By Wole Masadomi
THE crisis rocking the Contributory Pension Scheme, CPS, in Niger State, has remained unabated, a situation which culminated in the alleged non-remittance of over N10billion to workers’ Retirement Saving Accounts, RSAs, by the state government.
The crisis, however, predates the present government in the state. It will be recalled that the bill for the CPS in the state was sent to the state House of Assembly in 2006 by the immediate past state government of Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu and passed into law on March 3, 2007.
The major features of the new scheme included a contribution of 7.5% of monthly emolument each by the employee and the employer, a provision for five per cent of monthly emolument by the employer as Bond Redemption Fund for settlement of employees’ accrued rights, a provision for a group Life Assurance Policy to be funded by the employer in lieu of death benefits, a transition period of three years ending in March, 2010 and the exemption of existing retirees, those due to retire during the Transitional period and Judges.
Though the law was passed in 2007, the state did not appoint any Pension Funds Administrator, PFA.
Retirees and employers
However, the implementation commenced with registration and opening of RSAs with designated PFAs. It is on record that 57,699 employees were initially registered while 22,000 civil servants retirees, were allegedly not captured out of which 6,000 were from the local government sector. Records showed that over N35.3billion was contributed by both the retirees and employers to the scheme out of which over N27.998billion was disbursed to the retirees’ Pension Account leaving a balance of N 2.3billion to the PFA.
While the civil servants were remitting their contributions to the scheme as at when due, a large scale fraud was uncovered indicating non remittances from the employer-Niger State Government. Following this development, the state chairman of Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, Yahaya Ndako, said the workers were no longer interested in the scheme and threatened to pull out, saying, “even if the law is amended, the civil servants are no longer interested in the scheme.”
The alleged fraud and the threat by the civil servants to back out of the scheme forced the then Governor, Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu to order for the immediate suspension of deduction of workers contribution of the mandatory 7.5 per cent monthly emolument until full investigation into the alleged fraud especially from the 25 local government Councils were concluded.
But the matter was not settled till the exit of the Babangida Aliyu Administration. As at today, the state is said to be owing retirees pension and gratuity about N10billion. The breakdown of the amount shows that N8billion was for those who left the service between 2007 and 2016 under the CPS while N2.06billion was for retirees in the old Pensions Scheme.
Speaking on the issue, Director General of the Pension Board, Alhaji Usman Tinau Ahmed, said the present Administration in an effort to offset the backlog had disbursed N1billion to over 1000 retirees while another batch of 569 retirees would also be settled soon. He, however, noted that the state and council pensioners had been receiving their monthly Pensions promptly.
According to him “The Governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello has instructed that state and local government pensioners should be paid promptly and that their payment should be a first line charge. All matters concerning the contributory Pension Scheme will be dealt with soon and a clearer picture of it will emerge soon.”
He claimed the problem was caused by the immediate past government, stressing that the present administration inherited a liability of N2.06billion, which it was making effort to settle in batches. Tinau Ahmed explained that N7.6billion would be needed to offset the arrears of 3,880 beneficiaries having settled part of them.
Meanwhile, Governor Sani Bello, has ordered a forensic audit of the CPS in the state, to get to the bottom of the alleged fraud. The large scale fraud was detected by a committee set up by the new management of the Board on the operation of the scheme in the Local government councils, Local government service commission and the State Universal Basic Education Board NSUBEB.