The Association of Retired Federal Senior Public Officers of Nigeria (ARFESPON), Lagos Chapter, has decried the non-payment of outstanding 12 months pension arrears owed to its members despite several calls on President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to look into their plight and effect immediate payment of the pension arrears.
ARFESPON, also urged government to ensure that illegal deductions on their pension entitlements by any group who claims to represent their interests especially the National Union of Pensioners(NUP) are stopped with immediate effect.
The Chairman Lagos State Chapter of ARFESPON, Mr. Olufemi Odewabi, made the appeal at the association’s 4th anniversary held in Lagos recently.
Odewabi said federal government, under the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration was owing the pensioners arrears of 20. 4 per cent being what the committee set up by the administration to look into increases effected on civil servants salaries which by law is supposed to be effected on pensioners’ monthly entitlement cut off and recommended for 33 per cent increase instead of 53 per cent.
He explained that federal government had during the Jonathan’s administration effected 53 per cent increase in salaries of workers and by Nigerian constitution, government supposed to effect the same increase in pensioners’ entitlement.
He said when pensioners complained, the administration resolved to listen to their plight and set up a committee to look into it.
He said instead of the committee to recommend the increase, cut it down by 20.3 per cent, saying it is for tax and housing fund whereas the constitution said pension rights are not taxable and their set of pension which is under the old defined benefit scheme, is not included in housing scheme deductions like those under contributory pension scheme.
According to Odewabi, in December 2014, after much complaints by the pensioners, 12 months arrears were paid, and when further appeal were made in July 2016, another arrears were paid up till May 2017 while the outstanding 12 months arrears of the 33 percent is yet to be paid.
He said Buhari’s administration cannot say it has addressed the problem of unpaid pension arrears when the said 12 months is still hanging.
He called on government to effect immediate payment of the arrears and be free from the pensioners’ distress calls.
â€œWe are pressing for that outstanding 20.4 per cent that reduction is illegal because constitutionally pension doesnâ€™t attract tax, now they take 10 per cent for tax, housing funds 10 per cent. This accumulated to the 20.4 per cent we are asking government to pay which is very illegal according to section 173 sub-section 1-4 and surprisingly the members of the committee that was set up to look into it comprise representative of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP), Salary/Wages Commission Office of the Secretary to the government, it was as if none of them has seen the constitution of Nigeria before that they arrived at their decision,â€ Odewabi lamented.
He added: â€œMy question is if a new wage is approved, on what premises will they base the pensioners grading because if the 20.4 per cent is not there then the cheating will continue. So they must solve that before they place pensioners on whatever new salary they want to. They are still owing the 33 per cent for one year. They should pay the 20 per cent starting from July 2010 till date â€ he said.
On the deduction by the NUP, the ARFEPSON Chairman said: â€œSecondly, this issue of one per cent reduction from our pensions by NUP for no reason is very illegal. Pension is not a trade, there is no where under the constitution that allows someone to form a union. They should stop the reduction with immediate effect possibly refund all they have taken. You can form an association but not a trade union.
Odewabi also mentioned that their NUP membership was under duress, saying â€œWe discovered the deduction is not only done by NUP, they collaborated with government officials to deduct the money. They collect up to N18 million per month for nothing, pensioners donâ€™t get any help from the union. We have tried to reach PTAD, it is not compulsory to join a union, many of us said we donâ€™t want to join but they refused.â€