National Assembly wades into pensioners’ plight
Aggrieved pensioners who had been having a running battle with the authorities over the non-payment of their entitlement would soon heave a sign of relief with the resolve of the National Assembly to come to the rescue.
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have already taken pragmatic steps towards addressing the financial challenges bedevilling pensioners on the country.
The Dr Bukola Saraki led upper legislative chamber waded into the issue after adopting a motion entitled, “Untold hardship of pensioners occasioned by Federal Government’s failure to contribute its statutory share of five percent to the pension redemption fund” initiated by Senator Emmanuel Paulker (PDP: Bayelsa central).
The Senate enjoined President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene by approving the sum of N174 billion as bail out fund to clear the backlog of pensioners entitlement arrears over the years argued that if the federal government could release bailout funds to pay outstanding workers salaries in the states, such gestures should also be extended to pensioners in the country.
Paulker while moving the motion expressed concern that pensioners under the contributory pension scheme who retired since 2015 have not been paid their pensions due to the failure of the Federal Government to contribute its statutory share of 5 percent to the pension redemption fund in line with the pension reform Act 2004, amounting to a total sum of N285, 946, 669, 881. 00 billion.
The lawmaker further noted that the situation was compounded by the fact that of the sum of N50 billion appropriated in the 2016 budget to offset part of the pension arrears, only the sum of N18 billion was released.
He added: “The Senate is concerned also that pensioners under the defined benefit scheme which include the Nigeria police, the Nigeria custom service, Nigeria Immigration Service, Nigeria Prisons Service, Civil Service and other parastatals have yet to be paid their 33 per cent accrued arrears amounting to about N174 billion.
“It is very worrisome that the delay in payment of pension arrears has put pensioners across the country in a very precarious situations where they wallow in penury, sickness, hopelessness and regret for serving their fatherland diligently, only to be abandoned by the government upon retirement. “
The Senate position was reinforced by the decision by the House of Representatives to summon the ministers of budget and national planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, his Finance counterpart, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun to clear the air over the non payment of pensioners entitlements running into billions of naira.
Also to appear before the lawmakers on Thursday this week is the Executive Secretary of the pension transitional arrangement directorate (PTAD), Mrs. Sharon Ikeazor and the director general of the national pension commission (PENCOM), Chinelo Anohu-Amaju and several other officials connected with the management of pensioners claims.
The decision followed the adoption of a motion under matters of urgent national importance sponsored by the chairman of the House committee on Pension, Mr. Hassan Shekarau during the plenary session of the House presided by Speaker Yakubu Dogara.
Dogara who met with the Mr. Abel Afolayan led executive members of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners who paid him a courtesy visit at the national Assembly hours before the adoption of the resolution emphatised with pensioners over the non-payment of their entitlement.
Assuring the pensioners that the leadership of the House will meet with President Muhammadu Buhari to work out a definite plan to offset outstanding pension liabilities which currently stands at over N200 billion, he hinted that the House would apply the instrumentality of the budgeting process to address the problem associated with non release of monies to settle pensioners claims and entitlement.
The Speaker emphasised that all pensions due to retired public service workers must be paid because it is a constitutionally provided right to be paid their pension.
Citing section 173 (1 & 2) of the 1999 Constitution, he stressed that it is the responsibility of the federal government to ensure that pensions earned by the pensioners are paid as and when due, as failure to do this could be a breach of the laws of the country.
Dogara said, “I refer us, all of us, to the provision of Section 173, sorry if I sound legalistic, we have to get it right. Provision of Section 173, subsection 1 of the Constitution provides as follows and I quote, “subject to the provision of this constitution, the right, right, that is the word the Constitution used, the right of a person who works in the public service of the federation to receive pension and gratuity shall be regulated by law.”
Obviously, the law, we have passed it, we have done our own part of the bargain, which is the Pension Reform Act of 2014 to fulfill the provision laid by section 173 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Sub section 2 provides also and I refer to it and quote, that “any benefit to which a person is entitled in accordance with or under such law as is referred to in sub section 1- and I have said for purpose of subsection 1 is the Pension Reform Act – shall- the framers of the Constitution used the word shall – not be withheld or altered to his disadvantage unless to such extent that it is permissible under any law, including the code of conduct.”
“If pension is a right and pensioners must be paid, it means that the federal government is indebted, it is in debt and if it is paid, the government is not doing a favour to anybody, we don’t even deserve any thanks because pension is earned is a right.
“There is no politician out there from the number one politician who is Mr. President, down to us, who did not take an oath to defend and protect the provisions of this Constitution.
“The President is a pensioner himself, he is and I know that he has always been concerned about issues related to salaries and pensions. He has been so concerned that he has extended assistance to state governments to bail them out with funds to pay for salaries and pension at state levels and I believe having taken such steps he won’t be so unconcerned about his own responsibility to pensioners of the federal Republic.
“So I believe there is a disconnect somewhere and that is what we have to connect now and to see that even if the last person in the state gets his salary and pension, if we don’t address our pensioners at the federal level, we have failed. And that message will be delivered by God’s grace.
“So, unless there are plausible reasons why the pensions cannot be paid, reasons that are patently clear, then it will appear that for us to fail in this regard, we will be breaching our oaths of office. That is how serious this matter is.”
Dogara further noted that the federal government’s fight against corruption in the public service will be greatly enhanced by prompt and due payment of pensions and pension liabilities as this will reduce the temptation to divert public funds for post-retirement upkeep by public servants.
He assured the delegation that the House will ensure that it “speaks with a loud and clear voice” on the need to make this aspect a priority, while casting doubts that President Muhammadu Buhari is aware of the huge debts owed them.
Afolayan who described pensioners as endangered specie remarked that he was in possession of evidence to prove insufficient budgetary allocation in the 2017 budget proposal for payment of pensioners claims in both the category of defined benefit scheme (DBS) and contributory pension scheme (CPS).
He thereby enjoined the Speaker and his colleagues in the National Assembly to use their good offices to provide sufficient funds in the 2017 budget to offset the N113 billion pension liabilities owed pensioners across the country.
He also appealed that pension should be put on first line charge to put an end to the traditional rigorous budgetary allocation process, and solicited assistance of the Speaker to facilitate the payment of outstanding 18 months arrears of the 33 percent pension increase.
Afolayan who intimated the Speaker of the union resolve to hold their national delegates conference (NDC) between April 24 to 27, this year, explained that the check-off dues accruing from the payment of the arrears would provide the union enough dues to organise the event successfully.
The House had penultimate week passed a resolution urging the Federal government to offset three years pension arrears owed pensioners since 2014.