Retiring into prosperity, the FCT Area Councils Staff Pension Board way
Clutching his mat and walking stick gingerly, the old man looked left, then right, at the road intersection as a steady stream of vehicles sped past. His frame was bent with age and frailty, made worse by the suit he wore, which colour had seen better times. One of the three buttons on the coat had fallen off while the second was dangling by a thread.
Poverty was visibly written all over his body. He saw two young men who readied themselves to cross the busy highway.
“My son, please help me cross the road,’’ the old man pleaded with the taller one, named Ibrahim. The young fellow took a furtive glance at him, an eye simultaneously scanning the speeding vehicles.
“Okay, Daddy, I’ll’’, the young man said. After some moments and seeing an opportunity, he virtually carried the old man and dashed across the road, his friend in tow.
“Thanks, my son. May your days be long and smooth,’’ he prayed for the younger man, who nodded in affirmation.
“I’m a Local Government pensioner,’’ the old man introduced himself, ‘’and I’m going to my State Pension Office. They owe me several months’ arrears of pension. I’m going to see whether I can get paid today. My son, God bless you, please can you help pay my taxi fare?’’
Struggling to conceal his embarrassment, the young man rummaged in his pocket, selected some naira notes, and handed them to the man. Next, he stopped a taxi and helped the old man in.
As the taxi sped off, the young man shook his head sadly and he muttered to his friend, adding ‘’my father who worked with Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) does not go through all this humiliation. In fact, by 25th of every month, his pension is already deposited in his bank account—-unfailingly. My old man does not even leave the comfort of his home to start running after payment. Indeed, due to regular payment, the man looks younger every day and happy, occasionally indulging himself with a bottle or two of Guinness Stout. Now I know why they say FCT leads, others merely follow.’’
Both young men laughed it off and continued on their way.
Such is just a tip of the iceberg the travails of many a pensioner in parts of the country. But in FCT, the case is diametrically different.
Owed pensioners are a very vocal group in the country. They protest publicly, visit media houses; they shout so that the public become aware of their miserable situation that after serving their states/organizations for 35 years, they have been left to rot away in their old age. They also tell the world when their entitlements are paid.
The latter is the case in FCT. Indeed, Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP), Area Council Staff, Mr. Mudashiru Abefe, said that ‘’FCT Minister, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello, has been trying for us. He always pays us when it is due. He does not owe us at all. Pensioners are not owed at all. They always pay us when it is due.’’
However, we sought further information on this position by seeking the opinion of the average pensioner. Corroborating the chairperson’s view, a pensioner, Mr. Usman Abdullahi, stated that pension payment in FCT is regular.
Abdullahi, who is now a businessperson and farmer, said: ‘’I receive my pension regularly. I do not have problems at all. By 24th, 25th of every month, the money is already in my bank account; same for my colleagues too.’’
An obviously elated Abefe said members of the union owe the Minister as well as Director, Area Councils Staff Pension Board, a lot of gratitude. He stressed that the actions of these officials would likely add many more years to the lives of pensioners, given that a significant millstone of financial lack is over.
But regular payment is one of the several milestones reached by FCTA and its Board in the last one year.
From a gloomy atmosphere of improperly organized records of beneficiaries, the Board created a database of retired and deceased officers. It updated records of those retired under the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) towards settling accrued rights benefits.
These aside, periodically, pensioners who turn 45 years report to the Board for enrollment to kick start receipt of their pensions based on DBS. The registration also applies to officers who had left the services of FCTA and joined other services, such as state governments. Such have started collecting the FCTA portion of their pensions too.
Service delivery within the Board is so real-time that under the CPS, the Board already has the exact number of pensioners billed to retire this year (2017). So, it’s a question of ‘retire and begin to enjoy your money’ without stress.
But how did the agency get to this level of pensioner satisfaction? For one, the staff members receive periodic training relevant to the discharge of agency’s mandate. For instance, but not limited to this, were two capacity-building pieces of training for delivery mechanism and enhancement were conducted this year alone for Pension Desk Officers (PDOs). The board proposes two similar training before December 2017.
Members of the public are left amazed at how the agency funds its operations. The Board receives funding from three sources thus: 5% of Area Councils emoluments contributed by Federal Government (FG) through Office of Head of Service; 15% of total emolument of Area Councils and Local Education Authorities (LEAs) while, FCTA contributes 2.5% of the total emolument of the Area Councils and LEAs.
However, over the years the contributions were irregular and arrived in bits and pieces while the situation that berthed hefty arrears overhang.
But determined to reverse the trend, new Board Director, Mr. Nanzing Nden, who assumed duty last year, prioritized this and galvanized relevant stakeholders to act positively. Luckily, he met a FCTA willing to overturn the deficit and make things work. Buoyed by a committed Minister, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello, presently all contributions come regularly. The FCTA pays Board’s staff salaries, releases overhead costs to Area Councils as well as settles the Board’s contractual services in addition to the monthly pension contribution.
Heart-warming news emerged that the Minister gave his blessings to stakeholders’ recommendation that Area Councils’ contributions be jerked up from this month (August). The combined effect of this gesture is that it will enable acceleration of payment of any arrears of retirement benefits because the expectation is to pay accrued rights once an officer retires.
Accrued right is computed based on officer’s salary as of 2004. There exist cases of deceased officers whose benefits have been paid. However, their next of kin have not gone to the deceased’s Pension Fund Administrator (PFA) to access the funds. Such persons are advised to check with the Board or the PFA to find out on the payment.
Also, the Board has tried unsuccessfully to locate next of kin of some officers who died between 2008 and 2014.Persons will such cases were counseled to come forward to the Board with PFA certificates and Letter of Administration from deceased for processing of payments.
What’s more, the National Pension Commission (PENCOM) has clarified that the Pension Law does not preclude officers dismissed from service before 2004 from enjoying pensions.
To build confidence of employees to deliver, the Board is currently procuring a Group Life insurance policy for staff of the Area Council Unified Service and LEA teachers. Given that the scheme involves underwriters and brokers, at death, only the beneficiary under a Will or Letter of Administration will be paid. For actuarial valuation, a retained actuary handles this aspect in line with PENCOM regulation. However, payment of accrued rights here affects those in office as of June 25, 2004.
The FCTA, aware of the low score by PENCOM last May on the Board’s Information Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure is set to put in place relevant ultra-modern infrastructure.
Once necessary approval is secured, computer hardware, repository, digital document management system for scanning and organizing retirees’ files, software packages for data-based management and structured ICT training for staff will be on the ground. The goal is to ensure seamless records and e-management of data and information systems generally within the Board.
From whatever high prism Ibrahim presently views FCTA, it is only obvious that, when all these and many more innovations come on stream, the rush by people to seek for life-long work in FCTA will increase as prospective retirees are fully assured of the future. As they say on Nigeria’s streets, ‘’no shaking.’’
*Durumba is a former News Editor of The Nation and of Champion newspapers.