Sola Omoyeni is a retired pensioner who retired in 2012 from the Lagos State Civil Service. He currently works with the Nigerian Union of Pensioners (NUP). In this interview with Matthew Otoijagha he highlights the functions of the Union in finding solution to the myriad of problems confronting pensioners in the process of accessing their retirement benefits.
Where did you work and when did you retire?
My name is Sola Omoyeni. I worked with the Lagos state civil service and retired in 2012. You met me here in the office of the Lagos State Union of Pensioners, working with my colleagues and attending to matters that affect other fellow pensioners. Though I’m retired, I still work or do anything that augment the small pension I currently collect from the Lagos state pension Commission.
Besides, my kids have grown and are taking good care of me. What I am doing here is just to keep me busy and also earn a little more money as well as keep track of how my friends doing in their retirement
What role does the Union play in finding solutions to the problems of pensioners?
The institute is fully registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission. What we do here is to listen to the grievances of pensioners who come here to find solution to the challenges they face while trying to access their retirement benefits. We file up such complaints after they have been forward to the appropriate department in PTAD. The Union also does follow-ups for the aggrieved pensioners.
Are you concerned about the welfare of retirees, especially when they are denied their retirement benefits?
This all comes down to lack of care which has led to the establishment of the NUP, because we think retirees and civil servants can be better and can also be treated better than their current condition by their employers and the important thing is for them to love themselves. Most civil servants do not love themselves; they think everything can be done for them.
They must learn to be productive and the NUP is here to encourage civil servants who have retired to appreciate the fact that they can generate beneficial ideas no matter how little before they leave active service so that they can fall back on something. So before retirement, the Union interfaces civil servants who are close to retirement to prepare an alternative source of income, especially if they do not have children to help them.
Are there other special programs which NUP carries out?
Well, as a Union, we are already networking and it is one aspect we want to work closely with government in achieving. In the African Continent and Nigeria especially, everybody is always talking about government.
Government already is getting tired and weaker because we operate a mono economy. As such, we need to expand the economic base and by implication, private sector operators must come into the whole issue of pension management and managing pensioners.
Therefore, we call on the government for more collaboration so that we can give the right knowledge and training to pensioners so they can realize that beyond pension benefits, they will embark on productive activities.
What is your opinion on pension and retirement in Nigeria?
To be sincere, the Nigerian government has tried in restructuring the pension scheme. It is no longer the old pension scheme where you retire and wait until your pension comes. One can now determine the kind of benefits he will get by what you have invested while you were in service.
I commend the relevant agencies for that policy. But the essence of NUP is to let public servants know that they must go beyond the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) and be enterprising while in service so that they can develop it when they retire.
As you can see the delay in pension payments has resulted in abject poverty for many retirees. For me, I used part of my gratuity from the civil service to open a small scale business which my wife manages very well for me, while I do other things.
How was pension management in the past?
Unlike in the past, Children use to provide assurance for their parents in old age, but now it is hard for children to be the sole financiers for their parents. In Nigeria, the retirement age is 65 years – or after 35 years in service, but this applies only to the public sector.
Old people who worked for private multinationals and banks have always enjoyed pensions, unlike their peers who worked for the government. But many who used to work for other private organizations were not covered by any pension schemes.
In the past there were reports of pensioners collapsing from fatigue brought on them from years of neglect while queuing up to collect their pensions. Led by the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP), pensioners regularly gather in groups to protest non-payment or delay in release of their benefits. But the NUP no longer joins in protest as we have devised other ways of achieving results for pensioners.
The reason for this is that the Nigerian Civil Service formerly operated a pension scheme that was under-funded. Although some improvements have been made, Nigeria still has a long way to go to ensure that its senior citizens spend their old age with a sense of belonging and enough to live on.
Do you have any other thing you want discussed on pension?
The only thing I have to say is that the present pension administration in the country is a great improvement over the previous schemes that came before the current one. There is still room for improvement. I will like the government to do something about the amount paid out to pensioners, the money is too small.