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Pensioners’ Lives Matter: A call for urgent reforms, by Lai Gidado

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Pensioners’ Lives Matter: A call for urgent reforms, by Lai Gidado

The lives of many pensioners in Nigeria remain marred by neglect, poverty, and inadequate support from the government despite the involvement of the National Pension Commission (PenCom) and the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) in pension administration. The disparity in the treatment of different categories of retirees and the insufficient coverage of the pension schemes for the working population highlight the need for urgent reforms.

And what are these Pensioners to the Society?
Pensioners are the elders in our society who provide firm support for the family, like the roots that keep the tree standing strong. They are the ideal mentors, drawing from their life experiences to provide appropriate critique and constructive advice to their children. They help to resolve disputes among the family members and play an all-important role in the lives of their grandchildren with whom they spend time, playing and teaching them the salient values of communal life. The elders impact the young minds of children for whom they provide a safe and loving environment for their mental growth – something that no childcare centre or school can provide.

In summary, pensioners or senior citizens are a blessing to society and a great treasure to the family and the nation. They possess an immense ocean of knowledge, experience, and wisdom that serve as a guidepost for the younger generation.

Pensioners are treated in Nigeria as a non-important part of society by the government and civil societies. In the last 26 years, the minimum wages of civil servants have been upgraded several times from seven thousand (7,000) Naira to the recent figure of thirty-five thousand (35,000) Naira 35,000 addition to all salaries across boards.
But it is disheartening to know that the government did not consider the Pensioners for these increases, except that they would receive an increase every five years. But that provision appeared forgotten in the last eight years.

A concerning aspect of the situation is the attitude of the Nigerian Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress, both of whom have failed to make demands for an increase in stipends for senior citizens – forgetting, of course, that members of the labour unions would someday also become pensioners.

How does one explain a situation where a Director-General or permanent secretary who had retired for over thirty years remains on a monthly pension of less than 50,000 fifty thousand Naira or less? Prices of commodities in the marketplace have tripled. How does the retiree pay for their food, medications, fuel and service their old car from the meagre pension? Under this situation, where on earth does the political class obtain the audacity to often campaign for the support of these rather abandoned members of society? How would a family where the husband and wife are pensioners on a combined monthly pension of ninety thousand (90,000) Naira survive with their two unemployed graduates living with them?

When President Bola Ahmed Tinubu announced the thirty-five thousand (35,000) Naira addition across the board for all civil servants, one thought that Mr President would mention that the government had also increased the monthly pensions of retirees above board. Alas, he was silent on that.

In other climes, especially Western Europe and the United States, the government and the organized private sector provide numerous incentives, such as free fares for buses, trains or trams, discounts in grocery shopping, reduced or free hospital bills, and recreational supplements.

About two years ago, the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) invited pensioners to different locations in the six geo-political zones for the I’m Alive verification program. It was a pathetic exercise for many Nigerian retirees, some of whom went to the location on wheelchairs, while some went piggyback on their daughters, sons, or wives. As one observed the scenes in dismay, the question that came to mind was, was the meagre wages that some of these pensioners might receive worth the pains of physical presence at the verification exercise?

PTAD made retirees across Nigeria believe that the agency would regularise the monthly pension payment system to reflect the current salary conditions of civil servants. But far from that, PTAD issued a circular in 2022 that the government agency would upgrade the pension in tranches. Last year, PTAD introduced online verification that resulted in a reduction in monthly stipends (ranging from a thousand Naira to five thousand Naira in some cases) instead of the expected increase, effective May 2023.

As if the suffering of pensioners under PTAD was not enough, they do not enjoy a better deal under the National Pension Commission (PenCom). Examining the functions of PenCom to date, my humble assessment is that former President Obasanjo, whose administration birthed PenCom, did not treat retirees in Nigeria fairly. Retirement from the civil service is now akin to a quick countdown to the pensioner’s last day on Earth.

I sincerely appeal to the National Assembly to urgently review the PenCom scheme. It is alien to the administration of pensions the world over. The Nigerian military is not under PenCom. Neither are the political class, former Presidents, and former Governors under PenCom. So what is the offence of the men and women who served as civil servants to their fatherland for many years?

The government must ensure that all retirees, regardless of the pension scheme under which they fall, receive just, fair, and equitable treatment. There is a need to address the disparities in stipends and benefits to provide a dignified life for all pensioners.

I also recommend that the government commits to regular reviews of pension stipends to ensure they align with the current economic conditions. Pensioners should not bear the brunt of inflation and rising living costs.

Beyond financial support, the government should explore holistic welfare programs for pensioners, including healthcare initiatives, recreational conditioning, and reduced costs for essential services.

Pensioners’ Lives Matter and it is imperative for the Nigerian government, particularly under the leadership of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to prioritise pension reforms. The current state of pension administration demands urgent attention.

By addressing the issues outlined above, the government can ensure that the elderly population, who have dedicated their lives in service to the nation, live their retirement years with dignity, security, and the quality of life they deserve.

God bless Nigeria.

Lai Gidado, a veteran broadcaster based in Abuja, is the publisher of Ebony Herald Online Newspaper and Magazine.

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