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How Nasarawa govt battles to ease plight of pensioners

Our correspondent, Umar Muhammed, takes a look at how Governor Abdullahi Sule is battling to offset the backlog of unpaid pensions and gratuities he inherited…

Our correspondent, Umar Muhammed, takes a look at how Governor Abdullahi Sule is battling to offset the backlog of unpaid pensions and gratuities he inherited from previous administrations in the state.

Like other states of the federation, pensioners struggle for survival in Nasarawa State amid unpaid entitlements running into millions of naira.

The mounting arrears of pensions and gratuities, which date back to the time of the creation of the state, continued to pile up through successive administrations.

Until the current administration of Governor Abdullahi Sule decided, in its wisdom, to clear some backlog of pensions and gratuities due to retirees of both the state and local governments, their condition had continued to degenerate, with some losing their lives in the long wait.

Our correspondent recalls that Nigeria’s pension scheme started in 1951, when the colonial British administration established a scheme through an instrument called the Pension Ordinance.

Before the enactment of the Pension Reform Act 2004, which established a Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) for all employees in Nigeria, the country had operated a Defined Benefit (DB) pension scheme, which was largely unfunded and non-contributory.

The scheme led to a massive accumulation of pension debt and became unsustainable as there were lots of manipulations and fraudulent approvals going on unnoticed.

Narrating his predicament in an interview with the Daily Trust in Lafia, the Nasarawa State capital, on Sunday, Mr John Akulo, a 57-year-old pensioner, said they worked like lions but died penniless, adding that before the coming on board of the present government under the leadership of Governor Abdullahi Sule, pensioners across the 13 local government areas of the state were treated like orphans by successive administrations that paid little attention to their plight.

According to him, but for the intervention of Governor Sule, pensioners in the state would still be battling to receive their emoluments, which have accumulated for years. He said many of their colleagues have died waiting for their entitlements, while those still alive have been subjected to the worst level of hardship by the previous governments in the state.

Mr Akulo, who retired from service after 35 years of service in 2005, said they were treated shabbily.

“I am a pensioner who was paid in percentages during the last administration. I want to say that pensioners in Nigeria are always used as scapegoats. When they manage to give us something, we take it like orphans. They often treat us as if we don’t matter,” he lamented.

He, however, applauded Governor Sule for paying his pension and gratuity entitlements, stressing that for years, pension arrears were left unpaid by previous governments.

“Pensioners are senior citizens who served their country with zeal at the time, they bubbled with life and energy. But today, pensioners at both the federal and state levels are not happy. Their sadness springs from their being treated like orphans by successive administrations that paid little or no attention to their plight,” he added.

He narrated how, due to the non-payment of accumulated pension arrears and the non-payment of the minimum wage, retirees are saying that the horror they are subjected to is undeserved and unwarranted. Many of them, who have retired from the state civil service, are battling to receive their emoluments that have accumulated for years. While many have died waiting for the payments, those alive have been subjected to the worst kind of hardship.

In separate interviews with Mr Musa Isah, a 70-year-old pensioner who worked from 1971 to 2006, and Mr Abubakar Ahmed-Umar, another 57-year-old pensioner, both recalled that in the past, their colleagues suffered a great deal as some of them died while pursuing payment of their pensions and gratuities, adding, however, that Governor Sule has changed a lot of things as pensioners don’t have to be wailing anymore before receiving their pensions and gratuities in the state.

According to them, presently in Nasarawa State, there has been a commendable transition from salary to pension, noting that before, it was difficult and payment of gratuity became an issue, but that the narrative has changed for good, as in the present arrangement, a 5-year range is targetted—that way, for people who retired from 2010–2021, their arrears have now been cleared.

Speaking on the plight of pensioners, the state chairman of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners, Mr Audu Baba-Abdullahi, said pensioners in the state had passed through a lot of challenges and maltreatment as they sought the payment of their hard-earned pensions and gratuities. 

According to him, during the immediate past administration, pensioners were paid in percentages, claiming that a pensioner would receive his entitlements at times at less than 16% of his entitlement. He said they had to cry out and sometimes lobby before they could get as much as 50%.

He said the payment of gratuities was even worse during the past administration, as it only released N20 million per month, noting that the amount even comes with the names of those to be paid, stressing that most of the pensioners could not access their gratuities.

Mr Audu said some of the pensioners in the state decided to go to court to challenge the past government on why they could not get their pensions and gratuities, adding that the litigation was on before Governor Abdullahi Sule assumed office.

He explained that immediately after the governor came on board, he was not comfortable seeing himself going to court with his pensioners, stating that the governor insisted that the issue between the state government and pensioners should be settled out of court.

He added that that was when a consent judgement was reached for him (the governor) to be releasing N50 million each month for the payment of gratuities for the state pensioners and N30 million for local government gratuities.

