Omoniyi Ilesanmi spent three months on the sickbed where he incurred N393,000 to treat himself of arthritis – the inflammation of one or more joints, causing pains and stiffness, which worsens with age. He served the Osun government for over 30 years.
“In 2013, I was on the hospital bed for three months nursing arthritis and spent N393,000 as medical expenses,” he narrated his post-retirement story.
“This is where we ‘less’ our thinking and wind away time,” Mr Ilesanmi said adjusting his cloth to position himself for an interview.
He had invited this reporter over to a drinking joint in Osogbo, the state capital, where he and old friends who retired from the state civil service have made a tradition of ”drinking away their sorrows” every evening.
Retired as an assistant director in 2012, he could only account for the medical bills and not miscellaneous expenses. “If my family were not around me, I would have died,” he lamented.
Another retiree and friend of Mr Ilesanmi also narrated his experience. The retiree, who asked not to be named, said he has been disposing of his properties to fend for his family. He retired in the security department of the state house of assembly.
“In 2014, when nothing was forthcoming from the government, I had to sell my building in Owode Ede at a cheap price in order to keep my family,” he said.
Both men complained of not being paid their gratuity – the statutory lump sum paid to an employee to sustain life after retirement – saying it worsened their predicament.
The amount paid as gratuity could be in millions of naira depending on years of service and the position held before leaving the civil service.
“Those who want to complete their building projects will be able to. Those who want to start a business will be able to get capital, those with ailments will be able to take care of themselves,” Mr Ilesanmi’s friend murmured while taking a look at the remaining drink.
They retired under the Defined Benefits Scheme, one that preceded the new Contributory Pension Scheme.
Although Mr Ilesanmi and his colleagues have been receiving their monthly pensions from the government, the Aregbesola-led government, during the years of modulated salaries, paid them ‘modulated pension’. Thus they await their arrears.
Rauf Aregbesola bowed out of office as Osun governor in 2018 after an eight-year rule and was appointed the Minister of Interior in 2019. He handed over the affairs of Osun to Gboyega Oyetola under the same All Progressives Congress after a keenly contested election in September 2018.
During the interview with this reporter, the old retirees talked about some colleagues who had died, were bedridden, ejected from their houses and those who withdrew their children from school.
“We left when we were given the option to retire under the old scheme or join the new scheme. About 17,352 of us left in 2012. Nearly 5,000 of us have died, untimely death,” Mr Ilesanmi said.
With stories similar to those who retired earlier, many of those who retired between 2015 and 2018 under the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS), have neither received any monthly pension nor the lump sum that ought to be paid as Bond.
Introduced through the pension reform act of 2004, the contributory pension scheme was signed into law by a former president, Goodluck Jonathan, in 2011, to further strengthen pension administration in Nigeria. It was domesticated in Osun State in 2012.
According to a former Director-General of National Pension Commission, Muhammed Ahmad, while addressing governors in Abuja on the benefits of CPS, under the former Defined Benefit Scheme (DBS), most public sector schemes were unfunded and with unsustainable pension liabilities.
CPS provides for a mandatory minimum contribution of 10 and 8 per cent by the employer and employee respectively out of the employee’s monthly emoluments.
According to the Act, an employee is to open a Retirement Savings Account (RSA), into which the contributions are to be paid, with a Pension Fund Administrator (PFA) licenced by the National Pension Commission. The PFA is to manage and invest the fund in the RSA, from where a contributor will draw benefits on retirement.
Upon retirement, a certain percentage will be paid as Bond (lump sum) and the remaining will be collected monthly based on the agreement between the PFA and the employee.
The Bond varies based on length of service, age and salary level before retirement.
For those who migrated from the old scheme to CPS before retirement, there is a demarcation between the two. The exact valuation of DBS will be lodged in the Central Bank of Nigeria while the CPS funds is with the PFAs. Both will be collected upon retirement.
The spokesperson for the Forum of Contributory Pensioners in Osun State, Gbenga Adeosun, said the state government refused to pay them despite the series of measures taken by the unions.
