Prior to her appointment as the Minister of State for Environment, Sharon Ikeazor, was the Executive Secretary, Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD). On her last day in office, she spoke with Business & Economy Editor, Bassey Udo, on the challenges and achievements of the office.
PT: As you leave PTAD and are looking forward to a new assignment as a Minister, where is the agency today, particularly in the pursuit of its mandate?
SHARON: Thank you. Let me appreciate PREMIUM TIMES for always having our back. When I assumed office, I remember I spoke with you first.
In that interview, I told you the situation I met on ground. I never heard of PTAD before I was appointed. When I was told, I had to do a Google search to find out what that was. But, I must say today the time I spent at PTAD has been an absolute memorable journey for me.
It took some time before I resumed. The few days I did not resume, I spent them to ask questions. I gathered a lot of confidential information about what was going on.
When I finally resumed, I met an organisation with low staff morale, without clear processes and policies.
What I saw was the F-word everywhere. Fraud all over the place. I said no, this is not Nigeria of my dream. One brush of tar cannot tar everybody. If one person does something wrong, that does not mean everybody is bad.
So, I came to PTAD with a blank sheet and an open mind for the workers to help me write what they want to see at the end of my tenure.
The first time I met the staff I saw the low morale. There was despondency everywhere among the staff. There was no job security. Pensioners were complaining. The staff issues were those of no confirmation of appointments for more than three years and wrong placements. These were things that bred disaffection among staff, and such an atmosphere, productivity would be impacted negatively.
When I came in, PTAD was working with no rules or regulations. But, to God be the glory, as I leave, I can boldly say PTAD has been transformed from what it used to be.
We were able to make all the corrections. The first thing we did was to carry out the staff audit to know where the problems were and the gaps that needed to be fixed.
In that audit, there were casualties. I don’t want to go back there. I believe there must be consequences for action.
Today, we have all our policy document, scheme and conditions of service done. Staff morale is high because they know they now have job security.
From what the pensioners are even saying, I still can’t believe it is PTAD they are talking about. I hope PTAD will continue the way we started. It must continue to instill good governance and best practices. PTAD cannot let our pensioners down.
I’m glad to say that for the two years and 10 months we were in the office, we have re-written the story of PTAD for good.
I believe the government is in the business of building trust with the people. I am glad to say that PTAD has built that trust among pensioners.
From what PTAD has done, Nigerians are beginning to trust the government again, because when PTAD says what it is going to do, it actually does it. We cannot break that trust.
When money was released for pensioners in former NITEL, we went to the Ministry of Finance to say it was strange that 11,600 pensioners would be celebrating Eid without their monthly pensions. We went there and fought for the money to be released. We made a commitment to NITEL pensioners that we will pay them.
PT: Can you say specifically the achievements you recorded within the period?
SHARON: Pension administration in Nigeria, especially the old pension scheme, had experienced a lot of mismanagement. That created grave distrust of government among workers. We have changed all that.
Today, pensioners are getting what is due to them. They are happier, healthier and are assured of their monthly entitlements. You can see for yourself that PTAD has met, if not exceeded expectations.
I can tell you some specific things we were able to accomplish during the period.
We successfully carried out the verification of a total 104,421 civil service pensioners nationwide. This was completed in December 2017.
Following the completion of the Civil Service Pensions Department (CSPD) verification exercise, we computed pension benefits and re-enrolled over 33,044 civil service pensioners who were wrongly taken off the payroll.
This was followed by the Police pensioners’ verification exercise, which was successfully completed nationwide in February 2015. During the exercise a total of 15,891 police pensioners were successfully payrolled across the country.
From the police, we successfully conducted the verification and payrolling of 11,870 Nigerian Customs Service, Nigerian Immigrations Service and Nigerian Prisons Service pensioners nationwide. This lasted till December 2015.
We carried out the full payment of the 33 percent arrears for pensioners under the para-military agencies, consisting the Customs, Immigration and Prisons, Civil Service and Police Pensions Departments.
PTAD is yet to complete the payment of 33 per cent arrears to retirees under the Treasury-funded parastatals. This is sure to be resolved after the conclusion of the nation-wide parastatals verification.
The payment of retirement benefits to the war-affected Biafra police officers and the opening of additional state PTAD offices in Sokoto, Adamawa and Yobe States are also achievement we are so proud of. The opening of Awka office is in line to come up soon.
So far, we have a total of eight state offices that never existed. This is to bring us closer to our pensioners.
We appreciate the difficulties they usually pass-through coming to Abuja for verification or other services when there need to do so. But, with our new office, those difficulties will be greatly minimized.
Also, we have successfully verified and computed pension benefits of about 26,432 Treasury-funded parastatals pensioners, out of which about 21,811 of them have already been pay-rolled.
We are recovering pension assets from the Insurance companies and Boards of Trustees (BOT) who were responsible for the payment of pensions to parastatal pensioners before the creation of PTAD.
I can go on and on. But, I must say that the PTAD we have in place today is far more result-oriented and focused to deliver its mandate than the past.
