There is clearly no reason whatsoever, for persons who have spent their productive years, diligently serving government at various levels, to retire to a life of penury. Even worse is the pervasive disrespect and indecency they are subjected to as they strive to get what is theirs as of right. Unfortunately, it is increasingly becoming clear that after service, retirees, especially those not fortunate enough to be covered by the contributory pension scheme, get the short end of the stick.
Recently, members of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) in Ogun State protested the non-payment of their 12 years’ gratuities estimated at N68 billion. The pensioners accused the Governor Dapo Abiodun-led administration of failing to fulfil its promises of prompt payment of their gratuities and other entitlements.
Like their counterparts in Ogun, pensioners in Benue State also protested the non-payment of six years of their gratuities and pensions despite Governor Samuel Ortom’s claims that his administration inherited pension and salary arrears of N70 billion and has reduced it to just above N30 billion.
We recall that pensioners in the South-West region recently alleged that the governors owe them N242 billion in gratuity and pensions. The Zonal Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners, Olusegun Abatan, said, “Many of these states in the south west owe pensioners since 2012 and 2013. Ogun State owes N68 billion, Ondo State N78 billion, Ekiti State N38 billion and Osun N58 billion”.
Some of the states are in default as far as payment of gratuity is concerned, while some owe state and LG pensioners. In Rivers state for instance, the last time pensioners got increment was in 2002. The NUP said most states in the North are up to date in pension payment but lagging behind in the payment of gratuities.
Essentially, the delay in the payment of Accrued Rights to retiring or retired workers is causing untold hardship to retirees who have to wait for several months and, in some cases, years before getting their entitlements.
While Accrued Rights are largely entitlement of workers before the advent of the current Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS), its late payment by, especially, the various tiers of government, makes it difficult for Pension Fund Administrators to pay retirees. This is because Accrued Rights have to be lumped into Retirement Savings Accounts (RSAs) before retirees can make lump sum and programmed withdrawals
Without meaning to justify the massive looting of public treasury by both politicians and civil servants, the non-payment of pension and the attendant suffering that retirees face is a further incentive to looting. Oftentimes, this desire to pilfer the public purse is fueled by the tendency for persons in active service to, while seeing the suffering of retirees, engage in different means of planning for life after service.
In our considered opinion, there is absolutely no reason why the nation should not plan and provide effectively for workers to live a fulfilled life after retirement. Indeed, pensioners are oftentimes bugged down by age-related ill health and to expose them to a life of economic uncertainty through the delay cum non-payment of their entitlement is double tragedy. This situation, it must be stressed, makes appeals to patriotism by the powers that be sound like hollow ritual.
It is quite benumbing that even the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and its Trade Union Congress (TUC) counterpart rarely bring issues of pensioners to the front burner forgetting that today’s NLC and TUC members are tomorrow’s pensioners.
Each time pensioners take to the street or sleep in the open as they often do to protest non-payment of their entitlement, the nation is sending wrong signals to, not just the outside world, but to the upcoming generation that their services today may not be compensated when they are too week to serve.
In our considered opinion, those protests and the plight of pensioners is suggestive of the condescending manner with which the nation treats its senior citizens. Ironically, the country has a law establishing a Senior Citizens’ Centre that is saddled with the responsibility of catering for the social welfare of citizens aged 70 and above in areas like healthcare, pensions, income security, leisure, supplementary income and other social protection safety nets.
It the opinion of this newspaper that the current treatment meted to pensioners by most states runs contrary to the intentions of the Senior Citizens’ Centre. The nation cannot afford to treat its senior citizens with disrespect and indecency. Government, at all levels, especially the state and local governments, must commit to settling the backlog of pension and other entitlement due retirees so as not to risk sending a wrong signal to those currently in active service.