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When pensioners turned beggars over delayed payment of benefits

By Gbenga Salau
12 December 2021   |   4:08 am
Most pensioners that worked for Lagos State government do not have a happy story to tell at the end of their service. After putting in between 24 and 35 years of work...

pensioners

Most pensioners that worked for Lagos State government do not have a happy story to tell at the end of their service. After putting in between 24 and 35 years of work, the government’s failure to promptly pay their benefits has turned many of them into beggars. According to some retirees, they are forced to depend on family members and friends to survive. For instance, those that retired between 2016 and 2020, their benefits and pensions are yet to be paid, despite they have submitted all the required documentations to enable payment of their pensions and gratuity.

A retiree, who requested anonymity, said he retired in February 2018, but till date, he has not received a kobo from the state government.

“I have a health challenge with monthly medication cost of N40, 000. This is aside rent. In May, I was to go for surgery that cost N800, 000, but I could not do it, due to lack of money. Yet, I worked for 34 years with Lagos State government, but my benefits have not been paid, almost four years after leaving service. What is our sin? If not for support system, I could have died. Even at that, you can imagine the trauma. What about those who do not have the opportunity of the support system that I have,” he queried.

Mrs. Gbadebo Taiwo, who retired in July 2017 after 32 years, minus the years of being ad hoc staff, wondered why four years after retiring, she was yet to collect her retirement benefits. Taiwo said she has practically become a beggar, aside depending on her children for survival. “I have a 43-year-old child with disability, so I still have to cater for him. The burden is just too much for me to bear. The state government is really unfair to us,” she said.

Similalrly, Iyabo Oluyomi Giwa, who after 35 years in Lagos State employment, retired on October 16, 2018, said things have not been easy for her and the family. This is because her husband, who also retired as a principal in 2019, has not got his retirement benefits. She disclosed that her family has been living from hand to mouth. They are hoping and praying that their graduate children will get employment to provide succour, if the state government won’t pay their retirement benefits.

Mr. Popoola Samson, who retired in May 2018, after putting in 31 years, has been working as a labourer in farms in Ikorodu to make ends meet.

Adedigba Michael retired in February 2020, at the age of 60, after serving for 24 years and five months, but despite that he has completed all the documentations for payment of severance, no retirement benefits have been paid to him. He claimed he spends about N20, 000 monthly to care for his eyes. He has a 12-year-old child, whose needs he is unable to meet, including payment of his school fees, as his retirement benefits have are yet to be paid.

Another retiree, who pleaded anonymity, said he retired in February 2018, submitted all documents for payment of retirement benefits, but is yet to receive it. “We met with the immediate past Director General (DG) of the Lagos State Pension Commission, as well as the current DG, but it has been one unfulfilled promise after the other. We also met the Commissioner for Establishment, Training and Pensions about four or five months ago. She promised that the benefits would be paid, but there is nothing yet. It has not been easy. No pension or gratuity. I am a woman. I am lucky that I married early, but what about the men who still have children to train? It has been very difficult.”

Mrs. Ogunkoya, a teacher, who retired in 2016, got her retirement benefits in 2019, but said the three years and two months wait was harrowing. Ogunkoya was bitter that despite waiting that long, she and her colleagues were still shortchanged.

She said: “When I collected my benefits, the money was small. I was given about N9m as a level 14 officer. Before now, level 14 officers collected between N12m and 14m. The pension commission is not transparent enough. I was even lucky. Now, a level 14 officer is paid N7m with no explanation for the reduction. The least workers in the state now collect N7, 000 monthly, after receiving their benefits. A retiree complained to our chairman that the electricity company brought N19, 000 bill and he got N7000 pension. It is very pathetic. We complained, but rather than the government addressing the issue, they took us to CID, Panti.

“They should let us know how they arrived at the figures. Almost every week, a retiree will die. The shock contributes to it. For instance, a worker that was earning N200, 000 before retiring, gets N70, 000 monthly pension. This is after waiting for three or four years. Health wise, the state is also not helping us. They gave us an identity card to present at government-owned hospitals, but it is not being honoured. And retirees are dying.”

The Secretary, Association of Retirees and PFA Pensioners, Mr. Johnson Olagbaye, said prior to the enactment of the Pension Reform Act 2004, pension scheme management in Nigeria was riddled with corrupt practices, which led to serious problems of non-payment of pensioners’ benefits. It became obvious that the scheme could not be sustained, thus the need for the enactment of the Pension Act.

“The new pension scheme came and was embraced by Lagos Government and workers with the hope that solution was in sight. However, the programme started failing on arrival. Government was insincere with the full implementation of the scheme’s tenets, which it embraced since 2007.”

