Pensions

Pension arrears: Open letter to acting President

Without the slightest thought about the horrible implication of delayed payment of arrears of pensions and earned promotions to deserving but traumatized Nigerians, and especially senior citizens whose life span after retirement in this country is rather short as a result of the inhuman treatment of unnecessary delays and non-payment of their gratuities and pensions, the Honourable Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun came out with a bang that the Federal Government would issue promissory notes to pay contractors and other services rendered by some people.  Evidently, this is not our worry.  What is terrifying is the minister‘s proposed method of payment of pension arrears as well as arrears for earned promotions by public servants.  In her wisdom, she said that pensioners and employees would be paid not directly but by bonds.  Hear her: “Obligations owed to individuals (for example pensioners and employee benefit) will be paid and will be resolved through the issuance of bond instruments, phased over the next three years” (The Nation, July 13, p.6).  Now, one is greatly perturbed by this thinking.

Ever since 2007 when I wrote an open letter to the late President Yar’Adua (of blessed memory) through this medium concerning the annual rituals of thousands of new retirees trooping to Abuja from different parts of the country for wicked verification, I have never given up writing on behalf of retirees.  I thought it was extreme wickedness arising from primitive thought of a people that new pensioners all over the country should converge on Abuja for such an inhuman and inhumane exercise.  It never occurred to people in the Nigerian government the hardship and danger of asking their senior citizens whom, in civilized countries, their government would strive to make comfortable, to find their ways to far away Abuja by road and at their own expenses.  In effect, many of these senior citizens would die from accident on their ways to Abuja, and those who landed in Abuja safely would be helpless as they have no place to stay other than under the bridges or uncompleted houses.

As we all know, Abuja is a very expensive city to live in, and I don’t think any poor retiree can afford an hotel in Abuja even for one day!  I then asked why the Federal Government did not deem it fit to send a few officers to different locations in the country for the massive exercise.  Fortunately, after I wrote my letter to President Yar’Adua, the exercise in Abuja was cancelled all over the country.  I was one of the first beneficiaries of this cancellation as I did my verification that year, 2007, at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife while the same exercise was conducted at the OAU Teaching Hospital and the Federal Polytechnic, Ede.  Since then I had written more than six articles on pensions and pensioners including “Memo to President Jonathan on workers’ strike and pension arrears” ( The Nation, 18 November, 2010, p.19), “Pensions: Open Letter to the President” (The Nation, 24 January, 2014, p.21), “Okonjo-Iweala and Pensioners” (The Nation, 29 June, 2014, p,18); Governors,  workers, and salary arrears” (The Nation,  29 Sept, 2016, p. 18); “FG and pension arrears” (The Nation, 18 November, 2014, p.21), “Pensioners: Open letter to President Buhari” (The Nation on  Sunday, 13 November, 2016, p.18) being the last amongst others.  This last letter elicited a series of comments and responses, bordering on appreciation and prayers from pensioners all over the country mostly from the North and South-east, and many from South-south and South-west. Osinbajo should not allow the present be like the past”.

Now, acting President, your Minister of Finance had flown what I believed must be a kite that arrears of pensions and promotion entitlements would be paid with bonds!  I say, please stop her, just as former President Obasanjo did when his Finance Minister made a similar sinister proposal.  Let me brief you by recounting one of my write-ups on this particular matter, viz, “FG and pension arrears”, November 18, 2014 above.  Excerpts:

“Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, as president, showed a tremendous respect and sympathy for pensioners when in 2006 he blocked his Minister of Finance, Esther Nenadi Usman’s attempt to pay the arrears of pensioners with Federal Government bonds.  President Obasanjo was particularly unhappy with that arrangement when he asked his minister the crucial question ‘A 70 or  80 years old man, if you give him  pension arrears in bonds, and you say it is cashable in so, so number of years, how many more years did you think he has to live?’ (The Guardian, August 8, 2006).  The pension arrears were put at N75 billion.  President Obasanjo ordered the government, through its Minister of Finance, to release N75 billion immediately to clear all the arrears of pensions.  During the Yar’Adua administration, prompt attention was paid to payment of pensioners, known all over the world as senior citizens”.

Unfortunately, the regime of President Jonathan was different.  Even when it appeared that the president wanted to act, his Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was always on hand to frustrate his effort.  For instance, when President Jonathan signed an approval for the payment of 53% increase from July 1, 2009 to 2014 as calculated by his technical committee, Okonjo-Iweala was alleged to have controversially insisted on cutting the 53% to 33% even after the Wages Commission and the NLC were said to have prepared 53% payment arrears for inclusion in the budget (see The Nation, January 24, 2014, p.21 and “Okonjo-Iweala and pensioners”(The Nation, June 29,  2014, p.18). We later heard that, after the payment of 33%, the military were gunning for the balance of 20% which we are made to understand the administration of President Buhari has promised to pay now. This kind gesture by the present administration which promised change from the pitfalls of President Jonathan’s administration must not be rubbished by a tacit return to the insensitive era of Okonjo-Iweala as Jonathan’s finance minister. Therefore, the acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, should take a cue from former President Obasanjo by ordering the present finance minister, Mrs. Adeosun, to reverse herself in line with the philosophy and good intention of Buhari/Osinbajo administration. Please note that pensioners have been cheated on two grounds. First, the value of their unpaid arrears since 2009 has diminished at the current rate of naira to the dollar.  Second, the interests on the arrears owed to these pensioners have been stolen by officers who usually fix the money for personal gains.  They should be paid their arrears with interest since 2009 or 2010.

Since the finance minister cannot pretend that she is unaware that many pensioners die on a daily basis in this country owing to old age and government’s culture of delayed or non-payment of pensions and arrears of poor pensioners until death knocks at their doors, she must see to it that no more pensioners die as a result of delays or non-payment of pensions and arrears from now on, otherwise non-pensioners and even sympathetic observers from outside Nigeria may well say of those waiting in vain for their pensions in Nigeria: Ye Nigerian pensioners who are about to die, we salute but pity you.

In order to wash its hands off the sinful and almost unpardonable act of wilful negligence, government must endeavour to pay arrears of pensioners, including the outstanding 20%, by the end of July or August latest,  and not deliberately wait for more deaths to be counted against them thereafter. That is how bad things are in our beloved country, Nigeria, where nothing works except hypocrisy, selfishness, greed and corruption of various descriptions.  Need we say more?

 

  • Prof Makinde, FNAL, JP is a retired Professor of Philosophy, Obafemi Awolowo University

Ile-Ife.

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