Pension as source of misery to senior citizens
One of the simplest definitions of salary is that it is a fixed regular payment, typically paid on a monthly basis, by an employer to an employee, especially a professional or white-collar worker, while pension is defined as a regular payment made to people who have retired from service, having attained the official retirement age.
In civilised climes, such payments and benefits are regular and never toyed with owing to the fact that the sustenance of affected persons, depends largely on these monies. Pension in this case becomes very important to the beneficiaries because pensioners are aged people, who have little or no strength to begin activating new streams of income.
In Nigeria, the reverse is becoming the norm, rather than an aberration. The frequency of protests, either through major streets or at government houses in different parts of the country, lends credence to the widespread nature of the malaise that the non-payment of pension and gratuity has gradually become.
It is in this light that pensioners in only a few states appear to be somewhat lucky. While their counterparts in different parts of the country are owed several months of pension arrears, with their state governments perpetually lamenting paucity of funds to execute this all-important task.
The motto of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners (NUP) is “Rest is Sweet After Labour.” But this holds no meaning to the average Nigerian pensioner, who is never treated as a senior citizen by present crop of political leaders, but perennially badgered with inane excuses, including unending biometric data capture exercise, which sometimes take years to be concluded.
In the South East for instance, there is hardly any state that is not indebted to pensioners, be they mainstream civil servants or primary school teachers, whose umbilical cords are connected to local councils, where the worst form of governance takes place.
Edo Pensioners, Government Differ On Pension Arrears, Gratuity
For the umpteenth time, pensioners in Edo State last Tuesday took to the streets to protest the non-payment of their pension as well as to mourn their colleagues who passed on in the last two months.
Osemwenkha Gabriel, leader and spokesperson of the protesting pensioners said nine of their members died between July and August. According to him, three pensioners died in July, while six died in August.
However, the absence of the executive committee members of the union in the protest line-up, hinted at what looked like a crack in the leadership of NUP in the state. Gabriel wasted no time in confirming this as he accused the leadership of blackmail, and also alleging that they sold out.
Some of the placards they carried read, “Adodo lied that Edo State government is not owing pensioners,” “Edo State is not broke pay pensioners their entitlements,” and “Comrade Governor, Adams Oshiomhole enough of this deceit, pay us our entitlements.”
They expressed annoyance that pensioners’ files were currently lying unattended to at the pension board that has in the last two years been shut down by Oshiomhole.
“We are telling the state governor, Adams Oshiomhole, to pay us our pension benefits. He closed down the pension board for two years now so that we will not get our benefits alleging that the members of the board were corrupt.
“We are not saying that he doesn’t have the right to close down any state-owned agency or parastatals, but we are very much abreast with the operations of government, and we are not saying that the state government should plough all her resources into the payment of pensioners’ benefit.
“The governor has constitutional powers to dissolve any board, including the state pension board, which he had done. But on point of law, the board was constituted by an instrument of law. The law stipulates that there should be a chairman, which should be from the state civil service; a secretary from the state civil service; a chief accountant or director of account from the state civil service, a member representing post-primary education board because of the high numbers of teachers who are pensioners in the state and a member representing the Ministry of Justice. That is the composition of the board in the state,” he stated.
Gabriel lamented the high debt profile pensioners have incurred in the state, adding that their creditors were now after them.
“For the number of months that we have not been paid, we have been borrowing to survive from friends and well-wishers, but our creditors are now hard on us; they want their money back and that is why we are back in the street again to appeal to the governor to pay us our entitlements.
In an earlier protest they staged, the pensioners alleged that: “Rather than creating an avenue for retirees to process their pension papers, government has left this category of senior citizens in limbo.”
They consequently requested that the state government pays them all outstanding arrears of pension, including their six per cent and 15 per cent pension increases, which they claimed retired judges in the state have already been paid.
The retirees further requested the government, “To expedite action on placement of retired pensioners on payroll, effect payment of all outstanding gratuities to them as well as effect the payment of three months salary in lieu of notice to those compulsorily retired in 1996 and 2000.
