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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Frederick Adebayo: Benue pensions: Ortom saw tomorrow

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Yesterday 19th October, 2023, I read a detailed report in Punch newspaper which had a banner headline on its front cover that said 26 states of the federation are yet to implement the Contributory Pension Scheme.

I decided to flip through the paper and behold, I saw the name of Benue among the few states that have implemented the pensions scheme as of June, 2023. The Punch report was based on statistics from the National Pension Commission.

As I was going through the report, my mind went to the former Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom. I recall that the last time I visited Makurdi before the end of Ortom’s tenure, I discovered the wonderful efforts Governor Ortom was making to address the problem of pensions and gratuity which I learned he inherited from previous administrations.

While in Makurdi, I made inquiries and discovered the vision of Governor Ortom which showed commitment towards addressing the pension problem that had lingered for decades. Aside from bringing down the backlog of pensions and gratuity which was in the neighborhood of N60 billion before he assumed office to far less than half of the amount, the Ortom government adopted the Federal Government reforms in pension administration through the Benue State Pension Law, 2019. The law introduced the Contributory Pension Scheme, which aimed to provide a lasting solution. His government proactively fulfilled the requirements for the full implementation of the Contributory Pension Scheme.

The scheme adopted a proactive approach, requiring both the government and employees to contribute a certain percentage of their monthly earnings towards the pension fund. By shifting from a pay-as-you-go system to a contributory scheme, Ortom created a sustainable model that would secure the future of pensioners and prevent the accumulation of pension arrears.

By the end of Governor Ortom’s tenure as the records I verified indicated, Benue State had already contributed over N8 billion under the Pensions Scheme, bringing the state closer to meeting the necessary conditions to benefit from the scheme. This stride was set to give the state government access to long-term loans and bonds for development projects, as well as helping it to address existing pension liabilities.

With the confirmation by the National Pension Commission, Benue retirees have every reason to thank the former Governor Samuel Ortom whose vision has laid a lasting legacy that is about to permanently end the pension woes of the state. Ortom’s introduction of the contributory pension scheme has marked a significant turning point in the lives of pensioners in the state. Prior to his tenure, the state faced numerous challenges in the pension system, with retired public servants enduring prolonged delays, unpaid pensions, and a lack of transparency.

I recall the insults that Ortom faced from some people over the issue of pensions. Many refused to recognize the fact that accumulated unpaid pensions were not the making of Governor Ortom. As I was made to understand, the problem of unpaid pensions in Benue had been there since the time of the first civilian governor of the state, Mr Aku.

In the annals of Benue State’s history, the name Samuel Ortom will continue to stand out as a visionary leader who brought about a transformative change in the way pensions were managed. This commendable initiative will not only ensure the welfare and security of retired public servants but also set a precedent for other states to follow. Ortom’s commitment to reforming the pension system in Benue State deserves utmost recognition and appreciation.

Now, Benue civil servants can retire with dignity and financial security. If the present government of the state builds on the efforts of the Ortom administration, retired public servants will no longer have to endure the agonizing wait for their pensions or worry about inadequate funds. Instead, they will enjoy a reliable and regular income stream, enabling them to meet their essential needs, access quality healthcare, and lead a dignified life in their retirement years. In addition, the contributory pension scheme will ensure transparency and accountability in the management of pension funds.

Ortom’s vision in the Benue pensions sector has instilled public trust and confidence in the system, guaranteeing that pension funds are utilized judiciously for the benefit of retirees. This transparency will also serve as a deterrent to corruption and misappropriation of pension funds, safeguarding the hard-earned savings of pensioners.

The commendable initiative of the former Benue State Governor has left an indelible legacy on the pension system in Benue State. His visionary leadership and determination to tackle the pension crisis head-on have set a benchmark for other states across Nigeria to emulate. The success of the contributory pension scheme in Benue State will also serve as an inspiration to successive governments and policymakers, prompting them to prioritize pension reforms and ensure the well-being of retired civil servants.

If the present government of Benue State hopes to be remembered for anything good, I urge them to sustain the Ortom legacy in reforming the pension system. It is a vision beyond the boundaries and sentiments of politics.

~ Adebayo, a public affairs analyst writes from Abuja.

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