• Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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BusinessDay

Oshiomhole and pensioners’ welfare

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Earlier in the month, it was reported that the Edo State governor, Adams Oshiomhole, commenced the payment of outstanding gratuities to pensioners who retired from the state civil service since 2010 and 2011 and whose gratuities had not yet been paid. It is simply sad and intolerable that senior citizens who have retired from service over five years ago are only being paid their gratuity now. But before we condemn Oshiomhole, he has an explanation:

“As the former president of the NLC, I appreciate the value of gratuity and what it represents to the average worker who has spent all his life working. But I am sure you would remember when I assumed office on November 12, 2008, I found that people who had retired nine years earlier, 10 years earlier, some 12 years earlier, those who retired during the military and those who were retired by Igbinedion government in 2000 and those who retired thereafter, their gratuity were not paid.”

He said the amount involved had been so huge that since then he had been battling to pay all retirees starting from those who retired earlier.

The pensioners’ issue in Edo State is a reflection of the problem of pensioners all over the federation. Generally, the Nigerian state has not treated nicely its core of senior citizens who have dedicated the better parts of their lives to serving the nation. Usually, after retirement they are abandoned and their basic – and usually meagre – entitlements and pensions are not paid, thus resulting in untold hardship and even death of many of them. No wonder serving government and public officials are so prone to graft and corruption to store up some treasures they could retire to, fully aware that the Nigerian state will abandon them the moment they retire from service.

The Nigerian pension problem, as aptly captured recently by Babatunde Fashola, minister of works, power and housing, is simply a result of “failure of governance, coupled with lack of funds as a result of planning deficiency, and sometimes incompetence”. As a result, “pensioners faced a life of uncertainty after a lifetime of service and at a time when they had become frail, unable to work or earn income and often then left disappointed by a system that had taken all they had to give. It is a sad story that is written on so many faces characterised by many living and dead people whose lives tell the story of anguish”.

But that is even for public sector workers with a statutory pension scheme. For many retirees from the private sector, they practically come to the end of the road the moment they retire as there was no pension scheme in place for them.

Propelled by this realisation, and to ensure the existence of a more modern, safe, and sustainable pension scheme, the government of President Obasanjo did a major overhaul of the pension system and established a much more equitable scheme in 2004, which provided for a compulsory contributory (by both employer and employee) pension scheme for all workers, whether in the public or private sector, fully funded, based on individual accounts that are privately managed by Pension Fund Administrators with the pension funds assets held by Pension Fund Custodians. The law was further amended via the Pension Reform Act, 2014. 

Happily, since the creation of the scheme, there is yet to be any recorded case of fraud or unwholesome practice. It is perhaps one of the best reforms directly touching on the lives of most citizens implemented by any government in Nigeria. And so, while the government will continue to struggle to manage the old pension scheme until the pensioners are exhausted, the new scheme guarantees that all retirees are assured of a decent existence after service.

Painfully, however, while many public and private sector employers and employees have embraced the new pension scheme, many states of the federation have yet to key in. For example, the director-general, National Pension Commission (PenCom), Chinelo Anohu-Amazu, was quoted in October 2015 as saying that “no state in the South-South geopolitical zone of the country has fully implemented the contributory pension scheme”. The list is not exhaustive as many states in other geopolitical zones have yet to comply.

This is unlawful and shameful and should not be tolerated by either the federal government or the workers, whose future is being jeopardised by irresponsible politicians. Surprisingly, while we would have expected the Nigerian Labour Congress to take up the challenge by forcing defaulting states to comply, the NLC has been largely quiet and ineffective. It appears these days the NLC only springs to life when the issue of removal of fuel subsidy is involved. 

We call on defaulting states as well as private sector employers to quickly clean up their acts and promptly comply with the new pension laws to save future generation of retirees from the untold hardships.