single one of them.
Corporal Babawande Philips, the National Coordinator of the group known as the First Intake Able Voluntary Retired Or Discharged Ten Or More Years In Military Service, stated that the senior citizens have not been paid after 44 years despite several biometric exercises conducted by the federal government.
Further, Babawande stated that the group’s former chairman died a few months ago due to a lack of funds for medical care, noting that the elderly had no alternative but to apply to the federal government for payment of their rights.
Babawande stated that he was certain President Muhammadu Buhari was unaware of their plight, since he could have directed the Nigerian Army to compensate them from their pension fund, given that the bulk of the casualties served directly under him during the civil war.
“For 44 years, we have been pushing for our rightful rights,” the 75-year-old combat veteran stated. Since then, our pensions have been refused. Since 2002, we have been litigating for this aim. We have exhausted all available lawsuit avenues with Falana as our counsel.
“We were requested to abandon the lawsuit by our former coordinator, who died unexpectedly four months ago. Following the suit’s abandonment, we were invited to return for another biometric in 2015. We have yet to receive a meaningful answer from them despite our attempts. Numerous us have perished. Indeed, some of us are the primary breadwinners for our various families. The vast majority of us are bedridden. We stated that those who are still able to walk should pursue it. Numerous people have also perished.
“Those of us who are still alive dwell in squalor. We are unable to afford hospitalisation. We are unable to feed ourselves adequately. I am very certain that the president is unaware of our plight, as we were his boys throughout the war. Otherwise, he may have acted appropriately. The unpleasant part is that Biafrans who were rebels against the Federal Government of Nigeria at the time have been compensated. Their police and soldiers have been compensated. Even so, the final tranche of 112 was paid in December 2021. We believe it is unjust to compensate the rebels while not compensating those of us who protected the country. We are treated inhumanely.
“When they took our numbers, there were 8,000 of us, but some had already received their pension. As national coordinator, I currently have approximately 700 people with me. At the time, the afflicted states are in the north and west. Only those in the east are not listed on our nominal list, but have been compensated. We have documentation attesting to our predicament.”
He stated that they had tremendous hardships throughout the war and have several distasteful stories to share.
“War is not a game for children. Only God spared our lives. Occasionally, some of us drank water from ponds that had floating bodies. Many troops would go months without bathing. We witnessed hell. Many of us joined the army freely out of patriotism.
“There was a circular stating that those of us who served more than ten years in the military were eligible for the pension programme. We’ve been in contact with the Ministry of Defense. I recently returned from Abuja at the minister’s request. We received no answer to the letter, which is why we decided to conduct a countrywide demonstration. I am certain the president is unaware of our plight. At the time, he served as our commander. He would not have let us to undergo such difficulties.”
Corporal Adebayo Tiamiyu, another 80-year-old, claimed his experience during the civil war was sufficient for the federal government to consider them for payment.
“I was a combatant during the civil war and retired in 1980. When the civil war ended, some of us were disengaged, while others were redeployed to different federal government institutions.
“In the meanwhile, I came dangerously close to death during the civil war. I also came dangerously close to drowning in the River Niger in Asaba, presently Delta State. I also came dangerously close to falling into the River Ethiope when giving food to the troops at the port. My flying boat came to a halt. Only God could have rescued me. I worked as a mechanic and a driver. I was the pilot of a flying boat.
“We want the government to return our funds to us. Numerous people have died as a result of a lack of funds to feed themselves. Some of us are over 90 years old and require financial support for the remainder of our lives.”
“I was in the mechanical section,” Afolabi Raman, another 74-year-old ex-military veteran, explained. We cannot recount all of our challenges on the battlefield. During the civil war, we witnessed hell. Oftentimes, you’ll realise that your coworkers are collapsing as a result of being struck by gunfire. When you realise that they are on the verge of death, you have no option but to depart. We have not received anything since the fighting ended, but we were distressed to learn that those who instigated the conflict had been settled.”
Major General Bashir Magashi (rtdPersonal )’s Assistant, Ado Uma Galadanchi, informed the ex-military men that their matter had been forwarded to the Military Pensions Board in response to a letter addressed by the ex-military men to the Minister of Defence (MPB).
Daily Trust acquired a copy of the response, which says as follows: “Good day sir, I have just checked with SA Technical that your matter has been forwarded to the Military Pensions Board (MPB), therefore please follow up and best of luck from me.” Many thanks.”
When contacted, Lawal Olayinka, a Flight Lieutenant with the Military Pensions Board, described the problem of pensions and other benefits as “complicated.”
“That statement is so ambiguous that 44 years later, the government or the board has not paid war veterans’ arrears or pensions.
“The pension and gratuity issue is quite complicated. This is not something I can simply describe. There will be several misunderstandings.”
Rear Admiral Saburi Lawal, the board’s chairman, announced in February that 25% of the stipend had begun to be paid and that over 90,000 retirees will be reimbursed.
According to him, the board will guarantee that all arrears are paid in full by the end of the year, subject to the Ministry of Finance releasing money.