Olagbaye said government ought to have worked out the accrued benefits as at the point of entry till 2007 and credit the Retirement Savings Account (RSA) of each beneficiary with their Pension Funds Administrators (PFAs). 

“Lagos State government reneged on this, thus denying workers the accrued interest, which would have hugely improved the value and balances in their RSA at the point of retirement. That was the beginning of retirees’ woes in Lagos State.

“At the point of payment of bonds to retirees, government has continued to play games with retirees’ fate by not making open and transparent the process and template being used to calculate their entitlements. This has compounded these senior citizens’ woes, as ridiculous amounts are paid to them and many are presently living in abject poverty and a lifetime of regret! 

“It may interest you to know that presently, even with the terrible economic crunch in the country and in Lagos State in particular, the monthly stipend being paid retirees is not enough to pay a fraction of the bills, let alone feeding. After an empirical study carried out by the association into the average monthly take-home of the contributory pensioners in Lagos State as at today at various levels, this is what we discovered: A Level 04 officer gets averagely N7000 per month for life; Level 05, N8,000; Level 06, N10,000 monthly; Level 07, N12,000 monthly; Level 13, N28,000 monthly; Level 14, N41,000 monthly; Assistant Director, a level 15 officer, takes N48,000 monthly for life; Deputy director, level 16, takes N52,000 monthly, while a retired director at Level 17 gets N70,000 monthly.”

Olagbaye said the statistics showed the level of degradation to which retirees, who had worked assiduously to build the enviable Lagos State civil/public service have been reduced. “It is, indeed, pathetic and wicked to put it mildly, that retirees in the state of excellence, a state flowing with milk and honey, are subjected to untold hardships by the very state they had served so well. Rubbing insult into the festering injury is the horrible regime of delay in the payment of the pittance to retirees. This has been responsible for the depression, paralysis and untimely death of many of these noble citizens. We receive an average of 10 notifications of fatalities monthly. Some of us have had to wait for upwards of three years or more to be paid, which has exposed many of us to financial embarrassments, children dropping out of schools, inability to pay rent, electricity bills, outrageous land use charges and many other expenses of living in a mega-city.”

Olagbaye noted that contributory pensioners have been reduced to beggars and walking corpses, due to non-payment of their entitlements, as they are being impoverished due to the pathetic way the scheme is being operated in Lagos State. 

He said: “It is noteworthy that non-payment of retirees accrued benefits into their RSA as at when due since 2007 under the Contributory Pension Scheme  (CPS) has made nonsense of the CPS. The system does not allow for upward review of the monthly stipends, no matter the economic crunch, as is being presently experienced. 

“Even now, some retirees still need to wait for upwards of 30 months after retirement before receiving their bonds. Many of them have become a shadow of themselves as a result of hunger and ill-health. The parameters used in determining individual bonds are not even clear to beneficiaries. Welfare packages proposed and promised retirees by government are yet to effectively see the light of the day,” he said.

Initially, the Commissioner for Establishment, Training and Pensions, Ajibola Yewande Ponle said it was not possible for the state government to delay payment of retirement benefits for three to four years. But later, she explained that the state has backlog from 2019 to pay for those in mainstream ministries.

She said: “It is not possible to be in the mainstream ministry and have your benefits delayed three to four years. Presently, we are clearing backlog from 2019. And we hope to clear the entire backlog by 2023. But if they are from such agencies as LTV, Radio Lagos, Water Corporation and printing press, you have to talk to their management, because the state government does not cater for their terminal benefits. We handle teachers, local governments and mainstream ministries.”

When she was confronted with example of a teacher and a principal, who retired in 2019, she said: “We are paying based on the time you retired and the grade level. We started with the lower grade level, and those who retired in 2019 will be paid very soon. We do not delay, as our statutory deductions are paid regularly. We calculate the accrued benefits from point of entry to 2007, when the Contributory Pensions Scheme (CPS) started and we put that together for them to now have access to the fund with Pension Fund Administrator (PFA) and that is the backlog we are talking about. Before the CPS started, state governments were not funding the accrued benefits and that is what is responsible for the backlog and it is a problem not caused by this administration.”

She said the accrued rights are not paid earlier to PFAs, but through a bond at retirement to retirees, because it is what the Pension Reform Act stipulated.

On the claims by retirees that they are being shortchanged, due to the drop in bond sum, Ponle said there was no drop in the amount paid as terminal benefits, noting that payment varies, based on the retiree’s salary, grade level and years of service.

“The calculation of the payment is prescribed and they can do it, if they want to,” she said.