- Pensioners, retirees also known as senior citizens are not having it easy after putting their selfless service to nation and state building. In Nasarawa state for instance, it is the same scenario as in most states across the country, unpaid arrears of monthly stipends, writes correspondent, Peter Ahemba
Undoubtedly, the plights of retired public servants at all tiers of government in Nigeria has remained an issue of national discuss as concerned citizens as well as other well-meaning Nigerians have continued to view the inhuman treatment meted on the senior citizens by government and its agencies that are saddled with the responsibility of attending to pension matters as ungodly.
It remains worrisome that these senior citizens that have made the nation proud by exhibiting an unquantifiable commitment through self-sacrifice in their quest to ensure good governance turn out to be a laughing stock after retiring from active service. While their immediate families have not only become laughing stocks, the senior patriots pass on untimely and their beneficiaries are left to survive at the mercy of God.
Observers averred that it is unfortunate that despite the patriotic disposition through selfless services to the nation by this important members of the society, government seems to be doing little or nothing to reward their sacrifices.
In Nasarawa State for instance, the pitiful situation of the pensioners, especially those at the Local Government level remain a matter of serious concern as it has been alleged that this category of retirees have over the years been blacklisted and denied of their retirement benefit and other welfare packages due them with attendant lack of respect for the affected pensioners each time they attempt to lay their complaints before relevant government agencies including the state Pension Bureau.
Investigation by Nigerian Pilot Sunday revealed that the dwindling fortunes of the Local Government pensioners started with the merger of Local Government Pension Board with the State Pension Board (Now known as State Pension Bureau) which had been operating independently before the coming on board of the present All Progressives Congress, APC-led administration in the state in 2011.
Though the affected pensioners welcomed the merger as the new system brought about sanity in the scheme to some extent by addressing the unfortunate situation where pensioners were being subjected to untold hardship in pursuit of their entitlements, the story unfortunately changed to the negative few years later to the advantage of their state counterparts thereby making the Local Government pensioners feel a sense of inferiority.
Findings further revealed that the situation of the pensioners who now groan under poverty and hunger has been worsened by the current practice in the state where monthly pension of the retirees at the third tier of government is not only delayed for months but paid in percentage at the discretion of the state government.
This development according to analysts would have been averted if there was a credible body in place to bring the plights of the pensioners to the concern authorities.
One of the pensioners, who spoke to this paper on condition of anonymity, alleged that some of the pensioners receive a meagre amount of between N4, 000 and N2, 500 as a result of the current payment of monthly pension on percentage basis.
“As I speak to you the situation has degenerated to the level that one cannot tell exactly how much he or she receives a monthly pension because sometime you are paid N5000 and again, sometimes you will be paid N2500 depending on the percentage that the authorities decides to pay in that particular month.” the source further alleged.
Also speaking, Ibrahim Dogara, who is also a pensioner regretted that they were passing through series of agonies as a result of nonpayment of their gratuity and other entitlements, pointing out that the situation was sending most of their colleagues to their early grave. “It is very unfortunate that the faith of most of our colleagues especially those that retired between the months of March and December, 2014, have not even had their names reflected in the monthly pay roll of pensioners”
Mallam Dogara expressed dismay with what he described as the stagnant position of wage bill of employees of the Local Governments in the state despite continued reduction in the work force of the Council areas arising from retirement from service, deaths, transfer of service and lack of promotion/annual increment.
“There have been series of biometric exercises carried out by the state government for all pensioners and serving local government employees with a view to fish out ghost workers and other anomalies in the system, yet the wage bill has remained stagnated.”
“It appears monkey de work, baboo de chop. I think there is every need for government to go back to the drawing board”, he stressed.
State Chairman of the Association of Local Government Pensioners, Abbas Ramalan, had in an interview with this paper recently, attributed the mirage of problems facing members of the association to lack of an administrative body at Local Government level to highlight the plights of its members.
He pointed out that the association was relieved when recently the State Governor sent a request to the State House of Assembly seeking an approval to access the Federal Government bailout fund of the sum of Twenty Five Billion naira (N25, 000, 000, 00) to settle arrears of salaries and pension for state and Local Government workers.
According to him, “We congratulate the Governor for being a pace-setter by applying due process in accessing the funds as presented to the parliament for approval.”
Stakeholders suggest that for the alleged dwindling fortune of the local government system under the current administration in the state to be reversed for the better, government must put in place deliberate strategies towards ensuring judicious utilization of the bailout fund and also the constitution of an independent body made up of credible elder statesmen and some local government pensioners to undertake physical table payment of monthly pension for easy identification of genuine beneficiaries.
Director-General of the State Pension Bureau, Alhaji Usman Adams, could not comment on the allegations raised by the pensioners when the paper contacted him on phone. He said, “Gentleman, I cannot comment on this matter now. Wait till I come back to Lafia, I’m away from the state”, the DG told this paper.
Some pensioners have also stressed the need for a working synergy between the Ministry of Local Government, Local Government Service Commission and authorities of the various Development Areas in the state to allow for authentic number of personnel retiring from the service to avoid duplication in salary and pension benefits.
As the state awaits the release of the over N20billion bailout fund from the federal government, a cross section of pensioners in the state have expressed optimism that the funds will be used judiciously to equally bail them out in the mirage of challenges confronting the senior citizens.