With an accumulation of N46 billion unpaid gratuity to state and LG retirees and accumulated unpaid death benefits spanning 20 years, pensioners in Plateau State say they have endured so much for so long.
Mr Dyelzung Girima Dakwom was a retired teacher who died waiting for his benefits from the Plateau State government.
Having laboured for his state all through his active life, a paltry N800,000 had been calculated as Dakwom’s retirement benefit, but he was only given N100,000 as initial payment.
The deceased’s grandson, Lungul Dakwom, narrated how his grandfather died in 2008 waiting for the balance of N700,000 which till today, is yet to come.
The story is similar for the Lar family whose patriarch, Musa Lar, worked as a head driver at the Nigerian Standard Newspaper, under the state Ministry for Information before retiring in 2010 as Transport Officer. Musa Lar, who died five years ago, was never paid his gratuity and for his relatives, who are now trying to claim his benefits, it is an even more horrendous task.
“One officer at the pension board even demanded to be given N300,000 to facilitate the payment and as we speak, the benefits have not been paid,” said Manji Lar, the deceased’s son.
Since her husband died some 10 years ago, Mrs. Racheal Igabi have termed politicians as wicked, having denied her and her children her deceased husband’s benefits.
Mrs Igabi, whose husband retired as a director in 2002, says he was never paid his gratuity even after his death in 2012.
“He was only receiving pension, and the pension was stopped after his death.
“Politicians are just wicked, they were wicked to my husband, and they are still doing the same thing to me and the children after his death,” she said.
State and local government pensioners in Plateau State say they have been neglected by the government they served for 35 years.
They are now gearing up to embark on three-day prayers and fasting to seek God’s intervention into their prolonged and unresolved welfare issues.
The aged pensioners who appeared physically worried and frustrated explained that they have been suffering in silence for the past two decades.
Their union claims they lose two to three members monthly due to perpetual lack, hunger, psychological stress and frustration.
Speaking with our correspondent, State Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP), Mr. Ben Bello Duwap, said the pensioners have exhausted all options in trying to draw the attention of government to their plight.
“It appears the state governor, Simon Bako Lalong, has shut his doors on us.
“We don’t know where else to run to for help, except God.
“That is why we have set the 20th April for our members to embark on a three-day prayer and fasting,” he said.
Inside Jos gathered that Plateau State has over 15,000 pensioners and in the last 20 years, families of deceased civil servants have not been able to secure their death benefits while those receiving pensions have never received salary increments.
Those who retired in 1999 with a pension of N5,000 are still receiving the same amount in 2022.
“I will use myself, the state chairman of the pensioners as an example. I retired in 1999 with a pension of N5,000 and till today, I am still receiving the same amount as pension.
“This is to confirm to you that we don’t enjoy salary increment like our colleagues in other states,” Dawup said.
He however said though the present administration of Simon Banko Lalong has ensured a consistent remittance of monthly pension and is up to date in payment, there was a need to ensure that gratuities and death benefits are paid.
“Our main issue is not the monthly pension but our gratuity, salary increment, harmonisation of pension and death benefits.
“I can confirm that in the last seven years of the present administration, we have not enjoyed any increment in our pension.
“The governor is implementing the 30 percent minimum wage, but has not included pensioners in the increment.
“We have written memos over this but there has been no response from government,” he said.
The union leader stressed that unpaid gratuity in the local government has accumulated to N28bn while that of the state government has accumulated to N18bn, giving a total of N46bn unpaid gratuity in Plateau State.
The pensioners explained that in Plateau State, it is now standard that it takes a retiree three or more years before receiving the monthly pension.
Among the fresh retirees sighted at the ICT office at the state secretariat in Jos, Alhassan Bala said that most of them retired about five years ago and have not been paid anything.
“We learnt that it is after this ICT capturing that they will begin to pay us the monthly pension,” he said.
Timothy Izam who was also at the ICT office said: “There is nothing like payment of arrears, they will begin to pay you the monthly pension from the month your data is captured.”
On her part, Mrs Serah Dalyop said, “I retired about four years ago, and the fact that you retired four or five years ago does not mean you will be paid any arrears.
“They have told us not to expect any arrears.
“As for gratuity, that one is another struggle entirely, you will struggle to get your pension and you will also struggle to get your gratuity.
“At least for pension you can have guarantee, but for gratuity, it is only God.”
It was gathered that the pensioners in Plateau State fared better under the military regimes as the chairman of the pensioners explained that all retirement benefits are worked out before your retirement under the military administration.
“The very week you retire, you will be issued a cheque and the next month, you start receiving your monthly pension.
“But since the nation returned to democratic governance in 1999, government retirees have to struggle for years after retirement to get their benefits.
“Many of them have died waiting for their gratuity, they never lived to taste the benefit of their labour.”
A Jos-based constitutional lawyer Barrister Sumaila Yakubu said gratuity and pension is a right provided by the Nigerian constitution, which means issues of pension and gratuity are actionable at the Industrial Courts.
“And the court has the power to garnishee state government account after judgement.
“But if the union of pensioners decided not to take legal action, then it is their choice.
“But I know there are instances where labour unions get favourable judgement and had government account garnisheed,” he said.
Pension administration in Plateau State comes under the office of the Head of Civil Service, Engineer Sunday Hyat, who deliberately avoided talking to Daily Trust even after spending hours in his office.
However, the Plateau State Commissioner for Information and Communication, Dan Manjang, said the state government is aware of the problems surrounding pension management in the state which he said was inherited from previous governments.
According to Manjang, concerted efforts have been made to sort out the issues, adding that a technical committee was set up to look at the issue and advice government on how to resolve it.
“The point we are now is that government has resolved to bring in a consortium to serve as off-taker and pay the pensioners the backlog of gratuity and death benefits.
“That means the gratuity to be paid by the consortium/off-taker will be discounted and government will later pay the consortium through ISPO payment platform.
“We gave an option to the pensioners to choose the one they prefer, either to be paid by the consortium a discounted amount or to wait until government has the money to pay everything.” He said the delay was for the State House of Assembly to make the enabling law for the consortium to have the legal backup.
Speaking on the monthly stipends received by some pensioners, the commissioner said minimum wage is by law meant for workers that are still in active service.
“It is not meant for retirees, it is only through the benevolence of government to extend new minimum wage to pensioners, if not, they are not part of it.
“In Plateau State, under this administration, pensioners are enjoying harmonised pension, even though it is not their right,” said Manjang.
The commissioner also made it clear that it is no longer the state government’s responsibility to pay local government retirees since they have been given autonomy.
“We are only concerned with pension of the state civil servants.
“This is because the local governments are now autonomous by law and have their own way to manage their pensioners,” he said.
However, the chairman of the pensioners union said the idea of setting up committee over pension was part of attempts by government to shift the burden.
He said government has come up with other policies to offset the pension liability which have been abandoned.
“Government told us that they have entered agreement with an insurance company to pay us the backlog.
“We mobilised our members in the 17 local governments to key into the policy.
“After the awareness campaign, government never mention the issue again. Now they are talking about a consortium.”