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Leave pension fund alone

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If there is anything that has helped to worsen the mass poverty in Nigeria, it is the failure of governments at all levels to pay retired workers their pension and gratuity. Every year, thousands of workers are retired and left to go home with no money to fall back on. These old and feeble men and women who have spent their youthful days working for the system are not cared for in retirement. The funds that were deducted from their salaries over the years that were supposed to serve as anchor are nowhere to be found. They have been stolen by unscrupulous and greedy government officials. The thieves go scot-free while the retirees are penniless. Many die miserable death as a result of the wicked system.

It is against this prevalent anomie that workers have risen against the plan of the government to borrow from the pension fund, a move that would rob workers their hard-earned pension contribution. The problem is not in borrowing, as such, but the fact that from experience, billions have been borrowed by government under different administrations that cannot be accounted for.

The fear, therefore, is that, once the government deeps its hands in the pension fund, it is as good as losing the money. Because there is no continuity in government, if the Buhari administration borrows the money, for instance, the next administration would find it difficult to pay for money it did not borrow. That, partly, explains why domestic and foreign debts keep piling on Nigeria from year to year. To be on the safer side and avoid the untold suffering pensioners are going through across the federation, government should leave the existing pension fund alone and let the management of the fund be according to the contributory pension act.

It needs to be stressed that the new contributory pension regime was introduced to serve as solution to the old pension scheme that never worked. Unlike before, the funds are not warehoused in Central bank of Nigeria or any other place. The funds are in individual workers personal accounts for which they get alert monthly, whenever money is paid into it. Workers under the new pension scheme get alert periodically on how much have contributed so far. If that be the case, it is not clear whose account is going to be tampered with in order to raise money to be borrowed by government. Those who have stolen pension money have a debt to pay unfailingly.

It is common knowledge that the richest people on earth are not salary earners or civil servants. The richest people are those who have personal vision of what they want to do with their own hands. When the vision is put into action, the result is wealth. Forget about the corruption and greed in Nigeria, which makes people who did not work to get rich overnight. To such people who got their wealth through dubious means, King Solomon reminds that, “Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished; but he that gathers by labor shall increase”, (Proverbs 13:11).

The wealth of dubious, corrupt, scammers, thieves, robbers, kidnappers, pen robbers, forgers, etc, shall be diminished. Their wealth shall never succeed them into the next generation. Their ill-gotten wealth shall end up with them. That is the eternal truth, whether they like it or not. It applies whether or not they know it. It doesn’t matter whether one believes or acknowledges it. The only solution to avert the consequences associated with ill-gotten wealth is restitution. Those who have stolen from the system must restore what they have stolen. That is the only way to be free from the eternal wrath of God.

It is common knowledge in Nigeria that people working in public establishments—ministries, departments and agencies (MDA), are among the laziest workers in the system. They don’t think about how to improve the system. And, as if the system recognised that, they’re being maltreated for their lack of wisdom. They couldn’t realise early enough in their lives that one day, they will retire and leave the system; what becomes of their lives thereafter never crossed their minds. Today, they are suffering when they should be reaping the fruit of their labor.

The system they worked for is corrupt and didn’t provide for them. It is not that they didn’t make savings through the extant pension scheme at the time. That money has been stolen by their corrupt successors who have become “wiser” by falsely believing that the only way they could safeguard and guarantee a comfortable old age is by stealing from the system.

After stealing the funds, their corrupt successors are the ones asking them every now and then to come for endless verification, even if they’re bedridden. Many die in penury. But the consequences of a diminished wealth await those corrupt officials who have stolen their pension. As a matter of fact, their situation after retirement would be worse because their generations would suffer the consequences. God visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation. (Exodus 20:5).

Most of the pensioners are owed pension stipend for upwards of 6 months. One Nigerian postal service (NIPOST) retiree reportedly died at the General Post Office, Ikeja in Lagos, while protesting for his unpaid 49-month pension arrears and another three deaths in Lagos. Reports abound of other deaths of the old and feeble men and women who are regularly forced to travel long distances to Abuja or the state capitals to be verified before they could be paid their legally deserved pension.

The verification exercise is an experience in anarchy for the poor and weak old folks. They’re dehumanized and clearly abused by the system they served. At the end, only a few would manage to get probably one or two months out of the many months of arrears owed them. The rest get nothing. When the greedy corrupt officials observe that the money, which probably they lodged into their private accounts to yield interest, has become huge enough, they will initiate another verification exercise, designed to kill many of the pensioners so that their entitlements will end up in private pockets. That is the vicious cycle of corrupt enrichment that has been entrenched in the government pension scheme.

It is pertinent to ask why it is necessary for the frail looking men and women to be regularly invited for verification. Is there no database of the pensioners at their various places of work? Is there no other way of monitoring those that are living or dead? Why can’t the exercise be done at the ward level, considering the age of the people? Why is it so difficult to organise the payment of simple pension, if it is not to defraud the system? For how long will this continue and people are subjected to untold suffering?

The youths should learn from the bastardization of the system. The situation is made worse and unpredictable now with the high rate of unemployment. There is need for paradigm shift as regards employment. Since the system is not prepared to cater for the citizenry, particularly the aged, there is need to de-emphasize paid employment and instead give thrust to enterprise development at personal level.

The National Directorate for Employment (NDE) is not doing the job it is supposed to do. I have said it before that training people to acquire skills only without assisting them to set up personal businesses is an effort in futility. There should be an enterprise development fund from which prospective youths are assisted financially to set up businesses. If one million youths are assisted in one year and each in turn employs two persons that will be three million jobs in one year. If that is consistently done for five years, that will be 15 million jobs. That will make unemployment history in this society.

The shabby way the pensioners are treated should be an eye-opener to the youths, especially, those that have graduated from the universities and are traversing the cities looking for non-existent jobs. They should not waste precious time but decide on what they want to do with their lives. The Nigerian system has not changed. The bush fowl in an Igbo adage told the chicken to watch the way it is dissected; that is the way it too will be dissected. This is a warning to youths who have ears to buckle up.


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