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Pensioners: ‘We’re left to rot after giving our all’

A look into how states maltreat retired workers, with model examples from Ekiti to Oyo

By law, civil servants in Nigeria work for 35 years, or till attaining 60 years of age, before retirement—except for professors and judges.

For spending the productive years of their lives working for their states, these citizens expect to be appreciated and given their due entitlements.

But in some Nigerian states, pensioners are found protesting and blocking entrances to government offices due to unpaid benefits. It has been tales of neglect, disappointment, anguish and pain from pensioners who spoke to Daily Trust in some states.

The inability of some pensioners to meet their financial commitments take a toll on their health and wellbeing.

Several pensioners, due to the years of their service and age, suffer from different forms of health challenges including diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, visual impairment and heart-related diseases.

Some die not getting the benefits due to them after spending their productive years in the services of the states. In the last year, the attendant economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic also heightened these challenges.

Pensioners dying in Gombe

Pensioners block the entrance to Gombe Government House to protest non payment of pensions and gratuities

Malama Sadiya Aliyu, 58, retired as a classroom teacher in 2014 from the Gombe State Local Education Authority (LEA) on reaching 35 years in service.

Seven years after retirement, she is yet to receive her gratuity.

Two years ago, her husband, also a pensioner, died of complications from a health challenge as they could not afford good healthcare from the N9,000 they got as pension.

She is left with the burden of caring and providing for her family while hoping she will not suffer the same fate as her husband who died without receiving his benefits.

She said, “When I retired in 2014, my plan was to use my gratuity which is a little over N1 million to go for Hajj.

“After seven years, I am yet to get paid and even if I am paid now, the money would not be enough to pay for the Hajj.

“My late husband was diabetic and the N9,000 monthly pension was not enough to buy his drugs.

“He died from the complications in August 2019. Until his death, he wasn’t paid his gratuity and we are still waiting for the death benefit.

“Although we have three male children, they are also struggling to cater for their families.”

She said while the N9,000 was unable to meet her needs, things got worse for her when the state government stopped her pensions three months ago.

Another pensioner, Malam Ali Gargar, 63, retired from the services of Gombe State Government in 2017 and planned to start a small business with his gratuity. His plan is stalled because he is yet to get his gratuity, making him live from hand to mouth.

“Life is very tough; my children are not financially buoyant to fully shoulder my responsibilities, so I have to cater for myself despite my old age.

“I am yet to get my gratuity which I had planned to use and set up a small business to sustain me after retirement.

“It’s been four years since I retired, and I am yet to get my hard-earned gratuity. It is only the pension of N9,000 that I collect monthly and the money hardly lasts seven days,” Gargar lamented.

He said the government is treating the issue of gratuity payment as a favour to the retirees. “I am really suffering and this gratuity that we are begging the government to pay is our sweat, having put in 35 years of our lives serving the state.”

Malam Ali Gargar, 63

Another pensioner, Alhaji Magaji Jauro, 66, said he was lucky to get his gratuity when he retired 10 years ago but added that he has not received the monthly pension for three months.

“Life is difficult because things are expensive; I have three children who are helping in running the family from the little they have.

“But it is not enough because they earn little from their different businesses,” he decried.

Alhaji Magaji Jauro, 66

Chairman of Gombe State Chapter of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners (NUP), Malam Muhammad Abubakar, said members were owed gratuities for over nine years.

He lamented that over 700 local government retirees who left service over two years ago are yet to be enlisted into the payroll to start benefiting from the monthly pension.

“The pathetic situation has put our members in untold hardship and most of them are unable to foot bills for food, hospital, school fees, rent and medication.

“This cannot and shouldn’t continue because it is our entitlements we are asking for,” the chairman said.

Responding, the Secretary to the State Government, Professor Ibrahim Abubakar Njodi, said blaming Governor Muhammad Inuwa Yahaya’s administration for non-payment of pension and gratuity liabilities was not fair.

“We appeal to you to exercise patience and remain calm as the state government is mindful of your plights and we are committed to addressing and changing things for the better since the current government was voted based on its promise to change things for the better,” Prof. Njodi said.

Pensions, gratuities are ‘privileges’ in Benue

In Makurdi, some pensioners said they have not been paid for about three years and are not certain about when their next payment would come.

The plight of the retirees over unpaid pensions, gratuities, and other severance packages is a source of concern.

One of the pensioners, Elder Godwin Akor, said the development caused suffering and hardship for his family as they could no longer pay their bills or attend to their health issues.

Akor, whose wife is also a pensioner, said it had been difficult for them to pay the tuition fees of their children who were in the university and assist in the education of their grandchildren.

Akor said he had not been paid for over 36 months.

On his part, the immediate past chairman of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) in the state, Sambe Asen, said the irregularities in obtaining his pension were taking a toll on him.

Asen, who however appreciated Governor Samuel Ortom for setting up the Benue State Pension Board which, he said, would in the long run tackle problems associated with the payment of pensions, added that it had been difficult trying to cope with the situation at the moment.

