Right of Reply
DURING a visit to her office in Abuja by the Executive Secretary of the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate, PTAD, Mrs. Sharon Ikeazor, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, was greeted with the news that the nation’s pension scheme will now be extended to Nigerians in the Diaspora who had worked diligently and had served their country but relocated to different corners of the world after retirement.

Mrs. Ikeazor, having recognised the critical role that Mrs. Dabiri- Erewa’s office can play in the actualisation of this novel idea, paid a working visit to her in order to “partner with the office of the SSA to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora” whereby getting the relevant information data on Nigerians in the Diaspora can be obtained  with relative ease. Mrs. Ikeazor’s initiative has been commended in several quarters including some members of the group (Nigerians in the Diaspora) for whom this initiative is also  targeted.

What Mrs. Ikeazor and her PTAD are trying to achieve is not some abstract bureaucratic  innovation. It’s rather an initiative that has direct and poignant impact on human beings and  the totality of their quality of life after retirement. This is probably what Madam Eunice had  in mind when she heard the news that she would be able to receive her pension even outside the Nigerian shores. Madam Eunice, a Nigerian pensioner, retired as a Matron in one of  Nigeria’s government hospitals. She had waited for about 10 years for her pension all to no  avail. Since, according to her,  not collecting her pension after putting in all her productive years in serving her country was taking a toll on her health and wellbeing, she asked her son  who resides in Canada if she could come over to take care of her grand-children. Her son obliged. Madam Eunice had all but given up on her pension. But her hope in her country is  now rekindled when she received the news that a proposed plan is in the offing as to how her  pension would be paid to her while she lives in Canada. “I will come back to Nigeria to live  the rest of my life once they prove to me that it is real,” she said emphatically.

But this cheering news apparently did not sit well with Ochuko Akpobome, a self-described  public analyst. In his article in the Vanguard on Friday, January 20, 2017 which was titled “Verification: Is PTAD playing politics with pensioners’ income?”, one is hard pressed not to  think that Akpobome may be under some pressure to project a negative narrative about the  PTAD exercise. The author of this article exhibited several inconsistencies in his piece that  suggests he may be having difficulties making up his mind on the PTAD initiative. Hear him: “Admittedly, this exercise is not a bad idea in theory. But in practice, it is a needless waste of scarce financial resources, time and manpower, especially when it is more or less a  duplication of the functions of the National Identity Management Commission, NIMC.”

With the aforesaid, Akpobome displayed crass inconsistency that also throws up some  questions that he may be the only one in a position to provide answers to. For instance, why is an exercise, which is yet to be fully put into practice, be considered, ab initio, as “a needless waste of financial resources, time and manpower” when he had already admitted that the exercise in itself “is not a bad idea in theory?” Akpobome would also want his readers to believe that PTAD’s paradigm shift in respect of this brilliant Diaspora pension  initiative will be “a duplication of the functions” of NIMC. This is farther from the truth as  the functions of NIMC are starkly different from that of PTAD which Akpobome was kind  enough to reference in his piece.

From Akpobome’s submission on NIMC, it appears that the Identity Management  Commission could use some help by other data collection agencies of the Nigerian  government. “As specified in the NIMC Act 2007,” the author stated, “it is mandated to carry out the enrolment of citizens [but] as of 2016, the NIMC had registered 9.5 million Nigerians  on the national database” out of which only one million of those registered had received their e-ID cards.”

If a data collection agency have only managed to garner 9.5 million Nigerians since 2007 when it was established and a paltry one million of those registered have been able to secure their e-ID cards in a country in which its population is in the excess of 150 million  people, no one needs to be told that other data-gathering agencies of government should come to the rescue in the data-collection exercise when such exercise is a matter of life and  death for some Nigerians which in this case are the pensioners.

It’s at the very least unfortunate and at best disingenuous that Akpobome could not see the  intrinsic benefit behind PTAD’s announcement that it had temporarily dropped about 15,600  pensioners off its payroll because they lack the Bank Verification Numbers, BVN, that  veritable means of individual identification that has not only helped in reducing corruption in  all facets of our national life, but has also exposed ghost pensioners that had milked the  country’s pension scheme for several decades.

For him not to have seen that dropping these  groups of pensioners until they acquire the BVN is to protect them from unscrupulous  elements smacks of some insidious attempts to hold brief for some interests in the data- collection exercise. Pray, how can having the BVN, which is legally binding on everyone that operates a bank account “be construed as a tactical attempt by PTAD to ram the verification  exercise down pensioners’ throats?”

It’s important to stress to Akpobome that within a short spate of time (specifically since  October 2016 until now), PTAD has concluded the capturing of pensioners in six states of the  federation, Borno, being the most recent, where their accounts are instantly credited. This is a feat that should be commended by well-meaning Nigerians. His assertion that PTAD’s staff will junket to 180 countries of the world in the commission’s attempt to build a database for  Nigerians living around the world after the agency has concluded its information gathering in  all the states in the federation is laughable at best.

Akpobome is well advised to sheath his  sword until PTAD presents the modalities with which this laudable and unprecedented  initiative would be actualised. PTAD should be commended for thinking out of the box in  bringing Nigerian pensioners in the Diaspora into the mainstream pension scheme where they can have access to their retirement benefits from anywhere they may be residing around the  globe. After all, it’s their money.

Mr.  Femi Odere, a media practitioner,

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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.