‘You cannot invest our money without involving us’- Adebajo

Mr. Adebajo Wusu retired in 2012 from the federal civil service, precisely in ministry of works and housing. He currently serves the Nigeria Union of pensioners (NUP) in Lagos. Stockswatch had a chat with him on many issues, including current pension situation in the country.   

 What is the update on the pension situation in the country today?

As at today, the pension is being paid regularly and it has been paid up to January 2018. PTAD which is the government agency in charge of this has been doing an excellent job, ensuring prompt payment of our monthly pension.

But the story is quite different at the state level. Many of the states still owe pensioners several months of monthly pension and even gratuity as far back as 2004, 2005 for some pensioners. Some states are paying pensioners in percentage of their monthly pension which is contrary to the constitutional provision that Pension must not be tampered with or reduced for whatever reason.

There are lots of complain from pensioners under the Contributory Pension Scheme. What is their present condition?

The situation in the Contributory Pension Scheme is more complex. By the Pension Reform Act 2014, workers are supposed to pay ten percent, while employers pay eight percent making it eighteen percent.

Very few state government have keyed into that and have enacted and passed the enabling law and have started deductions from the monthly wages of worker and remitting same to their PFA and paying their own matching percentage of eight percent. There are quite a few of the states that are deducting the ten percent and forward to the PFA, but are not paying their matching percentage.

 What is the implication of that?

The implication is that such a practice is not healthy for the workers because it will bounce back on them when they retire. That will create problem for them when they retire. Worst off is the fact that there are states that have not keyed into the Scheme at all.

Pensioners under the Contributory Pension Scheme are complaining of not getting their money and this could be because their employers did not make adequate remittance. What is the implication of this?

That means more suffering for the pensioners because that will bring untold hardship on them. When you retire, PenCom cannot pay you, not because of any fault on their part, but on the part of government, the state government and even the federal government. For those who retired partly under the old Scheme and partly under the new Scheme, there was an understanding on how to handle their issue. That understanding was that government will pay the share of the time they spent under the old Scheme by deducting five percent of their monthly wage bill and sending it to the Central Bank to be able to pay that part of their retirement benefit when they retire.

The federal government has not been living up to that understanding and that has been creating problems for federal officers and that is why some of them are saying that what they are being paid is like pittance when compared to their colleagues who retired under the defined benefit Scheme.

 What was the idea behind jettisoning the old pension scheme?

When they started, the number of those retiring was not much. But as the years roll bye, the number of pensioners kept on increasing beyond the capacity of government to pay. That was why the Obasanjo administration decided to look into the matter and see what they can do to reduce the burden on government.

A delegation was sent to different countries of the world before the adopted the Chile model that people will have to contribute towards their pension. So, they started with the idea of 7.5 percent in 2004 for both employers and workers to reduce the burden on government and the inability of government to pay as time goes on. That was what informed the new Scheme.

There has been some disagreement within the union in the recent past with some members alleging that the leadership has not done well and that they have set up their own pensioners union.  What is your position on these issues?

Let me tell you, part of the problem in this country is that everybody wants to lead and create small empire for himself. We are saying that the union is all of us.

The constitution says you cannot be there for more than eight years. I am running my second term now and by April 2021, I will be off from here and somebody else will take over. But some of us are impatient and so are in a hurry to lead. You will have to exercise patience. They forget that there is only one union approved under the existing laws of this country for pensioners and that is Nigeria Union of Pensioners.

As far as we are concerned, there is no other union for pensioner as of today outside the NUP. They may create Association and call it whatever they like, but the law makes it clear that they cannot be recognized and paid check off dues. They often resort to blackmailing that we are not performing.

Within my first term of office, we build a permanent secretariat for the union and have moved from a rented apartment into this property. I have made it clear that we are here to build on the legacies of our founding fathers.

Many pensioners believe that the ongoing verification by PTAD is taking too long to conclude. Do you share such sentiments?

It has not taken too long a time because Nigeria is a big country. I know that because my first degree is in Geography. We have six zones and PTAD did an excellent job to conduct the verification in all the zones.

That was completed late last year with the North central zone. By the time they completed the civil pensioners, there was still some parastatals to be verified. That was why they had to face NITEL/MTEL pensioners early in the year. Right now, they have massive data which they have to collate. They have to collate all the zonal data into a national data. It is the same team that goes out for the verification that will handle the collation at the Centre. Wisdom dictates that they should suspend verification for the time being so that they can collate all the massive data and start paying all those they have verified.

Are you not afraid of possible shortfall in the release of funds from the government?

So far, so good. I don’t want to preempt government. But when the data is ready and they present the financial implication to the government, then we will wait and see. But they have assured PTAD that they will pay.

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