As the sound of beautiful music comes with a well packaged melody that strikes the cords with deep feeling without a moment of restraint, so too does joy of fruitful service rendered in the course of working for your fatherland come with an expectant and fair pension package.
However, it is pathetic to know that some Nigerians still wander and ponder over unpaid pension accrued to them after laboring for their fatherland during their active days. As a report published in 2013 by the European based Development and Cooperation site focused on developmental affairs internationally, “in Nigeria, the retirement age is 65 years – or after 35 years in service, but this applies only to the public sector. Retirees who worked for private multinationals and banks have always enjoyed pensions, unlike their peers who worked for the government”.
What could have been an additional impetus meant to sustain their various families without any sort of stress, has become another round of bout where tooth and nail now grind under the scorching sunshine or torrential rainfall before any tangible result can be achieved.
As I personally have encountered old men and women with different health related conditions, whose lives rest on the little tokens the Nigerian government will offer them queuing, it breaks my heart in pieces, because these are Nigerians who fortunately or unfortunately ought to be enjoying the fruits of their labor at this age.
Is this truly a way to treat dedicated, patriotic and loyal men and women of our country?
According to Levi Obijiofor, a Senior Lecturer in Journalism at the School of Journalism and Communication, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia in an article titled “The Art of Ingratitude” first published on Communication-arts.uq.edu.au, he said:”Retirement is something that every honest worker looks forward to in many parts of the world. Not so in Nigeria. When people retire in western societies, they receive their gratuities promptly and their pension entitlements are paid on a regular basis. It is often taken for granted (and rightly so) that people who spend the better part of their lives working for the development of their society expect that when they retire, they would draw a regular income from their retirement funds.”
He continues: “That assumption holds true in developed countries but in Nigeria it is a complicated story. Retirement fund managers, in particular those responsible for managing and paying the pension entitlements of retired federal civil servants who worked for the police, the railways, the judiciary and the armed forces, make things extremely difficult. It must not be misconstrued that these are the only public service departments whose retired workers experience hardship in receiving their pension entitlements. Indeed the list is endless.”
A survey by the South East Voice showed that in Abia, the state government had not paid gratuities and pensions to some retired workers in the last 16 years, just as the Enugu State government is owing over 8000 retired local government staff over N25 billion in arrears of pensions and gratuities since 2002. The retired 8000 local government staff includes about 2000 retired primary school teachers who have not been paid, this same chronic issue is in Imo State, and other states in Nigeria.
Consequently, the Nigerian government, as far as I’m concerned, has shown less interest in resuscitating the plight of pensioners in Nigeria, despite some media reports claiming adequate modalities have been created by the government to resolve this lingering problem. Interestingly, it is in Nigeria that the issue of ghost pensioners has become a constant tool used by some greedy fellows to enrich their personal accounts at the expense of other pensioners in what seems to be a usual trend in the country.
The problem of non-payments of pension entitlements in Nigeria is a simple matter complicated by acts of human dishonesty. It is a human problem but not insurmountable. It is a problem that requires sheer grit, commitment and determination to overcome. It requires people in positions of authority to assume their responsibilities and show accountability in the discharge of their duties. It is not enough for Nigerians to whine about the problems that exist in their country. They must be seen to be tackling those problems.
In 2012, emphasis on the use of verification numbers as a means of screening and identification of pensioners coupled with the use of fingerprint technology (biometrics), which helps to recognize a person based on unique physical characteristics was formulated in order to detect fake ghost workers/pensioners. The results of the initiative never yielded any meaningful impact during the then administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. Besides, the Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights (CDWR), a human rights group, condemned the government’s alleged dehumanizing treatment to pensioners in the country.
“This unfair treatment is the general run at all levels of government. In certain cases, pensioners, most of them old and sick, are made to travel long distances only to be kept under the scorching sun and without due attention. It appears the verification is a grand design to have the pensioners die one after the other in order to enrich those in charge of disbursement, some of whom the money is domiciled in their account and continues to yield interest, which partly explains the reasons there are unnecessary delays.” said CDWR to Socialistnigeria.org.
The government of President Muhammadu Buhari should as a matter of urgency endeavor to draw out concrete plans on how to allocate and distribute funds meant for Nigerian pensioners, so as to erase their painful plight and build a reassured hope for the future where Nigerians will give out their best for the service of their fatherland.