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Neglected Nigerian senior citizens dying, languishing in penury

… regret service to their fatherland

Nigerian Pensioners, fondly called senior citizens particularly from the Defined Benefit Scheme (old pension scheme), are unhappy with their situation after giving the youthful part of their lives and career serving their fatherland.

They had hoped that their retirement was going to be joyous having put in their best, and hoping to live on their pensions and gratuities, but that would not be as many of them are living in penury and dying in their numbers.

Across the states, pensioners are owed except in two or three states that are up to date with payment of their pensioners.

But even those who get paid regularly have seen almost a complete erosion of value of their pays due to high inflation and rising cost of living in a country where governance has reached its lowest level.

Checks across the states of Nigeria on the life and daily routine of pensioners reflect regrets, curses and abuses of government and those in power for neglect and abandonment of the senior citizens, who had worked, sacrificed and laid the golden eggs that today’s leaders are feasting on.

Julie Okorafor (not real name), who retired in 2001 at Grade 12, Step 2 teacher in Imo State, has lived without receiving gratuity, and still struggles with her retirement benefits till date.

Since her retirement under the then Achike Udenwa administration in Imo State, Julie, and now 76 years, has struggled to complete documentation as a retired civil servant.

“For several years, it has been a struggle to get enrolled,” she says.

With each new government, Julie and most of her fellow retirees – most of whom are old, sick, blind, can hardly walk around without help and in wheelchairs – are made to go through painful, rigorous verification exercises, which hardly amount to anything at the end of the day.

Read Also: Oyo pensioners receive N11.7bn in 2 years – Makinde

The verification exercise, the retirees are often told, is to get them enrolled into the official list of pensions to enable payment of their much accumulated funds.

The most painful part, Julie notes is that notice for such verification exercises is often not widely circulated and many of them, most times, miss the timelines to be captured.

Julie, who currently suffers arthritis, recounts how, in 2019, under Governor Rochas Okorocha administration, was literally forced to abandon a scheduled appointment with her doctor in Lagos after receiving several calls to come back to Owerri for a verification exercise.

According to her, the most painful part is that after all that stress and frustration, her pension has not yet been regularised.

“That wasn’t the first time. I have taken part in so many verification and documentation exercises and yet, the same old story. And this is not just me, there are so many of us facing similar predicament,” she tells BusinessDay in gross disappointment.

“They may owe us six months and whenever they remember, they pay for one month and we won’t hear anything from anybody again for several months.

“For the whole of 2019, I received pay for just two months and I haven’t received anything since then. In fact, there’s no payment that comes fully,” she says.

“And this is despite a series of verification that the governments make us go through. I hardly travel out of the state even to visit my children, and this is to avoid a situation where I may suddenly be called for verification, which is now a norm.”

Like Julie, many Nigerian pensioners across the country share similar agony, and have had to rely on children and/or relatives as well as menial jobs, peasant farming and all sorts for sustenance and money to foot medical bills, buy routine drugs and stave off hunger.

BusinessDay is yet to ascertain the exact total pension arrears owed by Nigeria’s three tiers of government. However, reports put the numbers at well over N400 billion in accrued benefits by the Federal Government apart from those from the states.

Nigeria’s civil servants are entitled to benefit from such as gratuity and pension after attaining retirement age of 60 or 35 years of active service, under the Defined Benefit Scheme currently managed by the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD).

PTAD was established in 2014 as part of the transitional arrangements for the public sector from the Defined Benefit Scheme. It took over the functions of the various Pension Departments of the Public Service and is responsible for payment to existing retirees of the Federal Government that retired up to June 2007, and thus exempted from the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS).

But for decades, meeting this obligation has been a struggle as it is dependent on government budget, which in most cases are underfunded, particularly for state governments that have continued to struggle to pay salaries, left alone pensioners.

These challenges have made retirement from civil service dreadful, and have no end in sight if governance continues to be costly and pressure remains on budget.

The PTAD, asked why it takes that long for pensioners’ verification to be concluded, Gbenga Ajayi, its head of corporate communications, explained: “We know it is their right to collect their pension, nobody can argue that, but, at the same time, it is equally good to work with us, because if everybody comes out and do verification, nobody will be talking about dropping anybody, that is exactly what it is.

“It behoves on us to carry out due diligence on those documents that have been submitted, that is the one taking some time.

“Please this is not a punishment, but, we need to know who genuine pensioners are. Because so many people smuggled their names in, during the old head of service tenure and they are receiving pension even when they know they are not qualified, and we are detecting so many of them here.”

Ajayi had also pointed out that no pensioner under the Defined Benefit Scheme (DBS) would be left out of the consequential adjustment in line with the minimum wage approved in 2019, as the agency is now empowered to start the upward adjustment of all pensioners’ benefits according to the approved template.

“The consequential adjustment of the new pension payment will start from the May 2021 payroll.

“The arrears will take effect from April 2019. PTAD will also commence payment of the arrears from May 2021,” according to a recent statement from PTAD.

Check on states in the South West reveal same, as pensioners under the auspices of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners (NUP) across Ogun, Oyo, Ondo, Ekiti, Kwara and Osun states, are said to be wallowing in abject poverty over non-payment of accumulated pension arrears and gratuities totalling N172.2 billion by government of the various states mentioned.

In Ogun, a press statement issued by Kunle Somorin, the chief press secretary to Governor Dapo Abiodun, claimed that the administration of immediate past Governor Ibikunle Amosun left liabilities in form of unpaid gratuities between 2011 and 2019, running into N50 billion, but the incumbent had begun to pay N500 million quarterly, to the affected pensioners.

