Governments and plight of Nigerian pensioners

Posted by News Express | 23 December 2017 | 2,587 times

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The original thinkers of political science and philosophy of politics that worked on the fine-tuning and evolution of the progressive concept of democracy, which connotes that system of government that was earlier practised in ancient Greece, clearly holds the time-tested and time-honoured impression that the welfare of the people is at the core of democracy.

Any wonder then that democracy was seen as a form of government for the people, by the people and of the people, as classically defined by one of the fathers of American democracy: Abraham Lincoln.

In the classical thoughts of Aristotle, one of the revered fathers of Ancient Philosophy, the wellbeing and welfare of the governed defines the heart of democracy. Aristotle went as far as defining human action from the utilitarian point of view, meaning that action of mankind must of necessity revolve around the guarantee of the certainty of happiness. 

Happiness for this great thinker is the centerpiece of government. According to followers of the philosophy of Utilitarianism, spreading happiness to the greatest percentage of the population is the essence of government. 

We will return to Aristotle, but first let us read how so inspiring a philosopher captured under the title of the Barons of King John (early 13th century) what can be called the canons of good governance, to see that citizens must of necessity enjoy the guarantee of his/her legitimate entitlements, whether as a public or private worker. 

The kernel of Barons of King John was summed up in the statement: “No free man shall be imprisoned, except by the law of the land.” 

Following are the affirmations: “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or in the barons’ demands was the concept of habeas corpus

“This requires that a person under arrest be brought before a court, and protects individuals from arbitrary abuse of power. For the first time, the freedom of the individual from a tyrannical ruler was explicitly guaranteed.”

The chief narrator stated that John had no choice but to accept the terms and attach his seal to what later became known as the Magna Carta (Latin for ‘Great Charter’). Unfortunately, he asserted that John’s assent was only a token, and much of the document was later ignored or repealed. 

“Nevertheless, the key clauses remained, and the spirit of Magna Carta was highly influential in the political development of Great Britain,” he noted, adding:

“The restriction of the power of the monarch in favour of the rights of the ‘free man’ - which at the time meant only the feudal landowners and not the serfs - laid the foundations for an independent parliament. 

“The rebellious De Montfort’s Parliament in 1265 was the first such body, featuring elected representatives, knights, and burgesses (borough officials) as well as barons for the first time; (See No Free Man Shall Be Imprisoned, Except by the Law of the Land, by Baron Of King John, early 13th century).”

Closer home, the Imo State governor, Mr Rochas Anayochukwu Okorocha, took governance to the most shockingly comical level recently, when he committed the mother of nepotism, by naming his biological sister a commissioner for a farcical official government ministry he baptised as Ministry of Happiness and Purpose Fulfillment.

While millions of observers from all over the world, including the administrators of the popular social media forum – Facebook – are busy catching fun and cracking jokes with this unproductive decision of the governor of Imo State, it is important to look at it from another perspective.

Let us look at this totally irrelevant decision from the point of view of the whole essence of governance.

“Happiness” in the respected view of Aristotle, a founding father of scholarly philosophy, is the end of human action and this action should aim at its proper end.

His words: “Everywhere, men aim at pleasure, wealth, and honor. But none of these ends, though they have value, can occupy the place of the chief good for which man should aim. To be an ultimate end, an act must be self-sufficient and final, that which is always desirable in itself and never for the sake of something else.”

Also for any act to be deemed a human action, it must be attainable by man. 

Aristotle seems certain that all men will agree that happiness is the end that alone meets all the requirements for the ultimate end of human action. 

Indeed, he stated that we choose pleasure, wealth, and honour only, because we think that “through their instrumentality we shall be happy.” Happiness, it turns out, is another word or name for good, for like good, happiness is the fulfillment of our distinctive function; or, as Aristotle said, “Happiness….is a working of the soul in the way of excellence or virtue….”

He asked: “How does the soul work to attain happiness? The general rule of morality is to act in accordance with Right Reason. What this means is that the rational part of the soul should control the irrational part.”

The Nigerian Constitution seems to have also adhered strictly to the above Aristotelian concept of happiness as the essence of governance, when the framers wrote in section 14(2) (b) that: “The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” But Governor Okorocha and many other governors do not have public good as the centerpiece of governance. These sets of political predators believe that political offices are meant for personal aggrandisement. 

Looking at the state of welfare and wellbeing of the entire citizenry vis-à-vis the impacts that the enforcement of policies and programmes make in their lives, it is noteworthy to remark that Nigeria is structured in such a way that the welfare of the ordinary citizens is not factored into the governance processes and mechanisms.

