By: Elijah Udofia
The prayer of any worker, be it in the public or private sector, is to retire in good health and thereafter enjoy his or her retirement benefits. No workers want to live a miserable life after decades of serving his/ her State, nation or an organization. He or she doesn’t want to go home empty handed at the end of the day. Retirees yawn and look forward to the retirement period, when they will spend the rest of their lives enjoying the fruits of their labour in peace and comfort.
A cursory look at how the senior citizens fare from one part of the world to another shows that while they adequately cater for some, they live in abject poverty in other parts. For example, the Scandinavian countries are said to be at the forefront when it comes to caring for their retirees. According to Mercer CFA Institute Global Pension Index, 2020 report, which awards national pension system score in terms of adequacy, integrity sustainability as well as giving them an overall score, the Netherlands came tops with 82.6 out of a hundred percent. It is closely followed by Denmark with 81.4, Israel with 74.7 and Australia picking the fourth position with 74.2 points. It is instructive to state that no African country appeared in the chart. The question is, does this mean that African leaders don’t care for their senior citizens? Does it mean that retirement is a death sentence in Africa?
So much has been said about the plight of pensioners in Nigeria. Despite the numerous pension reforms, purportedly done to address the plight of pensioners in the country, a lot of them still live in penury. Many of them are owed months of unpaid pension, while their gratuities are no go areas to those concerned. We often hear of pensioners dropping dead while cueing up to be enumerated in order to collect their stipends. Some even starve to death as a result of non-payment of their entitlements.
It was the British Comedian and Playwright, Ben Elton, who said, “you are mugging old ladies every bit as much as you pinch their pension fund”. Successive governments both at the centre and the state level, in the past, did not only pinched on the pensions fund of the Retirees, they outrightly denied them their right by not giving them what belongs to them. This unfair treatment led many of them to living miserable lives and ultimately, ended up dead without their entitlements. Determined to change the narratives by ensuring that the senior citizens are not denied or cheated of their rights, the Ogun State Government, under the leadership of Prince Dapo Abiodun, a son of retirees, few days ago, commenced the payment of retirees who had served the State or Local Government meritoriously, at one time or the other.
Governor Abiodun who handed over cheques worth N500m to the beneficiaries at a ceremony held at the Cultural Centre, Kuto, Abeokuta, expressed surprise that pensioners could be owed their entitlements after leaving service some since 2011. He informed the Pensioners that though the bulk of the backlog was owed by his predecessor, he was determined to put smiles into their faces. The Governor apologized to the senior citizens for the harsh treatment meted to them in the years gone by, and said the payment was a symbolic commitment in keeping with the promise made to them during his electioneering campaign. “You will recall that in the course of our rigorous campaign, I had the privilege to meet some of you and I remember that at that meeting, you shared with me your pain and I promised to look into your case when we assume office.”
“Immediately after the inauguration of our Administration in 2019, we began to review the various State policies and programmes as a strategy towards ensuring suitable life after retirement and empowerment of our elders. We were also about to begin the implementation of various laudable and landmark projects as part of our appreciation towards improving the standard of living of our respectable elders and actively engaging them towards building the future of our dear State together.
“Today, we will be distributing the first installment of quarterly provision of a minimum of N500 million amongst the various cadres of pensioners under the State Government, Local Government as well as commencement of the argumentation of the shortfall on the BRT payment. These payments are all inherited liabilities from previous administrations, but I am assuring you that the process of paying these gratuities have started and will definitely continue”, the Governor noted.
As a way of ensuring that many more Retirees get their entitlements, the State helmsman noted that arrangement has been made to substantially increase the quarterly provisions as the economy improves, adding that apart from the payment of monetary entitlements, his administration was committed to providing other opportunities for the Retirees under the various social welfare scheme put together by the state and Federal governments. He urged them to key in and take advantage of the programmes.
“Our Administration has various social intervention programmes. For those of you who are into micro and small businesses, you can key into Okowo Dapo, a micro credit scheme that provides a window for women to access financial resources and the Anchor Borrowers Scheme on Agriculture”.
The Permanent Secretary, Bureau of State Pension, Mr. Olukunle Sodeinde, who spoke while welcoming the retirees, emphasized that the State government has released the sum of N500m as part payment of outstanding to State and Local Retirees owed by past governments. He added that Gratuity would be paid to those scheduled for January 2014 and part local government retirees of 2011. The State government, Mr. Sodeinde disclosed, has approved the reversal of Gratuity based on Basic, Rent and Transport (BRT) Allowance paid to some retirees by the last administration as against all applicable allowances, assuring that those who were paid BRT would be paid their balance.
Chairman, Nigeria Union of Pension, Ogun State Chapter, Comrade Waheed Oloyede, whose joy knew no bounds in his remarks called for an increase of the quarterly release from N500m to N1bn. He appreciated the State government for wiping their tears, saying with the payment, the Governor has fulfilled the promise made to them during his electoral campaign. Mr. Taiwo Abraham, one of the beneficiaries, was short of words to express how happy he was. According to him, “I want to thank my Governor for putting an end to our suffering for many years. The payment of these Gratuities and regular payment of monthly Pensions, shows that our governor loves pensioners. Anywhere I am not surprised because His Excellency is OMOLUABI who fulfills his promise when he made one”.
Collaborating her colleague, Mrs. Ajaka Chibuozo, who had served the State as a teacher for 34 years, sarcastically said, ” my brother, this is like a dream to me. I retired from service eight years ago and since then, my gratuity was not paid. When I was called a few days ago that my name was on the list of those to receive their cheque, I just laughed because I have lost hope of getting my gratuity during my lifetime. I am here today to receive my Gratuity. Infact I am short of words to describe my feelings. I thank the Governor for remembering those of us who had served this State diligently and I pray that God will continue to give him wisdom to steer the ship of this state to the desired destination”.
The payment of gratuity by the Ogun State Government was indeed one act that brought smiles to our elders. The fact that some of them are alive to reap the fruits of their labour was enough to brighten and smoothen the wriggled lines on their faces. It was an occasion where one of the retirees, Mrs. Kuburat Adeniyi, said, would remain indelible in her mind for a long time. The gesture of Governor Abiodun in paying the retirees their entitlements is an indication that when there is a will, definitely there will be a way. Despite the paucity of funds occasioned by the outbreak of the Covid-19, that has affected the world’s and Nigeria’s economy negatively, the State helmsman still squeeze out something out of nothing is commendable to pay. If previous administration had taken this path, the humongous amount that has accrued as a result of backlog would not have been and the lamentations of the senior citizens would not have been reduced to the barest.
Abiodun, by this gesture, is simply using the words of a renowned medical practitioner and researcher, Dr. M. K Soni, to tell the retirees, “I want you to retire from work, but not from life”.
*Udofia, Head of the Ogun State Governor’s Press Crew, Oke-Mosan, Abeokuta, Nigeria.