In Oyo, Idowu Ogedengbe, executive assistant to Governor Seyi Makinde, disclosed at the annual conference of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners (NUP) in Abuja recently, that the governor inherited N56 billion gratuities and pension arrears but was able to offset N11.7 billion, which won him Pensioners’ Award as Pensioners Friendly Governor.

Muyiwa Olumilua, commissioner for information in Ekiti State, confirmed recently that the Ekiti State government owed N16.2 billion; N13.5 billion of gratuities and N2.7 billion of the pension arrears, and Kayode Fayemi’s administration had been paying N100 million monthly to the pensioners and working on alternative financial instruments to offset a large sum.

The Nigerian Union of Pensioners (NUP) in Ondo State alleged that total pension areas and gratuities run into N50 billion, though Governor Rotimi Akeredolu’s administration had approved 33.4 percent pension increase, they however want him to show concerns with the plight of pensioners and ensure that pension arrears and gratuities are paid promptly.

In Kwara, Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq accepted that gratuities and pension arrears being owed by the state were running to about N11 billion, representing the accumulated gratuities and pension arrears dated back to 2008 during the tenure of former Governor Bukola Saraki, but N100 million was being paid monthly by the state government to ease the living conditions of pensioners.

Speaking on the plight of pensioners, a strong member of the NUP and retired staff of Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Abiodun Oginyemi, declared that pensioners were facing difficult situations, especially retirees from state and local governments’ service over the non-payment of pension arrears and gratuities.

Ogunyemi said, “It’s so unfortunate that after 35 years of meritorious service to our fatherland, millions of retired staff of State and Local Governments are owed many months of pension arrears and gratuities.

“Although, those that retired from the Federal Government Service like myself have been paid. Of course, our pensions are being paid every 15 day of the month and I am not aware of outstanding gratuities in any Federal MDAs, there is however, a disparity in our pensions.

“The disparity came as a result of two pension schemes being operated at the Federal level – the old scheme and new scheme, which is Contributory Pension Scheme. For those of us who are on a new pension scheme, collect less pension payments than those on old pension schemes and if you consider the increasing cost of living and inflation rate, it is better we demand an upward review of our pensions now.”

Another pensioner in Osun State, Diekola Adewimi, said, “For instance in Osun, there were huge pension arrears and gratuities left behind by former Governor Rauf Aregbesola, and I can tell you that lots of colleagues had died and some could not cater for their health and feeding. Isn’t it criminal that the majority of governors are not remitting their own parts of Contributory Pensions? We, at the Nigerian Union of Pensioners and Nigeria Labour Congress should wake up and fight for a better life for the pensioners because we must all retire one day.

“If you consider what is happening to us, you will know that we are suffering from double jeopardy – we are not being paid as and when due, the pensions and gratuities. What is worse is that nobody talks about upward review of our pensions. What we are witnessing now is NLC fighting for an increased minimum wage of workers still in active service but nobody fights for upward review of our pensions and probably the gratuities that we take home.”

The situation is not different in the South-South part of the country, as Patrick Omhonriawo, a retiree from the Edo State Library Board told our correspondent that the government had made life unbearable for them, noting that their existence solely depends on the kindness of their children.

Omhonriawo said since 2000 when he was forced to retire on grade level 14 after 30 years of dedicated service, his monthly pension had not changed from N20,000, urging the government to harmonise their pensions.

According to the 74-year-old pensioner, most workers who laboured voraciously and tirelessly at the prime of their lives now struggle to survive. Pensioners are living a life of poverty, and most are only cheerful because of their children.

He said while civilised societies regard their pensioners as senior citizens and treat them with due respect and civility, Nigeria’s retirees are neglected on sick beds.

“About 10,000 persons were removed at the same time in the year 2000. Life has been very boring for us. I have been receiving about N20,000 for the past 21 years and no kobo has been added to it.

“Whereas, newly retired officers in my category earn a sum of N85,000 as monthly pension. I’m supposed to be receiving N75,000 per month if I was harmonised. You can spot the difference,” he said.

Omhonriawo continued: “They owe me about N2 million pension arrears. Many of us have died. You can imagine how can I be receiving N20,000 since the past 21 years and they keep shouting they are paying pensions. They should harmonise our pensions, especially those that were forced out in the year 2000.

“I am not alone in this; there are many others out there. The government is supposed to harmonise every five years, it is in the Constitution. If they increase salaries for workers, then pensioners shouldn’t be left out. But for 21 years now, we have been left out,” he said.

The new pension scheme, called the Contributory Pension Scheme, regulated by the National Pension Commission (PenCom) was instituted in 2004 by the Pension Reform Act, as amended in 2014.

Before the coming of CPS, pension arrears under the DBS was over N3 trillion, but today the new scheme has pulled together over N12 trillion in assets under management, with many retirees already accessing their pensions monthly.

While the CPS offers hope for sustainable pension and guaranteed retirement benefits, it will continue to improve in terms of pay-out overtime as employees stay longer in service and contribute into the scheme.

PenCom has pledged to work against fraud and mismanagement of pension funds, and this has been successfully achieved since the inception of the CPS.

The major challenge facing the CPS is non-remittance of pension contributions by employers, particularly in the private sector.

As it affects the states, except for four states that have fully implemented the CPS, many are slow in implementing the scheme, which offers government relief in the long term, and guaranteed pension for workers.

According to PenCom, non-remittance of deducted pension funds is criminal; adding that regular remittance of contributions is an important aspect of compliance with the law.

To avoid any kind of fraud in the CPS, PenCom in collaboration with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) are working together in the area of identifying and dealing with cases of mismanagement by any of the actors in management of the scheme.

 

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