The state Commissioner for Establishment and Special Duties, Comrade Didi Adodo, debunked the pensioners claims, saying the Oshiomhole administration inherited pension and gratuity arrears from 1998, adding that the said arrears have been cleared up to 2011 by the present administration.
He added that the governor deserves commendation and not condemnation on issues regarding workers’ welfare, especially the pensioners.
The commissioner revealed that Oshiomhole rescinded an earlier decision to pay pension and gratuity of only those who retired under his administration, by clearing the backlog left behind by previous military administration and that of Lucky Igbinedion.
Adodo, who acknowledged that some pensioners were actually owed arrears, however, said it was not true that some were been owed arrears of about 42 months.
“When Oshiomhole came on board in 2008, there were pension arrears from 1998 including gratuity arrears of those that were sacked by the military government of Adamu Nyiam. Lucky Igbindeion, also reduced the service year and retirement age of some workers and sacked them. So, we had thousands of people that were sacked from the system and neither paid gratuity, nor placed on pension. And by the time we came on board, the governor said he was going to be paying those that will retire in his time, but later, there was this debate that it was not the fault of the people who had been retired. So, he started from 1998 till 2009. He has also successfully paid 2010, 2011. So, those that are left in the 2010 and 2011 were those who were not captured during the capturing that would be paid now… We also discovered that ahead of retirement, some of the workers do not fill their pension forms on time. This development brings about sloppiness in the process of processing their pensions … People should know that Oshiomhole’s government has done more to ameliorate the plight of pensioners in the state than any other government.
Local Government Pensioners In Cross River As Orphans
Cross River State government owes local government pensioners three months of pension arrears, while it is up to date with the state civil service pensioners, except in the area of gratuity.
Currently, the state is carrying out a personnel audit/staff biometrics to determine the actual strength of its workforce and pensioners. And as a result of this, pensioners have not received their pension for the month of August.
However, in the process of executing the personnel audit, 570 fake pensioners were uncovered.
Government’s efforts in keeping a clean slate notwithstanding, its inability to pay retired civil servants their gratuity since 2013, has not gone down well with many, the reason some of the retirees recently embarked on a protest march in the state.
Leader of the Concerned Retirees, Pastor Joshua Idang, complained that this situation has impoverished retirees in the state and, “From our findings, not less than five retirees of the state civil service die daily without collecting their gratuities. The state government stopped paying gratuities in May 2013 and these retirees are dying because many of them cannot afford medical bills when they are sick.”
Idang who claimed that about 150 retirees died in July this year added: “We are afraid that since people are retiring every month from the civil service, it could get to a point where government may not be able to pay the accumulated benefits and this will complicate our problems. We spent 35 years toiling for the state with the hope that when we retire, we will just go home and rest, while offering our services to our communities. But what is happening now is not only disheartening, but frustrating, and we want the government to please come to our rescue.”
State Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade John Ushie, told The Guardian that, “The pension situation in Cross River State is one of the best because if gratuities were being paid, we would not have problems. Here, as you retire at the end of the month, your name is transferred the next month to the pension payroll and you get your pension.
For the retired teachers and other local government pensioners, he said, “The local government staffers have not been paid. So, if they have not paid local government staff, how can pensioners be paid when their pensions are paid alongside salaries of serving council staff? Once the local government staff get their salary, the pensioners would be paid as well.”
However, the NLC in the state, penultimate week gave the state government a 21-day ultimatum to settle all pension arrears owed local government pensioners, in line with the agreement it had with labour in October last year.
Briefing the workers, Comrade Ushie said it was important for the state government to take the 21-day ultimatum seriously by complying with the agreement entered into with the union in October 2015. We will follow due process, and after the 21 days, we will give a 14-day notice and after that we will give the final warning
of seven days. If nothing is done, the strike will be total.”
Commenting on the issue of pensioners, Chairman of the State Local Government Service Commission, Dr. Peter Adigeb, said the personnel audit exercise is a demonstration of the commitment of the Ben Ayade-led administration to ensure transparency, fairness and justice. He said with this development, payment of pension would be regular, since the exercise is to sanitise the administration of pension payment in the state to those legally due.
