The motto of Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP), the umbrella trade union of all pensioners in the country is “rest is sweet after labour.”
To Nigerian pensioners, however, the letters of these words are mere dream rather than realities. To many of them, they have no rest after their labour. They used the strength of their youth to serve the nation, many of them in all honesty.
Today, larger percentage of beggars on the streets, especially in Abuja are pensioners, they have no steady income and any other means of livelihood. Their pensions, which they worked for early in their lives, are not being paid. They face myriads of problems, starting from feeding, to medication and meeting other daily needs.
The plight of pensioners has not been helped by large scale corruption in the land. The lots of the pensioners have been largely affected by corruption. The President of NUP, Dr Abel Afolayan, who spoke extensively on the plights of pensioners said his members were the worst affected by the gay of corruption in the land.
Dr Afolayan said “If there is any group of people who have suffered tremendous effects of corruption in Nigeria, it is the pensioners who have virtually become endangered species. In the days when pensioners were paid by the office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Pension Funds became virtually a cesspool of corruption where officers dipped their hands and gratified their insatiable dirty appetites.”
One critical issue disturbing the pensioners is the backlog of pension arrears which have not been paid. According to the NUP president, these have piled up over the years, especially during the previous administration.
He regretted that mountains of complaint forms submitted by pensioners and inherited by Pension Transitional Arrangements Directorate (PTAD) were still unattended to.
Another contributing factor is the inability by the PTAD to complete the screening verification exercise due to paucity of fund. The NUP has seen the PTAD as a government agency which is willing to assist pensioners in ameliorating their suffering but was not supported by the government to perform its functions.
While stressing the need for the government to give PTAD the necessary wherewithal, and the provision of necessary funds to complete the exercise and pay the arrears due to genuine and cleared pensioners, Dr Afolayan said his members “shall very much appreciate it if settlement and payment of the arrears can be addressed and effected expeditiously.”
The NUP president accused the Federal Government for its failure to comply with the constitutional provision as regards the periodic review of pension. In line with sections 173 (3) and 210 (3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). The provision states that “pensions shall be reviewed every 5 years or together with any Federal Civil Service salary reviews, whichever is earlier.”
The NUP said the last pension review was in July 2010, and that the review has since been overdue. Dr Afolayan said “The next increase, in accordance with the provisions of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) was due in July 2015. The pensioners are therefore eagerly waiting for the implementation. We believe compliance with this constitutional provision should be automatic and should not therefore be delayed for any reason.”
The pensioners also requested for the harmonization of old and new pension rates after discovering that the various harmonisation exercise carried out in the past have not been properly done. Afolayan also claimed that the 53.4 per cent pension increase was arbitrary and wrongfully reduced to 33 per cent.
“This brings us to the important issue of outstanding 33 per cent arrears of pension resulting from increase in workers’ wages. It is important to explain here again as we have done for umpteen times that there was a fundamental error in the calculations and computations of the increase due to pensioners.
“Whereas deduction of a total of 20 per cent representing tax, housing and health insurance scheme were deducted from workers wages, these deductions were not and are still not, in any way, applicable to our members. We do not pay tax as pension is tax free, we are not subjected to Contributory Pension payment, neither are we part of National Housing and/or National Health Insurance scheme.
“Therefore our rightful entitlement should be 53.4 per cent but even as at now, 33 per cent approved for our members are in arrears of 30 months as mentioned above.”
“We would like to implore Mr President to help us return this pension increase to 53.4 per cent and pay the total outstanding arrears of the increase and in fact all arrears of pension, and gratuities. It is necessary to point out here that when civil pensioners were paid 12 months out of the arrears a few months ago, police pensioners were paid only three months. We would want this anomaly to be corrected immediately and never to be repeated again,” he said.
The NUP president appealed to the government that death-benefits due to families of deceased pensioners be paid without any further delay. He regretted that while the death benefits were not paid, the out-going political office holders are to be paid billions of Naira as severance allowances. “While we are not opposed to the payment if our extant laws allow such payments, we want to request that accumulated pension arrears should be settled first before payment of severance allowances are made to the political office holders who spent only four to eight years in office with utmost comfort and every political patronage attached to their offices,” he said.
While the union demanded for the immediate payment of the balance of 20 years of the defunct Nigeria Airways pensioners, it stated that the case of Delta Steel Company pensioners is similar to that of Nigeria Airways, and should be addressed same way without subjecting them to further agony.
Dr Afolayan decried the stoppage of five per cent Federal Government counterpart funding into local government pension fund and pleaded with President Buhari to look into it. He urged the President to reinstate the five per cent counterpart fund to all the Local Government Pension Boards.,
He pointed out that since January 2016, most retirees under the contributory pension scheme have not been able to access their monthly pension and no gratuity was approved for them after they have served for 35 years. To resolve the crisis created, he called for review of the Pension Reform Act 2014 to take care of some of the lapses and short comings observed.
The union also demanded a bail out to state government to assist them in payment of huge arrears of pensions. The NUP president said: “To assist state governments in the payment of outstanding gratuities and years of accumulated arrears of pensions, we would like to plead that they be given bailout funds strictly for pensioners as they were given for their workers.”
Dr Afolayan also made case for a minimum page and made a demand of N25,000 as a uniform minimum pension, saying that no pensioners should be paid less than N25,000 with the recent economic reality in the country.
“It is our humble request that a uniform minimum pension should be approved for Nigerian pensioners. The situation now where different minimum or starting pensions are paid, needs to be corrected. The approval of minimum wage applicable to workers should also apply to pensioners. It needs be pointed out here that very many pensioners under the Defined Benefit Scheme receive less than N10,000 per month. This can never be regarded as minimum (or living) pension. With the present economic situation in the country, we believe no pensioner should be paid less than N25,000 per month,” he added.
The pensioners expressed their full and total support for President Buhari, being one of them, they believe the President give the issue of pensioners a priority.
Afolayan said “We wish to say that on our part as senior citizens, elders in the society and partners in progress with the administration of Mr President, we share with him the pains of many intimidating problems facing our dear nation, Nigeria.
“We pensioners pledge our unalloyed support and loyalty to his government. We strongly and sincerely believe that, as a fellow pensioner, you will make your administration pensioner-friendly and save the entire Nigerian civilian, military and para-military pensioners from their present unenviable status as endangered species.”