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Sunday, October 2, 2022

stakeholders advocate ‘legal time-frame’ for settlement of gratuities of retirees

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Stakeholders in Northwest are demanding the stipulation of a binding legal time-frame within which entitlements of retired civil servants must be paid by the relevant authorities.

Making the proposal in their contributions to a survey conducted by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), they observed that the long period of between one and two years it often took the authorities to settle gratuities, was inhuman.

The stakeholders, mostly serving and retired civil servants, lamented that the unwarranted delay in the payment of entitlements had resulted in untold hardship to retirees, and in many cases, even death.

They also lamented that under the current Federal Pension Scheme, a major factor contributing to the delay, was the late receipt of Federal share of the allocation, a development they described as avoidable.

They therefore advocated that the Pension Reform law be reviewed to set a time-frame for payment, and a provision enclosed to criminalise the violation of the payment period, arguing that hitches being experienced were mainly due to acts of dereliction of duty on the part of some implementors.

Others advocated the complete scrapping of the current pension scheme and a reversion to the old arrangement, should measures aimed at averting the delayed payment fail to address the challenge.

In Kaduna, respondents described as extremely pathetic, the delay in payment of retirees’ entitlements and pension in the country.

They said it was sad that people put in their productive years into service, only to go hungry immediately they retired.

Malam Abdu Magaji, who retired from Kaduna State local government service about 15 years ago, told NAN that it took about seven months before he received his gratuity.

Magaji, who is the Deputy Chairman, Nigeria Union of Pensioners, Soba Local Government Area, said that his pension was initially N14,000 a month, but was increased to N30,000 in line with the national minimum wage.

He added that sometimes it took 12 months before his pension was paid, saying that he relied solely on his pension.

Hauwau Evelyn-Yusuf, a Professor of Criminology and Gender Studies, Kaduna State University, said that some retirees died without being paid their entitlements.

Evelyn-Yusuf, who is also the Director, Centre for Gender Studies in the university, urged government at all levels to make necessary preparations to pay workers their benefits the moment they retired.

“You need to see how some people that were hitherto living very well while working, but could not feed their family the moment they retire.

“Government officials and pension administrators need to remember that they may be working and earning salaries today, but a time shall come when they will also retire and become pensioners,” she said.

Also, a legal practitioner, Mrs Rebecca Sako-John, urged government and the pension administrators to be humane and always consider the plight of retirees.

Sako-John stressed that most retirees did not save anything before retirement because the salary was barely enough to get through a month.

“The little amount that is being deducted every month from their salaries and kept for them, should be made available almost immediately they retire.

“The break between when their salary stops and when they should receive their benefits, should not exceed three months.

“Inflation has already made the money so meagre that they can barely survive on it, but no matter how little the money is, it should be given to them immediately, to cushion their suffering,” she said.

On her part, Prof. Salamatu Isah, Executive Secretary, Kaduna State Pension Bureau, said that the state government was up to date in remittances to Pension Fund Administrators under the State Contributory Pension Scheme.

She said that the state government had in August, approved the sum of N860 million for the payment of gratuity and death benefits to retirees and families of deceased.

“The payment is both for state and local government retirees under the Defined Benefit Scheme,” she said.

Also contributing to the survey, Chairman, Kano State Chapter of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Mr Kabir Ado, called for immediate payment of entitlement of civil servants upon retirement.

He explained that Kano State Government was operating a different contributory pension scheme from that of the Federal Government.

.According to him, payment of entitlements in the state had been timely and hitch-free, until recently when payments of outstanding gratuity, death benefits and pension arrears became an issue due to non-remittance of the 17 per cent contributions by some ministries and parastatals.

“The Kano State Government and the Pension Fund Trustees should do everything possible to ensure that pensioners continue to smile by paying their entitlements immediately they retire from service,” he emphasised.

On his part, the Public Relations Officer, Kano State Pension Board, Alhaji Umar Kurmawa, called on the relevant authority to conduct screening of retirees on time whenever the need arose, to enable early settlement of entitlements.

Malam Shehu Abdullahi, a civil servant in Kano, who spoke to NAN, said the current situation of delayed payment of entitlement of pensioners after retirement, needed to be addressed.