Adigeb said that the administration was out to dismantle every structure erected, which denied Cross Riverians their legitimate entitlements, stressing that Ayade is not a man to deny legitimate pensioners and workers in the state their entitlements or rights.
“This verification exercise carried out by the commission is geared towards addressing the lapses in the administration of pension in the state so that never again will our pensioners, who have faithfully served this state suffer. Also, it will purge the challenges that had impeded the smooth management of pension in the state.
“l am very happy to reveal to you that at the end of the exercise we, discovered 570 fake pensioners that have been receiving pension criminally from the state. With the discovery, the illegal monies that they have been collecting from the state will end,” he stated.
“At the end of the verification exercise, it was discovered that 5, 188 pensioners are currently on the payroll of the state. Of this number 4, 588 were verified. Also the exercise led to the discovery of 157 pensioners who are now late, but were still being captured in the payroll while 413 pensioners could not be verified due to some fraudulent transactions.
It is expected that more ghost workers will be uncovered from the over 22, 000 heavy work force when the outcome of the state’s general verification is made public.
Dichotomy Between Council Retirees And State Pensioners Worsen Matters In Akwa Ibom
In July this year, pensioners in Akwa Ibom State marched to the Government House, along Wellington Bassey Way, where they sought audience with Governor Udom Emmanuel.
The protest was carried out mainly by aggrieved persons under the auspices of the National Association of Local Government Employees (NULGE). The situation did not go down well with the state government, hence through its representative, it stated that the payment of pension to this group does not fall directly within its purview. This was promptly rejected by the state chairman of NULGE, Comrade Martins Usen Effiong.
“It does not call for any argument because the facts are straight. There is only one public service in Akwa Ibom State. One arm is controlled by the Civil Service Commission, for the state government workers, and the other is controlled by the Local Government Service Commission for the local government workers. But both commissions are constituted by the state government. None is independent.
“Now the chairman of the joint account is the commissioner for local government, who is an appointee of the governor. And the next signatory to that account is the accountant general of the state. Now, with those two people as signatories to the joint account, can the state say effectively that it is not responsible for the local government workers? Effiong querried.
He continued, “Coming to say that it is not the state government that should pay these people their pension does not absolve it from paying. Government is trying to bring a demarcation where none really exists. That is the truth of the matter.”
However, the development led to the intervention of the State House of Assembly, as a seven-member ad-hoc committee, chaired by the House Leader and member representing Oruk Anam State Constituency, Sir Udo Kierian Akpan, interfaced with stakeholders to unravel the true situation behind the controversial pension matter.
State chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade, Etetim Ukpong, while shedding light on the issue noted that the issue of pension and gratuity in the state has, for
sometime now, been blown out of proportion, and “charlatans” have capitalised on the situation to make unnecessary claims.
Though he agreed that the state has some issues with payment of pension and gratuity to retired workers, he maintained that it was not in the manner some persons have made it look like.
He assured that the present administration was showing greater interest in, and poised to addressing the matter, once and for all.
According to Ukpong, pensioners who retired directly from local government have been paid up to June 2016; that of primary school teachers paid up to May 2016, while those who retired in May 2015 have been paid only one month since they retired.
“There is no denying the fact that we have dispute among pensioners in Akwa Ibom State. But pension issues are what we have always put on government front burner of our agitations. We have the issue of pension mostly at the local government level, that is direct local government workers and primary school teachers. Among direct state government workers, pension is not a serious situation, and the government has been meeting its obligation. But the area we are dissatisfied is the demarcation between state civil service pensioners and those from the local governments.
He continued, “Our position in the NLC is to agitate for workers in the state. I am a very happy person because the state has really come to listen to these issues through the House of Assembly Ad hoc Committee.
The labour leader, who expressed confidence in government’s determination to sort the matter out once and for all, blamed some retired civil servants who have not been paid their pension and gratuity for their predicament, saying the information they supplied in their retirement forms ended up creating hiccups for them, which eventually led to delays in processing their documents in banks.
