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Suffering and crying on pension queues: The untold story of Nigeria’s senior citizens

In their prime, they  toiled and gave their best towards the development of their fatherland. Some spent over three decades working loyally for the system which they had implicit  faith in. Years after retirement when they should be rewarded for good work, they are receiving pain and anguish. Some have died while waiting for the stipend they are paid as  reward for their labour. This is the story of Nigerian pensioners. In its efforts to address the plight of retirees, the office of the Civil Service of the Federation decided to build a biometric data base for the over 160,000 pensioners. This, it said would  ensure direct and regular payment of the monthly pensions.  Whereas this  biometric verification exercise was expected to reduce the sufferings of pensioners, the reverse appears to be the case. Charles Kumolu reports.

 THE least one expected at the entrance of the compound housing the Federal Civil Service Club on Awolowo Road,Ikoyi was the offensive odour of urine which oozed from all nooks and crannies of the premises. As one moves further inside the not too vast compound, the odour becomes choking. But for the presence of aged persons, whose look tell the story tale of  poverty, it would have be difficult to admit that human beings can endure such filt. Another unsettling issue is the sight of old men and women struggling to be on different queues within the cramped vicinity. Those, who were not part of the struggle, sat haplessly on chairs and floor  starring  into emptiness.

Retirees waiting for 'reward' in Lagos.

But for the occasional calling of names through  a public address system by the conveners of the exercise, nothing interrupts the empty gaze.  Sure, they were probably regreting all their years of work . “What do you want us to say, would you people claim ignorant of what is happening to us? We are tired of speaking, I will not say anything, as you can see I am struggling to have a place on this queue. I have been here for more than one week,” said a retiree, who only identified himself as Mr. Rafiu when this reporter accosted  him at the venue of the ongoing biometric enrolment/verification of pensioners across the country.

Even  with this  refusal to speak on their plight, other pensioners swarmed round this reporter  when  they realised his indentity.

“Help us, help us, we are tired of this treatment, we need our forms,” they chorused.  While trying to get them to speak individually,  a voice yelled at the old men and women:  “Don’t move beyond this place.”

The shouts of a  Prison Officer, however, restored relative order. But that was not enough to reduce their hurry to tell their tale.
“I am from Delta State, I retired since 1997. The news of this thing was a welcome one, but as you can see, we were brought here to suffer. I have been here for two weeks. I submitted my form and was asked to come on Sunday for it, but no body attended to us on that Sunday, and as we are speaking now, nobody has been attended to me ,” 70- year old Pa Nwadiashi lamented.

The septuagenarian, who was occasionally interrupted by his fellow retirees, who also wanted to register their anger, regretted that no body has explained to them why their forms are not yet processed.

“The worst thing is that these people are not even communicating with us, they can’t even explain to us why we are yet to get the forms, they don’t care about us,” he said but not yet done. He does not only have the problem of form to contend with, the septuagenarian has a urinary tract problem, hence he urinates on his body at intervals.

Displaying his catheter (rubber used in passing urine), said, “Oh my God, I have been urinating on my self. I hope you can see this(cataker), I was supposed to have gone to change it for this month, but how can I do that with this stress. Besides, I don’t live in this Lagos. I worked for thirty two years for the Federal government. It is good that you people are here to see, please we are tired of this, we don’t deserve this. Some people are lucky to have someone, who accompanied them to this place, but I am alone.

“We need help. Since morning, it is only those who have accounts with First Bank and Union Bank that they have been attended to. Why did they give this process out to a contractor? It is the contractor  that is making life difficult for us.”

Unlike Nwadiashi, who came from Delta State, Mrs. Ronke Olorufemi, is sad that she spends over N500.00 from  Badagry to the venue of the exercise daily.

The struggle...

Speaking flawless English, the retired secondary school teacher said, “I am Mrs. Ronke Olorufemi. Lagos state is not like this. Their pensioners are not experiencing this kind of treatment. Every day, I spend about N500 to come here from Badagry. What is our crime, please we need our form, that is the only language we want to hear.

