PUBLIC SECTOR PENSION CRISIS: TIME FOR THE NIGERIA LABOUR CONGRESS (NLC), TRADE UNION CONGRESS OF NIGERIA (TUC) AND INDUSTRIAL UNIONS TO GET THE FEDERAL AND STATES GOVERNMENTS TO ACCOUNT FOR THEIR STEWARDSHIP AND OBEY THE LAWS OF THE LAND AND INTERNATIONAL CONVENTIONS.
BY IVOR TAKOR, mni Esq.
The public sector pension crisis, especially in some States of the federation has further exposed the weakness of Nigeria’s democracy, and how it has foisted on the citizens a predatory political ruling class that is irresponsible, non-transparent, unaccountable, extremely corrupt and lacks core human values of honesty, integrity, respect for hard work, respect for human life and dignity, discipline, decency and kindness. The presence of these core values in a nation, is what tends to hold people together, giving them a sense of belonging or ownership and loyalty that can also be translated as nationalism or patriotism.
For those who may wish to exercise their right to disagree with us, they may also want to tell us, if it is not greed, avarice, self-centeredness, abuse of office, lack of core human values, what we should call the attitude of some former and serving States Governors, who are principal members of this class in respect of the pension crisis in their state.
Some of the immediate past Governors who failed in eight years to enact laws to take care of pensions of employees of States and Local Governments they superintended over, were able to within a period of two days, through subversive generosities extended to members of their ever “cooperative” Houses of Assemblies, were able to protect for themselves, bloated “pension”, allowances, which include houses, bullet proof vehicles that are replaceable every four years, domestic and security aid and provisions for medical tourism, which they smuggled into the statutes books of the states in the name of pension rights for political office holders or whatever names so called. It is difficult to understand why a Governor who served a state for eight (8) years or less, should believe that his services were more meritorious, deserving a better rest after “labour” than other employees of the same State and Local Governments, who had put in between twenty (20) to thirty five (35) years of services. The actions of these former Governors amount to injustice, abuse of office, extreme corruption and abuse of the fundamental human rights of States and Local governments workers and a breach of the employment agreements the workers entered into with their employers, who are States governments.
In some States, the Governors have become emperors, despotic, tyrants and demigods. These behavioral traits, only goes to corroborate the saying that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is therefore for this reason that the principle of separation of power, is made a cornerstone of any democratic system. The principle of separation of power helps to prevent abuse of power, resist injustice and tyranny. It maintains a system of checks and balance in governance. Separation of power is included in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended. In terms of institutions, it can be said that there is separation power in Nigeria’s democracy because we have the Executive, legislative and judicial arms of government. However, in the day to day administration of the country, separation of power remains a mirage in most states as the principle is practiced only in breach, and the bloating of the cost of administering the country. The democratic credentials of most Governors in the area of separation of power is circumspect. They exercise authoritarian and choking control over states assemblies, which they have turned into Units of their offices. Speaker of State House of Assembly are installed and removed at the pleasure of Governors. We wait to see what members of States Houses of Assemblies will do with the freedom granted them from the choking gripes of Governors, by the assent of President Muhammadu Buhari to 4th Alteration Act No. 4, which amended Section 121(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended, to provide for direct funding of Houses of Assemblies of states ‘ directly from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the state.
The painful challenge facing the country today therefore is that we have a predatory political ruling class that has eroded any value system we ever had as a nation. They have refused to be accountable and in the absence of a practical system of separation of power, there is no institution that can call them to order. In this challenge, the Civil Society, which include the labour movement, represented by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), theTrade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) and the Industrial Unions have a major role to play as they remain the voice of the voiceless of this nation. They are expected to act as watchdogs and whistle blowers on activities of the various tiers of governments that impact negatively on the wellbeing and welfare of the people, including pension rights of workers. Through their advocacies and actions, they should keep the ruling class especially elected officials constantly aware that they operate in a goldfish bowl, which means that they are subject to public search light and scrutiny therefore theymust at all times, subject themselves to such scrutiny. That’s what public accountability in a democracy is all about.
Public accountability denotes a willingness to conduct all public transactions responsibly and in accordance with due process. It is a reflection of an attitude or value system that a leader readily accepts responsibility for actions taken directly or indirectly through delegation or subordinates. It is even more critical for those who put themselves forward for elective offices to be acutely aware of their responsibilities to be above board and adhere strictly to due process in all their undertakings on behalf of the people.
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended, in Section 14 subsection 1, provides that the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice. Paragraph b of subsection 2 of the same section further provides that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government, while subsection 5 provides that the State shall abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power. Furthermore, section 16 provides that the State, shall within the context of the ideals and objectives for which provisions are made under the Constitution: harness the resources of the nation and promote national prosperity and an efficient, a dynamic and self-reliant economy of every citizen on the basis of social justice and equality of status and opportunity. Section 17(3)(f) and (g) of the Constitution provides for protection of young persons and the aged against moral and material neglect and public assistance in deserving cases or other conditions of need.
Nigeria, in 2004 carried out a comprehensive reform of its pension schemes, with the promulgation of the Pension Reform Act 2004, which was later replaced with the Pension Reform Act 2014. The main objective of the pension reform, which introduced the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) is to ensure that every person that worked in either the public or private sector in Nigeria receives his or her retirement benefits as and when due.
