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Taking pensioners’ verification too far

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Over the last three years, most Nigerian retirees have heaved sighs of relief and have also had cause to smile as receiving their monthly pension has taken a turn from the dreary experience of the past. Unlike previous years when some have had to forgo the stipend while some others died queuing up to get it, recent arrangement by the Federal Government has ushered some degree of relief into the system.

While the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) has provided unprecedented opportunity for workers to take charge of their future under the Pension Reform Act 2014, the responsibility of funding the old scheme, otherwise known as Defined Benefit Scheme, still falls within the control of government at the state and federal levels, which is currently being managed by Pension Transition Arrangement Directorate (PTAD).

The agency established to address the numerous pensioners’ complaints that border on issues such as non-payment of monthly pension, short payment of pension and gratuity, among other responsibilities, has recently proven to be too highhanded on the old and sickly retirees.

PTAD, as empowered by the Amended Pension Reform Act, 2014, took over the management of the Civil Service Pension Department, Police Pension Office and the Customs, Immigration and Prisons Pension Office. To say the least, the trouble with the old system has been unlimited as much as it has also provided inkling into the deviousness of man’s inhumanity to man with those in charge of the fund devising various means to divert such for their personal use.

Like so many other cases of crime with bursting bubbles at the initial stage and eventual silence that allows the criminal go scot free, there is yet to be a successfully prosecuted case of pension fraud in recent time despite the billions of naira that have been diverted.

Apart from the cases in the past, the most recent involved the suspended Executive Secretary of PTAD, Nellie Mayshak, who allegedly manipulated the system to enrich herself. Her case, and that of others, brought to light the callousness with which those put in charge of making life easier for aged retirees subjected them to all manners of harrowing experience. The verification exercise, which has kept pensioners waiting for months, began long ago after the discovery of excess fund in the police pension account.

The exercise, which commenced with about 100,000 civil service pensioners, is taking too long with the pensioners complaining of endless scrutiny that keeps them outside in the sun more than necessary. Apart from some pensioners not receiving their pensions after weeks of so-called verification exercise, some others have ended up losing their lives due to their various health challenges.

To compound the situation, the fragile old men and women, majority of them over 70 years, are made to go through the traumatic experience of being physically present for the exercise. While it is very necessary to guard against fraud, the recent position of the agency to suspend over 15,000 pensioners from receiving pensions due to their inability to present valid Bank Verification Number (BVN) is, to say the least, another harsh and cold-hearted delivery from the agency.

According to the Executive Secretary of the agency, Sharon Ikeazor, the measure is part of the agency’s commitment to get authentic database of pensioners and streamline its payroll.

“So far, we have dropped about 15,600 pensioners off our pay roll that have no BVN. So we just flat their account so that money does not go in there. “We have told the genuine ones to update their BVN so that we can put them back on our payroll. We have saved the government millions of naira through the exercise,” she said.

And again, while the agency is yet to conclude the battle on ground, it is proposing to extend the exercise to retirees in the Diaspora. While on a courtesy visit to Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Ikeazor announced plans to verify the details of Nigerian pensioners in the Diaspora as a step towards ensuring they receive their entitlements as and when due.

This is seen as another design to spend scarce resources on unnecessary venture, moreso as there has not been any major outcry from those overseas to be so verified for the purpose of receiving their pensions. With the database currently proving difficult to deal with pensioners at home, the idea of extending the verification exercise outside the shores of the country would certainly be a huge task to handle.

Considering the urgent need to ameliorate the welfare of the retirees, especially since government is fully committed to the project, we believe that PTAD should make the verification exercise easier for the aged men and women to contend with. On the issue of suspended 15,600 pensioners over BVN, we suggest that the agency review the matter, except the matter has gone beyond what the public has been made to believe.

We are of the opinion that the idea of proposing verification exercise for retirees in the Diaspora should be put on hold for now or completely forgotten while efforts should be concentrated on dealing with the trouble at home.

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