‘Government can save us from endless verification’-Ajagbe

Matthew Otoijagha

Mr. Akintunde Ajagbe retired from the Lagos State Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture in 1998. In this exclusive interview, He says pensioners are among the least paid in Nigeria. He shares his experience with Matthew Otoijagha as a retiree for 20 years and advocates for increased pension funds for retirees in the state.

 How has it been with your experience as a retiree?

Being a retiree for about 20 years has been a rough experience on my part. Most of my colleagues that retired about the same time with me are still alive and we share almost similar experiences. The pension being paid to retirees currently to those of us in the old defined benefits scheme is so little compared to what obtains in the new CPS scheme.

Why do you think pensioners are paid little in Nigeria?

The then President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, upon coming as the first democratically elected president of Nigeria, saw that the pension paid to retirees was meagre. Therefore, he decided to increase it by 148 per cent.

However, when it came to Lagos State to implement, the governor at that time refused to implement. He just increased it by 80 per cent out of 148 per cent that was increased. Since then, we have been trying to see if that can be harmonised, but all our efforts have been to no avail. That’s why in the State today, virtually all the pensioners that retired at that time are earning very little.

 How was retirement sensitization during your time in active service?

To be honest, retirees like me in the last 20 years did not have any prior notice or preparation for retirement. It is only now that it is being implemented, which I commend the government for doing that through the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) which enables the workforce to have something to fall back on even after retirement.

How are you coping in retirement since you did not make any adequate preparation?

I have to be sincere. Life has been very challenging and difficult to me because of the little amount I receive as pension. If I had been adequately prepared, this situation would not have come to be this bad, but the situation I find myself, I just thank God for keeping body and soul together.

What is your position on retirement and pension entirely in Nigeria?

The government does not put retirement benefits for retirees before retirement which often put them in difficult situations. How Can you imagine for instance, you will be retiring in the next three months and the governments ask you to write to them hoping that by the time you must have retired, your benefits must have been worked on and ready for you to access, but I am telling you that the case was not as it is today with the Lagos state government. I think under Akinwumi Ambode’s administration, pensioners are fairly treated.

Some retirees still find it difficult to get their pensions till after three to five years with their retirement benefits inclusive and it is not fair enough because such people may not have families to cater for them and also personal and pressing needs.

Another thing is they keep on making empty promises at the pension board saying in the next one, two or three months, one’s pension will be paid and at the end of the day, it takes up to two, three or even four years.

What are you currently doing now as a retiree?

I am not doing anything serious. I don’t have a business neither do I work in any establishment after retirement. The only thing which I thank God today for is that what sustains me and my family today is farming.

What do you think government in general can do to improve the welfare of pensioners?

It is a trying period for most pensioners in the country. As I speak with you, though God has been kind to me that I have a house of mine, others have no shelter of their own. The government should harmonize the scheme and save us the pain of converging every now and then for verification.

The Federal Government pension has not been harmonized since 1994. What do you think that paltry sum can take care of?  Many others are not as lucky as some still have children in school that they are taking care of. It has been a living hell for some of my friends I retired at the same time with. The government should increase and harmonize both the new and the old retirement schemes to reflect the economic realities.
I would say that I want my money and not this endless verification exercise. As far as I am concerned, the series of verifications by the various tiers of government aimed at identifying ghost pensioners and putting a stop to fraudulent payments though good have turned out to be pain to many pensioners resident in the remote communities in the hinterland.

As to what government can do to help pensioners, first, adequate sensitization and getting people prepared is important. During my time, that awareness was not there.

Secondly, the pension benefits are the major problems which require immediate and expedient action to address the situation. At least, three months before retirement, pension benefits should be ready so that people can access their benefits to sustain themselves.

Can you imagine someone with a family earn N20, 000 as pension in this current difficult economic situation in Nigeria, and to make matters worse, cannot even access it as fast as possible? In fact, there are so many pensioners of our time in the state that even earn as low as N10, 000 or even less. Finally, I think harmonization is the key to solving many of the problems today facing pensioners.



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