6 January 2013

Nigeria: Pension Task Team - Hasten Payments Now


I was pleasantly surprised to find, while browsing the online edition of Leadership newspaper recently, the list of 1,963 pensioners that were about to be paid their pension arrears by the controversial Pension Reform Task Team. The list was apparently advertised after it was published in the newspaper's edition of December 20, 2012.

According to the advertisement, the payment was in strict compliance with the directives of President Goodluck Jonathan on ensuring that every Nigerian pensioner is paid his/her accrued pension arrears. The task team also said that it has so far processed and released payments for over 38,000 pensioners that would be paid in 22 batches.

While commending the task team for the initiative, especially at a time it is facing stiff opposition from stakeholders that are calling for its disbandment, I must say that I find the payment operation a bit slow and advise that a little haste will do the team good in view of the circumstance in which it finds itself.

It is slow because up till this day that I am writing this piece, about two weeks after the publication, the list of the second batch of those to be paid is yet to be released. And since the task force has itself confirmed that the benefits of 38,000 have already been processed and money released, I can't see why there should be any delay in effecting payment.

As one of those expecting payment, who is in touch with several others in the same league with me, I must point out that because they have waited for too long, the pensioners wish that they are all paid today. Indeed, the task team doesn't need anybody to remind it about the hostility it is facing from different quarters, and the imperative for it to court the goodwill and support of the pensioners themselves.

Only recently the Senate Committee on Pensions came out hard on the task team, asking the government not only to disband it but prosecute its members for allegedly being worse embezzlers than the oil subsidy cabal. The report of a joint Senate Committee had earlier accused the team of involvement in the pension scam that was discovered by it last year.

Similarly, in an interview in the Sunday Trust of December 23, 2012 the Principal General Secretary of National Union of Pensioners (NUP), Comrade Ehada Mohammed, said the team should be shown the way out and replaced with a civilian pension board that will ensure effective and seamless payment of pensions, arrears and other benefits to 50,000 pensioners that are now suffering due to non-payment.

All these go to suggest to the powers-that-be that the task force's time is up. But it is able to survive this long and start payments to 38,000 pensioners, out of the 50,000 that the Comrade talked about, which is an opportunity that should be utilised by making payments in one fell swoop to please thousands of concerned old citizens throughout the country.

After all, the pensioners themselves have not been very much concerned about the controversy that has been going on for months now regarding the pension scam. What they are concerned about is payment of their entitlements which was not even being discussed.

If the task force takes heed and achieves the rare feat of pleasing millions of pensioners and their families across the country as we celebrate the New Year, it may be difficult for a democratically-elected government to listen to those asking for its disbandment.

In conclusion, I must point out also that I am not part of the "unwarranted media campaign" allegedly embarked upon by the task team in order to remain afloat. Some people made the charge on account of the piece I wrote titled "Let the pensions task force be," published in the Daily Trust of October 5, 2012.

However, I must admit that I admire the task team for paying my gratuity early last year after waiting for only four years. There are those who have waited for ten years or more before they were paid, or are yet to be paid, as a result of the monumental fraud that was discovered last year.

Mohammed, wrote in from Hotoro Quarters, Kano.

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