“We are dying because our pensions are not regular. It takes a long time to pay us. Survival is very difficult.

“The government is not paying us regularly. I’m being owed over N10m while my wife, also a pensioner, is being owed N7.9m and we have six children and eight grandchildren,” he said.

The incumbent chairman of NUP in the state, Mike Vembe, said a major problem for Benue State is the irregular payment of pensions.

“Pensions are paid in staggered form; sometimes, half of the pensioners will be paid in one month, the other half will be paid another month with arrears of one month. It is a problem for pensioners,” Vembe stated.

The Special Adviser to Governor Samuel Ortom on Information and Orientation, James Uloko, explained that the government was working tirelessly to ease the plights of pensioners in the state.

Uloko explained that “the total size of the pensions and gratuity payable by the state government between 2015 and October 2020 stands at N68.195bn. This is 63 per cent of the 2020 (N108 billion) budget.

“Out of this, the government has paid N25.465bn as of October 2020, leaving a balance of N42.273bn; made up of N14.522bn in pension arrears and N28.208bn in gratuity arrears.”

Uloko said the government also paid the pension and gratuity arrears of the 23 local government areas in the state.

“The government will require N104bn (remember, 2020’s total budget was N108bn) to clear all the arrears due to both state and local government pensioners.

“This is practically almost impossible. Yet, the arrears must be paid somehow, someday and gradually, so that government can also attend to its other obligations.

“Serving civil servants will continue to retire and add to the existing pension bill of government,” he said.

Uloko added that the government, with the establishment of the Benue State Pension Commission (BEPCOM) modelled after Federal Government’s National Pension Commission (PENCOM), will address the issue of the delay or non-payment of the pension and gratuity.

Series of verifications but no payment in Cross River

Despite the Cross River State government’s assurances that the outstanding pensions owed retirees would be offset, pensioners still lament several months’ indebtedness.

Bothered by the situation, 28-year-old Joseph Odey, the first son of his parents with a number of siblings, led a one-man protest to the governor’s office in Calabar, pleading that Governor Ben Ayade authorise payment of his late dad’s pension and gratuities.

Odey, who spent three days at the entrance to the governor’s office without being given attention, lamented his mother’s inability to fend for the family.

He was not the first to protest unpaid benefits. A few months ago, 1,600 senior citizens blocked the Murtala Mohammed Highway Calabar over three years’ unpaid pensions. Many of them were octogenarians. Some, during the protest, were on wheelchairs, crutches and other walking aids.

They came from distant local government areas such as Obanliku, Yala, Bekwara to Calabar to protest the exclusion of their names for payment of pensions over six months ago.

One of the pensioners, Christy Bassey, said: “I am owed five months pension. I am from Akamkpa. Last year, the Auditor General, Franca Inok, called for verification of pensioners to confirm those who are still alive. Even with our names and the forms we filled still intact, she declared more than 1,600 of us ghost pensioners.

“After she declared us dead, the local government pension board decided to carry out another verification exercise and we, again, presented ourselves at great pains to many of our members some of whom are unable to walk. Some are blind and some having other health challenges. When she heard of it, she told the board that ‘look, these are the ghost pensioners she discovered.

“She, again, invited us for another round of torture called screening. Personally, I have been here for the ninth time. Some of the people you see here came from very far across the 18 local governments, and you can testify of how our terrain is. Some people were brought on stretchers, some on wheelchairs. Why are they punishing us this way?” She had asked.

Pa Eteng Obeng, 81, from Obubra Local Government Area said “I have come to Calabar several times to take part in verification exercises. The latest not too long ago and what was the outcome? They published a list that showed I was dead when I am not. Is this fair?”

Commissioner for Local Government Affairs, Mrs Stella Odey Ekpo, assured that everything has been done to ensure they were screened and paid.

The commissioner said the government did not owe verified pensioners.

Odey promised that every genuine pensioner has been paid and are captured in the payroll, adding that the periodic screening exercise became imperative following the discovery of a high number of ghost pensioners in the payroll.

The State Accountant General, Mr Joseph Adie, lamented that the allocation from the Federation Account to the state is not enough to pay workers’ salaries.

Pensioners beg alms to survive in Osun, last paid in 2016

In Osun State, many retired civil servants said they depend on alms since they have not received their pension since 2016. Some of them who spoke with Daily Trust on Sunday said their children were sent out of schools because of their inability to pay school fees while some of their children that have graduated were unemployed.

Mr Oyadare Gbenga, a former headmaster of Young Tajudeen Primary School Iragberi, Osun State, is the spokesperson of the pensioners in the state.

Oyadare, who retired in 2017, said he was still expecting his pension. He said the state governor, Adegboyega Oyetola, had demonstrated willingness to pay but was handicapped by the financial situation in the state.

