Pension probe: Senate’s shock findings on oversight tours
Ayodele Adesanmi presents the discoveries of the Senate Joint Committee on Establishment and Public Service and State and Local Government Administration during its oversight tour on pensioners in the North-West geo-political zone.
The Senate had, last November, given the Senate Committee on Establishment and Public Service the mandate to investigate the administration of pension funds and the payment of pensioners in Nigeria. This was sequel to series of petitions and the outcome of investigations carried out on the agonising and depressing plights of Nigerian pensioners.
The pensioners are the sets of people who can be referred to as elder statesmen who had worked tirelessly for the country and are supposed to be receiving monthly pension after retirement in appreciation of their contributions to the progress of the nation. Unfortunately, the open corruption and inefficiency in the management and administration of pension funds in the country have rendered the labour of the retirees fruitless.
Sad enough, many of them have died while waiting on queues during verification exercises to collect their pensions which the government officials were reportedly feeding fat on. Some, for no fault of theirs, have become irresponsible citizens as they cannot meet their obligations, even in their various homes. In fact, for a larger percentage of them, collecting the pensions monthly has become the survival of the fittest.
In view of this, the committee decided, among others, to look into the number of existing pensioners in Nigeria, monthly pension amounts or entitlements, the amounts so far released by the Federal Government in the last seven years to various pension offices and systems and how they were utilised. It is also looking into how much pension arrears the government owes and to whom, the amounts required to pay off all outstanding pension arrears and entitlements without further default, among others.
In order to expand its scope, the Committee on States and Local Government Administration was co-opted into the task. The Chairman of the Joint Committee, Senator Alloysius Etuk, however, assured that the committee would recover all pension funds wherever they might be lodged in, saying that it would go after all the bigwigs, both in and out of service, connected with the administration of pension funds in the country.
According to him, “every worker should be able to get his or her pension within two weeks of retirement. This committee is conscious of its powers and responsibilities and shall accordingly make all necessary provisions to provide a permanent and enduring legislative remedy to the pension problems in Nigeria”.
The committee, in order to unravel the problems, conducted public hearings in the six-geo political zones of the country. It held its public hearing in Abuja for the North-Central zone, followed by Lagos for the South-West; Gombe for the North-East; Uyo for South-South; Kaduna for North-West and Enugu for South-East.
In all the venues for the public hearing throughout the zones, it was a display of aggression, frustration, hunger, anger and confrontation. One could see that the pensioners were real senior citizens who had been exposed to torture and hardships. A pitiable scenario was witnessed in Kaduna where a man, who should not be less than 90-years old, came to the venue of the hearing at the Sir Kashim Ibrahim House with the support of two aides as he could not walk properly.
The obviously weak old man, tired and weather-beaten, left home with a high expectation that he was coming to receive his stipends, but his hope was dashed as he was later told it was just a public hearing. The man and other pensioners, however, got a lift of spirit when Senator Etuk informed them that the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was determined to bring the suffering of the pensioners to a permanent end, assuring them that it was a task that must be accomplished.
The committee chairman informed the retired senior citizens that the committee was desirous of providing an enduring legislative framework to facilitate efficiency and effectiveness in the management of pension funds in Nigeria and was determined to eliminate all factors inhibiting the prompt payment of their entitlements.
Etuk informed them that the public hearing was conducted to enable all pensioners present their grievances and observations to the Senate through this Committee for appropriate redress. According to him, the hearing was also meant to collate all professional views and recommendations on how to institutionalise prompt payments of pensions and efficient or effective pension management and administration through legislation.
“Today marks a new dawn in our legislative actions for permanent solutions to the ugly, unacceptable, deplorable and repulsive conditions and system of pension administration and payment in Nigeria which has brought untold hardship, bitterness and misery to our elder statesmen-our pensioners. These pensioners are indeed true elder statesmen who had meritoriously put in all their years of youthful strength and intellect to the service of their fatherland”, he said.
Senator Etuk reminded them that those who served their fatherland devotedly, faithfully and satisfactorily during the required number of years and retired honourably were pensioners. These faithful men and women, he said, “retired when their strengths and intellects began to greatly diminish and fail. They must not be subjected to any despair, misery or sufferings of any form whatsoever.”
