by Kola Ibrahim
“Since we were retired, no kobo was paid to me. Every time, we would be called to come to Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, to fill one form after another. Sometimes, we sleep at Awolowo Road on the bare floor, for us to be attended to. In spite of that, nothing had come out of it. It was only in 2010 October that I was paid, since then, no payment. My children in school, I can’t provide for them. Anytime they come back, we all starve and they will cry all day till they go back. There is nobody to help me except God, my husband died since 2003.”
This was how the Vanguard newspaper of August 22, 2013 reported Mrs. Thompson Imakop, a retiree from the National Bureau of Statistics, “who, retired in 2007, was only paid in 2010, lamenting that before and after 2010, she had not received a dime as pension.”
If her story is not pathetic enough, then listen to that of Mr. Muftau Baruwa, Senior foreman in the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, who retired since 11 years and three months ago, said he was just a living dead.
“I served 35 years and received merit award twice by the Federal Government through two different level 14 officers. I joined the service on 19 May, 1967 and I retired May 25, 2002. As we speak, I have not been paid a kobo, both my gratuity and pension. I have been to the hospital twice since my retirement… I think death is better than this suffering. Most times, I will go into the streets to beg for money to feed. Severally, for two days I will not feed.”
These are just two of several thousands of cases of suffering retired workers from government and private employment across the country. Hundreds have died of curable diseases and poverty among these retired workers, who have been criminally denied their entitlements after committing their adult and useful lives to the country. If you feel that the inhuman treatment of senior citizens is limited to the federal government, then ask state retirees in Lagos, Osun, Oyo, Abia, Delta or Kano, and you will be proved wrong. Yet, public and political office holders continue to live opulently on the blood of long suffering retirees while senators want to award themselves live pensions for four-year “service”.
While Mrs. Imakop and Mr. Baruwa are lamenting, just one John Yakubu, converted N23 billion of police pension fund to his own. As he was only given a slap on the wrist with a fine of N750, 000, another man who was employed to uncover the mismanagement of pension funds, was himself “uncovered” by a Senate Committee to have mismanaged (read loot) billions of naira from the pension fund. The man has jetted out of the country with the support of the presidency! These are just two individuals out of several others involved in feeding fat on the misery of poor and hapless pensioners.
Pensioners’ woes are made worse by the virtual collapse of social services, which in effect has turned every household into a mini-government. Public education is being taken out of the reach of the poor and working people, with LASU, UNIOSUN, EKSU demanding an average of N150, 000 as fees from students; while public hospitals are more like death centres for serious ailments. In this kind of milieu, retirement is more like being sentenced to permanent poverty, except for the few big bureaucrats. Even when workers are in service, they can hardly make ends meet with their meagre salaries.
As if that’s not enough, the ruling elite, in order to legalize and legitimize the looting of retirees’ pensions have come up with the dubious Contributory Pension Scheme, enacted in 2004 under the Pension Reform Act. By these laws, government is shedding off the load of ensuring pension for workers, while handing them over to the private shylocks and profiteers, organized under Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs) and Custodians (PFCs). Indeed, these private profiteers are gang of bankers, politicians and big business people, who have set up these companies to feed fat on workers’ pensions. Moreover, the new pension arrangement free up more money for politicians, not to invest in other social services like education, healthcare, job provision, etc, but to loot, just as over $400 billion has been reported looted by them since 1999.
According to this Contributory Pension Scheme, workers and employers (both government and private) are to contribute 7.5 per cent of each worker’s salary into the pension fund, to be administered by PFAs and PFCs. Aside the fact that the idea of deducting workers’ salaries as pension is exploitative and fraudulent, workers are being seriously shortchanged with this arrangement. For instance, what a worker gets as pension after retirement is the savings which is divided into pension and gratuity. This is unlike government guaranteed pension scheme, where a fixed percentage of workers’ salary is given as pension with the possibility of increase. By this policy, what a retiree in the contributory pension scheme will get is just a fraction of what he/she would have collected under government pension scheme.
More is the fact that the future of retirees is bleaker under the contributory pension scheme than under government pension arrangement. For instance, the pension reform act allows pension managers to spend these pension funds for business. This is a sure road to disaster, on the basis of Nigeria’s neo-colonial, bankrupt capitalism. Indeed, the recent collapse of Nigerian banking sector has already put paid to lies that private businesses are more effective and less corrupt. It took government’s commitment of over N2.5 trillion of public funds that could have been used to fund social services, to revive these banks, albeit temporarily. However, the maddening gambling and crazy quest for quick profits have not stopped either in the banking or any other sector. Effects of the collapse of stock market or banking sector will surely reverberate in the pension administration with lots of defaults in payments of pensioners. Meanwhile by this time, these private profiteers would have gained enough wealth via awarding huge salaries, allowances and bonuses to themselves, as witnessed in the banking crisis.
Already, many contributory pensioners are groaning under unpaid pension arrears by pension fund managers. Furthermore, according to Pencom, the regulatory pension agency, more employers are now defaulting, while others are simply converting workers’ salaries to pension contributions or deducting workers’ salaries by dubious means to pay the employers’ share of contribution. Governments at all level are also reported to be defaulting in remitting their contributions even when workers’ contributions are being deducted from source. Meanwhile, the major excuse for forcing this fraudulent pension scheme on workers is for quick payment of pension. Worse still, various governments at all level are forcing this poisonous pill of contributory pension on workers. In one state in the South West, the government went to the extent of asking workers to join contributory pension or retire compulsorily. Meanwhile, the same government has refused to pay pension of those it forced to retire, while also refusing to remit its share of contributory pension. For many workers, it is a tale of being led to the slaughter slab as they are compelled to stay with the exploitative but dangerous contributory pension scheme.
Workers and pensioners at all levels must mount serious pressure on trade union leadership to lead the campaign and struggle for adequate, promptly-paid, living pension for all retirees. Consequently, a 48-hour strike backed up with mass actions like protests, rallies, media campaign and lobby must be called by labour leadership as a first step in this struggle. Labour movement must reject the contributory pension scheme and demand for a living guaranteed pension scheme for all workers, tied to economic indices (cost of living, inflation, salary increase, etc). Moreover, labour movement must demand for a democratic management of pension funds, by elected representatives of workers and pensioners at workplaces, localities and up to the national levels. The representatives will have to give regular reports and updates to workers on the state of their pensions while monitoring and supervising pension payments to retirees at all levels. If government can commit public resources to fraudulent contributory pension scheme, there is no reason why it cannot ensure adequate pension for workers. Labour movement leadership must withdraw its membership of Pencom board that administer and supervise this swindle of workers called contributory pension. The manner, in which labour leadership botched, at the last minute, the last protest rally in support of pensioners, under the ridiculous excuse that government has promised to look into the issue, is condemnable.
The pension crisis underscores the need for working and for the oppressed people to build political alternative with clearly socialist programmes that will prioritize democratic public ownership of the economy and our commonwealth, with the aim of deploying them for massive development of the country and its people. Workers, youths, pensioners must demand the building of a mass workers’ political alternative now!
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Kola Ibrahim of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), Osun State