The Contributory Pension Scheme is running smoothly in the private sector, as workers who retire from the sector are paid as and when they retire. The challenge of the scheme is in the public sector (federal and states), where workers for some years now are not being paid as and when they retired. The crisis facing Federal Government retirees, emanate from the fact that the Federal Government has not been funding the Retirement Benefits Bond Redemption Fund Account in the Central Bank of Nigeria as she ought to. The bulk of retirement benefits of employees who were in employment before the reform in 2004, is in the accrued rights, i.e. benefits from date of their first employment, up to June 2004, the date of the commencement of the Contributory Pension Scheme.
The second issue militating against employees in the federal public service is that of delays in the remittance of contributions into the Retirement Savings Accounts (RSAs) of employees and implementing the new rates of contribution of 12 percent and 8 percent for the employer and employee respectively, which came into effect from June 2014. These are acts of noncompliance with the provisions of the Pension Reform Act 2014.
States and Local governments workers and pensioners are worse off than their federal counterparts. Fourteen (14) years after coming into effect of the Pension Reform Act 2004, which repealed the Pension Act 1990 that was of universal application in the whole Public Sector in the country and the introduction of the Contributory Pension Scheme, some States have failed to enact laws to protect the pension rights of their workers.
As at the last count, only about ten States Governments have either enacted pension laws or are at various stages of enacting pension laws for their employees. More disturbing is the fact that even those that have enacted their own pension laws, thereby keying into the Contributory Pension Scheme, operate the Schemes in default of their own laws. Is any one therefore surprise that most states government are owning their workers pensions for upward of two to three years, while those that pay, pay what they like not based on any law. Lagos, Kaduna, Edo and a few other states must be single out for commendation for keying into and implementation of the Contributory Pension Scheme. Without any fear of contradiction, Lagos state stands out as the face of the Contributory Pension Scheme even above the Federal government.
Governors obligations to workers of their States are two fold, first as citizens and secondly as employees of States and Local Governments’ public service. The first obligation arises from the series of duties that a government has pledged to perform for individuals in the State, while as workers, they are entitled to economic and social rights, derived from their contract of employment. These are the right to work; the right to just conditions of work; right to fair remunerations; the right to an adequate standard of living; the right to social security etc. Pension is a principal element of any social security system.
Some of these rights have been conferred by positive law, which therefore means that they can not be abreaced without sanctions. It is the responsibility of trade unions to protect these rights. In ordinary common usage, a trade union is an organisation of workers formed to protect the interest of its members. Section 12 of the Trade Unions Act grants employees the right to belong to unions, while Section 40 of the Constitution guarantees the right to form and belong to a union by a worker, for the protection of his interest.
There are several reasons why an employee joins a union. Principal among them being that union membership grants the employee greater bargaining power. Individual employee possesses very little bargaining power compared to that of the employer; another reason is that it gives the employee a sense of security. Membership of union, is an effective way to secure adequate protection from the various types of hazard and income insecurity. Trade unions secure retirement benefits of workers and compel employers to invest in welfare services for the benefits of workers. Moreover, the desire for self expression is a fundamental human drive for most people. A trade union provides such a forum where the feelings, ideas, desires, opinions and complains of the workers could be expressed, discussed and transmitted to the employer.
The Nigeria labour movement as represented by the NLC, TUC and the industrial unions has done exceedingly well in protecting the interest of their members. The movement also remains the only voice for the voiceless of this nation. People feel abandoned by their governments and are increasingly losing trust in their governments’ as they have priortised business interests over the needs, concerns and livelihoods of working people.
The movement therefore has to organise and mobilise the full potentials of its vast membership to stand united against the deliberate pauperisation of workers and their families by the predatory political ruling class and the vested interest of unregulated capital, by ensuring that the pension rights of workers in the public and private sectors is protected.
There is no better time than now, for the labour movement to get the President and States Governors to account for their stewardship in the area of workers welfare, and aspirants into these office to present their manifestos to the workers in this area.
The NLC, since the unset of the current democratic experiment in 1999, has been having Presidential pally with Presidential candidates of various political parties. This provided a forum for the Presidential candidates to introduce themselves to labour leaders. It is now time for the NLC and indeed the labour movement to take it a step further. The movement should transform the forum into an avenue take stock of governance at the federal and states levels and examine how the welfare of workers including issues of their pension have been handled at these tiers of governance.
These forums should be held during the period of electioneering campaigns at the federal and states levels, with the sole purpose of giving the President and State Governors opportunities to render account of their stewardship, with particular reference to issues bordering on workers welfare including pension matters. If the President has met the federal governments obligations to workers and pensioners, he should be commended and supported if seeking reelection. However, if he has failed in this area, and is seeking reelection, he has to enter into an understanding with the labour movement on how he intends to correct the wrongs of the past or the movement decides on the next move. In the event he is not reelected, the movement should champion the campaign that will stop him from collecting pension or any form of retirement benefits from the coffers of the federal government. The same should apply to states Governors. Consequently, anyGovernor who is currently drawing pension from a state where issues of workers pension has not been adequately addressed, should be stopped from receiving pension or any terminal benefit.
Presidential and Governorship aspirants should also be made to present their manifestos on how they intend to address pension issues if elected into office. These manifestos will be used to evaluate their performances, if elected into office.
The time where elected officials especially Governors will go home after leaving offices with “pension” when they have not been able to address workers pension issues should be put behind us. The time to act and protect the welfare of workers and their pension rights is now.
Ivor Takor, mni Esq.
Legal practitioner is the Executive Director, Centre for Pension Right Advocacy