Retirement, which ordinarily is a phase in life redolent with a sense of fulfilment and happiness in other parts of the world, is a nightmare in Nigeria. Workers in the public services in the states of the country retire without being paid their pensions and gratuities for about a decade. Many have slumped and died in endless queues, while undergoing a series of verifications and documentation for the payment of their entitlements. The ill-treatment, running through the 36 states of the federation, does not only affect the pensioners, but thousands of their family members and dependants. As a result, lives and many dreams have irredeemably been ruined.
The neglect has reached a new level with judges joining the now loathsome league, such that the matter was on the agenda of the recent meeting of National Judicial Council (NJC), chaired by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Olukayode Ariwoola. States pay the entitlements of retired judges, while the NJC oversees the payment of their salaries while in service. The NJC has chastised state governments for their failure to pay up the benefits of judges, which it stressed, “Undermines the rule of law and Section 6 of the Constitution.” Consequently, it directed State Chief Judges to file reports on compliance to the payments by states not later than April 1. This aberration in public service does not help the drive to eviscerate corruption from the system. Tackling it has become an urgent matter of national importance.
At opportune moments such as 1st of May, the Workers’ Day, these senior citizens, who spent 35 years of their lives in active service to the nation, and are largely now in fragile health, demonstrate in front of Government Houses and other places to draw public attention to their plights and get their entitlements paid. Unfortunately, most of the time, they are sardonically dismissed by those duty-bound to cater for them, as was the case in a state in the southern part of the country last year, where the governor reportedly said they were irrelevant politically.
In the South-West, the zone’s Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) said a whopping N330 billion in pensions and gratuities were being owed its members as of November 2022. The backlog stretches to 2012. The Union’s spokesman, Olusegun Abatan, who disclosed this at the end of their recent meeting in Ibadan, said Osun State is the highest debtor at N145 billion in owed entitlements; Ondo, at N58 billion; Ogun, N55 billion; Ekiti, N40 billion; while Oyo owed its pensioners N43 billion.
Concerned Abia Pensioners, during their protest on 22 April, 2022, put the arrears of their pensions at being for 38 months, while gratuities had piled up for 20 years. One of the protesters, Emeka Okezie, pleaded, “We are asking the government to help us before we all die.” Workers in Rivers State, during their May Day 2022 rally, wore black attires to mourn their dead retired colleagues. So grave was the situation that the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) chairperson in Rivers State, Mrs Beatrice Ituba, lamented that the number of obituary notices at the pensioners union’s office will compel anybody to weep for them.
In Kano State, the chairman of the NLC, Kabir Ado Minjibir, said over N3 billion had been deducted from the meagre monthly pension of retirees since January 2021. The revelation came in the wake of a demonstration by distraught pensioners in October last year, outside Government House, over the backlog of gratuities owed, alongside the deductions from and non-harmonisation of pensions. In the same month, pensioners of Local Governments in Taraba State marched to the State House of Assembly to demand 10 years’ arrears of pensions and gratuities due to them. The chairman of the group, Yohanna Ajiya, decried the death of many retirees as a result of their impecunious existence. It is a cocktail of never-ending woes!
Some may argue that lack of funds is responsible for the crisis. But looting of the public treasury, misappropriation of funds, and the obscenely luxurious lifestyles of elected and appointed public office holders make such logic facile. It is enfeebled the more by the fact that despite the cash windfall to the nine oil producing states in the Niger Delta, they are also embroiled in the pension mess. Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu revealed recently that the affected states had received N625.43 billion accrued to them from the 13% oil derivation and other funds withheld by previous administrations. Still, about N860.59 billion is outstanding.
In fact, the plight of pensioners in Rivers State puts the issue in bold relief. The governor, Nyesom Wike, who blew the lid of the bonanza, only remembered their case when he joined the political fray for the presidential ticket of his party mid-2022. A guideline for the payment from the Director General of Rivers State Pension Board, Ijeoma Samuel, stated: “We don’t want a situation (where) somebody who retired in 2020 will be paid first before the person who had retired in 2014. We have adopted the principle of first retired, first paid.” More than 4,000 retirees are in the 2014 batch. With the snail speed of the process, as witnessed on the first day, when each batch’s payment would be completed, before attending to the 2020 cohort is better imagined.
In a country where social security or welfare policies that cater for the aged are non-existent, the lack of interest in paying benefits to pensioners is callous and inhuman to the extreme. Those still in service who watch in bewilderment how their former colleagues live in utter deprivation, hunger, ill-health, hopelessness and abandonment, will derive a perverse incentive from the malady. They will immerse themselves in the miasma of corruption to make enough money for their old age, thus making the initiative for ethnical rebirth in public service, epitomised by the anti-graft campaign of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), mere shadow-boxing.
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Post-retirement lamentation was why the Pension Reform Act 2004 came into existence and was amended in 2014. It provides for the contributory pension scheme by employees and employers, and only exempted workers with less than four years to retirement. Sadly, only a few states have signed on to the system, which is an ominous development strongly indicating that the present challenge will not be exorcised any time soon.
It is a social policy washout that state governors should quickly fix. It serves the cause of equity, social justice and human rights. To solve the plight of ex-judges, the NJC can take over the payment of their pensions through a policy funding tweak; while the organised labour should re-strategise to make things happen for their erstwhile colleagues. They deserve to live! Ironically, while retirement is dreaded in Nigeria, early or middle-aged retirees in the United Kingdom are currently being lured back to work with a slew of incentives by the Rishi Sunak government to rescue the economy that is in a tailspin.
Worried by the paradox of neglecting pensioners but providing for themselves very generous pension packages after just eight years in office, the Social Economic Rights and Accountability Projects (SERAP), in July 2022, sued state governors over the funds they were budgeting for their predecessors in office, in lieu of also being beneficiaries of same in due course. More than N40 billion has reportedly been paid to 47 former governors in 21 states, who are also recipients of mansions in their home states, and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, coupled with replaced fleets of cars every four years and domestic staff to boot. This is simply unjust.
The crass show of inequality and obscene accretion of public funds by a few such as this will continue to cause social convulsions in the Nigerian society. No wonder, therefore, that the Alliance Global Pension Report 2020, ranked Nigeria 64 out of 70 countries due to the inadequacies of its pension system.
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