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Pensioners Still Waiting for Payment - 2001-08-06


It is not unusual for pensioners in Nigeria to go for several months without been paid. The pensioners are asking the Federal Government to pay the arrears. They say they have suffered untold hardship due to the non-payment of what they call their entitlements.

Some of the pensioners - who asked to remain anonymous - say they have been waiting at the Pensions office to get their money. This man says he's been waiting a very long time.

"I have been here for over four months. I have been waiting for my benefit and yet I have not been attended to. This is very frustrating. I am being owed eight months pension arrears. Before now, we were being owed 13 months. They paid five months after much pressure. Since then they have refused to pay anything again. They give all sorts of excuses. We have been audited and yet, the money has not been paid".

He says he will continue to squat at the office until he is paid.

Also waiting to be paid is Rose Agbo. She is camping at the office with two of her four children. She says her husband, a policeman, was killed while on duty.

Ms. Agbo says she abandoned her petty trading business in Benue, in the middle belt of Nigeria to seek her husband's entitlement. She says she has run out of money, and that her children are sick and need medicine. Ms. Agbo says they are living at the mercy of good Samaritans in Lagos and have to sleep on a mat on the balcony of the office.

"I have been here to collect my husband's benefit. Mosquitoes have been attacking me. They have been telling us stories. We have no food, no protection. They are not ready to attend to us. There is nobody to work on the file. The deputy director is not ready to attend to us. After working on the file, they keep us here".

Her 10-year-old son says he's tired of sleeping on the balcony. He says he wants to get back to school.

"I want government to pay our benefit so that we can depart from this mosquito-infested place".

But officials working at the pension office say they are constrained by a lack of funds. They say they are working hard to see that all outstanding arrears are paid, but that funds have not been released from the government treasury.

Meanwhile, activists for the aged say it is insensitive and inhuman to delay the allowances of senior citizens that have served the country.

It is difficult to determine how many Nigerians are currently retired and on pensions. Government officials say they lack proper record keeping facilities to keep track of all pensioned officials.

Oberu Aribiah, is a Sociologist at the University of Lagos. He says the delay in paying pensioners will continue because Nigeria runs a faulty pension system.

"The situation you see is likely to persist forever because of the type of Social Pension Scheme we have. We have a situation for which people collect pensions for which they have not contributed. There is a non- contributory pension scheme and so government is expected to find money to pay its present employees and pay those who have retired. There is no advance provision at all, and that is the problem".

Dr. Aribiah says the government should set up what he calls a contributory pension scheme.

"The solution is to immediately try to set up a commission to review the entire Social Security Pension Scheme or whatever it is called. There must be a system that people have to contribute. There is no place in the world where people collect pension without contributing. You have to start contributing right from the first day of employment. If you do not do that, you have nothing you can really call your right. I have heard pensioners say they spent all their life working for government. They forget that at the time, they were being paid something".

Dr. Aribiah says the contributory scheme should begin with new employees while the government continues to source funds to pay those who have retired.

Although the government has promised to pay all outstanding arrears by this month, pensioners say this has not happened.

But the government appears to be listening. It has approved the establishment of a steering committee for pension reforms in the public sector. The Bureau of Public Enterprises has been charged to work out the modalities for the committee.

Analysts have in addition called for a pension bank to cater for the needs of the pensioners.

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