“The distraction usually comes from the retirees themselves, because one or two persons will come to tell them that they are the ones fighting for them, and they have even been contributing monies to these conmen. In fact, most times that noise is being made that government is not doing anything about NUT, NLC, NUP, it is those persons who are benefiting from these senior citizens that are doing that to show that the are doing something to justify the money they have collected from the retirees.
Osun’s Half Bread For Senior Citizen Disappearing
The welfare of many pensioners in Osun State has taken a plunge in recent times. No thanks to the current economic recession, and high inflation rate in the country, which have further weakened their socio-economic standing.
Before the state began to experience a drastic fall in its income, its retirees, just like those still in service received their entitlements in good time. But with the harsh economic situation, the state government only manages to pay 50 per cent pension to the senior citizens monthly.
However, the inability to even pay this reduced entitlements to these retirees regularly since July last year, clearly place additional challenge on their wellbeing.
A retiree, Comrade Sola Olojede, told The Guardian, that the last time the government paid them their pension was in May this year. He lamented that the weak purchasing power of retirees has induced various health challenges, while some have been sent to their untimely grave due to their inability to access adequate healthcare.
He noted that the retirees have been receiving half of their entitlements in the past one year without an assurance of when the balance would be paid by the government.
“Most of us have found ourselves in precarious situation. We have made several appeals and staged peaceful protests to draw the attention of the government to our plight, but to no avail,” Olojede said, adding that retirees live in despicable conditions while many of them cannot afford to feed adequately, and meet up with family obligations.
Another retiree, Comrade Gbenga Oyeleke, also painted a pathetic picture, saying the inability of the state government to pay pension and gratuity has left many of them wallowing in abject poverty.
He said as senior citizens, the government is supposed to accord their welfare the deserved priority, after they served their fatherland meritotiously.
“Is it not strange that some retired workers are still pressing for payment of their gratuity after they had left the service many years back?” he questioned.
He urged governor Aregbesola to do more to enable pensioners enjoy the reward of their service in their lifetime.
Former Commissioner for Information and Strategy in the state, Mr. Sunday Akere, who said the government has high regards for retirees, claimed that the love Governor Rauf Aregbesola, has for them, informed the government’s decision to pay three months pension arrears to pensioners up to May 2016. He said given the current economic situation and the resources at the government’s disposal, Aregbesola should be seen as a friend of workers.
Gratuities In Oyo Exceeds N21b,Retired Teachers Worst Hit
Pensioners in Oyo State, are presently facing hard times over the non-payment of their pension arrears. The aggrieved pensioners have embarked on series of protests to press home their demand all to no avail.
The retirees, who have constantly accused the state government of insensitivity, like their colleagues in other parts of the country, maintain that most of their members were prematurely departing for the great beyond due to hunger and ill health.
According to the state chairman NUP, Gbadegesin Akande, the state government is yet to pay pensioners their monthly pensions since the beginning of this year.
Akande, who also alleged that over 4,000 pensioners have been removed from the monthly payroll of the state government, insisted that the group would not succumb to the removal of pensioners’ names from the payroll until the necessary screening is done.
In the same vein, the secretary of the group, Segun Abatan clarified that there were three categories of pensioners in the state, namely those of the state; local government and primary school pensioners.
“State pensioners are owed seven months arrears. Gratuities of the state pensioners are not adequate at all. It has now accumulated to over N21b. The arrears of six and 15 per cent of past salary increment for Nigerian workers, based on a circular from the Federal Government, with concomitant increase in pension of workers, has not been paid to us. The case over the matter it has been in court since 2013. The 142 per cent that was paid by Governor Abiola Ajimobi, was what made us to support him for his second term, and we appreciated him for that.
“Local government pensioners are variously owed by their employers. Lagelu Local Council is owing the most, that is eight months arrears. It is followed by Egbeda, Ogbomoso South, and Ibadan North West.
“The third category is the most unfortunate and the most seriously injured pensioners. They are the primary school pensioners. Since Ajimobi came into government, he has not paid them a kobo. They are owed up to N20b of their gratuity, and are also owed arrears of monthly pension of between eight to 35 months. Their case has been pushed aside by the government.”
He urged the government to be sympathetic towards their plight and pay the outstanding arrears.
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