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Pensioners in the midst of heartless storm 

By Jide Oyewusi 
20 December 2021   |   2:48 am
That Nigeria is said to be a sovereign state has never been in any contention at least following its so-called independence

[FILE] A pensioner.

That Nigeria is said to be a sovereign state has never been in any contention at least following its so-called independence.

But the sufferings to which Nigerians have been exposed even since the very time the country was said to have become a sovereign state tends to point at the exchange of words whereby the sovereign status Nigeria was said to have attained in actual sense is to be interpreted in terms of suffering.

Because since the so-called independence, it is hard to point just at anything the citizens of Nigeria can be said to have enjoyed or enjoying from the government.

As a matter of fact, if anything, it has all been a very slow, actually snail-like, movement forward sometimes followed almost immediately by a galloping backward movement that rubbishes whatever the previous snail-paced period achieved.

Nigeria’s leaders all through the ages have always thought that whatever idea was practised successfully elsewhere could be replicated in their own country with the same degree of success. But each attempt to do so has always ended up in an unassailable chaos.

For instance, the whole idea of civil service was bequeathed to African countries including Nigeria by the colonialists with the thinking that the nation’s leaders would build on what was handed over in order to make ways for expansion that would keep pace with the growing population. While all the foundation was laid, no one ever took a second look to consider the possibility of sabotage in the whole enterprise whereby few unscrupulous elements would commence a smear campaign that would render everything unworkable and useless.

For instance, did the colonial masters ever anticipate a situation where people trained for the defence of the country would suddenly hijack the process of governance, launch themselves into positions of authority and then turn everything upside down? This was the genesis of all the problems that later started to crop up in connection with the entire civil service.

The whites who initiated the idea of civil service would never employ anyone without a job specification. But here, favourtism became the order of the day leading to an over-bloated Civil service structure. Gradually, problems of overhead costs set in so much so that the situation later up till now has become a monster that is proving too difficult to tame.

In the same vein, the noble idea of pension scheme was copied from advanced nations with the purpose of having Nigerian workers joining the rest of the world in enjoying the benefits that the scheme engenders. So the necessary machinery having been put in place, Nigerian workers were encouraged to join any of the licensed pension administrators of their choice.

Quite as expected, all workers fell in line in obedience to the government’s directive. Now throughout the period the idea of a pension scheme for workers was mooted and brought on board, did anyone ever think about a situation where states would deduct pension funds from workers’ salaries without remitting same to the appropriate quarters? Or was there any inkling that someone would siphon billions of pension funds, run into hiding and on the long run show up only to get an official soft landing of just eight years of incarceration that may even be spent in one hospital or another in the same land where petty thieves are sent to life imprisonment?

Because of such ills that have bedeviled the country over the years, there has been overlapping of problems that are proving very difficult for the country to wriggle out from. For more than over a decade, pensioners in Nigeria have faced very difficult times and excruciating pains owing to inability to access their pension as at when due, some having to wait more than three years before their payments sail through.

In the process of waiting, many pensioners especially those without capable children to take care of them suffer so much, many even dying in the process of waiting. The whole idea of pension scheme is to assuage worker’s suffering after retirement and if with workers enrollment in the pension scheme, they still have to suffer so much, then the aim of the entire scheme is defeated. What ought to be is that as soon as any worker retires, all his entitlements should be ready and handed to him by the pension administrators so he can continue the next phase of life. It is totally unacceptable for pension managers to refuse to pay workers the total amount due to them in the excuse that they have to wait until the government’s bond is ready.

The government should prevail on all pension administrators to start returning pensioners money to them as they retire so as to give retirees a leeway to survive while waiting for the government. It is disheartening that all that the retirees of Nigeria’s extraction have to tell are tales of woes and gnashing of teeth, and it’s high time something was done, and as urgently as possible, to address the issue once and for all. Nigeria’s leaders should be able to determine the workability or otherwise of the whole scheme. If it is going to be susceptible to being siphoned by privileged individuals, it can be discontinued and workers allowed to have their full monthly salaries.

As a matter of fact, workers are not even supposed to wait till the very end before they are allowed to access their money. Anyone having less than three years in service ought to be allowed to have some of their funds in order to invest in whatever interests them in preparation for retirement. It is the height of callousness when the alert from the government suddenly stops, and pensioners are still denied access to immediate funds that can assist them to cope with life by the pension managers. The issue of pensioners has always exposed most Nigeria’s leaders as thinking only about themselves while acting as if others must not live. Yet, a mere glimpse into what some past leaders packaged for themselves as retirement allowance is so mind-boggling and staggering enough to cause earth tremour. The same utterly obviously heartless leaders leave others in their shoes in the lurch and never bother about whatever happens to their fellow retirees.

In spite of all the cries and lamentations of pensioners across the country for so many years and the fact that many of them continue to succumb to highly avoidable deaths due to inability to access their money, there is no concrete sign that anything tangible is being done to address their issues and alleviate their sufferings. Nigeria’s leaders must rank among the most inconsiderate set of beings in the entire universe. Why must pensioners be allowed to suffer so much in the same land they sacrificed all their working years? As the incumbent government continues in its borrowing spree, why wouldn’t anyone put pensioners too into focus so that their backlog of arrears can be paid once and for all? What does the country gain by allowing pensioners to die while waiting for their money? The time therefore is now and no further delay must be entertained. Government at all levels must work out the modalities of addressing all the problems associated with the issues of pension and pensioners.

Oyewusi, coordinator of Ethics Watch International, wrote in from Lagos.