One set of Nigerians that defines the maltreatment of the citizens by the Nigerian state are those aged persons known as pensioners. Pensioners in Nigeria are owed accumulated entitlements and most of them are neglected to die even before they are paid these miserable entitlement by the different segments of the governments at both the central and state levels.

Recently, two photos went viral on the social media of Facebook whereby two sets of pensioners were depicted, and these two sets are each from Nigeria and United Kingdom.  

Whereas the set of aged persons who are pensioners churned out from the British Civil Service are looking robustly well-fed and well-taken-care-of, the set of Nigerian pensioners were looking so unkempt, hungry and disadvantaged.

In some states, pensioners are owed as much as two years pension, just as the two states of Imo and Kogi are the worst places for pensioners to live as if to say it is a crime to serve your nation for the best part of these dehumanised elderly life times.

Only few weeks back, President Muhammadu Buhari reportedly lamented the maltreatment meted out by state governments to their aged pensioners, even as he tasked them to pay off these accumulated wage bills from the humongous amounts of money being released to states by the Federal Government from the Paris Club refunds.

State governors who aren't accountable and transparent with public funds have remained adamantly inhumane and heartless to the plight and aspirations of the senior citizens, who spent their life in service of the nation.

In Imo State, the governor majestically dismissed widespread criticism against his failure to pay pensioners, when he admitted owing just few years of accumulated pensions.

His words: “As we talk, my priority now is to clear the entire pensions owed Imo retirees, and how I will do that is only what is before me now and I will address that soonest. We are owing pensioners N16 billion in backlogs let wages.”

But the Imo state governor’s neglect of pensioners’ welfare has progressively resulted in many casualties. Only last month, the New Telegraph Newspapers ran a story of a pensioner that collapsed and died while waiting to undergo the endless verification exercises in Imo State.

Pensioners in Imo State expressed disgust over death of their colleague and chairman of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP), Imo chapter, Comrade Gideon Ezeji. They said his death was because of Governor Rochas Okorocha’s “callous treatment meted out on Imo pensioners.” 

According to them, Ezeji, who spent the last months of his life fighting cause of pensioners in Imo, died following Okorocha’s ‘callous treatment’.

Chairman of Retired Permanent Secretaries, Mr Fabian Agba, lamented Ezeji’s death, describing it as an avoidable one. He said: “Like many of us have already said, the Imo State Government cannot exculpate itself from the death of Ezeji.

“They are to a very large extent responsible for his death. When you stop the income of a man who is above 70 years of age, do you expect him to seek another job elsewhere to survive at that age? Hunger is a weapon of war and the Imo State government dutifully deployed it against Imo pensioners, especially those who vociferously demanded for theirs.

“Ezeji was starved to death. In case you do not know, Ezeji was undergoing dialysis twice every week. We all know how expensive it is to undergo dialysis, yet his pensions were stopped. You could kill a man emotionally long before he is dead. This is the plight of many pensioners in Imo State. Until his death, Ezeji was being owed over 29 months in pension arrears. He was recently given a pension cheque for three months arrears, but the cheque had bounced repeatedly. The cheque is still with the family, yet unfunded.”

In Kogi, the chairperson of the Kogi State Pensions Board, Dr Florence Olufunke Adewumi, has said that the state government owe pensioners over N9.8 billion. She said the sum includes accumulated pension arrears, gratuities, and death benefits. She said until the inception of the present administration in the state, pension matters were given very little attention, adding that some of the accumulated pension arrears were even liabilities dating back to the inception of the state.

She said the board has 7,322 pensioners on its payroll, with a total liability of N9.8 billion as at June 2013, stressing that the liability would continue to grow unless the state government evolves the policy of contributory pension scheme for its workers. Adewumi noted that the scheme would enhance the capacity of the state government to meet up with its responsibilities. 

Meanwhile, the state chapter of the National Union of Pensioners has threatened to occupy Government House with their families, if the government fails to obey the ruling of the court.

A High Court in Lokoja had at the weekend sacked members of the state and local government pensions’ board, as well as the Pension Fund Management Commission.

Chairman of the union, Chief Onu Abdullahi, said the measure became necessary in view of what he described as the lukewarm attitude of the state government towards pensioners and issues relating to them.

This treacherous act of impunity by governors towards retirees violates the United Nations humanitarian laws.

Since 1991, the United Nations has accomplished considerable work on the issue of combating impunity, mainly through the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. 

