By Kingsley Omonobi, Abuja
When the arrears of military pensioners, talking about the 12.5% and the 15% increment in salaries of public servants were secured for ex-soldiers and officers by the Directorate of Military Pensions, it was thought that the hue and cry by military personnel who had clamoured for justice in this regard would be happy and give kudos not only to the government of President Goodluck Jonathan, but also to Brig Gen. Kwaji, the officer who mid-wifed release of the arrears.
Rather, what the ex-soldiers did was to threaten a protest action by way of wanting to boycott the 50th Independence anniversary celebrations of Nigeria at both the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and the state capitals across the country.
Their grouse was that the Military Pensions Board allegedly shortchanged them by paying them less of what they expected from government regarding the arrears of salary increase, which is supposed to reflect in pensioners’ take-home nationwide.
Following the allegations, Vanguard carried out an investigation to ascertain what was released by the Federal Government for the military pensioners as arrears, what each officer or soldier was to get, those that were entitled to collect the arrears and if there was fact in the allegations that ex-soldiers were being shortchanged.
Firstly, Vanguard learnt from the National Wages and Salaries Commission via a memo with reference number SWC/S/04/S.164/T/234 dated 30th March 2009, that what the Federal Government approved for the payment of arrears to the ex-soldiers and officers was not 12. 5% or 15% as expected by the military pensioners.
The government approved between 4% to 12. 5% salary increase on a sliding scale in the public service salary structure of 2003 and 15% increase of consolidated emoluments of January 2007. Consequently, a corresponding increase of 6% on pension rates was proposed by the wages commission.
This meant that rather than 12. 5%, what government approved for military pensioners entitled to the arrears was 4% with effect from 1st October 2003 while for those entitled to 15% arrears, 6% was approved with effect from 1st January 2007.
It was also gathered that before the arrears were paid, there had been an increment in the take – home pay of military pensioners by the Gen. Kwaji-led Military Pensions Board, MPB, which had been running.
In chat with Vanguard, Kwaji clarified the issues. The interview ran thus:
What is the true situation of arrears of military pensioners as of today?
The arrears of military pensioners for 6% of 2003, 15% of 2007 and 23% of 2008 was paid on the 22nd of June this year. To show transparency in the computation of the arrears, we published the details in three national newspapers on 24th, 25th and 26th of June, just to educate our retirees on how the computation was done. What is actually confusing the retirees is the issue of 12. 5% salary increase of 2003. The 12. 5% was on a sliding scale for civil servants.
Sliding scale of 4% to 12. 5%. What that means is that the least Private soldier got salary arrears increase of 12. 5% while the Generals got only 4%. For the pensioners nationwide, what the Federal Government approved for them was 6% across board.
So while the retirees were expecting 12. 5%, we went out to educate them that even those serving as at then, it was only the Private soldiers, for instance for the members of the armed forces, that got 12. 5%. The increment was on a sliding scale of 4% to 12. 5%. What government approved for pensioners was 6% across board and that was what was used in computing the pension arrears. That was what was used in requesting for fund from the Federal Government.
How much exactly was released to the MPB for this exercise?
The issue of release of funds for the retirees is very clear. It is there in the 2010 budget. For the seven pensions department across the country, what was appropriated was N69billion. The Police pension’s office got the highest of N24billion. The military pension’s board got N17billion. So for the purpose of clarity, the military pension’s board got N17. 1billion.
Can you give a break down of what each officer or soldier is supposed to get going by the percentage each person gets as arrears?
What a soldier or an officer gets as arrears depends on when he was taken into the pay roll at Military Pension’s Board. Let us use the arrears of Lt. Col. Omo Fineboy as a representation of all pensioners, just for illustration. Lt. Col. Fineboy was commissioned into the Nigeria Army on January 1, 1960 and retired on Jan. 1996. He was pay rolled at the MPB on 18 July 1996. His pension then was N98, 274. 88. He is qualified for the three arrears of pension.
The calculation goes thus: For 2003 arrears, it means his increment is N98, 247, 88 x 6% which gives you N5, 896.50. If you add up, his new pension as at December is N104, 171, 48. So his arrears for the period October 2003 to December 2006 will be N5, 896, 50 x 39 months which amounts to N229, 963, 45.
For the 2007 arrears, Lt. Col. Fineboy as at December 2006 was receiving N104, 172, 48. His increment based on 15% is N104. 48 x 15% which gives us N15, 625, 72. His new pensions’ as at December is N119, 797, 20. His arrears will be N15, 625, 72 x 12 months netting him arrears of N187, 508, 84.
For the 2008 arrears, the pension of Lt. Col. Fineboy as at December 2007 is N119, 797, 20. The pension increment of Lt. Col. Fineboy is N119, 797, 20 x 23% which gives us N27, 553, 36 effective January 2008. His arrears for the period up to October 2009 is N27, 553, 36 x 12months which amounts to N606, 173, 84. His new pensions’ effective January 2008 to date is N147, 350, 56. Therefore, the total arrears accruing to Lt. Col. Omo Fineboy is N1, 023, 645, 93.
Even though the pensioners were not aware of this 23%, the military pensions’ board was able to secure this release for them and we got the funds to pay those arrears. So the issue of how much a pensioner gets depends on when he or she was pay rolled into the board.
What are the benefits of the Medically-Boarded ex-soldiers in this package?
It is not every pensioner that got the arrears of 12 5% and 15% paid to them or that is entitled to it. Those that are entitled to these arrears are those on the pay roll by 1st October 2003. The medically board soldiers who were pay rolled on humanitarian grounds by the Federal Government, only got into our books effective January 2008. So they are only entitled to the 23% of 2008.
Have you made efforts to check some of the banks that transmit these monies to the beneficiaries and confirm they are paying exactly what is due to the ex military officers?
Yes, we have done that. The confusion is just this issue of 12. 5%. While the pensioners were expecting 12. 5%, what government approved and released funds for was only 6% and that 6% took the bulk of the arrears because it covered October 2003 to December 2006.
You find out that the 23% we got for them later was where they got the lump sum that meant something to them. Because while they were expecting that they were not aware that we were able to secure a 23% increase for them and that one enhanced their take home pay. And we have always said that if pensioners have problems of collecting their money or they are at a loss on any issue concerning their benefits, they should come and we will sort out the problem.
After the payment of these arrears, what now happens to the monthly collection of the ex-soldiers?
Even before the payment of the arrears, we had earlier reviewed their pay in November 2009. We reviewed the payment of their pensions upward in November 2009 when we secured approval from government pending the release of the money for the payment of the 12. 5% and 15% arrears. Maybe that is why some of them are saying they are still collecting the old rates.