Unbearable plight of pensioners

It is saddening that not much is being done to address the worsening plight of pensioners in the country. Our pensioners and senior citizens continue to languish in pains, loneliness, and depression. Failure by the government to put in place, sustainable pension schemes that would be accessible, implementable and impactful to the lives of the people has been the trend, which should be looked into with all seriousness.

A few days ago, pensioners in Benue state had laid siege to the government house in Makurdi to demand the payment of their pension arrears and gratuity being owed by the state government. The Chairman of Concerned Pensioners, Peter Kyado, who led the protest, alleged that the group loses about 40 pensioners per month because of the non-payment of their allowances while confirming the death of three members of the group that are currently taking part in the protest.

On its part, Governor Samuel Ortom while appealing to the protesting pensioners assured that efforts were on top gear to pay them in two months’ entitlements. The governor said that his administration was making deliberate attempts at solving the pension and gratuity challenges facing the state, as N611m had been approved for the payment of two months’ pension arrears, assuring that the inauguration of the Pension Commission would go a long way in putting an end to the recurring decimal. Ortom further disclosed that he inherited accumulated arrears of pension to the tune of N17.1b out of which N6b had been cleared and that his administration had also paid over N18b of pension and gratuity, promising to pay the arrears of N11b being owed the pensioners from the inherited stock despite the revenue shortfalls accruing to the state.

However, the Benue State chapter of the People Democratic Party (PDP) had claimed that the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) was responsible for instigating the protest against the state government, as APC members were purportedly seen distributing food to the said protesters and encouraging them to remain at the Government House. Recent media reports show that more than 20 state governments had not remitted their workers’ pensions, as appropriate, to their Retirement Savings Accounts (RSAs) by causing shortfall for effective management by the National Pension Commission.

It would be recalled that the essence of starting the Contribution Pension Scheme was to overcome the operative problems associated with the former Defined Benefits Scheme found to be prone to corruption and poor management of retirement funds of retirees. The enactment of the Pension Reform Act in 2004 ushered a new era in pension administration in the country. The Act mandates workers to contribute eight percent of their income alongside their employers contributing 10 percent even though, less than only 25 states had enacted laws to participate in the scheme.

The legislation provides that an employer is under compulsion to, within 21 days, remit deductions to its workers’ RSAs and with the new wage of N30,000, it becomes pretty more difficult for states to make payments. At N8.63 trillion as of December 2018, PenCom’s Acting Director-General, Aisha Dahiru-Umar, revealed that the pension’s contribution to the nation’s GDP amounted to about five percent. Apart from the governmental non-compliant states, private companies defaulting are not left behind in the scheme, as they are regularly sanctioned for not paying, when necessary.

More energy should be deplored to ensuring that pension administration is not defective in the country. To begin with, states should ensure regular remittances. There is a need for closer monitoring of the scheme by the government. The directive to financial institutions to prevent states that are not remitting pension funds from raising bonds is commendable so as to encourage payment compliance. Putting in place stiffer penalties against defaulting states should be embarked upon to serve as a deterrent.

The new-introduced micro pension scheme in the informal economy is another right step taken in the right direction. The organised labour should intensify efforts at educating their members on the need to fulfill their obligations and how to make employers faithfully committed to the programme. Employers of labour should continually sensitise their employees on virile pre-retirement plans through seminars, conferences, and workshops. Workers should not wait until they retire before they start planning for their future. They should begin planning from day one. Many pensioners fall victim or become easily demoralised when they put all their hopes in government to cater for them after retirement. This should not be so.

The government should do its part while workers should always look forward to what could keep them busy and alive in sound health long after disengagement from active service. More importantly, politicians should desist from using pensioners to score cheap points against their opponents. They should device other means of playing politics without dragging our respected senior citizens into any mess. Without further delay, Benue State should meet the demands of suffering pensioners while other states should not allow this embarrassment to happen before they paid their pensioners, as appropriate. We should let our pensioners to live peacefully and happily after their well-deserved retirement.

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