By Godwin Oritse
FOLLOWING appeal by the Association of Retired Customs Officers, ARCO, to the Customs management to pay the pension arrears owed its members, stakeholders in the maritime industry have called on the Presidency to intervene in the matter before it is too late.
Speaking with Vanguard Maritime Report, national president of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents, NCMDLCA, Mr Lucky Amiwero, said the development sends a bad and dangerous signal.
Amiwero said that officials of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, and Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, did not work half as hard as officials of the Nigeria Customs Service at the border posts, seaports, airports and other places across the country.
While suggesting that if the payment of retirement benefits were not dealt with immediately, the current Customs officers cannot but help themselves thereby continuing the unending circle of corruption that has bedevilled the agency, he noted: “The non-payment of these people will only breed corruption that the government is trying to stop”.
Similarly, the immediate past president of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, Alhaji Olayiwola Shittu, said that if what the retirees are saying is true, then it is not fair adding that whoever is responsible for the payment of the benefits of these Nigerians who gave the best part of their lives to the service of their fatherland, should ensure that they are paid as soon as possible.
Recall that public relations officer of the association, Lagos Chapter, a retired comptroller of customs, Lewis Ogunojemite, expressed displeasure over the non-payment of pension arrears to the officers, years after retirement. He said the retired officers were dying and “going through hell” due to lack of payment of their entitlement by the Customs management.
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Shittu listed a visually impaired 90-year-old pensioner, who retired as a deputy comptroller general of customs, that was yet to be paid his entitlement 30 years after retirement.
He said: “It is not fair for those who have contributed so much to service to be treated in a horrible manner. As I speak with you, there is a particular case of an elderly man who is in his 90s now, he retired as a deputy comptroller general of customs, but his pension was paid as a controller.
“The association fought so much that we got approval even from the head of the civil service to the legal department and before the Customs management announced the current set of deputy comptroller generals, the case to pay the affected officer has been concluded but till date, the matter is still with Customs and we are wondering why they have not paid.
“In fact, we are crossed with the comptroller general of customs, Hameed Ali, over that matter because this old man is blind. Do they want to pay after the man has died? Along with him, there are other officers like that. They have worked out their money and they have been approved to be paid, yet the files are just hanging somewhere.”
The ex-Customs controller, who decried the level of complacency in the civil service, said it is worrisome that nothing moves except palms are greased. Ogunojemite said: “I have found something out of this present government and it is very worrisome. The civil service is no longer working. It has become so complacent. The civil service waits for you to come to move files. They wait for people to do something before they do anything. Even when there is an approval on it from the government, they will just kill it there. It is unlike before when you can sit down and your files will move.
“There are lots of decisions that the Presidency has taken and nobody has taken action on them and yet nobody is being queried. It has trickled down to the last place that people will just treat everything with levity. Even at the port, the way people treat jobs in a nonchalant way not minding that money is being wasted through demurrage is worrisome.”
Reacting to the development, Customs spokesman, Joseph Attah, said the payment of pension arrears of retired Customs officers was not within the purview of the Nigeria Customs Service management.
He said, “Under the present arrangement, pensions are not drawn from the Nigeria Customs Service. Retired officers deal with their own individual pension administrators because it is not a single administrator that deals with all. The complaint is better directed to the person’s pension administrator, it is not a Customs issue.”