22 years after, government fails to settle ex-PHCN pensioners’ arrears
The failure of government to meet the pension expectation of retirees has shattered the plans of many, as well as induced economic trauma, which in some cases, has led to fatalities.
Stories abound of senior citizens, who had collapsed and died in queues while waiting for their pensions. Perhaps, the plight of pensioners in Nigeria, experts say, is better highlighted in a documentary titled ‘Nation Forgotten,’ where former public servants bemoaned pension fraud and government neglect, while battling debilitating changes to their health and lack of funds to attend to their most basic needs.
An instance of this is pensioners of the defunct National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) and Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), who have called on President Muhammadu Buhari to offset their 22-year entitlements held by the management of the Nigerian Electricity Liability Management Company (NELMCO), a non-pension fund administrator and Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD).
The senior citizens, under the aegis of Concerned NEPA/PHCN pensioners, said despite several attempts and presentations to the PTAD management to pay the arrears, their pleas fell on deaf ears, alleging that the directorate was deceptive and manipulative.
Reliving their ordeals during a Save our Soul (SOS) visit to The Guardian recently, they sought payment of all accrued benefits of 2020 retirees, consisting of gratuity and monthly pension shortfall of 42 per cent for 22 years.
The group, led by Dunmoye Oladimeji and Julius Ayodeji, said all was going well until PTAD took over in 2014 after the final unbundling of NEPA/PHCN in 2013. The pensioners, in a petition to President Buhari in October 2021, stated that despite claims that N25 billion had already been made by government in its Appropriation Acts of 2017 to 2022, PTAD failed to pay us till date.”
Wondering why the agency has allegedly stopped paying their entitlements, the pensioners claimed that it was a “reason beyond selfish and fraudulent manipulation for self-enrichment despite the calls for cessation of corruption in the country.”
Oladimeji, who presented evidence of legitimate claims to key offices, said there had been no official response until it went through a lawyer, Femi Falana, which prompted the PTAD to respond to its yearnings.
Oladimeji alleged that a supposed representative called the Nigerian Union of Pensioners – Electricity Sector (NUPES) and Electricity Sector Retirees Welfare Association of Nigeria (ESREWAN), formed by Temple Chinyere Ubani, a suspended former National Chairman of NUPES, has been mortgaging the group’s welfares by colluding with PTAD/NELMCO, National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission (NSIWC), Ministry of Labour and others to shortchange the retirees of former NEPA/PHCN by refusing to pay them the cumulative arrears of eight different entitlements for over two decades.
He said the group had made pleas to PTAD to pay their arrears with clear proofs of actual funds released by this present administration as confirmed by the Appropriate Acts from 2017 to 2021. He alleged that rather “Executive Secretary of PTAD, Dr. Chioma Ejikeme, resorted to spending taxpayers’ money on media propaganda to mislead and confuse Nigerians that she has paid us at some point. On another note, her position was that there has not been a release of funds from government but that the funds are domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
“Kindly consider our downtrodden position as senior citizens now aged between 60 to 90 years and above, who served our country in our prime years, now weak and not able to do any strenuous work as before to earn a living with some dependents. Some of our dependents are still schooling, while others are without jobs after years of graduation, coupled with various health challenges due to old age that have sent some of our members to the early grave. Some are still battling their health issues without enough money to care for themselves, while their rightful earnings are held up by this clique for no justifiable reasons besides fraud. May Almighty Allah/God heed your call for His mercy.”
The group gave some names of pensioners removed from PTAD monthly pensions since October 2020 till date because they were not privileged to participate in the biometric exercise of 2019, some of which were due to health challenges, death and one that had already relocated to the United States of America (USA) but was denied unjustifiably.
The group’s coordinator, who listed names of NEPA pensioners, Gabriel Olufemi Biobaku (residing in the USA), with identification card number: 224/SP.6/24,617; Nojeem Adisa Salami (died in November 2022) and Rahman Ayeni Mohammed, said the three persons, among others, have satisfied the biometric exercise for 2019 (April to November.) basic requirements for those in Nigeria and diaspora.
He said the pensions of Salami and Mohammed were supposed to have been restored in mid-2022, but they have not been receiving their pensions till date. He said the pension of Biobaku, residing in the USA was deliberately rejected for no justifiable reasons after the Consulate in Atlanta Georgia, had confirmed that he is alive, stating that PTAD turned down the letter, insisting he must come to Nigeria to fill the ‘I Am Alive Confirmation Solution for Pensioners’, that periodically confirm the likeness of pensioners to continue receiving their monthly pension.
He said despite Biobaku’s ill health, he had traveled from Texas for the identification exercise at the Consulate office in Atlanta Georgia. Biobaku’s wife, Comfort, also a NEPA/PHCN pensioner, who confirmed the husband’s predicament, said she visited Nigeria for a crucial family programme when PTAD came up with the exercise and was able to participate, hence her receiving her pension.
She urged that since her husband had done his and confirmed his being alive through the office of the Consulate in Atlanta Georgia and documents sent to PTAD, he is worthy of his pension as he cannot travel down to Nigeria on grounds of health-challenges.
These among many others are challenges for many pensioners, having served for many years. A lot, whose lives depend on their pensions cannot afford to buy their routine drugs, thereby dying after years of service to the nation. A recent letter by the concerned NEPA/PHCN pensioners addressed to the Executive Secretary of PTAD reads: “There is no denying the truth that the conduct of PTAD so far leaves so much to be desired. What has happened to the funds since 2017 is a matter the authorities will be interested to know with thousands dead among our pensioners, others bedridden and some have lost their sight as a result of this insensitive conduct on your part.
“Several of our pensioners have died waiting for the fruits of their labour, some are bedridden with very slim chances of survival and some with sight challenges have either lost or about losing their sights over your management’s failure to pay us all on time. We are left with no second option than to seek redress in the right quarters to get our cumulative arrears of entitlements paid without further delays.
“How much of this figure you have disbursed to all NEPA/PHCN pensioners to date will be ratified accordingly and the role of Central Bank of Nigeria (with our funds domiciled there touted by your management since 2018 to date) in the matter will also be ascertained very soon.”
However, PTAD in a recent response letter dated Feb 3, 2023, signed by Director, Parastatal Pension (PaPD), Kabiru Yusuf, maintained that the ex-pensioners are not entitled to the 33 per cent pension increment.
“We would like to state unequivocally, that the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission, the Federal Government agency responsible for policy statements on emoluments including pensions had directed via a letter of approval Ref: SWC/S/04/S.542/26 of September 26, 2014, that the retired staff of the defunct PHCN is not entitled to the pension increase of 33 per cent.
“This is because PHCN pensioners were already on a special salary structure before the pension review for pensioners who, while in service, were on one of the Harmonised Salary Structures of the Federal Public Service.
“It should be noted that PHCN pensioners took the Federal Government to the National Industrial Court (NIC), Abuja on this issue.
“After several engagements, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the implementation of a 9.7 per cent increase in the pensions of ex-PHCN retirees under the Defined Benefit Scheme (DBS).
“This approval was used as an out-of-court settlement to put an end to the suit at the NIC, Abuja.”
In reaction, the Head of Corporate Communications, PTAD, Gbenga Ajayi, said the response by PTAD on the issue stands. He said: “We are not out down to punish anybody. Nobody is interested in keeping pensioners’ monies anywhere. Pension is always earned. If for 22 years and it is a legitimate demand without any controversy, be rest assured that it will be paid. For now, PTAD’s response to the association stands.”