NIGERIAN workers like all other citizens live under same conditions, of providing their own power through electricity generators, water through bore holes, depend on the consulting medical offices we call hospitals, etc, but the difference is that their take home pay is usually too meager to provide for their basic needs. Promotions and salaries increments rarely come, so they struggle through life, praying and hoping that things will improve one day, and that day, may never come till they retire.
When they retire, the system owes them months of their stipend we call entitlement, some die without receiving their pensions even till today. These same civil servants, watch our political leaders live lavishly, fritter the states’ resources, and borrow to augment their expensive lifestyles, which they acquired in one political office or the other, through payment vouchers prepared by the same civil servants. They are forced to either cooperate with the thieving leaders or device more dexterous means of subverting the citizens through corrupt practices, in order to survive.
In Igbo land, we say that it is only a foolish slave who watches his master bury his dead colleague with the hoe, and expects that a shovel would be bought for his own burial. Civil servants have over the years wizened up, and have become very corrupt, working very closely with their leaders. You may blame them if you like, but our system breeds corruption, and until we change it our fight against corruption will not go very far. When former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GEJ, said that corruption is not only stealing, I understood him as saying that our system breeds corruption, and we just need to brace up to change it, but opposition politicians and commentators, at that time, twisted it to suit their purposes. Change has now come, we must therefore continue to deal with the realities and issues on ground.
Sometime ago, two workers were reported to have collapsed in Osun state, where salaries have been owed for several months. Our workers are dying all over the states where salaries are owed, whether reported or not. You only need to imagine how these workers survive without salaries for months, through borrowing and begging from neighbours, relatives, friends, and societies, to meet with school fees, and other needs, and if sickness strikes, they just die. With the dwindling fortunes of our national economy, and the attendant gloom predicted for the next few years, more of these workers will die!
Many of them will be driven to resort to crime, and immoralities, to survive, necessitating the need for our leaders at all levels to adjust their live-styles, save costs, and stop treating workers like fools, by paying them promptly no matter what. Any Governor who owes one month salary to workers should be driven out of office at all costs, because he remains a liar, a cheat, a traitor, and the real enemy of the people. Some Governors keep and maintain dogs and pets at costs that could pay the salaries of one department of the state civil service.
The case of non-payment of pensions, for years is the most disheartening and wicked of it all. Many of the retirees are too old to seek alternative means of livelihood. The trauma they are subjected to before getting their entitlements is avoidable, while some fall sick or die eventually while waiting for their entitlements. It is for this reason that some corrupt civil servants engage in primitive acquisition of wealth while in active service so that by the time they retire, they won’t have to go through the pain of waiting in vain for their pensions to be paid.
Our system breeds corruption, which is not just stealing. Recently, in Abeookuta, Ogun State, the Nigeria Union of Pensioners, accused the Federal Government of using their 10 months unpaid contributory pension to support the electioneering campaign project of President GEJ. The retirees made the allegation, while protesting their unpaid monthly pension, adding that over 20 of their colleagues died in the struggle to have their pension, paid.
The leader of the pensioners, Samuel Kojusola, listed some of the anomalies in the implementation of the implementation of Reform Act 2014, to include computation and compilation of retirement benefits, meagre amount paid as monthly pension, review of pension, on-payment of retirement benefits, and that workers all over the country who retired under the contributory pension scheme since August 2014 are yet to have their lump sum or monthly payment settled by the Commission.
“What do they want the retiree to be eating after serving Federal Government of Nigeria for 35 years meritoriously? We suspect that our money in the kitty of Pencom has been used for 2015 electioneering campaign,” he said.
They lamented that almost a year after the Pension Reform Act 2014 was signed into law, contributory pensioners were yet to enjoy increment on their pension since 2007 till date. Since pension review is a constitutional right of any retiree in Nigeria as enshrined under Section 15(4) of the new Act,he said, ‘Retirees have been complaining seriously on meagre amount paid as monthly pension either as monthly withdrawal or annuity.
Contributory pensions received only 20-25% of their last pay as monthly pension, while a pensioner in the old pension scheme receives 80% of his last pay as monthly pension’
“Pension Reform Act 2004 section (4) stipulated that retirees will have not less than 50% of their last pay as monthly pension as at the date of their retirement. None of the retirees enjoy this amount since the inception of the act till date. Unfortunately the portion has been expunged from the new pension reform act 2014. What have we done to deserve this ugly treatment? This is a leeway for PFA’s to milk us perpetually.”
The ruling APC should take the message from pensioners very seriously, and avoid treating them like fools. The Bible urges us to honour our mothers and fathers so that we may have a long and good life. The secret to a long good political life lies also in honour to our pensioners and workers.
Mr Udegbe, a legal practitioner, writes from Lagos