He told our correspondent that the coming on board of Governor Sule put on hold the payment of percentages to pensioners across the state.

“The pensioners in the state are very comfortable with the administration of Governor Abdullahi Sule owing to the fact that during his maiden speech, he promised that he was going to take pension administration very seriously, which he did, and if you sum all that up, he has been paying together with that of the local governments, which is over and above N6 billion now,’ he stated.

He further explained that the governor had to go the extra mile, and on some occasions, when he had a windfall from the FG, he used to reserve some amount of money for the payment of gratuities for both the state and the local government pensioners.

He said, “I could remember there was a time he earmarked N500 million from the state coffers and instructed that the money should be shared between the state pensioners and those of the local governments. And of recent, he gave about N1 billion and instructed that the money should also be shared between the state and local government pensioners from 1999–2010, and that has been done.”

According to him, the governor promised that, by God’s grace, between now and the end of the year, he would ensure that he settled those of 2011–2012, noting that every quarter, there was at least N300 million to be shared among the pensioners in the state.

On the numbers of the dead among his members, he said he could not ascertain the number of pensioners that have died, adding that some of the pensioners that have lost their lives could not be said to be as a result of their non-payment.

While acknowledging that there are pending issues of adjustment done by the Salary and Wages Commission as a result of the increase in minimum salary from N18,000 to N30,000, stated that the negotiation is ongoing. He said there was also the issue of consequential adjustment, which was sent to them, and they immediately forwarded it to the state government for implementation, as some states have started implementing it.

The pensioners union leader, however, appealed to Governor Sule and the government of Nasarawa State, as a matter of good relationship, to implement the consequential adjustment, saying if that is done, it will go a long way in increasing the minimum pension in the state considering the economic hardship in the country.

In an attempt to address the persistent challenges being faced by pensioners, Governor Sule has approved the disbursement of the sum of N1 billion to clear the outstanding gratuity of both local and state government retirees from 1999 to 2010, numbering over 1,000 people.

The governor announced this recently when he undertook an on-the-spot assessment of the recent screening exercise for over 700 local government and 300 state retirees at the headquarters of the Nasarawa State Bureau for Pension Administration in Lafia. 

According to the governor, the N1 billion would clear the full gratuity of retirees of the state and local governments starting from 1999 to 2010.

According to Sule, his administration inherited a backlog of gratuity accunulating since the creation of the state in 1996 to date, adding that with improved revenue accruing to the state, his administration saw the need to clear the gratuity of retirees starting from 1999 to 2010.

“I was told the money would clear the gratuity of retirees from 1999 to 2010, both at the local government and state levels. My dream again is that from 2011, when the amount increases significantly, whether anybody knows somebody in government or not, we will just follow the first-come, first-served rule to complete the payment for 2011 by the end of this year. At the beginning of next year, we will pay purely from 2012,” he stated.

“People are facing a lot of challenges today due to the economic hardships. That is the reason why we believe if we pay them their money—some of them are getting N1 million, some N2 million, and even N3 million—the money will go a long way in reducing the hardship. 

“This is in addition to whatever interventions we are having, whether it is food items or whatever, let us pay them what is due to them, and that is their own gratuity,” the governor stated. 

He expressed optimism that with 500 local government retirees, out of the over 700, and 100 state retirees, out of the over 300 already screened, the beneficiaries would begin to receive their payments immediately without any hiccup.

On his part, Mr. Suleiman Musa-Nagogo, Director General, Nasarawa State Pension Bureau, assured that the board would clear the issue of gratuity in respect of all those who retired from 1999 until 2010 for both state and local government retirees.

“Once we are able to handle those ones from 1999 to 2010, and as Governor Sule said, additional funds would be made available to clear that of retirees from 2011/2012, in order to make sure we have addressed the challenge of payment of gratuity in Nasarawa State,” he stated. 

The DG further clarified that retired permanent secretaries numbering 60 would receive N2 million each, while those who are deceased are likely to receive N4 million out of their entitlements.

He used the opportunity to clear the air on why, in the past, the bureau was paying retirees just about N100,000 as gratuity. 

“But we don’t sit as a Bureau for Pension Administration and say we are paying N100,000. There is a committee called the Gratuity Disbursement Committee, which is headed by the Deputy Governor of the state, Dr Emmanuel Akabe, which looks at the entire amount that has accrued for payment of gratuity, the recommendations that came from the BPA, and how many people they can take in that quarter. It’s the same process we have been following in disbursing this money,” he stated.

The DG, however, dismissed claims that files belonging to some retirees were missing. 

“Whoever said his file is missing, I think he is only claiming so. I have never received complaints of anybody’s file not being able to be traced in this office,” he stated.


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