PT: Your verification appears to have extended beyond the core civil service to the “treasury funded parastatals, agencies, and institutions under the Defined Benefit Scheme.” Who are to be covered under this arrangement?
SHARON: Under the Pensions Reform Act (PRA 2014), Section 42b mandates PTAD to oversee the pension administration of the police, para-military and civil services as well as treasury-funded agencies. So, we are well within our mandate.
Like I said earlier, verification for civil service retirees was concluded in 2017. The verification of the treasury-funded parastatals signifies a separate phase. Of course, there is the last phase of verification exercises covering six different sectors, namely education, health, universities, power (Power Holding Company of Nigeria) and other public sectors and defunct agencies.
Pensioners of defunct agencies, such as the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL), Savannah Sugar, Delta Steel Company, National Insurance Company of Nigeria (NICON) Re-insurance have since been verified and pay-rolled for monthly pensions, and in some cases, paid off.
PT: Inadequate funding appears to remain a challenge to PTAD’s mandate. How did you handle it? Or has the challenge been resolved?
SHARON: We cannot say the challenge has been resolved. Government has many responsibilities competing for attention. All of these have financial implications. All government can do is to prioritize. I can say that the payment of pensions is one such priorities that occupy the government’s attention.
For a directorate that relies fully on budgetary allocations towards payment of pensions, you can imagine the challenge under the present economic situation the federal government is facing.
We are fortunate that the President has been supportive and this administration is committed to improving the lives of its citizens.
So, despite the dwindling revenue, we are pleased that this has not impacted negatively on our ability to make good our promise to our pensioners.
PT: How many of the pensioners are still unpaid because of this problem?
SHARON: This is one question I will find very difficult to give you an answer to. This is because the Directorate is yet to complete the payment of 33 per cent arrears to more than 180 agencies under the Treasury-funded parastatals. Fortunately, the retirees under the para-military, civil service, and police pension department have all been fully paid their 33 per cent arrears. Monthly pensions are regular and up to date. So, the pensioners are happy. That is why I said the government is regaining the trust of pensioners across the country.
PT: Everyone I talk to about PTAD has one positive thing or the other to say about how you went about your job. What did you do differently from what the people were familiar with about pension service?
SHARON: From the very beginning, I saw my appointment by President Muhammadu Buhari as a call to service. Anyone who knows me knows that I detest injustice. I set out to right a lot of wrongs I met on assumption of office.
Simply put, it was the “will” to do what is right. I took over an agency smeared in allegations of misappropriation, fraud and a pension scheme that was not trusted. I am fortunate to have worked with a group of people who keyed in with my vision.
Where there’s a will, passion, and love of country, the job will always get done. I have simply done what needed to be done.
We believe if there is any group of people who deserved service and attention at and when due, it is people have sacrificed everything to serve this country diligently in various capacities.
We believe such people should not suffer before they are paid their entitlements.
That is why we give our pensioners the best treatment whenever they come to us. Sometimes, those that cannot come to us to carry out the verification of their documents, we send our team to go to them in their homes. We balance our responsibility as imposed by our mandate with a touch of human compassion. That is the difference we brought to the work we do.
PT: Looking back now, what gives you the greatest sense of satisfaction, disappointment or regrets about what PTAD achieved under your leadership?
SHARON: There is nothing that gives me the greatest sense of satisfaction that when I look back on the road we have traveled and how far we have come. We may not be where we dream to be. But, I am satisfied that all the issues we met on the ground were addressed to a large extent.
As I said, we carried out a staff audit. Most of the staff who were affected are now properly placed and their appointments confirmed. There may have been casualties. But, it was for the good of the system. It was based on this confirmation that a promotion examination was conducted for all eligible staff on GL6 to14 for promotion to the next grade levels. We developed the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and Pension Policies for all our operations.
For the pensioners, I am happy that under my leadership at PTAD, pensioners have more trust and confidence in government, because this administration has delivered on all its promises to pensioners. I believe this will continue under the new leadership at the Directorate.
PT: You are moving on to a higher assignment as minister of the Federal Republic. What would you do differently or sustain in your new assignment?
SHARON: The location of the office and the job description are the only things that will change, Sharon. I remain who I am. I believe in my country. I want the best for my country. At PTAD, the staff called me “Hurricane Sharon”, because I was determined to remove anything and everything that posed a threat to the achievement of our mandate to serve our pensioners. This is what has given the government trust and confidence. I intend to continue on the same trajectory of reform, good governance, and service to mankind. I owe posterity the duty to leave wherever I find myself better than I find.
PT: How would you want posterity to remember you?
SHARON: As I said, I abhor injustice in any form and have tried to ensure that pensioners who suffered unjustly in getting their entitlements, got redress.
I hope posterity will remember me for fighting for the cause of pensioners in this country and putting the defined benefit scheme on a path of transparency and accountability.
PT: We wish you well in your new assignment
SHARON: Thank you. Keep up the good work.