Comrade Oseni Onalo is an ex-staff of the defunct Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL). In this exclusive interview with Daily Trust, he explains how he has been eking a living without pension following the commercialisation of NITEL. He says without family support, he would have been dead by now.
Tell us your working relationship with NITEL?
I worked with NITEL from 1994 to 2006. I was the state Secretary of the Nigeria Union of Post and Telecommunications. I was working with NITEL when all of a sudden, the government came out with a policy that they wanted to commercialise the place. They sold it to Transcorp in 2006. They disengaged us from the service.
What happened to your disengagement and retirement benefits of NITEL staff caught up in the commercialisation of the company?
We were paid partially in 2007 for five years but we talked about live benefits which we have been struggling for. You may have seen us sometimes barricading the Bureau of Public Enterprises but unfortunately we have not been getting anything.
How has life been without life benefits of your service at NITEL?
From 2009, I couldn't pay bills any more. I moved my family to the village. As I speak to you now, I stay in the village doing nothing. Life has not been easy. My children have been out of school. In fact, I'm frustrated.
What is your perception of the pension industry in Nigeria?
Before now, I know that pensioners have not been finding it easy but I want to believe that now that we have PTAD, it will change things for good. Otherwise, it was not easy for pensioners.
The Federal Government verified all ex-staff of NITEL and MTEL preparatory to their being placed on the pension payroll. What is your thought on the verification?
I have some level of confidence in the verification but what gave me fear is that I don't have my figures. I don't know how much my monthly pension is; I don't know the backlog and I don't even know when to be paid. If I owe you, you will begin to think that I have gone for verification and have been paid but I don't know when I will be paid. They just gave me a paper. No figure on it.
How do you access benefits for retirees in Nigeria? There seems to be more emphasis on pension than other retirement palliatives.
In the developed world, pensioners are first citizens; they are catered for medically and otherwise. But, here it is a different ball game entirely. You tell me you have mortgaged my pension to one mortgage bank which I have no access to and I am dying. Life has not been easy. Government should look at the pensioners because these people have contributed meaningfully to the development of the country. They need to be taken care of as number one citizens.
Left for me, I seek for divine intervention of God. But I appeal to government that if they are going to pay us, they should be fast about it. People are dying. Somebody staying in Lagos heard there was verification in Lagos but he chose to come to Abuja to be verified to avoid any problem. On his way to Abuja, he had an accident and died. By the grace of God, I want government to come into our case. As a matter of fact, it is very urgent. You can see people paralysed with stroke. It is because of what people are going through.
Do you have anything else to say?
Yes. We actually borrowed money to go for verifications in different places. It takes anybody who believes in you to give you money to travel to anywhere for verification. This is because if you stay in a place and you are not working, nobody will agree to give you N5,000 as loan because the person is not sure you can pay back. That is the situation and that is why I plead with government to help us.