WHILE a majority of pensioners in Nigeria pine in penury and lack, the like of Yakubu Gowon, Olusegun Obasanjo, Sheu Shagari, Muhammad Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Ernest Shonekan, Abdulsalami Abubakar and Goodluck Jonathan are merry pensioners. They belong to a special class of pensioners who will never have to groan or moan to get their monthly annuity. Apart from the pensions received from their primary constituencies, the government yearly expends over a billion naira on them as pensions. So, the past heads of state will grey gracefully with little or no financial care. In addition to their pension, the state takes care of some of their personal and domestic needs. Even after their demise, the state will not cease to express its appreciation to these folks by transferring the largesse to their progeny.
However, these fortunate few have severally or jointly foisted a most frustrating pension administration on the nation. While the past heads of state are having a blissful retirement, it is a different experience for the bulk of the nation’s retirees who are subjected to a most harrowing experience in their bid to get their monthly allowance. Many of them had collapsed and died while on the queue to collect the paltry sum received as pension or being screened for the umpteenth time because of the cumbersomeness of the nation’s pension administration system.
The rapacious civil servants saddled with the administration of pension money see the funds as a honey pot and warehouse same for personal benefits. While the beneficiaries of the funds continually reel in abject deprivation and lack, the administrators revel in extravagance; they litter Abuja and state capitals with sprawling structures that would require substantial amount of money to maintain. The other day it was reported that N12 billion was traced to the account of a former director in the Pension Department of the Federal Head of Service, while a female deputy director in the same office was said to have lodged N4 billion in her account. It was also reported that the inter agency team probing pension reform uncovered 555 secret accounts being operated by a top government official in which several billions of naira was discovered. It seems the hush word among civil servants is that anyone in need of unfettered access to free money should look in the direction of pension funds.
But why is it is so difficult to properly administer pension funds without exacerbating the concerns of pensioners? If a state can administer its staff wage without any stress why should it be a Herculean task to administer the pension funds? Since a state has the foreknowledge of people that will retire from its service in a year, why is it so problematic to see that their gratuity is ready as soon as their time in the service is up? Even with the compulsory contributory pension, things have not improved; rather, pension fund administration has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. While some states and government agencies have failed to remit their own share of the pension contribution, others have colluded with some Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs) to make the twilight years of many a pensioner a season of sorrow.
Old age is particularly a precarious stage of life; many of the senior citizens battle with one ailment or the other which requires the purchase of not inexpensive drugs regularly. Many are placed on special diets that are not as affordable as the regular food items. That means the hoary years are expensive ones; the oldies need more money for their upkeep than they actually needed in their growing years. For those who do not have a home of their own, it is double jeopardy as many house owners are not usually favourably disposed to giving out their properties to old people because of their propensity for payment default. So, the elderly have enough challenges without the problem of a former employer depriving them of their entitlements.
But the fact is that robbing the old of their pension is much more a problem to the country than the robbed. First, an old person unnecessarily subjected to hardship by the state will never wish the state well. They need not say an evil prayer for the state but the forced tears of the old is a curse for the cause.
Then, those still in service, seeing the maltreatment meted out to their predecessors in office, will want to safeguard themselves against such and are most likely to dip their hands into the coffers and deplete the nation’s resources. No amount of preachment against looting will dissuade them; they will believe that they owe themselves the duty of ensuring that they do not end up as miserable and pitiable as the pensioner down the road. Where does that leave the country?
A young man who sees his pensioner father go through hell to collect a pension that cannot see him through a week will not have any faith in the nation that maltreated his father. At the slightest excuse, he wants to ship out of the country and speak ill of the government. He will not understand patriotism because there is no way he can show love to a country that does not show love to his family. So, maltreating pensioners is a no-win situation for the country.
Final words: For a country that maltreats its senior citizens, development will remain a mirage, those in doubt should rummage history books.