He calmned the frayed nerves of the pensioners present by saying that in order to put a permanent end to this deplorable and awful situation, the Senate had resolved to correct all anomalies inherent therein through the instrumentality of the law and the institutionalisation of necessary legal framework on pension administration and management.
Earlier in his chat with newsmen, he disclosed that full investigation would be conducted to determine the actual amount released to the office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation for Pension Payment “and how the money was disbursed especially as part of such funds were traced to some accounts in some commercial banks yet to be verified.”
Etuk said the nationwide public hearing and probing of pension management had revealed that many states owed their retirees billions of naira in pension arrears. He explained that the public hearing was meant to receive the complaints and grievances of pensioners for redress and to address the maladministration of pension in Nigeria and bring the perpetrators to book.
He informed that the states that were not adequately represented in the zonal centres during the hearings could appear later at the National Assembly sitting According to him, “What we discover on the ground, in respect of pension payment and management, is a time bomb that we must address immediately or else when it explodes, it will be disastrous because we have had some states owing between N8 billion and N10 billion pension.”
Etuk expressed the belief that “if you include the local government pension, you realise that some of the states are owing N14 to N15 billion. Therefore, it is impossible that such states will be able to pay, considering the fact that people are retiring every month and are adding to that number. We have discovered that and we will look for a way to make sure that such arrears are cleared in order to ensure we have clean slate to commence the next phase of pension administration.”
The staff of Kano State chapter of the defunct National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA), in their own presentation, told the Senate Committee that NICON Insurance Plc had allegedly refused to settle its N71.35 million accrued pension, entitlements and death benefits owed their retired and deceased colleagues from June 2007 to December 2011.
They insisted that, from June 11, 2007 to December 2010, NICON had deprived their colleagues of N19.9 million gratuities, N37.4 million pension arrears and N10.39 million outstanding death benefits. “The committee may also wish to note that there was a healthy balance of N134.4 million on the defunct NALDA Deposit Administration account plus Endowment Account maintained by NICON Plc from which the pensions and benefits of NALDA staff are paid”, they claimed.
However, the Kaduna State chapter of the Council of Federal Pensioners said it was unfortunate that some pensioners, though physically seen and captured during verification exercises, had to engage the services of solicitors before they could be paid their benefits. The council, therefore, among other things, called for the delegation of power to the representatives of the Head Of Service of the Federation (HOSF) in the states to deal with pension matters at the state level, the decentralisation of pension payment that would request states to pay and be reimbursed by the Federal Government, the release of payment schedule to state branches of the union to enable them detect wrong account numbers and omitted names of pensioners in the payroll, the constant review of pension in line with Sections 173(3) and 210(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which provides for pension to be reviewed every five years or together with any federal/state civil service salary increase and punishment for corrupt pension officials.
It equally considered the embezzlement of pension funds as an offence worse than armed robbery and a serious crime against humanity, advising that “properties of government officials and their associates found to have embezzled pension funds should not only be confiscated, but sold and the proceeds be used to pay pensioners. They should also be committed to life imprisonment. This would serve as deterrent to others.”
Senator Babafemi Ojudu, a member of the joint committee, threw his weight behind the call for a life jail term for whoever embezzles pensioners’ funds, stating, “I would support that. Look, we can’t afford to have pensioners that would continue to suffer, who would continue to live in poverty and penury after giving their lives to the country. After the whole exercise and when we want to submit our reports, we would look at what kind of penalty or punishment that would be meted out to those who are found guilty and to those who have embezzled money meant for those pensioners.”
Vice-President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Isah Aremu, in his own submission also agreed that stealing or embezzling pensioners’ funds is an offence that it is worse than armed robbery. “I believe that one of the major problems of this country is corruption and, as we can see, non-payment of pension may be one of the reasons people embezzle when in office because they don’t know what the future holds for them. Most of them would not want to go and die on queue waiting for their pension after leaving office. So, they want to keep something for themselves and for their old age”, he said.Share
written by shegun, May 27, 2012