By Ibrahim H. Suleiman
In recent times pensioners across the country have been subjected to all kinds of dehumanisation. Whether at the federal or state level it is not uncommon to find thousands or millions of retirees that are neither being paid their pension nor their full gratuities many years after retirement.
Many theories have been advanced for the inability of the authorities concerned to squarely as prescribed by the constitution. The most feasible of these theories is paucity of funds, even after President Buhari distributed billions of naira as bail out and Paris Club refunds to the states. Other reasons include, the need to screen the retirees so as to ascertain their exact number, lack of continuity in government programmes, greed and corruption among others.
Today in Nasarawa State, it is not uncommon to find retirees who left the service twenty years ago and are yet to be fully paid their gratuities. Of course the older retirees who are still battling to receive their gratuities belong to the less privileged majority. Yet it is on record that since the creation of the state in 1996, succeeding governments have been making provision for the payment of gratuities on a monthly basis and this has not changed to date, save for what the new APC-led administration’s policy would become. At any rate, majority of the retirees have succumbed to their fate anyway by lining up for the paltry sums being doled out whenever. In fact, having spent most of their most productive years in service, there is no tangible hope for any other source of livelihood than their gratuities and pension.
However, the situation was to take a plunge for the worst beginning from the year 2011. The implementation of the then New National Minimum Wage of N18,000.00 brought with it mixed feelings. While workers and retirees welcomed the development, the state government groaned under the huge salaries and pension bills. Nevertheless, it was not until the second tenure of the outgone governor Almakura’s administration from 2015, four years into the commencement of the new minimum wage regime, that the government began to kick against paying the new salary structure in the state. As the case was, workers under the aegis of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC would not succumb to the state government insinuations to renege on their earlier agreements to review downward the salaries/pension of civil servants. The result was the fatal strike that claimed the precious lives of some of our workers.
Thus while the workers stood their ground, their salaries remained untouched. But the retirees who could not embark on strike watched as their own pension was cut down to 50%. Efforts by the state branch of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners, NUP to make government see reason and revert its decision proved abortive. The state governor reportedly argued albeit rather illogically that it was not right to pay pension at the new salary/pension structure, because it would be unfair and unjust to the pensioners who retired immediately before April, 2011. Moreover, the new pension structure had been in existence for over four years and the affected retirees were benefiting from it in full before the state government decided to slash it downward.
This development led a group, the Concerned Group of pensioners in the state to take their grievances to the National Industrial Court holding in Makurdi. This did not go down well for the state government. About one thousand five hundred pensioners were blacklisted. From November 2018, the bureau headed by its DG, Malam Sani Abdullahi Oseze decided to suspend the payment of the 50% pension to all those blacklisted for daring to take the government to court. And as the relationship between pensioners and state government deteriorated the Pension Bureau mobilised some of the affected retirees to frustrate the pensioners’ case before the industrial court. Supported by the bureau, another group, named Pensioners Forum for Peace, PFP was formed and it promptly filed a motion seeking the withdrawal of hundreds of pensioners from the list of those who had taken the state government to court. Therefore, the court could not deliver the judgment which the Concerned Group wanted during the tenure of the outgone governor Umaru Tanko Almakura, whom the pensioners blamed solely for their woes. Nevertheless, the pensioners had made a point and it would be difficult to expect them to lie low if the new administration refuses to meet their demands.
At any rate, the pensioners have continued to receive only 50% of their pension, while gratuity was only being paid to a select few to the detriment of the suffering majority. The question now is: what becomes of the fate of the pensioners as the new administration takes over? Observers remain optimistic that Engr Abdullahi Alhaji Sule will actually make the difference. His utterances and body language before and after assumption of office suggest that he would be sympathetic to the worsening plight of the pensioners. However, only time will tell who bells the cat.