Ejikeme: PTAD’s Focus is Better Life for Pensioners

One year into President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s administration, the Executive Secretary of the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate, Dr. Chioma Ejikeme, has brought in its stable reform packages to the joy of pensioners that fall into this category. Nduka Nwosu writes that Ejikeme’s cleaning of the Augean stable of corrupt practices and the introduction of reforms for improved deliverables, are the reasons pensioners will continue to expect better days ahead.

Ahamefula Ogbu

Just recently, this reporter watched a video of a reception held for Dr. Michael Iheonukara Okpara, the former Premier of the defunct Eastern Nigeria. That must have been in 1960 at the Odida Anyanwu Local Government field Umuahia capital of Abia State.

Those were the halcyon days of Nigerian politics full of great promises for a Nigeria that was seen as the giant of the African continent. Okpara had just been named premier taking over from Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who relinquished the position to become Nigeria’s first indigenous Senate President and later Governor General.

Okpara did not disappoint. With the accomplishments of Zik, laying the foundation for an economically viable Eastern Nigeria, the new Premier hit the ground running positioning the region as the fastest growing economy in the world. It took the global lead as number one exporter of palm produce; interestingly, the Southwest and Northern region were equally leaders in cocoa, cotton, and groundnut export, respectively. Nigeria was on an auto cruise agro-economy.

The Premiers of the four regions were leaders who served and asked for nothing by way of compensation or corruptly enriching themselves.

Behind Okpara was a team of formidable men and women who were equally ruled by what John Kennedy summarised as a motivation of what you can do for your country without asking what your country can do for you. There was Emmanuel Aguma, G, C, Mbanugo, Bob Ogbuagu who ran today’s equivalent of NDDC, the Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation-ENDC. There was the Premier’s chief of staff, Chief Ukachi Ikemba, whose daughter Dr. Chioma Ejikeme, is the incumbent second term executive secretary of the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD).

There is the maxim of an apple not falling far from the tree that bred or bore it. In her lifetime, Ejikeme has proved to be a chip off the old block, a public officer who elects to serve her country, imbued with the culture of selfless service to her fatherland, like her father Chief Ikemba.

Ejikeme, has over the years as a public servant held high the virtues of transparency and accountability as Executive Secretary of PTAD, as a commissioner of health in Anambra State and as a federal civil servant and even as an entrepreneur. Ejikeme connects emotionally with the pensioners and understands the principles needed to bring out the best in the pension transition arrangement meant to give the average benefactor the best the system can afford.

Her innovative efforts guarantee an improved welfare scheme for pensioners, and this includes ensuring the aged get adequate medical attention through, for example, enrolment into the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). As she put it earlier: “We are taking into consideration the fact that as pensioners get older in age, they usually face health challenges and enrolling them on the scheme will help in reducing their suffering.”

Ejikeme said the aim of PTAD’s verification exercise was to have every one of its pensioners on the database of the directorate for easy identification and prompt payment and also to ensure that only eligible pensioners are being paid.

According to her, pensioners in these days are no longer suffering like in the past going by a lot of transformation in the system and commitment of the federal APC led government from President Muhammad Buhari to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Tireless efforts with the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission have been providing the right results ensuring every pensioner in its Alive platform is captured in its wage bill, neither underpaid nor overpaid.

The Biblical maxim: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” resonates in Ejikeme’s dealings with the pensioners because, according to her, “the young man or ,woman of today is the pensioner/old man or woman of tomorrow.” It is all about the law of cause and effect because how you treat the elders of today will determine how you would be treated when the baton changes hands.

In her first incarnation as Executive Secretary of PTAD, Ejikeme enjoyed unwavering support from President Muhammadu Buhari. The huge innovations and leaps of progress she made brought smiles on the faces of pensioners and their unions’ representatives. She has maintained this consistency of coordinated and result oriented relationship with all the organs that have contributed to the continuity of her success story in the current administration, including the Minister of Finance and the Coordinating Minister of the Economy, and the regulator of PTAD, PenCom, the pensions union NUP among others.

Ejikeme has been commended from various quarters for her tireless push to rebrand the PTAD before her tenure comes to an end. When they came visiting, the House of Representatives Committee of the 10th National Assembly was impressed with what the executive secretary has been able to put in place till date.

Expectedly, the committee asked her to remain unrelenting in her deliverables while the ES reeled out a number of the assignments she undertook since coming to office including a conduct of field verifications across the country, just to validate verified documents and execute the clearance of arrears she inherited as well as attend to complaints coming from the pensioners.

Ejikeme had her basket of requests and constraints in the seamless execution of her duty. It all came down to the improvement of the welfare of pensioners under the Defined Benefit Scheme (DBS) under the Pension Reform Act of 2014, especially regarding the harmonisation of pensions and the statutory pension increment as stipulated in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The National Union of Pensioners (NUP) also added its voice in support of Ejikeme’s re-appointment. Its president Godwin Abumisi, commended Tinubu for reappointing her as the executive secretary of the PTAD while the union distanced itself from a protest against her reappointment by some people.

The NUP noted in her first tenure she was able to reawaken the hopes of pensioners in the country through her leadership style and focused professionalism on all issues affecting pensioners.

Her sterling reappointment, the union added, “is indeed well merited and gladdens the hearts of the over 250,000 pensioners managed by PTAD, considering the diligent work she has so ably done for the pensioners ensuring the prompt payment of our monthly pensions and attendance to other challenging issues in the last four years.”

In her response, Ejikeme revealed how disgruntled elements who lobbied and lost out on being appointed as the executive secretary of PTAD were fighting her reappointment.

 Her verification exercise, she said, led to the deletion of over 50,000 ghost pensioners from PTAD’s payroll, leading to the adjustment of inflated pension benefits by corrupt persons within pension offices of some government agencies across the country.

The ES stated that corruption that had been fought to a standstill was still fighting back.

 Any wonder Tinubu did not hesitate to endorse her for a second tenure.

PTAD under Ejikeme and her team can itemise the following as part of its achievements: A full implementation of the TSA which has ensured the sanctity of pension funds and enshrined transparency in Pension payments; regular monthly payments of pension without fail since inception as and when due as from Jan 2015 to Dec 2021 PTAD has paid N610 billion in monthly pensions.Payments include long outstanding arrears to pensioners across all the pension departments, most significantly the huge arrears inherited from the defunct/privatised agencies; PTAD holds regular engagements with pensioners and other stakeholders across all the six geo-political zones, to update pensioners on activities of the Directorate and has maintained a high standard of integrity, accountability, and efficiency in its contribution to the national economy through the regular payment of monthly pensions as and when due, transparent, and prudent settlement of inherited liabilities.

Additionally, the public outcry and complaints from pensioners have quietened over the years and there is increased trust in the government’s commitment to the welfare of pensioners and its ability to professionally administer pension payments.

Furthermore, the economic livelihood and welfare of thousands of pensioners under the DBS has improved as thousands of pensioners hitherto dropped from the payroll or who had never received payment are now being enrolled and have a regular means of sustenance and post verification, thousands of irregular/ineligible beneficiaries have been dropped from the payroll thereby reducing government liability. Pensioners have the assurance that they will no longer be required to come out for field verification exercises which are very costly to administer.

Sometime ago, this reporter watched Ejikeme being grilled on the hot seat of Channels television. Only a chief executive with the right mix of chemistry could have passed through the interview without losing her cool. She responded to the questions, assuring listeners it was a matter of time before every issue affecting the pensioner would be fixed. Today, she has made a success story of her promise while still plugging the loopholes of unforeseen circumstances as they come.

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