Also, Amnesty laws, which in the 1970s were invoked for the release of political prisoners and symbolised freedom, were later used to ensure the impunity of perpetrators of human rights violations are brought to decisive justice at the international forum. Aware of this problem, the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights (1993) supported, in its Declaration and Programme of Action, the efforts of the commission and the sub-commission to examine all aspects of the issue. 

Accordingly, the sub-commission reportedly requested one of its members, Mr Louse Joinet, to prepare a set of principles for the protection and promotion of human rights through action to combat impunity. The expert submitted his report and the set of principles to the sub-commission in 1997. 

Under those principles, victims have the following rights:

 (a)The right to know: This is not merely the right of any individual victim, or persons closely related to a victim, to know what happened, that is, a right to the truth. It is also a collective right to draw on history in order to prevent the recurrence of violations.  Its corollary is a state’s ‘duty to remember’;

 (b) The right to justice: This right implies that all victims shall have an opportunity to assert their rights and receive a fair and effective remedy, ensuring that their oppressors stand trial and that the victims can obtain reparations;

(c) The right to reparation: This right entails individual and general collective measures. 

The above international agreements are totally against the impunity by some state governors to deny pensioners their entitlements in retirement. Locally, the National Industrial Court, Owerri Judicial Division, had declared the 40 per cent payment to Imo pensioners by the Imo State Government as illegal and unconstitutional.

The court issued an order of perpetual injunction restraining the government and its agents from further slashing of pensions due the state pensioners.

The Presiding Judge, Olufunke Anuwe, gave the order while delivering judgment in suit no. NICN/OW/144/2017 filed before her by the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) Imo State chapter, against the Imo State governor and three others.

Justice Anuwe stated that the claimants had on February 24, 2017 filed a suit seeking declaration and order directing the Imo State government from respecting and honouring their rights to earn pensions. She said that the claimant equally sought an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Imo State Government from further slashing of pensions.

Imo pensioners had accused the government of Rochas Okorocha of ​“exhibiting lawlessness”​.

The retirees ​had, in a communiqué,​ ​unanimously rejected​​​ the slash ​and had vowed to reverse the “illegality” in court. 

Still looking at global best practices, ECOVIS, one of the top 20 leading global networks of Independent consulting firms conducted a research in 2015 and made far-reaching findings of global dimension, which classified prompt payment of pensions as a fundamental human right.

ECOVIS reported thus: “The replies show a great degree of similarity in key aspects,” said Kurt Bülow, a board member. For example, 19 countries (90 per cent of those participating) have instituted compulsory pension schemes for employees; in many of these countries the obligation also extends to other groups of gainfully employed, such as the self-employed and sole proprietors. 

“Besides, there are other pension schemes for employees particular to Malaysia and Mexico. In 80 per cent of these 19 countries where compulsory pensions schemes have been instituted, both the employee and the employer are liable for contributions, generally as a certain percentage of gross wages or salary. In Russia, the employers are solely responsible for these contributions, whilst in Croatia and the Netherlands, the employee shoulders them. 

“There are eight countries (42 per cent) where the state also contributes towards funding the statutory retirement pension. In 12 countries (63 per cent) pension payments are met directly by contributions and, where appropriate, by government subsidies (pay-as-you-go scheme). Another three states (Croatia, Russia, and Uruguay) combine this with a funded pension scheme; after deduction of administrative expenses, the contributions are invested on the capital market and the pensions paid out from the capital saved by each individual.”

The Japanese pension scheme is entirely funded. “However, the investments are not linked to individual pension accounts,” explains Kazuhiko Chiba, ECOVIS’ partner in Tokyo. “Instead, the result of collective investment is one of the factors for determining annuity rate, which the government reviews every four years.”

Why then are government officials getting away with the crass impunity and unconstitutional conduct of criminalising old age and neglecting criminally the obligations under the Nigerian laws confirmed by several decided legal authorities to pay pensioners their rightful entitlements? This evil practice has to stop.

Sadly, all sorts of officials and parliamentarians share from the unrestrained bonanza of stealing from the resources meant for pensioners. Right now, Abdulrasheed Maina, a fugitive from the law who allegedly stole billions of federal pensions was illegally reinstated to his public office with the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari. Even though public outcry compelled the President to do the needful, still he has refused to fire his compromised Attorney-General/Justice Minister and Minister of Interior for their ignominious roles in restoring to office a dismissed public official, allegedly wanted by EFCC, for diverting billions of money belonging to pensioners.

•RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA). He can be reached via 08033327672 (sms only) or via 

Source: News Express

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