By Victor Ahiuma-Young
Agents of government have resumed their push for the use of pension fund to finance infrastructure development in the country.
The latest of such push came from Minister Power, Works and Housing; Babatunde Fashola that the nation’s Pension Fund be used for infrastructural development in Nigeria.
Just like earlier suggestions, organised labour is not taking it lightly.
Faulting the minister, factional president of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Mr. Joe Ajaero, recalled that the passage of the Pension Reform Act in 2004 was praised by many as a watershed in the nation’s pension administration.
According to him, one of the critical objectives of that act was to unify Pension administration in the country and bring together the private sector pension schemes and the Public sector.
According to Ajaero: “All over the world, pension fund is treated with care and steps are taken by stakeholders, especially the state to ensure the continuous integrity and protection of the fund. It is shielded from the vagaries of the market and the political arena.
“Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, under our leadership views with utmost anxiety the proposal by the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, that the Pension Fund be used for infrastructural development. We consider this as unfortunate and a threat to the future of Nigeria workers.
Proposal threatens workers’ future
“We in NLC hope that the minister is just flying a kite or is testing the waters and therefore not serious about pursuing it. Nevertheless, we make haste to say that was a very dangerous proposal that threatens the security and future of Nigerian workers. We demand that it be avoided before it gains ground within the corridors of power. We have to say, it is a kite the Congress and the generality of Nigerian workers will not want to see fly presently.
Nigerian workers are worried when they remember that it was in the midst of the mess that the public sector had its sector Pension Fund scheme that the unified Pension fund scheme was established. The thought of using our pension fund for investment in infrastructure development will be highly frightening given the penchant for mismanagement inherent in public sector institutions in Nigeria.”
The NLC factional president contended that the minister, in all intents and purposes was not a stakeholder in the Pension Fund and would not care what became of it in any situation.
He said: “We know that Fashola is not a contributor to the Pension fund, but only seeing a pool of funds that could be annexed by politicians. One ponders how the minister wants to actualise this stated objective when the fund is structured and managed by the Pension Fund Administrators, PFAs, under the regulation of National Pension Commission, PenCom. What then will be the mechanism for accessing this fund for infrastructure development without infringing on the different laws put in place to manage it? Fashola’s proposal remains unreasonable, founded on the erroneous belief that workers cannot defend themselves. We can and we will, if these onslaughts continue unabated.
“The proposal is ill-advised and will threaten our collective future. We remind its proponents that workers work for their retirement benefits. It will be immoral and careless to subject such funds, being the life-blood of Nigerian workers, to the itchy-fingers of Nigerian politicians no matter how well intentioned especially when we know that “the way to Hell is littered with good intentions. In any case, since workers are the owners of the fund, whatsoever benefits that purportedly will accrue to workers as a result, workers do not want to be part of it. Before anything can be done regarding the Pension fund, the NLC should be the first to know as the custodians of the interests and desires of Nigerian workers.
Workers’saving in danger
He insisted that “NLC will resist any action or policy designed to turn the nation’s Pension fund into one of the sources of funds for the Federal Government of Nigeria.
“Congress will not tolerate this seeming “lusting after” the purse of the pension fund, neither will it take kindly to attempts by any politician to expose workers’ life-savings to the vicissitudes of the politics being played in Nigeria today.
“NLC views such attempts as dangerous for Nigerian workers as it compromises the integrity of the fund and negates the original intention of establishing the fund as a well-known global social protection framework. The Pension fund is structured the way it is to avoid actions that could undermine its consistency such as this proposal portends.
Other financing options
“We urge the Federal Government to explore many other financing options available to it to fund its various activities and forget about the Pension Fund. We have not forgotten the greed with which successive Governments have announced the degree of expansion in the size of the Pension fund. When it was N2 trillion, they were watching, when they announced it was N3trillion, the look on their faces changed; when they said it was over N4trillion, they began to salivate and now that it has grown to about N6trillion, they have become frenzied and delirious in their attempt to annex it. We recognise all of these in body language of those in government. We say no to the use of Pension Fund for infrastructural development.”
Edo pays N2bn gratuities to pensioners
Edo State Government has paid N2 billion gratuity to 539 pensioners from the 2010 and 2011 batch in the state.
The payment of the pensioners’ gratuity is in fulfillment of the promise of Governor Adams Oshiomhole to defray the pension liability to the retired workers.
State Head of Service, Mrs. Gladys Idahor who announced the payment of the N2 billion gratuity, said those who got their payment alerts were those already screened and had done their biometrics.
She said those who have errors in their account details, some who didn’t turn up for screening and others whose records were incomplete are yet to get their payment alerts.
She explained that the next-of-kin of deceased staff were also yet to be paid, noting that another date would soon be announced for the screening of those who didn’t turn up in the first exercise and the next-of-kin of deceased staff who had the requisite letters of administration.
According to Mrs. Idahor, “one hundred and seventy five pensioners from the 2010 batch and three hundred and sixty four from the 2011 batch who were successfully verified have been paid their gratuities. The verification exercise and payment of gratuities will be a continuous exercise and a date will be announced soon for pensioners who retired in 2012 to come for their verification and immediate payments.”
It will be recalled that Governor Adams Oshiomhole recently told pensioners in the state that government was doing everything possible to fast-track the process, assuring that “this gratuity will not be paid piecemeal, not that they will give you 40%, 50% and then you come back another day, no. this present gratuity will be paid in full at once.”
“One other decision I took on assumption of office was that I directed the Accountant-General to ensure that those who have been cleared to receive their pension are paid the same day those who are working are paid, the day I receive my pay, that must be the same day those pensioners are paid.”