Mr Adesoun, in a statement obtained by this reporter, said, “The contributory pensioners comprising civil, secondary and primary schools’ services of July 2016 for civil and secondary schools and July 2015 for primary schools are yet to be paid by the government.”
He stated that the statements received by the majority of the forum’s members from the PFAs showed the ”government funded the account till July 2015, in respect of the primary schools, and July 2016 in respect of civil and secondary services.”
Alabi Atanda retired as a head-teacher in Demonstration Elementary School in Osogbo in 2016.
“(Out of the four categories of state workers), we primary school teachers are the most suffered by the Osun State government,” Mr Atanda decried one sunny Friday.
While speaking with this reporter, he mentioned some of the primary school teachers across different local government areas who had died because they could not afford medical treatment.
“Many of us have died. Seventy out of 400 primary school teachers who retired in 2016. We are walking corpse(s). To get three square meals, they have to beg. We can only beg to eat, are we going to beg to sponsor our children to school?”
Mr Atanda, however, said his survival at the moment depends on his siblings who send financial aid.
Also, Sobaloju Imago who retired as a school principal in Ile-Ife explained his helpless state as he is yet to get the five-month and four-month salary arrears the (ex) government owed before he left service ”not to mention any of the retirement packages.”
“I retired in march 2016. I hope God will intervene in our case because the pain is killing and we are dying. Currently, about 15 principals have died. I still have two children in the university. In fact, I fell sick in 2017-2018. All my savings were consumed in the process,” Mr Imago, who retired under the CPS, said.
Another, who begged that his name should not appear in print for fear of victimisation, could barely stand because he suffered a backbone injury in 2016.
“I retired on July 31st 2011. I have been paid monthly pension but I have not been paid a kobo of my gratuity up till date. There was a time when the government under the administration of Aregbesola embarked on payment of half-salaries. I am being owed 37 half salaries,” he said.
Tired of peaceful rallies and unfruitful negotiations, some of the retirees have approached the Industrial Court in Akure to seek redress.
According to section 210 of the Nigerian Constitution, any benefit to which a person is entitled shall not be withheld or altered to his disadvantage.
Ganiyu Salawu and Dele Aina, the state leaders of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners (NUP), said that the union has embarked on various strategies aimed at addressing some of the issues including a recent court action at National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Akure.
Gbadebo Adegboye, the state coordinator of retired civil servants under CPS, disclosed that a recent transfer of the judge handling the case delayed the hearing, which was earlier slated for the last week of October 2019.
“As I am talking to you, we are supposed to be in Akure but the chairman of the forum just informed me that the judge handling the case has been transferred,” he told this reporter during an interview.
Meanwhile, a lawyer and activist, Yemi Abiona, applauded the move of the deprived retirees.
The Osun-based lawyer condemned the delay in the payment of the senior citizens’ entitlements and described the act of owing entitlements and salaries’ arrears as being criminal.
Checks revealed that Osun State, under Mr Aregbesola, received several bailout funds from the federal government, still, he defaulted in payment of salaries and arrears.
As a relief for payment of salaries and owed arrears, President Muhammadu Buhari disbursed N338 billion to states owing workers and pensioners in 2015. Osun State got N34.9 billion.
Mr Buhari again approved the release of more funds from the London-Paris Club refund to state governors across the country in 2017 out of which Osun State received N6.3 billion as the second tranche of Paris Club refund in July.
The president had insisted that in spending the money, priority should be placed on offsetting unpaid salary arrears as well as pension and gratuity liabilities.
Meanwhile, in 2016, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, alleged that the Aregbesola-led administration only disbursed N16.3 billion out of the N34.9 billion bailout released in 2015.
The report added that the commission was investigating allegations that the state had not paid salaries since July 2015.
According to Punch newspaper, the ex- governor’s aide countered the allegations of diversion but did not contest the fact that only N16.3 billion was disbursed.
Also, in reaction to the ICPC report, former Senate President Bukola Saraki ordered the Senate Committee on State and Local Government Administration to investigate how the Aregbesola administration spent the cash.
