• Thursday, July 18, 2024
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Sule’s bold step in settling 26 years’ burden of pensions, gratuities in Nasarawa

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To state the obvious, the hardship pensioners at the State and Local Government levels go through, after serving meritoriously at various capacities is such that no right-thinking human will appreciate.

These are people, who have given their all, built a sustainable system and made sacrifices for a formidable civil service structure, of which some, left the service after completing the constitutional 35 years or 60 year old, and others died after crossing the constitutional pensionable benchmark of 15 years in service.

And the number of those retiring from civil service, to join the league of perceived ‘frustrated pensioners’ keep increasing daily, with little or nothing being done to address the situation.

Read also: Sule distributes N16m starter packs to 160 trainees in Nasarawa

Unlike the federal government, there are no welfare packages, especially in the areas of health, financial empowerment, or inclusion in economic activities, at the state and local government levels to cushion their plight. Once you retired from service, you are on your own or at the mercy of God for intervention.

This especially, for those who have no sustainable ventures, skills or plan to fall back after retirement, are not only dabble in the stream of frustration accessing their pensions and gratuities, but are subjected to unbearable conditions that led to the dead of many retirees. They are either subjected to scorching sun and unjustly treated to wait for their entitlement, amidst unexplainable deductions.

For some reasons, as claimed by most Chief Executives, dwindling economic, low income to the state’s coffers and huge debt profile and the increasing number of pensioners are responsible to the accumulated gratuities in particular.

From the negligence, sufferings, and outright disregard for pensioners, clearly shows that, most Governors took over leadership with no clear-cut plan for retirees, hence the painful experiences.

More disturbing to this is that governors, who once passed through the ladder of private and public service are engaging in this sheer wickedness.

Irrespective of one’s background, most of whom have not served in public service, should first prioritise pensioners’ welfare, as most governors preferred channeling such huge fund to developmental projects.

Sadly, some State Governors perceive retirement benefit as more or less an unwarranted distraction, thereby depriving the senior citizens the right to their lawful entitlements after retirement.

Even where such payments are made, as irregular as they may be, they are considered as part of landmark achievements for clearing the outstanding.

Nasarawa State, as the case maybe was not exempted from the sad experiences of pensioners, as hitherto little or nothing was been done to better their living conditions.

It will be interesting to know that, at point in the history of Nasarawa State, state and local governments pensioners are not only paid a paltry sum of their gratuities, their pensions are paid in percentages, a near financial starvation of their entitlements, of which responsible for many frustrations, penury, death as they could not settle their daily bills.

This, undoubtedly explains why, most civil servants, while approaching their retirement year or age, falsify their records to remain in service for fear of the life after retirement.

Notwithstanding to the developments, every retiree now looks forward to receiving his or her retirement benefit as and when due in a new phase of life, as the era of paltry and percentage payment of pensions and gratuities are over in Nasarawa State.

Truthfully, before the coming on board of Governor Abdullahi Sule in 2019, retirees went through tough times, including facing an uncertain future, as desired attention was not given to them by the previous administrations.

In 2019, according to available records, Governor Abdullahi Sule inherited an accumulated sum of N42 billion of benefit arrears to retirees.

The pensioners said, they were being paid 50 per cent of their monthly pension by the previous administrations, thereby plunging them into untold hardship.

To correct the anomaly been faced, Governor Sule in 2019, did made a solemn promise during his first term’s inauguration, to, within 100 days in office review the payment of pension and gratuity that will excite all senior citizens of the state. A promise, which the compassionate Governor Sule kept.

Recently, at a public event in Akwanga, organised by Mada Development Association (MDA) Sule said, his administration had cleared the gratuity to retired civil servants, which had not been paid in the last 26 years.

The governor explained that, his administration had deployed the funds gotten from the World Bank under the state’s Fiscal Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability (SFTAS) programme, to pay the gratuity and pension of retirees.

“In my very first month, because of my inaugural speech, we started to look at how to block the leakages.

“This is to ensure that we will generate enough funds to pay them 100 per cent. I am happy, we have now gone over three years there has never been any month we paid in percentage,” he said.

Hence why, during the assessment visit to the State Pension Bureau in February, 2024, Governor Sule outrightly, in consideration of the plight of pensioners and in fulfilment of his promise, approved the disbursement of N1 billion to clear the outstanding gratuity of over 1000 retiree from both local and state government from 1999 to 2010.

According to Sule, the gesture is meant to bring succour to the retirees who are presently experiencing economic hardship to enable them start something in order to better their lives.

“People are facing a lot of challenges today due to the economic hardship. That is the reason why we believe if we pay them their money, some of them are getting one million, some two million and even three million, the money will go a long way in reducing the hardship,” he said.

Suleiman Nagogo, director general, Nasarawa State Pension Bureau, said Sule’s administration had been impressive in the face of limited resources.

Nagogo said, the governor began the review of the percentage payment of gratuity in the state and streamlined retirees’ entitlements to quarterly basis and directed the commencement of full payment of pension immediately on resumption in office.

According to him, before now there has been series of garnishee orders against the state by aggrieved pensioners, noting that the present administration had taken bold step and settled their grievances through out of court settlement.

“The issue here is that the Pension Bureau makes sure that once you are paid this quarter the next quarter it will be a different batch of gratuity beneficiaries that will be entertained.

“This, we have maintained as our approach so that as many as possible could enjoy part of their gratuity on a continuous basis in this manner and until some of them are able to be cleared off,” he said.

The Director-General commended Sule for rekindling the hope of senior citizens in Nasarawa state by approving the payment of N5000, as palliatives to pensioners to cushion the effect of present economic hardship.

“Since his assumption to office in 2019 being his first term, Governor Sule made it crystal clear that he is going to look into the issue of outstanding gratuity and pension of retirees in the state,” and since then, he added, Nasarawa state had maintained 100 per cent payment of pension since 2019 till date.

He applauded President Bola Tinubu for issuing a clear directive to the state governors to ensure prompt payment of retirees’ entitlements.

Nagogo said, the Bureau had blocked leakages through thorough verification of the beneficiaries before payments were being made since he assumed office.

“Recall that when I assumed office, I vowed to eradicate issue of fake people who enjoy gratuity or people who are made to pay inducement to my workers before they collect their pay.

“If anytime, any day, anybody brings issue of fake pensioner or gratuity beneficiary and is verified to be fake, I vow to take action against not only the fake pensioner or gratuity’s beneficiary but my employees who are engaged in that very malpractice,” he warned.

Hudu Baba–Abdullahi, Chairman Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) in Nasarawa State, said senior citizens in the state have never had it this good in the history of pension payment.