Sola Olojede, 58, is a retired civil servant of the federal ministry of work and housing. He retired in 2012. He has five children and a wife. He captured what his family members went through these past eight months when pensions were not paid in a chat with Matthew Otoijagha. Excerpts:
You’ve led a very interesting life. Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
“For me, my wife and our five children, we have been through hell these last eight months. Our situation became very tense because my wife is also a civil servant. It got to a point that school fees of our children could not be paid and we had to take ‘undertaken’ with their school proprietors that their school fees would be paid as soon as salaries are paid.
Luckily enough their school proprietors allowed our children to attend classes and also write their exams. To compound our problems gratuities were not also paid since our retirement in 2012.
Myself, along-side other retirees made several efforts to see the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) DG on these issues, but she did not make herself available. Now that President Buhari has decided to bail the government out I want to appeal to the DG not to pay our arrears in piecemeal but to pay all at once.
We have never experienced the kind of hardship our family members went through these past months as our pension was not paid. The issue had completely gone out of hand because our children were made to stop going to school and to even eat had become very difficult for us.
Our matter was made worse as my wife also is a retired officer from the federal civil service. My parents, who I can also run to for bail-out, are also affected as the two of them are retired teachers. It got to a point I started selling my valuables at a giveaway price just for us to survive.
All the children were looking up to me as I was also looking up to the government to pay the pensions for us to live. He said taking care of five children including some siblings was better imagined.
However, we are very lucky to have some relatives who came to our aid by sending us some money to feed. This assistance was not enough to pay school fees of our children and we had to appeal to their school teachers. There was one sad experience we went through six months after my retirement.
I came back home one day and discovered that there was no food stuff again at home and I advised my wife that the leftover should be cooked for our little boy. The food was so tasteless that even me as a father could not eat it.
How have you and the family been surviving?
Having gone through such hardship, we are lucky that we are still alive today and healthy. I thank God that I have a medical doctor friend who also assisted us. I owe my bank today as I have taken overdrafts; I cannot go back until at least five months arrears are paid.
It is God’s grace that made us survive. It is clear now that it is not advisable for one to solely rely on salary or pension for survival. Ordinarily, pension is supposes to be for me and my wife but today, that is not the case, as I still have children who are still going to school.
Some people used to ask me why I did not join the protest and I answered them that as a retired director, my position did not allow me to participate in any civil unrest.
Over the years, I have come to realize that I needed to face the challenges of life as they come. Sometimes, as the head of the family, there are some days that I don’t have up to N1000 in my pocket.
There is nothing I cannot do to survive except stealing. During this period, I engaged myself in some productive services like writing. Over the years I used to engage the services of a labourer to clean my compound but as the situation is today, I do it myself even at my old age.
But between May and June this year whoever told you that it was not rough was only being economical with the truth. But we have survived and overcome it. I think the government should be scared to take the blame because it started a good plan that went sour.
There is also the need for government and workers to play sacrificial heroism. What I mean by this is that government should apologize to the pensioners for making them go through this kind of situation for so long and retirees themselves also should agree that what happen was not intentional.
How are other pensioners you know managing now?
The plight of pensioners has not been good enough, nothing to write home about. Particularly, I am speaking about the plight of some retired primary school teachers I know, who have been owed between eight to 35 months of pensions.
You can imagine somebody who worked for 35 years, and who is now owed 35 months, imagine the scenario, where we have husband and wife being teachers, and imagine what would have happened, if they were lucky not to have contacted a debilitating disease.
With regards to other pensioners the news has not also been good enough. There are so many arrears. Apart from those that are owed eight to 35 months of pensions, retired primary schools’ teachers have not gotten their gratuities. Gratuity is always that solid thing that a retired worker has got to use to balance before his monthly pensions come in. Now, they have not gotten it in five years.
They have not gotten their gratuities for five years. They have not been paid between eight to 35 months. Six months ago, when we did our calculation of avoidable deaths of pensioners, we got 256 pensioners that have died, among which we have more than 120 retired primary school teachers.
We need to be careful, because one of the instruments of progress of a country is the civil service itself. Everyone has a role: the military, civil service, police, et cetera. All have a role to play.
But the civil service is number one. If we don’t have a good service, we cannot have a good government. Most civil servants don’t even have jobs to do now. Go to the secretariat in the afternoon and see if anyone is doing any serious work.