“If we are given this form now, we can take it to the computer where they will prepare our cheque. Even some of these security people you see here are not helping us, I hope you are seeing how they treat us. Some even collect bribe from some people and collect forms for them from behind.  We cannot bribe them, so we are just left like this. All these security people you see around here are not even cooperating with us. I wish we could all march in there to know what is keeping our forms. Please help us to ask them what the problem is.”

Another retiree, Mr. Segun Olofin, who put in eighteen years before he was retired, said he would be doing his family a disservice to encourage any of them to work with the Federal Civil Service.

“With this kind of treatment do you think I can ask any of my relations to work with the Federal government? I worked for them for eighteen years. They were the ones that said they no longer need my service. Now I need my entitlement and it can’t be provided. I have been coming here since this process started. I have submitted my form, the problem is to collect it,” Olofin lamented.

Continuing, Olofin, who did not look hapless like others said, “ I am now in the private sector and you expect me to come here every day? What will I tell my employers. They claim to be doing it alphabetically, but at the end of the day, they end up attending to two people. There are even cases of misplaced forms,  you would submit the form but they would claim you did not.”

When prodded on what the form is all about he said, “that is what they came up with. The collection of the form is the first step of this exercise. After that, you  fill it and submit. After that, you  now come to this difficult stage that we are. This is rubbish.”

Attempt to get response from the personnel did not yield result. 

 “Oga abeg there is no chance now for you to have access to speak to any of them, go and buy pure water and come back after thirty minutes, then you can have chance to talk to them. Oga please just do what I told you,” a Prison officer, who sat at the entrance of where the officials were seated, ‘ told this reporter.

When the reporter returned thirty minutes later, a female official who was going into the building declined to speak, claiming to be busy.

It would be recalled that following complaints associated with Nigeria’s pension scheme, the Federal Government came up with  biometric registration of all pensioners in the country.

The two-week registration exercise, was expected to help checkmate various challenges bedeviling the pension system in the federal civil service.

“From June 21, to July 5, 2010, the biometric enrolment of pensioners will be carried out by officers of the OHSCF in collaboration with other stakeholders, including the National Union of Pensioners, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission in all states of the federation,” the Head of Service of the Federation, Mr. Stephen Orosanye,  said.

He noted that the current exercise would also ensure an efficient and effective pension service that was ”prompt as well as promote trust and confidence in all stakeholders.”
“In effect, the verification and biometric enrolment of pensioners would enable the department to determine the accurate number of its pensioners, determine the accurate amount of monthly pension liability, build a database of pensioners information that would be used to facilitate as well as streamline the administration and direct payment of monthly pensions and create a technology platform for continuous verification of pensioners, ” the HS said while announcing the introduction of the exercise. With what some have described as the failure of the exercise, many  are of the view that a more acceptable method that would not endanger the lives of  pensioners should be introduced.

“In the pre-independence years, it was pride that public servants served the country, they felt secure in their jobs, satisfied that at retirement pensions were there for them to live on and guarantee for them a tolerable life. Nowadays, it is no longer so. Many employees of the state government do not get regular pensions, it is a pathetic situation,” Justice George Oguntade(rtd) stated.

Making its grievances known through a statement jointly signed by  its Chairman and Secretary, Messes Rufus Olusesan andVictor Osakwe,  CDWR condemned what it described as the federal and state government’s dehumanising treatment of pensioners.

It condemned the death of a NIPOST retiree who died while protesting the non-payment of 49 months arrears of their pensions at General Post Office in Ikeja.

“We see no justification for a pensioner to be paid peanut while the cost of living keeps going up. These are pensioners who are prone to sickness in a country with collapsing and expensive health care system coupled with the fact that there is no social security in the country.

We call on the federal, state and local governments, for a living minimum wage of N52, 000 to be paid to pensioners and to be increased with the rate of inflation and adequate compensation paid to the family of all pensioners who died during verification or protesting for their money. This is unmindful of the fact that the best form of social security for the old, young and adult is for basic infrastructure to be upgraded to a qualitative state that can meet the needs of all,” CDWR stated.

It further called on the “Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and their affiliating trade union leaders to defend the interest of pensioners despite being retirees. The trade union leaders cannot close their eyes to the crisis the pensioners are undergoing since most workers will retire one day.

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