In this interview, Collins Nwankwo, Chairman of Rivers State chapter of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners tells National Point Editor, Emmanuel Obe that retirees are being shortchanged in their benefit payments .
What is the experience of retirees in Rivers State?
The experience of retirees in Rivers State is common knowledge. Everybody knows that they are not happy because entitlements are not paid. Even now when payment is said to be on, it is sluggish and it is not going on the way we as the leadership of pensioners expect. We wanted a robust payment stature where it will embrace a lot other areas. It will also be such that people could get all their entitlements and leave. But what we see is small small payments made to people whose entitlements are small. And those who have big entitlements, they slice it; some they even abandon till further notice.
In fact the reason of it all is that enough fund is not made available. If enough fund is made available, I believe a lot more people will be engaged, a lot more people will benefit and that will give credit to government and we will have peace at the leadership and then tension would go down. So what is happening is just a miniature pattern of payment where little money gets into the hands of pensioners and they just go because they have been looking for this payment all along and it never came. But now that it is coming, even if it is patches of small small thing they will accept and go away. But we are pressing; we are talking with the handlers. And I think by the grace of God some payments will come in.
But the governor has been saying that pensions are paid regularly…
No, no, no! Pensions are being paid regularly . That’s true.
What about gratuities?
Like the one they are paying now. That’s what I have been explaining. The gratuities are now being paid as per your earning. It’s paid as determined by the handling group, the body that is paying based on this issue of insufficient funds.
Are the payments covering all the people that have retired?
They are paying in the areas of gratuity, death benefits. It is pension arrears that they have not done. And there are other components, the entitlements they have not started addressing like the harmonisation, like some awards made by the federal government in terms of pension increases. We have always mentioned it, the latest being consequential adjustments based on the N30,000 minimum wage to workers.
How does the contributory pension scheme come into the situation in Rivers State?
The contributory thing had not worked well and it is still on trial. The government kept shifting the effective date for everybody so that they can get ready and prepared enough to face it. It is a system that requires contribution from two areas: the employer and employee.
Apart from issues of pension and gratuities are there thins that elderly people need from government or society to assist them?
A lot. That is where this body (RISSNAC) we are inaugurating comes in. It is a nice thing that the federal government now had buried a leaf from the United Nations on this issue and they are now beginning to say we should establish it so that all those other benefits that can come for elderly people based on what happens globally will pass through this very body, which is domiciled in the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs. From there, the bodies at the state level can now get close to us and communicate the necessary groups the benefits and individuals that are part of it.
What’s your assessment of how this society cares for the elderly? We have seen a situation where children are now abandoning their aged parents. Should we now adopt the western system of moving aged people to special homes?
No. That has never been our system. Overseas that has been the system and it developed through time. So, we cannot start doing that now. For me, it would be disastrous. We have a system already. All we need do is to ensure that this body can even move down to the local areas in terms of establishing units of it that can go to the grassroots and reach out to the people on such things and benefits that they will derive and ensure that when things come honesty, objectivity will be there. They now get what is there. If it is money, materials, whatever they have can be handed over to those at the local level instead of moving them to special homes. It has never worked very well. We have centres for orphans. Have they been functioning very well? These are the things.