By Adeola Aderounmu.
I will not be surprised if the problems in Nigeria are worsened by the curses of pensioners, especially those that have died without successfully getting their complete or befitting gratuity and entitlements. How can we redeem ourselves from these kinds of curses?
Post and Telecommunications (P&T) and the Nigerian Railways are two examples of government institutions that really used people and dump them later in life. There are other institutions where men and women gave their time, energy and abilities to keep the nation working. Many of these people gave 35 years of their lives. They stole nothing. They didn’t display disloyalty to the government. They obeyed their superiors. They are men and women of honour in the service to the nation. They kept fate with the system. The system simply turned around and offered them stones. Many of these men and woman waited in vain for bread. It never came. Some died like lepers.
Isn’t it appalling to carry out endless verification exercise on a man who served his country for 35 years? Isn’t it injustice and betrayal of the highest order to hold back this man’s gratuity and pension? Isn’t it also amazing that the face of public service has changed for the worse? Tell me, who wants to die on a queue waiting for his/her pension? Workers of nowadays (including you and I) do not have the excellent occupational traits that our fathers and mothers displayed.
Stealing and distrust in governance has rapidly permeated every sector of the Nigerian life. What we find nowadays are successful public servants. Even junior officers have discovered how to build houses and marry more than one wife. Since it is useless to depend on the government for affordable mortgage houses or provisions for their future, these men and women found the short cuts. Only a few honest people are left in public and private services in Nigeria.
Unfortunately, the efforts of the evil people have completely overshadowed the diligence of the honest ones among us. The results are staring at us in the face. The failure of governance, the insincerity of the pensions board (does it exist?), the self enrichment of the politicians and the melancholy tales of our pensioners (like Baba P&T) are parts of the reasons people have taken desperate measures to salvage their future. It is a sad situation.
It will take more than a miracle to wipe corruption away from government, places of public services and private enterprises. It will be a collective effort on the parts of all and sundry. It is not a job for the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) only. It is something we must all work for and try to achieve. It will take time but it is not an impossible task.
This article is an exerpt from the original: This Pensioner Must Die..! published here On July 24 2007. I have re-posted it because of the incident that happened in Abuja recently and reported by the Guardian Newspaper of 11th November 2008.
Guardian Report Nov 11 2008.
The plight of pensioners
THE sorry plight of Nigerian pensioners again came to the fore recently when a senior citizen who had worked with the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) died on his way to Abuja to receive his pension. Elder Citizen Michael Igiebor Okhokpa had been ill and so could not present himself at the Pensions Office in Abuja from his base in Benin, Edo State. His son whom he had sent with a letter of authority to receive the money on his behalf, was ignored by the officials in charge. He had to return to Benin to fetch his aged and sick father.
Sadly, the old man gave up the ghost on the way, in Kubwa, inside the vehicle conveying him to Abuja. In frustration, the son took his father’s corpse to the paying officers. There was pandemonium when they arrived, as angry onlookers including other pensioners nearly caused a riot. The hitherto recalcitrant officials promptly paid the dead man’s pension. Certainly, this is unbecoming of state officials. It shows how callous and insensitive the Nigerian system can oftentimes be.
Getting gratuity and pensions in Nigeria has become a nightmare for senior citizens. Often these men and women who spent their youth serving the country are compelled to make long journeys to Lagos or Abuja, or state headquarters for some officials to ascertain their continued existence. In some cases, the pensioners, where they enjoy good health, do not even have enough funds to make the trip.
In other cases, they simply arrive at the city centre, build a tent and remain there sometimes for months on end while the verification exercise lasts. The example of discharged soldiers who spent months in Lagos and Abuja some two odd years ago waiting for their entitlements, is still fresh in public memory. An attempt was finally made to pay the pensions only after the angry retired soldiers almost rebelled against the Army.
In the past, retirees were paid in their home states at zonal offices across the country. But civil servants colluding with some retirees soon began to defraud the system. Names of retirees who had long died were retained on the payment vouchers. The truth is that in the civil service, at both Federal and State levels, retirees sometimes wait for four to five years before they get their gratuity.
Some ministries are particularly notorious; they seem to derive pleasure from the helplessness of retirees. Proper records are not kept. Unscrupulous officials demand different documents from bewildered retirees. It is perhaps because of this experience that the Federal Government decided that all payments should be made centrally. The Obasanjo government also reformed the national pensions scheme, to make it private sector-driven, with the emergence of Pension Fund Administrators. It is hoped that in the long run, this will eliminate the current inefficiency seen in the payment of backlog of pensions in the public sector.
Retirement is a period workers should look forward to with hope and pleasure. After many years of hard labour, a worker is entitled to some peace and security in his old age. It is for this reason that many people once considered a career in the civil service safe and secure. But not anymore. In contemporary Nigeria, the life of an average pensioner is now insecure and generally, senior citizens are treated shabbily. Help does not come from the State either, and the future is uncertain. Not surprisingly, workers are compelled to protect themselves against future uncertainties by resorting to all kinds of sharp practices while still in active employment. Apart from changing their dates of birth at will, in order to prolong their service period, many deliberately engage in corrupt practices.
The pensions payments system, with regard to retired civil servants who are not covered by the new system introduced by the Obasanjo administration, must be reviewed. Humiliating and maltreating persons who had spent a better part of their lives serving the country is unacceptable. It is curious that the usually discourteous and mean pensions payment officers, who insist on humiliating pensioners, hardly realise that they would also end up as pensioners some day.
Except pensioners receive fair and prompt treatment, the country will unwittingly strengthen the temptation of civil servants to be corrupt. Any society that cannot treat its elderly citizens with care and respect advertises its disregard for values. Retirees should be paid their entitlements without any stress. Michael Okhokpa didn’t deserve to die trying to get his pension