“Rest is sweet after labour” reads the motto of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP), the umbrella body of pensioners in the country. But some senior citizens, especially former workers of governments at all level in Nigeria, hardly find rest even after long years of labour. Even in retirement, they continue to struggle for their benefits. Some die in the process.
Nigerian pensioners have passed through thick and thin in the process of accessing their retirement benefits. They have experienced untold hardship, pains and tears while waiting endlessly to collect their pension.
The non-payment of retirement benefits of senior citizens in Nigeria has become a common refrain. It is something most of them have come to accept as fate. After working so hard to contribute to the socio-economic and political development of the country, their annuity is either not paid regularly or not paid at all. They are often forgotten, left in isolation.
These set of citizens, which ordinarily should deserve special attention because of their status in the society, continue to look for rest and happiness years after labour. They have never been happy after retirement.
There are tales of retirees not paid their retirement benefits and gratuities. Governments at all levels are culpable in maltreating this category of people. In some cases, some of these pensioners pass away without collecting their entitlements despite going through the harrowing experience of verification.
There are several reasons why senior citizens in the country find it difficult to access their benefits after retirement. Ineptitude, bureaucracy and corruption on the part of government officials are some of the things that work against the retirees with the result that some state governments, including the federal government, owe the retirees pension and gratuities for upwards of several months or years.
Non-review of pension
One of the major pains of pensioners in the country at the 18th edition of Pensioners Day celebration in Abuja was the non-review of pension by all levels of government.
According to Sections 173 (3) and 210 (3) of the 1999 constitution (as amended), pension should be reviewed every five years or whenever there is a review in workers’ wages, whichever comes first.
NUP President Dr. Abel Afolayan, at the event, lamented that both the federal and state governments have failed to comply or adhere to these provisions of the constitution strictly.
Dr Afolayan noted that the last pension review was done on July 1st, 2010. In 2015, a review was not done. By 2020, pensioners would be due for another review, he said.
He said: “The pain for us as Nigerian Pensioners is non-compliance with the provisions of the constitutional provision which says that pension should be reviewed every five years or whenever workers’ wages are reviewed whichever comes earlier.
“This provision applies equally to federal and state governments. But none of these two tiers of governments has been adhering to the provision strictly.
“For instance, the last pension review was in 2010. This means that pensioners were due for another review in 2015. We shall also be due for another review in 2020 in line with the five years stipulated in the Nigerian constitution.”
Non-payment of arrears by govts
Apart from the non-review of pension, the NUP also accused some state governments, including the federal, of failing to fully pay their arrears as a result of the review undertaken in 2010.
Afolayan said pensioners under the contributory pension scheme had not been paid the arrears of their accrued right, totalling N62.82bn by the Federal Government.
He appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to release funds to the National Pension Commission (PenCom) to pay the outstanding arrears of the pensioners arising from the 15 per cent and 33 per cent pension increases.
Afolayan said: “The increases accruing from the 2010 review are yet to be paid by many states. The Federal Government has also not paid fully to us pension arrears arising from the review.
“We call on state governments that are still owing these arrears to pay immediately or face the wrath of the elderly people. Though the federal government has pledged payment of the arrears of the 33 per cent to verified federal pensioners but is yet to pay the entire federal pensioners who were recently verified.
“I feel deeply pained in my heart that many parastatals under Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) as we speak are still being owed the balance of 33 per cent pension increase since 2010. This backlog varies from sector to sector.
“For example, the Nigeria Railway Corporation is today still being owed 12 months arrear. The university sector is being owed 18 months while others are in the region of six months and above.
“We hereby call on the Federal Government through PTAD to intensify the payment of the balance of the arrears.
“The contributory pensioners have not enjoyed the pension increment of 15 per cent and 33 per cent approved in 2007 and 2010 respectively.
“The total outstanding arrears arising from non-payment stands at N20 billion while the outstanding shortfall of the 5 per cent of accrued rights stands at N62.82 billion.
“These two outstanding arrears are always budgeted for in our annual rituals of budgeting but yet they are removed completely without taking into consideration that pension payment is classified in budget series as a first-line charge.
“We want to appeal to Mr. President (Muhammadu Buhari) to come to the aid of PenCom and the contributory pensioners in releasing substantial amount of money to PenCom to pay the outstanding arrears of the pensioners arising from the 15 per cent and 33 per cent pension increases which they have been waiting for from November 2018 to date.”
Outstanding pension arrears for primary school teachers/retired
Dr. Afolayan also included the “incredibly large amount of entitlements being owed retired primary school members of the Union in many states as one of their pains.”
“This problem is at various degrees in the states. While some states are taking steps to ameliorate the pains of this group of pensioners, many remain adamant, recalcitrant and insensitive about the matter,” he added.
Demand payment of N62.82bn arrears from Fed Govt
The NUP has called on the Federal Government to pay the arrears of their accrued right, totalling N62.82 billion.
NUP Head of Information Bunmi Ogunkolade said the demand was necessary because civil servants due for retirement were at the risk of waiting for one year before getting their money.
Ogunkolade, in an interview, said: “The major issue right now is the backlog of accrued rights of pensioners. Contributory pension scheme started in 2007; but before then, people had been in service and deductions were made from their salaries.
“Government then came up with the idea of paying the accrued money before contributory pension began in 2007, but the amount is so huge and the administration of Goodluck Jonathan did not pay anything to pensioners from the amount.
“This present government began to pay the money and it has paid up to November 2018. The money is being paid monthly. This means that anyone that retires this year cannot get paid until it reaches the turn of the month he retires in 2020.
“The total amount for the one year is N62.82bn. This is the figure we got from the National Pension Commission when we held a meeting with its management. This is what is in the budget. We believe government can clear this backlog instead of monthly payment so that those who are retiring now can get their money immediately.
“Pensioners are demanding for payment of N62.4 billion accrued right from the Federal Government to cover payment of accrued right of Contributory Pensioners from January 2019 to December 2019. Equally, pensioners request a release of the outstanding arrears of 15% and 33% pension increase respectively, amount to over N20 billion. This will allow pensioners on this scheme to be able to get their pension on retirement.”
Pensioners hail Buhari
The pensioners commended President Muhammadu Buhari for directing PTAD to pay the outstanding balance of 33 per cent to all pensioners in the parastatals, leaving no balance arising from the arrears of 33 per cent.
Fed govt sets up committee to review pension
The Chief Press Secretary of the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission, Emma Njoku, said he was on leave when our reporter contacted him. However, Ogunkolade confirmed to our reporter that the Federal Government had set up a Technical Committee to work out the modalities leading to the release of the enabling circular for pension review, in line with the last general wage review in the country.
According to him, the committee has six weeks to submit its report, adding that the assignment, when completed and signed into law, will take effect from 18th April 2019 when the national minimum wage Act was signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari.
PenCom Head of Corporate Communications Peter Aghahowa said the Federal Government was working to close the deficit arising from the accrued rights of N62.82 billion.
He said: “That accrued right is an issue we have been working very seriously on. You know it has to do with funding and the Federal Government have been up and doing in that area to close the gap, the deficit as existed.
“I know that a lot is being done in that area of payment of accrued right. There is an amount that the Federal Government is releasing monthly and they have also committed to an arrangement over three years to close that deficit.”