Untold hardship of old retirees over unpaid pension
“I pray God that I will take these my two hands to take my pension because I really worked hard for the government. Even on Sundays, I went to work. Go to the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing in Lagos here, and ask of Mrs. Comfort Tinuade Williams, they can attest to this. I retired at Grade 7 Level 7 as a Senior Personnel officer.”
These were the lamentations from the 87-year- old retiree, Mrs Comfort Tinuade Williams.
Williams retired from the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing on May 18, 1992, after spending 33 years in active service.
She has not been paid any pension since May 2009 to date.
When The Guardian visited the Lagos residence of ‘Mama Williams’ as she is fondly called, assisted to the living room in crutches by her caregiver; and supported to sit on a wheelchair, mama, who is a widow, broke down in torrential tears that gently cascaded down her wrinkled face.
After regaining her composure, she carefully narrated her bitter experience thus: “Government doesn’t take care of old people at all, old people are suffering. The government should have mercy on old people. If not for the grace of God and my children, who have been giving me feeding allowance and buying my drugs for me, I would have died.”
Expressing regrets for devoting her entire time and energy to serve Nigeria, which she said left her when she needed her most, she continued: “I want you to help me tell the government to pay me all my pension arrears, and they should put me on pension salary every month.
“None of my children is interested in the Civil Service job with the way I am being treated by the government, because it is after you retire you will know if the government truly has you at heart or not.
“That is why so many people are staying long in the service unwilling to retire by changing their documents. I say yes, because when they come out what are they going to do? The government won’t pay them their gratuity for them to eat; that is why they stay long there.
“But we that are retired at the right time without changing papers or anything sees me now, they don’t even know what is happening to me, and many have died. I thank God that I am still alive.
“I will never wish my enemy to work as a civil servant because you will be abandoned in your retirement. So, I regret that 33 years I put in service, no pension till date, I was only paid my gratuity upon leaving.”
She narrated to The Guardian her experiences during the days she went for several verification exercises by the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD), carrying documents in the rain and sunshine without anything to show for her efforts.
She said during one of the days in 2013 that confined her to a wheelchair, when she fell into a ditch while trying to leave home early to go and queue at Race Course at the Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS) in Lagos, for the verification exercise, eventually landed her at Igbobi Orthopaedic Hospital.
The pains, trauma, and age could not allow her to continue to push further for her entitlements.
Williams’ experience is what so many other aged retirees are passing through. Some in the process gave up, and some died in the course of fighting for their pensions.
Similar is the case of retired military personnel of the Nigerian Army, CPL Omote John, whose pension became effective since October 17, 2015, but is yet to receive a dime.
Omote, whose documents were cited by The Guardian, retired since May 1978, partook in the military verification exercise at the Ikeja Cantonment, did the enrolment process, but has not started receiving his pension.
He was among the military pensioners that staged a peaceful protest at the headquarters of the Ministry of Finance in September 2017, to demand payment of their pension arrears. He lamented that nothing has been done since then.
“They have not paid us anything since. They said we would start to collect since 2015. I have gone to Ikeja Cantonment where they had the last verification exercise, we are yet to hear from them,” he said.
This was also the case of some pensioners with the defunct Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL), when they also staged a peaceful protest over N3 billion pension owed them by government, where they lamented that they have done all necessary documentation, shuttling between Abuja and Lagos, to claim their benefits.
It is indeed very disturbing that despite the clear provisions of the Pension Act, retirees still face a lot of challenges trying to access their entitlements, particularly gratuities when expected.
This, no doubt, has brought tears and agony to retirees and their families.
It was against this backdrop that Lagos State Council of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), held a two-day workshop, where they called on the Lagos State Government to prioritise the issue of pension and gratuities to ensure prompt payment as planned.
In a communiqué, which was signed by the Chairman and Secretary, Gbenga Ekundayo, and Abiodun Aladetan, respectively, the union lamented that despite clear provisions of the Pension Reform Act (PRA) of 2004, retirees still face a lot of challenges trying to access their entitlements, particularly gratuities as scheduled.
These agonies, the workers argued, have further brought tears and suffering to retirees and their families.
In his remark, Ogun State Chairman and Coordinator, TUC South West, Olubunmi Fajobi, faulted the structuring of the contributory pension, and the removal of gratuity from the scheme.
However, when contacted, Head, Communications Unit, PTAD, Gbenga Ajayi, denied the allegations that Mrs Williams fell into a ditch on her way for verification exercise, saying: “I don’t think in the process she fell into a ditch. During the verification exercises, we have medical teams on the ground; if anything had happened, we would have known. That doesn’t help us and the agency.”
While expressing regrets that the 87-year retiree has not been paid pension since retirement, he said the delay might be caused by the unavailability of necessary documents or they were not properly processed.
However, he expressed the hope that many retirees would receive their pensions at the end of the month.
He said: “There are thousands that would be pay-rolled this month. If truly she has not been paid, and she is qualified, we are sorry. After spending 33 years in active service, something serious must have happened during the exercise. Some people will go on sabbatical later when they are old they will now bring the paper that they have not been paid. Anybody that has any issue concerning non-payment of pension, we urge them to bring it to our notice, it will be resolved.”