Welfare scheme for returning retirees
Last week, I was a year older and closer to retirement from active service in every sense of it. By some strange inspiration, I have also known why people do not want to retire from active service even after serving for many decades. The simple reason is that most people do not know the business to do in retirement. This is more so in Africa where for instance, one Robert Mugabe who is above 90 years and has been in active service as the president of Zimbabwe for 37 years is still asking to remain in active service.
In Nigeria, there is old age abuse. People are allowed to practically work to death by the system. Therefore, the proposed amendment to the 1999 Constitution should work out a clause to stop the Nigerian system from abusing old men and women. Chief Tony Anenih, for instance, only retired from partisan politics few months ago after well over five decades of prolonged active service. A system that burdens old people with elongated service while under-engaged youths are allowed to use their spare capacity to kidnap for ransom is bad.
It is still not very clear if the chief has retired for good. Others who had previously announced their retirement and stepped aside are itching to be recruited back into active service. Even the one who had said while retiring in 1979 that he was leaving nothing behind in Government House that would warrant his return, dramatically reneged and returned in 1999 to Government House, not to retrieve any forgotten item in particular, but to resume active service for another eight years and was only stopped from extending his post-service service by four more years.
I am talking of Generals Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida. I can illustrate how these two old men, especially the former have been over-worked by the Nigerian system. The current Speaker of the House of Reps, Yakubu Dogara, who turned 49, recently was only nine years old in 1976, when Obasanjo became military head of state. He was 16 when the incumbent president, General Muhammadu Buhari was head of state in 1983 and 18 when Babangida was military president in 1985.
These men who have served and seen Dogara grow up to take up national service roles are still in service one way or the other. At other levels, a couple of names have remained green through all seasons. Chief EK Clark has remained a radical spokesman most of his life, first for the then Midwest State as commissioner of education, then the Federal Government as commissioner of information and since 1999, for the Niger Delta region and the Ijaw race in particular, as a sole leader and chief campaigner for regional rights.
Today, Dogara, as part of the national political leadership, has had good years of working experience on the basis of which he can even retire from active service if he so wishes and he could earn a medal for good service. Except, of course, to say that it is not equity to ask a 49-old Dogara to yield in an arrangement where Chiefs Audu Ogbe and John Odigie-Oyegun are holding fast. Chief Ogbe was minister of communication in the Second Republic and Oyegun had completed a cycle in the federal civil service and retired as permanent secretary in 1985 before stepping into the new vocation of politics. Dogara was at best a secondary school pupil when these men were at the prime of their national service.
I have taken time to rake these up so that I can be properly guided as I age towards retirement from active service. I am just imagining how it would look if I returned to my desk at The Guardian to do the same thing all over again 20 years after retirement. First, it would mean that nobody in the whole of the media industry could rise up in the intervening years to build the capacity to man adequately the post I left two decades earlier.
It would also mean absolute lack of capacity on my part to live outside office. Or attempt, also on my part, to make being an editor a divine calling that cannot be aborted by any means or both. I am saying that some people have appropriated the presidency and public office generally in Nigeria as their divine calling and it will not work well for the country in the final analysis. It is not my portion to retire and return after 20 or 30 years to the same office in Jesus name.
There is definitely life outside the office. It is just that people eat more in office than they serve and they always want to return to the dining table even when the current menu is for infants with milk dentition. Because of food, some people have refused to grow. But if people grow beyond eating to serving, this perpetual negative vertical integration whereby we look backward instead of forward in the leadership recruitment will be stemmed.
There are many other things retirees can do outside staging a come-back to office. For instance the government’s new welfare scheme, which allows payment of N5000 every month to the poorest and most vulnerable people in Nigeria, is a whole world of soft engagement for old people that are looking for what to do. They can target aspects of the programme that require consultancy services. Government is talking of Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT). A consultant can break down, for a fee, that big grammar to the beneficiary in Ogbomosho and elsewhere so that he or she does not move in circles to collect N5000 at the end of each month.
Government is reportedly relying on some data created by the World Bank to ascertain the poorest and most vulnerable in Nigeria. Who is World Bank to do that? What does it know about poverty in Nigeria? Does it think living below one dollar a day is what is called poverty in Nigeria? A consultant can supply a homemade definition of poverty and expose the fallacy in the current estimations and draw up a far more realistic poverty line for government to follow. In the end, it will be discovered that far more than just a million people fall below the real poverty line. He can do more to establish poverty verification centres in as many communities as possible across the country to constantly review the estimates as people rise above and fall below the established poverty line.
If every aspiring retiree, including presidents and governors, thinks this way, people will not be scheming to return to their post after two or three decades of disengagement. They will be gainfully engaged. It is the reason I will say that the scheme to care for poorest and most vulnerable in society is noble but not far-reaching. There is yet another group that can also trouble the conscience of society if left uncared for. They are the tired but most troublesome in society. This segment needs even more urgently a welfare scheme for peace to reign. Not welfare in the sense of N5000 or even N5 million monthly stipend, but in the sense of a post-service engagement that will dilute the destructive nostalgia of former office holders especially retired generals.
Today, almost all former governors are senators and almost all former senators are governors or minister. And as preparations towards the 2019 leadership recruitment exercise get more and more defined, people have started telling the same actors, including President Buhari that no living Nigerians, younger or older, have the capacity to govern the country as they. Are they the only Nigerians capable of delivering public good from public offices?
Specifically, work may have started to make Buhari inevitable in the 2019 calculations. Time, efforts and resources will be required in good measure to prosecute the project. I am suspecting therefore that real governance shall soon go on recess to precipitate a worse kind of recession – leadership recession – in the country, which, in any case, will not be strange because Nigeria has always been in leadership recession, largely due to the reason discussed on this page.