Government must put its act together and pay pensioners their entitlements
Concerned by the shabby treatment and humiliation of some of its members, the National Judicial Council (NJC) at its 100th meeting ordered states to discharge their legal obligations on payment of retirement benefits to judicial officers. Presided over by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Olukayode Ariwoola, the Council further directed State Chief Judges to file reports on compliance not later than 1st April 2023. Like other retirees in the public and private sectors, judicial officers in many of the 36 states are being owed their retirement benefits, including severance pay, gratuity and pensions.
In the public sector, the failure of government to meet the pension expectation of retirees has shattered the plans of many as well as inducing economic trauma, which in some cases have led to fatalities. Stories abound of senior citizens who had collapsed and died while on queues while waiting for their pensions. Perhaps, the plight of pensioners in Nigeria is better highlighted in a documentary titled ‘Nation Forgotten,’ where former public servants bemoaned pension fraud, and government neglect while battling debilitating changes to their health and lack of funds to attend to their most basic needs.
It was in a bid to address the non-payment of pensions that the Pension Reforms Act of 2004 was enacted. The act covers both public and private sector employees. The Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) was introduced to replace the Defined Benefit Scheme (DBS). Under the new regime, both the government/companies and the workers themselves are to save up a given amount of their earnings towards building up an accumulated funds reserve which they could fall back on after retirement. Sadly, 19 years after the CPS was launched, only four states – Lagos, Osun, Kaduna, Delta, and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) are paying pensions under the scheme.
While it is noteworthy that PENCOM has helped to grow the funds as well as a more prudent management, there are still issues that are yet to be resolved by the government regarding many retired civil servants. For instance, complications in meeting up with the pension obligations had arisen fundamentally by the failure to link those in the old scheme (DBS) with those in the new scheme (CPS). But even after it seems to have been done, the federal and many state governments have failed in remitting deducted sums from workers’ salaries to the Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs). The result is that neither government contributions nor workers’ deducted sums are credited to their accounts with the PFAs. This malaise is even more prevalent in the private sector where many companies do not remit their counterpart deductions to the PFAs as required by the Pension Act.
While many obstacles have stood in the way of pensioners to access their retirement benefits, the PFAs have been the ultimate beneficiaries of the growing pension assets which currently is more than N14 trillion. This is not right. Those who own the money cannot continue to live in penury while intermediaries feed fat on their sweat. It is therefore time for PenCom to make the pension scheme truly beneficial to the greatest number of pensioners by whipping errant employers into line.
We urge the federal and state governments to keep faith with their obligations to pensioners. We also call on PenCom to apply stricter measures in enforcing compliance with the provisions of the Pension Reforms Act by the PFAs. It is only fair and just to allow pension to sooth the nerves of retired persons, especially after the workers have been faithful in making appropriate contributions to the scheme while in active service. A labourer, as the Holy Book says, is worthy of their wages.