For decades, the plight of retired people in Nigeria has been dire. Pensioners have died while queueing for their cheques while many don't receive them at all. Are most of Nigeria's states presently indebted to retirees, as a union official said?
Researched by Ben Ezeamalu
For ensuring the welfare of pensioners in their states, the Nigerian Union of Pensioners presented 6 governors with excellence awards at the end of April 2017.
Before the ceremony, union spokesman Bunmi Ogunkolade reportedly issued a statement that "only 6 of the 36 governors and the Federal Capital Territory do not owe pensioners in their states".
Under Nigeria's contributory pension scheme, employees contribute a minimum of 7.5% of their basic salary, housing and transport allowances towards pension while their employers (government or private) contributes between 7.5% and 12.5%. The scheme is compulsory for all full-time workers.
Could civilian retirees in over 80% of the states in Africa's most populous country be financially stressed, going home empty-handed - against the law? We checked.
Ogunkolade confirmed making the claim to Africa Check. He added that the union does not have a database of states which are up to date with payouts or which owe pensioners money. The union relies on feedback from executives of its state chapters across the country, he said.
The general secretary of the pensioners' union corroborated Ogunkolade's claim.
"[The 6 governors] have all paid up to April; they are not owing. That was why we gave them the award on [26 April]. We were able to ascertain this in consultation with the various chairmen and secretaries in the states," Actor Zal said.
It's unclear how many retirees there are in Nigeria, even as the union claims a million members.
Independent reports compiled on state of payments
Civic organisation BudgIT, which aims to improve budget transparency and access to public data, has compiled two reports in the last year assessing the frequency of pension payments.
The first looked at pension payouts over the first 3 months of 2016. At the end of March 2016, 28 states were between one and 15 months behind in pension payments, data compiled by BudgIT field agents showed.
For the second report, the organisation instead surveyed 912 respondents who filled in questionnaires, Atiku Samuel, a research manager, told Africa Check. These included teachers, local government workers, pensioners, secretariat workers and employees of state agencies. The results were then confirmed with state authorities and local chapters of different labour groups and their affiliates, he said.
Number of debtor states have dropped
The number of states which weren't meeting their commitments to pensioners have dropped, the second report showed. As at 15 May, 19 states did not owe pensioners money, including the 6 rewarded by the Nigerian Union of Pensioners.
Taraba and Niger states topped the pension debtors' list with a backlog of 36 months each. Other defaulters were the states of Rivers (28 months), Imo (24 months), Abia (19 months) and Kogi (17 months). States like Enugu, Kwara, Nasarawa, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Delta and Zamfara owed between one and 8 months.
(Note: The pension payment status of the Federal Capital Territory was not included in both reports.)
Samuel said Ogunkolade's claim may not be entirely reflective of what's going on in the states, adding that the recent bailout of states by the Federal Government and the Paris Club debt refund are helping more states meet their obligations to pensioners. (Note: The debt refunds are paybacks to states for amounts deducted from them to service external debt between 1995 and 2002.)
Africa Check queried some inconsistencies in the data. For example, BudgIT's 2017 report showed that Kwara state owed pensioners 3 months of payouts, while recent media reports put it at 9 months.
BudgIT co-founder Oluseun Onigbinde told Africa Check the inconsistencies were due to haphazard pension payments in some states and the change in research methodology.
"The result might not be fully accurate as we learnt that payments were staggered. We see certain pensions for primary teachers paid while others are being owed."
Broadening the survey would help narrow the gaps. "We might need to do more to concern more categories of workers. We will need to expand the sample size and also the diversity," Onigbinde said.
The varying pace of verification by unions was also a challenge, he added. But there have only been complaints from [state officials in] Kogi and Oyo.
Conclusion: Debtor states have fallen but at least 19 owe pensioners
The spokesman of Nigeria's pension union said in April that only 6 of the 36 governors and the Federal Capital Territory are not indebted to thousands of pensioners in their states.
Bunmi Ogunkolade based his claim on feedback from the union's different chapters in the states. However, an independent survey of the state of pension payments - reflecting data on 15 May 2017 - showed 19 states were culprit.
While the pensioners' plight remains dire in many states, more than 6 states were paid-up in May. We therefore rate the spokesman's claim as incorrect.