Viewpoint

May 20, 2024

Emasculating contributory pensioners

pension

By NICK DAZANG

PERHAPS to pacify Nigerians or to take the wind out of the sail of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, which has been insisting on a living wage for impoverished Nigerian workers, the Federal Government on April 30, 2024, announced the approval of salary increases of between 25% to 35% for certain categories of civil servants.

Those said to benefit from these increases fall under six rubrics. They are:i)Consolidated Public Service Salary, CONPSS; ii)Consolidated Research and Allied Institutions Salary Structure, CONRAIS; iii)Consolidated Paramilitary Salary Structure, CONPASS; iv)Consolidated Police Salary Structure, CONPOSS; v)Consolidated Intelligence Community Salary Structure, CONICCS; and vi)Consolidated Armed Forces Salary Structure, CONFSS.

By the same token, the Federal Government approved an increase of between 20% to 28% for pensioners under the Defined Benefits Scheme, DBS, and which fall under the canopy of the six national Consolidated Structures aforementioned. Glossed over, severely and abandoned to their devices, are the not less than 422,000 retirees under the Contributory Pension Scheme, CPS.

One would have thought that this omission or oversight was an innocent mistake. But it is not. Section 15(14) of the Pension Reform Act(PRA) 2014 and section 173(3) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria(as amended) state in clear and lucid terms that there shall be intermittent financial increases for retirees under the Contributory Pension Scheme. And whereas those under the Defined Benefits Scheme have benefited from increases in the recent past, those under the CPS have been willfully denied.

By an authoritative and unimpeachable account, whereas increases for 2007 and 2010 and the consequential adjustments effected in 2019, have been implemented for retirees under the Defined Benefits Scheme, the same largesse is yet to be extended to retirees under the Contributory Pension Scheme. To underline the fact that retirees under the CPS are being deliberately shortchanged, and are being driven to the margins of existence, the regulatory body for these retirees, namely, the Pension Commission, has been unrelenting and untiring in calling the attention of the relevant authorities to this sordid state of affairs. For example, on February 21, 2024, PENCOM had called the attention of the Tripartite Committee of the National Salaries Incomes and Wages Commission on the National Minimum Wage to this ugly anomaly.

It is searing that the financial chasm between retirees under DBS and those under CPS continues to widen, and at a time when inflation is at an unprecedented 33.2% and counting, and a food inflation rate that has surpassed the 40% mark. It is also happening at a time of unrivaled hardship and looming national hunger. What makes this disparity galling is that both retirees on DBS and CPS patronise the same markets that vend foodstuffs, which prices have since shot through the roof. They buy fuel from the same stations and at the same prevailing price. They are also both subject to the same travails and traumas of heightened insecurity, kidnapping, banditry and terrorism which visit Nigerians on a daily basis.

Disparity is being worsened by the refusal of government to pay the financial increases to retirees under the CPS whereas those on DBS have since benefitted. Compounding these is that government, by its driving those under the CPS to the margins and showing unblushing preference for those under DBS, seeks to, wittingly or unwittingly, create a harrowing bantustan regiment. In this bantustan system, which is akin to the wicked apartheid system of old, an impression is being created that some workers are more equal than others, hence the better-heeled appurtenances and perks accorded them.

“It is bewildering that in a democracy, which ought to institute and entrench justice and equity, government seems to be in the forefront of promoting a bantustan pension scheme, and for good measure, acting against the grain of the law. Even where the law insists that all pensioners should be entitled to increases, retirees under the CPS have been, willfully and summarily, denied for inexplicable reasons. As if this willful denial is not harrowing enough, ordinarily the pension that accrues to retirees, especially those under CPS,  is at best paltry. Its niggardliness is being rubbished by an unparalleled inflation and high cost of living.

In spite of this unfortunate state of affairs, it is heartwarming that the Director General of PENCOM, Mrs Aisha Dahir-Umar, has been untiring in canvassing redress for the shortchanged retirees under the CPS who are in her tender care. In a recent memorandum to the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Wale Edun, she had written that:”While the Commission commends the gesture of the Federal Government in implementing the constitutional requirement for pension increase, it is a cause for serious concern that the circular under reference omitted pensioners under the Contributory Pension Scheme(CPS)”.

The Director General has done a lofty and high-minded thing by standing stoutly by her vulnerable pensioners. These are retirees who gave of their best and who served the country meritoriously and without blemish. She deserves commendation for her acute and deep sense of compassion. And she has distinguished herself in the service of her fatherland for courageously canvassing justice and equity for retirees on her watch.

Government must address,  forthwith, the injustice being meted out to the retirees under CPS. Their case acquires urgency for a number of compelling reasons. By addressing the non-payment of their financial increases, without delay, the government shall not only be doing what is just and right, but averting a situation where retirees under the CPS will feel they have been thrown under the bus of destitution after they had served to the best of their ability and with integrity. Or where those in service, in beholding how shabbily their seniors are being treated, will be tempted to find recourse either in not giving their best or resorting to untoward behaviors.

It is bad enough that there is a wide and unjustified disparity between retirees under DBS and CPS. But this should not be further accentuated by denying those under the CPS their constitutionally ordered financial increases. That will amount to perpetrating illegality. It will also amount to condemning the retirees to a nasty and brutish existence reminiscent of Thomas Hobbes’s God-forsaken state of nature.

What is good for the goose is good for the gander. What is good for retirees under the Defined Benefits Scheme is also good for those under the Contributory Pension Scheme.

Dazang, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Abuja