By ZAKA KHALIQ
The federal government has paid a sum of N98 billion as pension entitlements to 13,000 retirees between 2014 and 2016.
LEADERSHIP also exclusively gathered at the weekend that pension arrears of the federal government has risen to N184 billion.
This means that in the last three years, the federal government had made N98 billion budgetary provisions for funding of the Retirement Benefit Bonds Redemption Fund (RBBRF) accounts.
The benefiting pensioners, it was learnt, are federal government workers who retired between 2014 and 2016.
Further findings revealed that over 2000 retirees got N20 billion as retirement benefits in 2014, while 9,000 government pensioners benefited from a sum of N60 billion as pension entitlements in 2015.
In 2016, however, N18.8 billion pension benefits were paid to over 2,000 retirees.
It was also gathered that while the benefiting retirees utilised the pension benefits to set up their respective businesses, others used it to meet their immediate needs, even as others used the money to expand their existing businesses.
The multiplier effects of this, LEADERSHIP learnt, was the creation of employment opportunities for unemployed Nigerians, while also contributing more to the nation’s Gross Domestic Products (GDP).
LEADERSHIP reports that, while these 13,000 retirees have good stories to tell in the area of pension, the same cannot be said of the 27,000 federal government retirees who were owed N184 billion pension arrears between 2014 and 2016.
9,000 retirees were owed N73 billion pension benefits by federal government in 2014 and in 2015, 4,000 retirees were owed N38.4 billion entitlement.
Some of the 14,000 unfortunate pensioners who were not paid a sum out of the N73 billion pension benefits in 2016 were said to have died from various ailments because they had no money to seek medical attention, while majority of the ones still alive live in penury, as they can barely meet their financial and social needs.
The director-general of the National Pension Commission (PenCom), Mrs. Chinelo Anohu-Amazu, had linked the incessant increase in federal government’s pension arrears to the current economic recession, which she said, is incapacitating the government to pay its retirees as and when due.
She appealed to the concerned retirees to reason with the government, promising that government has plans in place to ensure it pays from these huge pension arrears.
She also called on government to expand the allocation for pension in the national budget in a bid to reduce the arrears, which is now becoming a burden to it.
Following serious concern over the possible increase in pension arrears, the director of Centre for Pension Right Advocacy, Mr. Ivor Takor, appealed to the federal government and states to pay their respective pension arrears.
In an interview with LEADERSHIP, Takor noted that this will go a long way to redeem the lost image of the new pension scheme that has been recently criticised for various reasons, among which is the multitude of arrears owed by federal government, just like what happened in the old pension scheme.
He said, “We understood that the federal government has not been able to remit pension contributions since October 2015 and this has to do with not only the employer’s contributions. What then is happening to the contribution of the employees, because it has been deducted from their salaries and the law says the deduction should be paid into the RSAs of the employees not later than seven days after salaries are paid.”
The interim National President, NTA Contributory Pensioners Association of Nigeria, Mr. Kayode Da-Silva, who said the experience of the pensioners was contrary to the intent and purpose of the contributory pension scheme, called on President Muhammadu Buhari to come to their rescue by releasing their entitlements to them.
He noted that the rule guiding the contributory pension scheme stipulates that they get their payment within three months after their retirement.
Da-silva further said many of the pensioners, who suffered from old age related ailments, could not take care of their health as drugs for such ailments were expensive.
But calling for calm among the concerned retirees, the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Mrs Winifred Ekanem Oyo-Ita said, “As a critical stakeholder in the pension administration in Nigeria, the Head of Civil Service is well- informed of some of the challenges faced by pensioners. This is either as beneficiaries under the Defined Benefits Scheme (DBS) or the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS). Worthy of mention is the legion of complaints and challenges faced by pensioners under the DBS.
“Similarly, under the CPS, what has recently been on the front burner is the non- payment of pension to officers who retired from 2015 arising from the delayed funding of their accrued rights. It is imperative to state that President Buhari, through the instrumentality of relevant government agencies saddled with responsibility of pension administration, is working hard to evolve more ingenious solution to address the challenges”.
PenCom had on Thursday presented its 2017 budget, which also includes budgetary provisions for federal government in the current year at the National Assembly on Thursday.
The commission said pursuant to a nationwide enrollment exercise conducted for employees of federal government treasury funded Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) scheduled for retirement within the year 2017, it enrolled 16,267 federal government employees slated for retirement in the year 2017, as well as those who had retired either voluntarily or mandatorily between 2004 and 2016, but were recently verified and enrolled alongside 2017 retirees by the commission.
Accordingly, the commission had hitherto submitted to the Budget Office of the Federation, the budgetary provision for the RBBRF account for the funding of year 2017 prospective retirees which is estimated at N113 billions for 16,267 enrolled employees and 9,652 estimated deceased employees of the federal government, as well as employees yet to be enrolled by the commission, to be included in the 2017 budgetary provision of the federal government.