A recent report in a national daily has brought to the fore the terrible fate of retirees in Nigeria’s public service at the state level, most of whom have their retirement benefits delayed and/denied.
According to the report, some of these senior citizens are owed pension for years while some of them have not received their gratuities 10 to 15 years after retirement.
The Nigerian Union of Pensioners (NUP) said state governments are defaulting on the two pension schemes: the defined benefits scheme (DBS) and the contributory pension scheme (CPS).
In the older DBS, the entire pension burden rested on government. However, the Pension Reform Act of 2004 brought in the CPS in which both government/employer and the employee contribute varying percentages to pension fund administrators (PFAs) who manage the funds for the worker to draw from on retirement.
Sadly, in both schemes, most state governments are failing to pay up, blaming dwindling revenues.
According to the report, in Benue State, pensioners are owed 34 months arrears while local government retirees are owed 72 months arrears. Retirees are paid once in two months, piling up the debt. In Kwara State, retired primary school teachers, local government workers and those at Universal Basic Education are owed 11 months pension arrears by the previous state administration, while the state is owing N70bn worth of gratuities to retirees since 2011.
In Osun State, retirees are owed 15 months pension, while the Kano state government has not paid gratuities since 2016, racking up N27bn debt to the pensioners. In Oyo State, retirees are owed between three and five years from the previous administrations.
The Enugu State government is owing retirees of parastatals two years’ arrears of pension and no gratuities payment since 2005, but retired civil servants are owed only three months’ pension, while gratuities were last paid in 2010 during the administration of Governor Sullivan Chime. The present administration has not paid gratuities in six years except only to retired permanent secretaries.
Rivers State is said not to have paid any gratuities since the present administration came to office in 2015, while in Delta State, the retirement debt liability is put at N100bn, with little effort to clear it.
These few examples show the problem is widespread across all the geopolitical regions.
Expectedly, the failure to pay the retirees is sending many of them to their graves earlier than necessary. Already towards the north of their sojourn here on earth, most of them are sick and weak, and delays in getting paid can only worsen their condition, especially with some of them still contributing to their families’ upkeep.
In Osun State, 45 of them gave up the ghost in August this year alone. In Ekiti State, when the state government released N100m as part part of 20 retirees’ gratuities, nine had already died, according to the state NUP chairman. And in Kwara State, 2000 of them died pursuing their 11-month arrears of pension.
A report had noted that most state governments have failed to sign on to the contributory pension scheme. That is why most state governments are still grappling with the total burden of pension liabilities, which most governors merely overlook due to competing needs, plunging the affected retirees into a life of misery.
This is a sad commentary on successive state governors since 1999. The CPS was introduced when it became obvious that government could not continue to pay both serving civil servants and retired ones every month for life in the midst of rising population, dwindling revenue and other competing needs of a developing country like Nigeria.
The idea is that PFAs would receive the contributions over the workers’ service years, invest and make profit with them, and make the money available to the worker at the expiry of his public service career, in line with the stipulations of the Pension Reform Act. The end point is that once an employee retires, his retirement payment begins to come from his PFA.
Unfortunately as with good laws made in Nigeria, there has not been the political will by the political class, especially at the state level, to take advantage of this law in the interest of workers. While the federal government started implementing this new pension scheme, most state governments have ignored it. That is why the cry of pensioners is loudest in the states.
The governors who claim insufficient funds to pay pensioners are the same ones giving themselves outrageous severance packages and pension allowances after serving few years in office. That is in addition to the several billions many of them accused of stealing from the states’ coffers.
As a newspapers we deplore the poor treatment meted out to Nigeria’s senior citizens who devoted the best part of their youthful years in the service of the nation. Nothing is more humiliating that seeing them line up in endless queues waiting to get their entitlements, with some of them dying in the process.
State governors need to cut their wasteful spending and restrain their greed in order to have funds to pay the retirees under their care to allow them live out the remainder of their lives in some level of dignity.