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World Pensioners Day: Echoes of elder citizens plight

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IN the world in general, pension payment is perceived as the glory of public and private service. Unfortunately in Nigeria today, due to lack of good governance, pension has been bastardized, hence the re-echoing of tales of woes in the annual celebration of World Pensioners Day [WPD] held in every state of the federation.

Due to phenomenal slide in good governance, some sub-national governments no longer maintain the tradition of public service left by the colonial government.

The clarion call for the restructuring of the Nigerian federation is to reinvent governance which will reverse the untoward developments in the public and private service. For instance, salary, minimum wage and pension would be decentralized and the federating units will explore and exploit resources within their domain as done in federal system the world over. The ideal arrangement will reinvent the diversification of all aspects of government and the economy to create wealth, employment and eradicate pervasive poverty ravaging the country presently. The supposed diversification of the economy only in the agricultural, solid minerals and mining sectors is a covert step to retain the centralization policy bequeathed by the aberrant military regimes deliberately designed to enable a section of the country to be controlling the country directly and indirectly.

In a properly diversified federation, the federating polities would not be carrying their begging bowls to the central government for monthly statutory revenue sharing which led to inability of many states and local governments to be upbeat in meeting their recurrent obligations like salaries, pension and gratuity.

In advanced countries of the world, one hardly hears of pensioners’ plight and privations re-echoing at World Pensioners Day. It is only in Nigeria that such piteous and disheartening tales of woe is heard.

It is against this background that the 2018 World Pensioners Day celebration is viewed. While it is a joyful day in countries that are mindful of good governance, it is always a day of lamentation, gnashing of teeth, reeling out complaints by the state branches of Nigerian Pensioners Union [NUP]. Apart from a handful of states including Anambra State, pensioners are dying slowly due to default in pension payment and gratuity as they lack the means to purchase necessary medications to remain healthy, and good food to remain alive.

In his speech at the 2018 Nigerian Pensions Day celebrated last December with theme, ‘Pension Without Tension, Without Tears: A Task That Must Be Accomplished By The Union In The Years Ahead’ at the NLC Auditorium Abuja, the national president of Nigerian Pensions Union [NUP], Dr. A.O.Afolayan, cynically referred to the event as “our annual ritual of celebrating our day, the Nigerian Pensioners Day”. It shows in broad relief that there is no need for such gathering of people who have expended their youthful blood in serving their father land. Instead of relaxing in their communities and villages to be savouring nature’s benevolence, they stress themselves supporting their weak frames with walking stick and bended frames to trek to the venue of the branch venue to listen to wailings of their leaders on how government have been recalcitrant in being upbeat to pensions, gratuity, harmonization of pension, review of pension according to the law and sundry grievances.

He said: “Nigerian pensioners both defined benefit and contributory pensioners, have passed through thick and thin in the process of payment of their retirement benefits. There is no doubt that we have experienced untold hardship, pains and tears while waiting endlessly to collect our pension. The leadership of the union is more than determined to end the pains, tears and unbearable sufferings arising from payment of our legitimate entitlements at the federal and state levels.

“We are delighted to report that the NUP had the opportunity of serving side by side with NLC on the Tripartite Committee on National Minimum Wage. In our Memorandum submitted to the committee, we strongly advocated for the adoption of a National Minimum Pension viz-a-viz Minimum Wage. The Memorandum was adopted and accepted as the position of the committee”.

In Anambra state, pensioners enjoy glorious moments right from Governors Chris Ngige, Peter Obi and Dr. Willie Obiano [Agbokuodike Global] as priority is being given to the welfare of pensioners.

Extolling the exquisite humanity of Obiano, the chairman of NUP, Anambra state, Dr. Anthony Ugozo commended the above-named governors for honouring pensioners with regular pension payments and gratuity and remembering them during Christmas by extending distribution of rice to public servants to pensioners.

