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Time now to clear the pension arrears

LIKE a stalking nightmare, the  spectre of the country’s ill-treatment of its pensioners continues to strike the conscience of the nation.

In the latest appraisal of the pathetic situation of public sector pensioners, the Senate and the House of Representatives on separate occasions in the past week brought attention to the issue arising mainly from the backlog of N174 billion owed pensioners.

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In the main, pensioners who retired under the Contributory Pension Scheme, since 2015, have not been paid their pensions on account of the Federal Government’s failure to pay its statutory share of five per cent to the Pension Redemption Fund in line with the Pension Reform Act, 2004.

The Senate in adopting the motion brought by Senator Emmanuel Paulker said that it was worried “that the delay in payment of pension arrears has put pensioners across the country in very precarious situations where they wallow in penury, sickness, hopelessness, and regret after serving their fatherland diligently.”

Hon. Toby Okechukwu, who moved the motion on the floor of the House of Representatives, projected negative consequences of fighting a war against corruption with civil servants who know that pensions may not be forthcoming when they retire. The temptation for such workers is to steal what they can while still in the service.

It was recently revealed that in 2014 for example when 11,010 participants in the contributory pension scheme were supposed to retire and for which N93 billion was required to offset their entitlements, that only N30 billion was approved. That meant a shortfall of N62 billion.

The Director-General of the National Pension Commission (NPC) Mrs. Chinelo Anohu-Amazu, summarised the challenges during the 2017 budget defence hearing of the Commission when she noted that N38 billion shortfall was also recorded in 2015 while in 2016 the shortfall rose to N73 billion.

These shortfalls have progressively led to a debt of N174 billion owed our retired workers which government must immediately address.

The Nigerian Union of Pensioners (NUP) at a meeting with Speaker Yakubu Dogara last week further lamented that another shortfall has been planted in the 2017 budget proposals.

Retirees who devoted their working lives serving the country must not be scornfully discarded as it is being done given the regular reports of pensioners dying on pension queues. The National Assembly should ensure that the backlog is wholly provided for in the 2017 budget, and subsequent budgets.

President Muhammadu Buhari, being a pensioner, should ensure that the appropriated funds are expeditiously released. That is the least that can be done for those who did not steal but worked meritoriously, believing that their pensions would come their way after service.

We have a moral obligation to save our aged former public sector workers from destitution and early graves.

 


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