“It is worrisome that most pensioners find themselves in a situation of unbearable hardship, which in some cases, lead to their death.

“Government need to sit up and make retirement a thing of joy and rest of mind, not a thing of sadness,” he said.

Some retirees in Kano who spoke to NAN said they had been waiting for years without getting their entitlements.

Fatima Musa, a civil servant who retired two years ago, said she had not been paid her gratuity.

“I am a widow; I have been waiting for two years to get my entitlement and purchase a house, as well as investing the remaining amount; I am appealing to the state government to please come to our aid and pay our moneywe are really suffering”, she said.

Malam Saminu Isa, a retired Federal civil servant in Kano, also appealed to the appropriate authorities to settle entitlement of civil servants immediately they retired from service.

“I spent over a year before my gratuity and pension was paid; I had to venture into another work to cater for my family,” he said.

In Zamfara, stakeholders also appealed to governments at all levels to ensure immediate payment of benefits of civil servants as soon as they disengaged from service.

A cross section of retirees who spoke to NAN urged policy implementors to ensure compliance to the Pension Reform Act of 2014 as amended.

Comrade Ibrahim Kanoma, former State Secretary of the NLC in the state said after spending years in service, retirees should be given their entitlements immediately, for them to invest and continue taking care of their families.

He also suggested that delay in payment of gratuities of retirees be criminalised.

“Many retirees are suffering due to delay in payment of their entitlements, some of them get frustrated, resulting in their untimely death.

“As I am speaking to you now,I know a retiree who retired from service since 2015 and has not been paid his benefits till date.

“We are appealing to government at all levels to review their policy on payment of pension and gratuities to safeguard the lives of senior citizens of this country,” Kanoma said.

Also speaking to NAN, a retired Permanent Secretary, Shehu Isma’il, lamented the poor condition of retired civil servants.

“Majority of workers depend on their retirement benefits to build houses; some use the money to set up businesses and take care of their families”, he said.

A retired teacher, Zainab Abba, urged political office holders to respect and comply with 2014 Pension Reform Act, as amended.

“Both I and my late husband retired from the state civil service since 2016, but as I am talking to you now, none of us has been paid his or her entitlements”, she said.

Meanwhile, some Federal civil servants in Katsina State have called on government to revert to the old pension system to end the suffering faced by retirees in accessing their benefits under the present scheme.

One of them, Malam Adamu Abdullahi, said the suffering faced by retirees in accessing their benefits under the present scheme, was becoming too unbearable.

“The recent proposed payment of 75 per cent of lump-sum to retirees by the National Assembly would have reduced the tension of pensioners.

“But since it is yet to become reality, I think its better for the Federal Government to scrap the present pension scheme and return to the old system so that pensioners can access their benefit immediately they retire”, he said.

Also, Alhaji Bello Abubakar, another Federal civil servant, said the issue of returning to the old system should be considered by both the Federal Government and National Assembly.

He said that civil servants encountered financial challenges when they retired from service, because the arrangement under the present pension scheme deprived them of something tangible as pension upon retirementIn Sokoto State, however, Secretary of Nigerian Union of Pensioners in the state, Alhaji Muhammadu Nasiru, said no pensioner was being owed a dime.

Nasiru told NAN that the state government tried to ensure that pensioners were paid their entitlements immediately they retired.

He said that the matters bordering on gratuity were handled through a different channel, saying a certain amount had been agreed with the state government to be released for payment of gratuities.

Speaking also, the state Chairman of NLC in the State, Mr Aminu Umar, also commended the state government for giving priority to welfare of workers and retirees in the state.

Former Commissioner of Finance in Sokoto state, Alhaji Abdussamad Dasuki, also said that to the best of his knowledge, there was no pension and salary arrears in owed to workers and retirees in the state.

Dasuki explained that payment of gratuity was being implemented based on a schedule of ‘first to retire’ arrangement.

But a pensioner in the state, Malam Adamu Muhammad, said he started receiving pension some months after retirement and urged authorities to readjust the payment to be seamless.

Muhammad lamented that some workers started to benefit earlier than others, citing an example with retirees from Local Government service whose payments were often delayed. (NAN)

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