He said: “Chief Dr. Willie Obiano is the man of the moment; he has consistently continued to pay monthly pensions as at when due and on the bases of which the National Union of Pensioners gave His Excellency, Chief Wilie Obiano National Award as “The Best Friendly Pensioner Governor in Nigeria on 26th April, 2017, at Kaduna during the national delegates conference hence Obiano is called “Alert Governor”.

One of the highlights of Pensioners Day celebration in Anambra State was the presentation of a position paper by a retired head of local government administration, Emma C. Obiano. Obiano who holds Doctorate Degree in public administration is versed in abstruse knowledge of management of human and material resources and warmed his way into the embrace of Taraba State university as Head, Department of Environmental Sciences.

In the paper entitled: “Expanding Perspectives to the Power Theory: Repositioning Pensioners as Vital Agents of Nation Building”, Dr. Obiano advised all levels of government to factor retired public servants in their policies, programmes planning and execution of all aspects of governance due to their vast experience and knowledge.

He contended: “Since power factors and power equations are ever changing, pensioners in Nigeria can as well reposition or be repositioned as an emergent power factor in Nigeria’s power equation. Pensioners are not liabilities, but assets to our national development. By virtue of nomenclature and status, every pensioner had undergone education and training prior to employment; had acquired more training and developed more competences, skills and experience during the course of his employment; and had retired from formal employment with knowledge, competencies, skills and wealth of experience that are utilizable in other sectors and fields of socio-economic endeavour.

Harping on the necessity of co-opting the proverbial senior citizens in the affairs of community mobilization, Obiano continued: “Pensioners constitute the pool of manpower resource from which are drawn to fill a greater part of the key positions in our society. Pensioners contribute significantly to the overall capacity that drives leadership and governance in our national development. Pensioners have premium advantage in awareness creation, persuasion and community mobilization:

“Pensioners are highly respected as persons who are well informed on national issues, including economy, government and politics. Their views and actions of pensioners influence the views, persuasion, conviction and actions of the people in their immediate intimate environments in addition to being formidable agents of persuasion and mobilization”.

The local government council seasoned administrator however appealed to Anambra State Government to move a notch further in its magnanimity to implement the harmonization of pension when the new minimum wage is signed into law. He adds that the issue of extending the service year of civil servants should be accepted by all the state governments to make room for grooming the incoming graduates to master the nitty-gritty of the public/civil service to reinvent the cherished colonial norms.

He argued that the existing mandatory period of retirement, 35 years of service or 60 of years age is a colonial legacy of the Nigerian Civil Service. According to him, “that served the purpose of colonialism.”

Continuing, he appraised that the “policy is prematurely ‘pushing’ experienced, capable and fit persons out of service (so) it should be adjusted upwards to at least 40 years of service or 65 years age.

On the pension system, he flawed the current form of non-contributory pension and gratuity as being very uncharitable to the people who worked in the public service.

“More so, when they are rapidly eroded by galloping inflation and devaluation…. Pension should be subjected to a major upward review every 5 to 10 years and in between major reviews, subjected to annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) of not less than 30 per cent of the average annual inflation declared by the Federal Office of Statistics (FOS),” he said.

Given this, he reasoned that “all outstanding harmonisation of pensions should be concluded, including the cases of year 2011.”

On the failure of governments to be regular in the payment of pension and gratuity and the agonizing trepidation of people who have no dependants for help, the retired head of local government administration and presently a university don said: “Part of the essence of the 6-month pre-retirement notice in the Civil Service Rules is to enable employer-institutions and government prepare ahead for a seamless retirement of the staff, including prompt payment of his retirement benefits, both pension and gratuity.

“Therefore, it is a failure on the part of any government if a retiring officer is not paid his pension more than one month after retirement, and gratuity more than three months after retirement. The current situation in some states whereby pensioners (especially local government pensioners) are compelled to ‘queue-up’ in the long line of un-paid gratuity for upwards of two years is gross negligence and inhumanity. Any delay in the commencement of payment of gratuity beyond six months is an attack on the pensioner’s destiny and the destiny of his family and dependents, given that the essence of the gratuity, which is a financial facility to empower the retiree start off on a new lease of life, has been defeated”.

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