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Pensioners in states deserve prompt payment

By Editorial Board
05 August 2022   |   2:46 am
The lamentable condition of pensioners across the country over unpaid gratuities and pensions has become a recurring decimal in many of the 36 states.

[FILE] Pensioner.

The lamentable condition of pensioners across the country over unpaid gratuities and pensions has become a recurring decimal in many of the 36 states.

The attitude of the respective state governments is aggravating the suffering and anguish of the pensioners as well as desecrating the primary purpose of government which is to pursue the welfare of the citizens and especially so for its senior citizens who had worked all their lives for the state and are retired on pension.

It is regrettable indeed that governments, particularly state governments, appear to share a less than friendly relationship with pensioners; hence prolonging the struggle and frustrations pensioners face to get their entitlements. Most of the 36 state governments owe salary, gratuity and pension with impunity.

Nearly two decades after the contributory pension came into being through the Pension Reform Act of 2004 it is unfortunate that most states are yet unable to come to terms with the new structure; attributing their lapse to the dwindling revenue from crude oil sales which is also fingered as the factor responsible for the delay in salary and pension payments of workers.

Worse still, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) which has transformed into a public quoted company, has not, in the last six months or so, been making remittances to the federation account. No doubt, the cap-in-hand practice of the states to the centre brings the country back to terms with the need for the enthronement of true federalism that Nigeria has been shying away from despite all pointers to the necessity. Each state is expected to generate its own income and not depend solely on revenue from the Federal Government to survive.

The non-remittance by NNPC to the federation account no doubt puts the states under a lot of pressure on finance-related issues. For instance, Abia State is owing 20 years of gratuities and 38 months of pension arrears while Ogun State is owing about nine years of gratuities and pension deductions spanning over 21 months. Others owing a huge amount of gratuities include Benue, Taraba, Plateau, Anambra, Lagos, Kwara, Ekiti and Adamawa respectively. Indeed, the issue of pension and gratuity is a huge challenge for sitting governors as it predates their tenure in office and is seen as inherited responsibility.

However, some governors have not been too humble or appreciative of their poor financial state. They enjoy extravagant lifestyle that has no affinity to the state of their states’ economy particularly in a democratic government. They need to demonstrate greater sensitivity to the plight of the pensioners and workers. In an economy with galloping inflation, unpaid arrears has made life miserable for the pensioners in terms of health, feeding or being able to live in a decent environment. Also, in the course of their endless wait or during pension verification exercises, many pensioners have died and become permanent victims of the lukewarm attitude in payment of the pension entitlement. It is sad and painful to see pensioners die in wait for what they are rightly entitled to.

The problem associated with the pension scheme in Nigeria has become an age-long dilemma and the pensioners are the ones who suffer. The whole idea behind the pension scheme is for a 50 per cent lump sum payment of total retirement benefits to retirees. But laudable as the scheme is, there is still some take-off difficulty in developing countries unlike in the more developed world which is more focused and more sensitive to the welfare of pensioners.

One other major reason pensioners are facing challenges is the issue of ghost workers or ghost pensioners. Some unscrupulous civil servants while still in service indulge in padding the workforce and this leads to humongous pension figures for the state government to pay. According to the Information Commissioner of Abia State, Eze Chikamnayo, “the administration recently carried out a biometric exercise to get the accurate number of pensioners. We discovered that an excess of over 5 million naira was being siphoned from the state coffers annually in the name of pension.”

On their part, pensioners in Taraba State have issued a warning that they would boycott the forthcoming 2023 elections if the gratuities and pension totalling about N30 billion are not paid before then. Also, worried by the non-payment of gratuities and pension, the Anambra State Commissioner of Information acknowledge owing the pensioners and said it would soon be history as payments would be made as soon as possible. He said, “A lot of things are being put in place to make sure that the gratuities are paid very soon. It is not the fault of Soludo. Rather it was inherited from the immediate past administration.”

But governors do not have to wait for the problems to get off hand before acting. The issue of ghost workers for instance is age-old; and even though government changes hands, an enduring solution ought by now to have been found for it. Similarly, governors should not wait for warnings by pensioners to embark on protest, which itself is a feature of frustration on their part.

It is disheartening and unacceptable that state governments are treating workers and the welfare of the pensioners in their respective states with levity. Not too long ago, some of these governors owing gratuities and pensions doled out N100 million to purchase party presidential nomination forms. The Federal Government and the organised labour unions should put pressure on the various governors to take matters concerning pensioners very seriously and pay up the accumulated gratuities and pension without further delay.