Monday, September 21, 2020 12:05 am
By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
Retirement from paid employment or service ought to be a period to look forward to. It ought to be a season of sitting back and enjoying the rewards of many years of labour. At that time the kids would have all grown. They would have jobs, possibly married and living happily ever after. There would be a personal house to move into, that is, if one has not moved into one. The need to wake up early every day and setting out early is no longer there. Some people age quickly because there is nothing to look forward to any anymore. There is the story of a man who appealed to his office that he should be allowed to come to the office every day for no pay!
Workers are advised to prepare for retirement. In our country, it means getting something else to do after retirement. Start a farm. Build a business. Start a poultry farm. It does not mean sitting down, enjoying sunshine, and travelling on holidays. Owing to ravaging inflation, savings in cash amount to little. Yet one must have put away some money against the rainy day. People who work with the government are also placed on a pension after collecting gratuity. In normal circumstances, gratuity ought to be paid once one disengages from service. But we know better in Nigeria. Some people in the public sector die off while waiting for their benefits to be paid.
It must be stated that things are different in the organised private sector. That is, in those companies that have keyed into the pension scheme. Within six months, they get paid. Some small private companies set traps for their workers so that they may be fired from work in order not to qualify for retirement benefits. Wicked. Callous. Inhuman. We do not pursue our rights in the country. To save against the rainy day is a function of many variables, some of which are outside our control. Ye, save we must. To retire into nothingness is a sure way to an early death. Sometimes, retirees are duped by loved ones or business associates. The punch line is that a retiree must not commit all his funds to one business. Too many have got their fingers burnt in the process.
There is something scary to Nigerian civil servants about retirement from work. The uncertainty of social services. Poor infrastructure. The rate of inflation. Is there a ready house for one to move into, both in the city and in the village? Are all the kids out of school? Then the biggest problem: when will gratuity be paid and how soon can one start receiving a pension? For these reasons, we have civil servants adjusting and readjusting their recorded age once they have the opportunity. As a result, whereas officially a man is 48years old, his actual age is 60 years!
Under the old pension scheme, the situation it was worse. Too many people died while awaiting payment of their gratuity. Under that arrangement the government kept money aside to pay retiring workers. Initially, it worked. Then the bureaucracy set in. inefficiency and corruption. The National Provident Fund also suffered the same fate. It was against this background that a contributory pension scheme was signed into law. In the scheme, both employers of labour and employees were expected to contribute money, deducted at source, and managed by PenCom and the PFAs. On paper it looked very good. But the implementation has become a problem.
Poor implementation means that citizens in the public sector retire and twelve months or more later they are yet to receive their gratuity or pension. This ought not to be in these days of computerised systems. The PFAs argue that the government has not remitted accruable funds. PenCom says government has borrowed the money! and so, a man who had received a steady income for thirty-five years suddenly is left in the lurch. He is made to travel long distances for verification exercises. There was a young man who travelled all the way to Abuja to report his father’s poor health condition that would make it impossible for him to travel for physical verification. He was asked to go fetch his father. He returned to Benin to fetch his sick father. On their way, the man took violently ill and died. The young man proceeded with the father’s corpse to the office where he had worked for many years! Of course, all the officials took to their heels.
We must reform the pensions scheme as presently operated. In this age of computerised systems, it should not be difficult to compute a worker’s entitlement just before he retires. If the government must borrow funds from PenCom, that should not affect the emoluments of workers. Some employers do not make counterpart payments. There should be a strict policy on this that imposes a fine or penalties. Another aspect of the current pension regime is the rue that at 70 years of age, one can only access 50% of gratuity and the rest would be spread over five years. It is my view that the entire sum should be paid to a retiree at 65 or 70 years.
In all, those people who are in service now should ensure that there is a smooth process for paying pensions and gratuities. They should remember that they too would retire some day and face the fate of current pensioners. A pension scheme that is not reliable or steady makes stealing or looting very attractive to workers. In other words, if an employee feels that a good pension scheme is not in place for him upon retirement, he would be attracted to ‘make haste while the sun shines’, a corruption of the English adage ‘make hay while the sun shines’.
Finally, looting pension funds should be specially criminalized. A man who has worked his youth in service of the state should not be left in penury in his old age because of the greed of one man or a cabal. Severe punishments should await anyone found guilty of exploiting the weak and vulnerable. A good and reliable pension scheme is an antidote to entrenched corruption while in service.
–-Professor Eghagha who writes from the University of Lagos can be reached on 0802 322 0393 or firstname.lastname@example.org