By Funmi Komolafe & Victor Ahiuma- Young
After over four decades in the trade union movement within which period he became the general secretary of a trade union from 1978 to2009, left wing intellectual of the trade union movement, Comrade Sylvester Ejiofoh bowed out of career trade unionism late last year.

Pension and You had a chat with the man  popularly called “ SOZ” by his comrades.  Others call him “ Head of Service” obviously because of his in-depth knowledge of the federal civil service.

He spoke to us on issues such as the pension reform, retirement and the civil service.

You recently retired from active trade unionism after over four decades. How did your prepare for retirement?

Quite frankly, I had about three years transition to prepare myself to disengage voluntarily from routine unionism. So, in fact I did not feel any suddenness in change of roles.

Some people have argued that it takes a longer time to prepare for retirement than what you just said. They believe that immediately one is employed, he should  start preparing for retirement. From your experience, do you see it  differently?

Comrade Sylvester Ejiofoh...The unions have a responsibility

Well, that concept maybe valid for those who enter  career and wage employment. Do not forget that my own brand of unionism, I was playing a role in the trade union movement. Once you are in a movement, retirement is like a  change of role. In fact, anyone or any unionist who spent the over three decades I spent as general secretary of a union and conceptualizes unionism not as a career based on contract employment. Honestly, it is like transcending to another level of leadership.

So, I did not feel any dislocation at all. Maybe the only change now is that I can read more and write more. I bet you, the past three years before I disengaged in October last year…, I would  be interested in  the title of a book and I will buy it. I will just scan through it and throw it somewhere  because 24 hours was not enough for me to accomplish a day’s assignment. But you will be shocked that from October, I  read  books.

Not just novel, serious books, within a week. I have kept series of editions of some magazines, serious magazines for about one year, which  I just scanned  through but between October and November last year, I was able to get through them and now keep pace. So, what I really gained is that I now have time and the frame of  mind. I not in a hurry which to me, I think is a serious plus.

In specific terms, those three years you had for transition, what were you engaged in?

First, you know AUCPTRE ( Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees) in 2007, decided to expand the frontiers of its organization. That implies now, organizing AUCPTRE as a general union and that has been very, very occupying. Not really because it expanded the scope of the union, but the quality of the membership. For me, it was very challenging. Of course, the educational programmes of AUCPTRE, I had to revive all the books, all the texts and so on to align them with the decision of our governing council that we should now work towards transforming AUCPTRE into a social movement.

Its been five years of the pension reform and as somebody who has worked for a long time with the public sector, how would you assess the scheme?

You know some of us raised our apprehensions about the public service reforms but you know when government delights  in duplicating models that have been done somewhere, they should be done carefully.  The reforms short of leading to the disengagement of over 100,000 federal public servants, in concrete terms,  in terms of introducing new and better work ethics, no.

Two, in terms of introducing new ways of doing things… no. If you look at the aspect which has to do with concessioning functions, take the menial jobs, they contracted out, go the ministries, enter the toilets, they are dirty. What has happened is that it has increased cost because those who were disengaged by the reforms were not to be paid pension on the basis of contributory pension but the old pension scheme.  That means that you have to pay people who would have retired say in 10 years time .

It was like penny wise, pound foolish. I am not just being doctrinaire, I accept reforms. Life is a process of change but in terms of the public service reforms, based on the parameters of introducing new and better ways of doing things, I am not sure that has been achieved.   The issue of work ethics …work ethics is a general phenomenon in the whole country both private and public sector. Has the reform been cost effective. No. .  So, if you ask yourself what has the reform achieved in this area, nothing.

Specifically on the pension reform…

The pension reform  is a different thing entirely .  The pension reform which is the movement from non-contributory but defined benefits to contributory pension.  Quite frankly, I was a major person in the discussion that took place.  Again we were critical.  Our view was that it was rushed.

We had canvassed that we can still have a contributory pension in which gratuity and pension are built in. Two, we expressed apprehensions about contracting out the management of the contributed funds. You know we now have Pension Fund Administrators, Pension Fund Custodians.

We are told that it was an  IMF( International Monetary Fund)  innovation  which had been tested in Chile but you are aware that the present president of Chile  in her acceptance speech, warned the world to be careful about it. So, one cannot say now, but one can say to the extent of the investment of pension funds by companies that are inexperienced, it is a question of where there is honey, there would be ants. One could have thought that if it is contributory, the investment could have been  done  by those who contribute, the employee  and the employers which   Kano state government did.

Kano state tailored its r own reform  in this way. Instead of 7.5% contribution by employer and employee, the state government gives 15% while workers contribute  7.5% and they now have the pension investment fund and you can invest the fund in Kano state and pay the employees pension and gratuity and pay those who retired first before this thing came . I see that as a very sound innovation.

I understand Jigawa state too intends to buy into it. I thought that was a special approach for a new concept but how these pension managers will end up, given the crisis we saw in the banks… Nobody has asked but you are aware that in 2006 , PENCOM ( National Pension Commission) had to rush in  guarantee some of the investments but nobody has asked with the near collapse of the stock exchange, what happened to the investment on pension.

PENCOM said an  insignificant percentage of pension funds was invested in the capital market and assured that  money is not lost.

Well, nobody can say yes because  those who are have drawn from this pension scheme a very few from 2007, they are very few  but in about 10 years time….  because pension funds is something that has collapsed in many countries.  I am not raising an alarm but honestly, we had advocated a step by step approach but like all Nigerian things we take a quantum leap  and begin to regret.

So far PENCOM said over a billion Naira has been raised as pension fund and it would appear that the regulatory machinery of PENCOM is working …

I respect the gentlemen in PENCOM.  We pressurized them to get those men on board and I think they are men of integrity but like all Nigerian things for how long would they be there.

So, your fear is that appointments into PENCOM may be based on political affiliation in future?

Well, the unions have to be on their toes. The unions have a responsibility.


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