Time and again plights of pensioners ranging from those who retired from the civil service to the military regularly rent the air. This include how they die miserably as a result of hunger and starvation or excessive stress during the tedious verification exercises they are usually subjected to in ascertaining their claims and identities. BIDON MIBZAR, writes on a novel government initiative from the Office of Head of Service, HoS, that is tailored to smoothen the rough edges of the country’s pension regime.
For the Nigerian public servant, the fear of retirement is the beginning of wisdom. Knowing that it wouldn’t be business as usual with retirement, they realise the need to design a way of safeguarding the future especially given the inept pension administrations in the country that is sunk in gross corruption, administrative inefficiency/bottlenecks as well as the unfortunate lackadaisical behavior in handling of pension matters by most civilian/military administrations at all tiers of governments.
To so many civil servants, personal savings and investment against the rainy day could be the way out of the precarious situation that postulates an undesirable end to years of service to the nation. Others see investing in their children or wards as the way out, sadly, others are silently putting their hopes on a pension scheme that for over the years has been more or less ineffective in addressing the peculiar demands of the senior citizens and retired public servants.
Our correspondent’s findings reveal that most Nigerians, who worked for the country and retired did not prepare for old age in their youth. The case is not indifferent for those in the informal/private sector where farming and trading are the dominant occupations as they even have the more terrible part of the story.
Just a couple of months ago retired public servants and senior citizens, publicly took to the streets in a protest to the National Assembly, Abuja. While meeting with the speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Yakubu Dogara, the aggrieved retirees revealed that the government was owing their members about N200 billion in outstanding pension liabilities.
Led by the president of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners, Dr Abel Afolayan, the retirees cried to the speaker and his colleagues in the National Assembly to intervene by putting an end to the traditional rigorous budgetary allocation process, while also soliciting for assistance in facilitating the payment of the outstanding 18 months arrears of the 33 per cent pension increase.
Our correspondent’s findings revealed that the reasons why the pension funds have accumulated to the said amount, was due to the fact that the Nigerian Civil Service formerly operated a pension scheme that was grossly under-funded. Payment of pensions was one of the most vulnerable items in the annual budget. Even when budgetary allocations were made, there were delays in the release of the funds which caused accumulation in arrears of pension benefits.
Another issue is the embezzlement of funds by either the pension administrators or in the case of the private organisations, by the employer who will ultimately deduct money as pensions from the staff monthly allowances and would eventually not remit them to the employee’s pension account or to their relevant pension administrators.
Amongst other cases of fraud and embezzlement of the pension fund is the reported embezzlement of the police pension funds amounting to N46 billion which is believed to have been perpetrated by some top notchers of the Police Pensions Board, with hands pointing to the chairman of the board as a prime suspect. The matter, our correspondent understands is still being prosecuted in court.
Dr. Afolayan at the 15th edition of the Pensions Day Celebration in Abuja decried the flouting of Section 173(3) and Section 210(3) of the 1999 constitution by governments at all levels which stipulates that pension shall be reviewed every five years or whenever workers’
salaries are reviewed. He lamented that those who are expected to uphold this constitutional provision are the ones flouting it, adding that there are thousands of genuine pensioners who have not been able to access their monthly pension since the introduction of e-payment in 2009.
“There are also numerous pensioners whose names have been deliberately deleted from the payroll on the false premise and untenable ground that they are ghost pensioners. The names of most of such pensioners are yet to be re-listed and re-stored on the payroll,” Afolayan noted.
The leader of the Nigerian pensioners also said that there were many pensioners who were biometrically verified, captured and enrolled between June and July 2010, but issued dud cheques which they could not cash till today.
When the head of the civil service of the federation, Mrs Winifred Ekanem Oyo-Ita was asked by journalist in a press briefing marking the week-long civil service week in Abuja, she revealed on a cheering note that the federal government has constituted a 10-man Technical Committee to look into the areas of synergizing and harmonizing the mode and procedure for payment of pension benefits in the public service as and when due.
In dealing with the age-long delay in payments of retirees’ entitlements, the head of service further revealed that she has constituted a committee to function in a tripartite approach. The committee she noted consists of strategic officers that directly handle retiree-related issues from the Office of the Head of Service, the National Pension Commission (PENCOM) and the Pension Transition Arrangement Directorate (PTAD).
A release signed by the assistant director media, Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the federation, Mr. Mohammed Manga revealed that Oyo-Ita’s tripartite committee became necessary in order to ensure prompt payments of the pensioner’s entitlements in the public service. It will also ensure the creation of the needed synergy between the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the federation, PENCOM and PTAD that could ensure efficiency in handling pension-related matters.
Mrs Oyo-Ita expressed concern over how public servants after serving the country meritoriously for 35 years or after attaining the mandatory retirement age of 60 years have to wait for so long before they could receive their retirement benefits and monthly pensions. A situation she noted is not reasonable for any public servant to pass through and must therefore be addressed immediately.
The report also shows that the then director general National Pension Commission (PENCOM), Mrs.Chinelo Anohu-Amazu was happy with the tripartite arrangement that was pioneered by the nation’s number one civil servant, Mrs Oyo-Ita while revealing that PENCOM was ready to do everything possible within the ambit of law to ensure that retired public servants henceforth continue to receive their retirement benefits and monthly pensions as at when due, adding that there is the need for the three offices to work together for the realization of the noble objective.
The committee our correspondent understands is headed by the permanent secretary Common Services Office in the Office of the Head
of the Civil Service of the Federation, and has three members each, drawn from the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (OHCSF), PENCOM and PTAD.
Terms of reference of the committee include: To identify the current challenges hindering the prompt payments of retirees
benefits; to work out modalities for ensuring the smooth and prompt payments of retirees benefits as at when due and to recommend any other things that will assist government to achieve the purpose of pension for retirees.
However, it must be noted that this is not the first time that strategies were worked out towards ensuring prompt payment of pensions and gratuities of retired civil servants, and indeed for the smooth running of the country’s pension regime.
However, this is the first time that government organisations that are involved directly or indirectly in handling or processing of the issues that has to do with pensions and gratuities of retired officers are brought together in a tripartite arrangement so as to see that issues are properly addressed as well as resolve the occasioned irregularities posed by the menace of embezzlement and poor organization in the country’s pension management.