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Still on the shame of our pensions

By Josef Omorotionmwan
IT is barely two months now since we wrote  the article, “Pension: Waiting for the Dead man’s Shoes”. The reaction to that work has been absolutely overwhelming; hence we are impelled to return so soon to the issue, as an up-date to our readers. In our type of situation, salient points cannot escape being repeated.

We have not stopped being worried that the pension fund in this country has become the easiest money to steal. Last time, we reasoned that the only language that our system understands is that of strike and service withdrawal. Since the retirees are too feeble to embark on any strike and they have no service to withdraw, the system can afford to deal with them with impunity; hence we recommended stiffer penalties to discourage the reckless embezzlement of pension funds.

*One of the protester Mr. Felix Adewale Balogun, Chairman Shomolu Local Government Education Authority bin cary out, during  A Protest by Nigeria Union of Pensioners, Lagos state, on non payment of Pensioners arrears and gratuities by Lagos state Government, at Lagos House, Alausa, Ikeja. Photo: Bunmi Azeez
*One of the protester Mr. Felix Adewale Balogun, Chairman Shomolu Local Government Education Authority bin cary out, during A Protest by Nigeria Union of Pensioners, Lagos state, on non payment of Pensioners arrears and gratuities by Lagos state Government, at Lagos House, Alausa, Ikeja. Photo: Bunmi Azeez

It is also becoming clear that those who loot the huge sums are perhaps not the real owners of the loots. They are mere commission agents, acting on behalf of the big bosses, hence a man can openly confess to stealing “only N23 billion” and you hand down a fine of just N750,000 on him (.00032% of his loot), which he pulls out of his back pocket, throws at you and he is a free man forever.

Alhaji Abdulrasheed Maina has finally resurfaced. It would be recalled that he was the Acting Director of Customs, Immigration and Prison Pension Office. When the National Assembly smelt a rat around the close to N200 billion in his care, they invited him to come and shed some light on the issue.

When he failed to honour their invitation, a warrant of arrest was issued on him by the Senate but the Inspector General of Police was reluctant to execute the warrant. We saw how the Executive branch of our national government dilly-dallied on the issue until Maina fled from the country, or so we thought.

Maina now says he didn’t go anywhere. We believe him. And history is on his side. James Ibori was a free man until he stepped out of this country. Why would any wise man travel the same route? Does the Senate still want him? Or has his offence expired? For all we know, it is only in this country and it is only with the pension fund that this type of hide and seek game can be played.

Enter Dr. Teidi Shuaibu, Former Director, Accounts and Finance (Pension), Office of the Head of Service of the Federation who is being prosecuted by the EFCC for alleged involvement in an N18.3 billion pension fund scam. Shuaibu says he gave N1 billion to Senator Aloysius Etok (PDP/Akwa Ibom) to cover his tracks. The Senator denies the allegation.

Meanwhile, the actual owners of the money are dying on the pension queue. Since our last outing, many entries have come in but because of space constraint, our readers will permit us to call only two witnesses: One, Mr. Muftau Baruwa retired from the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing as a Senior Foreman.

That was more than 11 years ago. Hear him: “I served for 35 years and received merit awards twice by the Federal Government through two different level 14 officers. I joined the service on May 19, 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.”

Two, Mrs. Imakop’s case is equally pathetic. She retired from the National Bureau of Statistics in 2007. She narrates her ordeal: “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 has come out of it.

It was only in 2010 October that I was paid, since then no payment. My children are in school, I can’t provide for them. Anytime they come back, we will starve and they will cry all day till they go back. There is nobody to help me except God. My husband died since 2003.”

We have observed earlier that the Pension Reforms Act, 2004 may only have succeeded in increasing the volume of lootable funds available to the system.

Meanwhile, Government has succeeded in removing the burden off its neck and handing same over to private companies organised under Pension Fund Administrators, PFAs and Pension Fund Custodians, PFC. These private companies are made up of bankers, politicians and big businesses, all within the same clique of the ruling elite.

Essentially, the Act provides a very good example of a bad law. The law sets off having the retiree as its main target but in the end, the same retiree is left totally unprotected. In a very loose form, it provides a “penalty of not less than two percent of the total contribution, which ought to have been remitted” for late- and non-remittance of contributions.

Whichever way it goes, the retiree suffers: head he loses, tail he does not win! Many contributory pensioners are already groaning under the pains of unpaid pension arrears by pension managers. All available information point to the negative direction that many employers are already defaulting on their remittances.

The most offending aspect is that some employers are arm-twisting their worker into virtually converting the workers’ entire salaries to pension contributions as a way of atoning for the contributions, which the employers should make.

The future begins today. We wonder for how long labour unions will watch on as the labours of our heroes past are being pushed into the mud. After all, they, too, will soon be wearing these tattered shoes.


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