opinionBy Malachy Ezeiro
The need for the establishment of the then Military Pensions Assessments Board (MPAB), which is now known as Military Pensions Board (MPB) was necessitated by the massive retirement of military personnel after the Nigerian civil war.
Consequently, the Board was established in 1974 to conduct payment of gratuity and pension to retirees of the Nigerian Armed Forces and to provide financial advice and payment of death benefits to Next of Kin of deceased personnel.
Since its establishment, the Board has passed through series of restructuring. Shortly after its establishment, the Board's initial name, MPAB was changed to the Directorate of Military Pensions (DMP). In 2003, the Board was restructured and renamed MPB hence, its present nomenclature. Since the restructure and sanitization, the Board has recorded remarkable achievements thus, positively affecting the lives of retired personnel of the Nigerian Armed Forces.
Most of the accumulated arrears of gratuities, pensions and death benefits to retirees and Next-of-Kins spanning over 5-10 years have since been cleared within the last four years and the affected pensioners pay rolled. Payment of benefits to retired/discharged personnel and payment of death to Next-of-Kins is on-going at the Board as documents are received from the services. Retirees with any form of complaint are also encouraged to come to the Board with them. Their problems are promptly looked into.
In a bid to improve on its service delivery, the Board commenced the direct payment of pensions into individual pensioner's account since February 2008 even before the introduction of the e-payment system by government. The zonal paying system earlier used was found to be ineffective and caused a lot of undue delay. The new system has resulted in fast tracking the payment of monthly pension to the benefit of pensioners.
With the implementation of government's directive on e-payment effective January 2009, the Board's service delivery was further enhanced as the number of days required for cheque clearing has been eliminated. In addition, this system provides for an audit trail for all financial transactions of the Board. This has invariably enhanced transparency of operations.
To further give credibility to the Board's database to meet internationally accepted standards, the Board has introduced biometrics into the database. The Board after a critical study of the available biometric facilities chose three biometrics parameters namely: fingerprint, iris scan and photo geometry.
The combination of these three biometric parameters gives one of the best possible authentications to the database as well as a means to cater for disabled retirees. The Board commenced the test running of the system in January 2010 and has continued to fine tune it. Pensioners that visit the Board now are encouraged to enroll. The system has been fully deployed since the 2010 verification exercise when most pensioners' biometric data were captured.
The contending issue of Medically Boarded ex-soldiers used to be of serious concern to the MPB and government in general due to their presence on the streets and under the bridges of Abuja. These ex-soldiers were those boarded (discharged) from service between 1978 and 1982 on medical grounds, paid their benefits, but were not placed on monthly pension because they did not put in the mandatory 15 years of service to qualify for pension as at then.
However, with the review of qualifying years for gratuity and pension from 10 to 5 years and from 15 to 10 years respectively in June 1992, they started agitating for the payment of monthly pension because they believed they have been short changed having fought the civil war.
This sensitive issue that has lingered on for over two decades was finally resolved in 2007. Based on a presidential approval obtained by the Board in August 2007, over 25,000 of them have been verified and placed on the pension payroll effective January 2008 on humanitarian grounds without recourse to arrears. The exercise is however still on-going as those left out in the initial verification exercise still come to the Board for verification and for subsequent placement on the payroll.
Also, military retirees hitherto under the Contributory Pension Scheme administered by PENCOM have been brought back to the Defined Benefit Scheme under MPB with effect from January 2012. All the retirees have subsequently been brought under MPB payroll. Discussion has reached advanced stage with PENCOM for the refund of the 2.5% individual employee contribution to each contributor.
The Board is now fully automated with a database of over 125,000 pensioners on her payroll. In order to ensure an authentic and updated database, a verification exercise is conducted annually by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) to determine the actual number on the payroll and delete the names of deceased pensioners.
It is worthy to note that the present leadership of the Military Pensions Board under its incumbent chairman, Rear Admiral Bala Mohammed Mshelia is committed to give pensioners the desired service with the unflinching support of the federal government.
-Ezeiro sent in this piece from Abuja