He said, “Pensioners in Osun State have been turned to beggars because we have not been paid for the past five years, 2016 to date. Osun State government has not paid us our pension and gratuity. Majority of us are sick and bedridden while many of us have gone blind.”

“Our children have been driven away from school because we couldn’t pay and those that have graduated among them are still job seekers and we still have to cater for them. Our situation is pathetic and we depend on alms we receive from people. We have met the state government and realised that Governor Adegboyega Oyetola was willing to pay us but the state does not have the money.

“So, we need the intervention of the Federal Government. We wrote to the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, and he replied us. Osinbajo advised us to write to President Muhammadu Buhari to see if the Federal Government can intervene and we have done so. We really need help.”

Meanwhile, the state government has released N708m for the payment of pension arrears of pensioners in the state.

The Head of Service, Dr Festus Olowogboyega Oyebade, said N150m was approved for the payment of retirees under the contributory pension’s scheme while an additional N50m was approved for the payment of gratuities of retired officers under the old pension scheme.

Oyadare said the money released could only pay a few among the pensioners, adding that the government needs billions of naira to pay all the pensioners in the state. He said those on contributory pensioners in the state alone are about 7,000 and that more civil servants will soon join the list upon retirement.

Oyadare Gbenga, former headmaster of Young Tajudeen Primary School, Iragberi, Osun, left, and Saleh Ahmed Idris, a pensioner in Bauchi

Some retirees yet to get gratuity 10 years after retirement in Bauchi

A 69-year-old pensioner, Saleh Ahmed Idris, said life has been unbearable since he retired in 2001. The former staff of the State High Court said his inability to get his gratuity and pension plunged him into untold hardship for over 10 years.

“My pension was not coming for more than ten years. My colleagues and I travelled to Abuja more than ten times yet there was no positive response. I am living at the mercy of my children, friends and neighbours who support me with food, drugs and other basic necessities.

“I have lost hope of getting my gratuity and so have left it in the hands of God for His intervention. We have made all efforts; we plan to hold a peaceful demonstration to protest but we dropped the idea because it will not solve the problems. We cannot fight the government,” he said.

When contacted, State Secretary of Nigeria Union of Pensioners Bauchi State chapter, Danjuma Yakubu Gar, declined to comments on the plight of pensioners in Bauchi, saying, “We are currently holding a meeting with state government officials on the issues of resolving the pension and gratuity of pensioners. Taking to journalists now might jeopardise the process.”

All efforts made to get the reaction of the Bauchi State Government was unsuccessful. Calls made to the phone of the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Media, Mukhtari Gidado, rang out while he was yet to reply to messages sent to his phone as at press time.

Glad tidings in Oyo, Ekiti states

Pensioners in Oyo and Ekiti states said the state governments pay them regularly. A retired primary school teacher in Oyo State, Mrs Mopelola Adigun, said she almost wished herself death when her pensions were not paid by previous administrations in the state.

She said, “Many of us nearly died then. We went through hell. But we sing glory today because we receive our pension along with those in active service. There was a month Governor Segun Makinde paid us on the 23rd day. We are still wondering why the immediate past government didn’t pay us.”

The state secretary of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners in Oyo State, Comrade Olusegun Abatan, corroborated Mrs Adigun.

He said; “Seyi Makinde has been paying pensions and gratuities of our members. He increased our pension from N100m to N200m. He recently opened another window for pensioners by paying outstanding salaries owed by the past government in the state.

The chairman, Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP), Ekiti State, Comrade Akinola Joel, said the state government is trying but for the COVID-19 pandemic that disrupted government activities.

Comrade Joel pointed out that before Governor Fayemi came to power, the former governor Fayose was paying N10m as gratuity but Fayemi increased it to N100m monthly.

Also, the Secretary of the NUP in the state Comrade Agbaje Oniazeez said the government pays pensions monthly and up till date and is working on paying arrears owed by past administrations.

He said retired local government workers were owed eight months pension arrears while retired state workers were owed three months. On gratuity, he said, the state government had paid up to May 2013 for state pensioners, while local government gratuities have been paid up to August 2012.

The NUP executives said they are meeting some stakeholders for positive results on the plight of the pensioners.

The Commissioner for Information, Ekiti State, Mr Akin Omole, said the state is paying pensions regularly every month and Governor Fayemi has put in place a scheme of N100m gratuity to defray pensions and gratuity arrears.

Ambrose Sule retired from the Kogi State’s Head of Service in 2009. He said his pensions were paid monthly. Another retiree, Andrew Okeme who retired from the state’s Ministry of Agriculture on grade level 05 step 15 said he gets his monthly pension. He said he got N200,000 from his N900,000 gratuity.

From Haruna Gimba Yaya (Gombe), Hope Abah Emmanuel (Makurdi), Eyo Charles (Calabar), Hameed Oyegbade (Osogbo), Jeremiah Oke (Ibadan), Raphael Ogbonnaiye (Ado-Ekiti), Hassan Ibrahim (Bauchi), & Adama John (Lokoja)

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