Pensioners are supposed to be enjoying their lives after years of toiling for their country. But, in Nigeria, the reverse is the case, as the monthly dues of many of them are delayed for months and at times years. In this interview with Stockswatch, Igbinije narrated his experience and the plight of pensioners in Nigeria. Excerpts:
Good Afternoon, What are you doing at the NUP office?
My name is Igbinijie. I’m an aggrieved man. My father retired from the NYSC since 2001. I am here to know how far NUP have gone trying to help me access my father’s pension. My complaint is that, since 2003 till date my father’s pension subsistence allowance, from both arrears and regular monthly payment has not been paid.
I have been verified and captured on April 2014 Gwagwalada Abuja by an official who issued me my father’s capturing number. And since then nothing has been done till date. Besides, I was also verified and captured at pension transitional arrangement directorate where I was issued with pensioner’s verification acknowledgement form of personal data pensioner number. Please help me. I need my father’s entitlements.
What is your father’s name?
My father’s name is Enoma Okhopa. Up till now he gave up the idea of ever being able to access his pension, because he did not have the strength to be running from pillar to post for the money, but I continued to encourage him. So, my late father sent me to the Pension Office in Abuja from his base here in Lagos.
But despite the fact that I was armed with a letter of authority to receive the money on his behalf, I was ignored by the officials in charge. So I had to return to Lagos to fetch my aged and sick father, a decision which proved fatal.
He died on his way to Abuja to receive his pension. He died inside the vehicle conveying him to Abuja. In frustration, I took his body to the pension officers. There was pandemonium when they arrived, as angry onlookers, including other pensioners, nearly caused a riot. Then, the PTAD officials promised to pay my father pension on my next visit, and that I should gave them time to work out the details.
What’s your reaction to this kind of treatment?
Certainly, this is not how to treat a senior citizen who had served his country meritoriously. It shows how callous and insensitive the Nigerian system can often times be.
Often, these men and women who spent their youth serving the country are compelled to make long journeys to Lagos or Abuja or state headquarters for some officials to ascertain their continued existence. In some cases, the pensioners, where they enjoy good health, do not even have enough funds to make the trip.
Retirement is supposed to be period any worker should look forward to with hope and pleasure. After many years of hard labour, a worker is entitled to some peace and security in his old age. It is for this reason that many people once considered a career in civil service safe and secure.
But that is no more. The life of an average pensioner is now insecure and generally, senior citizens are treated shabbily. Help does not come from the state either, and the future is uncertain.
Planned protest postponed
Last week Wednesday, the National Union of Pensioners (NUP) was to hold a peace protest. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) had directed all members of the congress, who work in Abuja and Lagos, to stay off work on that day in solidarity with the pensioners. But the protest has been suspended till April 30 to allow government to address the issues at stake.
The Acting President of the congress, Comrade Promise Adewusi, had, before the suspension, said that NLC would not rescind the decision unless the Federal Government considers the inequities in the pension fund administration in the country, particularly as they affect our members.
The president told us that the main issues in a nutshell are non-payment of outstanding arrears to scores of pensioners, non-enrolment of thousands of pensioners on the Federal Pension Payroll, non-payment of death benefits to deserving next of kin.
He also told us other issues at stake are the non-implementation of payments to pensioners to reflect the 53.4 per cent salary review and payment of pension in line with relevant increases in the Minimum Wage to N18, 000, withholding of the NUP statutory check-off dues for over a year, and the slow pace at which pension payment is being processed by the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation.
What do you think of pension administration in Nigeria?
From my experience so far, I think that the administration of pension funds has been enmeshed in widespread corruption with some public officers, institutions of government and banks helping themselves to the said fund, and in the process, and deny pensioners their pension.
This, situation, has thrown majority of pensioners into penury, with some dying in queues of protracted and unending verification exercises that yield little or no result.
I think that government’s silence on the matter in spite of the outcries and agony of the victims and the criticism of concerned citizens have been shocking. The NUP had tried to intervene or mediate by writing several letters to the presidency and reaching out to the government through other channels.
The Union also made public pronouncements on the pension saga in the hope of getting the government to do something to ameliorate the trauma and sufferings of pensioners, all to no avail.