Nation’s Wobbly Scheme Pains Pensioners
• Retirees Die Waiting For Benefits
AFTER many years of toil, in service to the nation, millions of retirees will be faced with a pension system that is skewed to inflict them with pain and regret until their dying day. Little wonder, pension matters have continued to spark litanies of woes and cries of injustice.
Many state governments are unable to pay pensions. Some do not remit their counterpart deductions, as required by the Pension Act, to workers’ respective Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs). Others, yet, owe a backlog of pensions and have no plans or ideas on how to pay. Besides, many private sector organisations do not comply with Pension Act regulations requiring them to partner with workers in contributing to the scheme and providing how retires would access their funds.
“When a governor retires, he will go home with benefits, including house, cars and what have you. In addition, he will continue to receive his basic salary and allowance as former governor until he dies. But the civil servant, who has worked for 35 years, when he retires, you will then work out what he will receive. That is the injustice in the entire arrangement,” cried Comrade Osmond Ugwu, Enugu State chairman, Workers’ Forum and President, International Solidarity for Peace and Human Rights Initiative.
Faulting the contributory pension scheme, Ugwu said it “prepares the retiree to die before his time, because there is nothing you are hoping on. This particular policy is entirely a policy of frustration and founded on injustice. It has nothing to benefit the worker.”
He added: “How much is the basic salary of a worker in Enugu State today? In fact, a director, all he receives at the end of the month, including allowances, is not up to N100,000. If you remove basic salary from all these, you will discover that the director is not taking up to N30,000 in a month. It is 80 per cent of that N30,000 that you pay to the person, and how many civil servants do you have as retirees in the year?
“Look at Buhari, as President, if he was not receiving pension as a retired military head of state, could he have survived all these years? This is what gives room for corruption in the system, because if somebody who is retiring knows that he has nothing to fall back on, he will find ways to loot. What a governor goes home with when he retires is more than what over a hundred workers will get when they retire. It is lack of fiscal management in Nigeria that has brought this problem on workers.”
Recently, the National Union of Pensioners (NUP) noted that many of its members were dying as a result of unpaid pensions that run into billions of naira. The union lamented the non-inclusion of pension payment in the bailout received from the Federal Government by states to pay salaries. While the union commended the release of the bailout, it appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to direct state governments to, from the bailout, settle all pensioners owed.
As many pensioners and unpaid workers were groaning, the Imo State Governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha, on Wednesday, travelled with about 100 persons to Turkey on what he called an industrial fact-finding trip. It was the second time in months he was leading such a large number to the same country.
Pensioners, under the aegis of Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) in the state, meanwhile, have renewed calls for payment of their over 20 months pension arrears. They refused to present themselves for another round of verification exercise conducted by the state government at the promptings of the governor, arguing through their chairman in the state, Chief Gideon Ezeji, that they had been verified in 2011 and 2013, respectively, under excruciating conditions. While civil pensioners are owed about eight months, retired primary school teachers claim they are owed 22 months!
Aggrieved pensioners, recently, stormed Agodi Government House in Oyo State to protest non-payment of their pension arrears. Chanting solidarity songs, the pensioners trooped out in their hundreds, displaying placards with inscriptions such as: ‘Bail Pensioners Out Before We Die!’ They demanded the immediate payment of between 10 and 25 months pension arrears. Other demands included immediate implementation of six per cent and 15 per cent increase for retired local council staff, payment of arrears of six per cent and 15 per cent pension increase, and immediate reinstatement of pensioners whose names were unjustifiably removed.
In a chat with The Guardian, President of Manufacturers’ Association of Nigeria, Franks Jacobs, described as “criminal” refusal by some employers to remit to fund managers whatever they collected from workers.
“There should be appropriate sanction on all defaulters. If they collect money from workers and failed to remit to the relevant fund manager, they should be prosecuted, so as not to jeopardise the scheme,” he said.