Although a senator, Abdullahi Gumel, the chairman of the committee, promised to visit the state in December 2016 for further investigation, nothing was heard of the probe.
However, a few days to the 2018 gubernatorial election, Mr Aregbesola paid four out of the 34 half- salaries owed, a move the opposition termed as buying off the electorate.
Infrastructure above workers’ entitlements
When Mr Aregbesola was contacted for comments on the modulated pensions and salaries’ arrears, this reporter was sent a video of the ministerial screening in the Senate in which he said ”he gave huge investment in the infrastructure” as perhaps an excuse for the poor treatment of Osun workers.
Responding to a question from Bashir Gasau (PDP-Zamfara) on why he paid modulated salaries during his tenure, Mr Aregbesola said in the video “This was because we invested heavily in infrastructure.”
In the video, the new interior minister added that Osun ”under his leadership fell victim of economic recession in 2014, but was able to manage the situation with initial payment of half salaries depending on grade levels”.
When further clarifications were sought, Head of Strategic Communications to the former Governor, Kikiowo Ileowo, directed this reporter to the incumbent Oyetola-led administration.
While Governor Adegboyega Oyetola has begun to look into the plight of these deprived retirees, his efforts appear inadequate.
Mr Oyetola, in July 2019 presented bond certificates worth over N1.01 billion to retirees under the Contributory Pension Scheme. According to the report, the affected pensioners were drawn from local government and primary school retirees.
Mr Oyetola said that the beneficiaries were the 8th batch of pensioners that would be presented with bond certificates.
Giving the breakdown of the beneficiaries, the governor explained that 84 of them were retired primary school teachers, while 105 others were former local government workers.
He added that the bond certificates distributed to the pensioners were worth N1.01 billion and promised ”to always give priority to the welfare of the senior citizens in the state.”
The bond certificates allows the retirees to collect money from designated banks.
The governor also complained of how the gratuity of some of the pensioners under the Defined Benefit Scheme (DBS) is being ‘balkanised’ with the payment of irregular meagre sums.
“(At a point) they started N50,000. When the N50,000 went around, they started paying them N100,000. As at last Monday, another list has been paid N200,000. That is how the amount is being balkanised,” he lamented.
When contacted, Governor Oyetola’s Chief Press Secretary, Ismail Omipidan, explained the efforts of the state government to salvage the plight of the old citizens.
He acknowledged that there are backlogs from the Aregbesola-led administration and that Mr Oyetola will ensure that everyone is paid.
“If you know Osun very well, you will know that we have a peculiar situation,” he said.
“It is not as if we are not paying at all and we can not clear everything at once.”
“Anybody, who has not gotten (his/her entitlements), certainly, (such person) will get,” he said.
How CPS has fared in Osun
Meanwhile, in its second-quarter 2019 report, the National Pension Commission published states that were not remitting pension under the Contributory Pension Scheme.
In an analysis by this reporter, 24 states including Cross River, Enugu, Abia, Ebonyi, Taraba, Bauchi, Borno, Adamawa, Ogun, Niger, Imo, Sokoto, Kogi, Bayelsa, Nasarawa, Oyo, Katsina, Akwa Ibom, Benue, Kwara, Plateau and Taraba have not been remitting Pension contributions to the PFAs.
According to PenCom, only four out of the remaining 12 states that are remitting pension contributions, had been remitting the pension of their workers ‘regularly’.
Only Lagos, Edo, Kaduna and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) had an up-to-date remittance in the report released in August.
Osun State, according to the report, remitted pension contributions ”but in an inconsistent manner resulting in a backlog of pension contributions.”
It described the state government’s funding of accrued pension rights as ‘inadequate’, noting that this had resulted in huge arrears of accrued rights. Osun State, it added, had no group life insurance policy.
Meanwhile, in an interview with this newspaper, the PFA manager for Fidelity Pensions in Osogbo, Ayodeji Emmanuel, attested to the fact that the remittances were irregular at a time.
“The only thing is that the contribution was not coming the way it should because of some financial challenges, which I think they (Osun State) are already getting out of it.”