Left to suffer: Retirees live in penury as Niger government defaults over benefits 

By Hamzat Ibrahim ABAGA

ADAMU Bello Mustapha found it inconceivable that, despite his dedicated years of active duty and commitment to serving the government of Niger state, he would eventually find himself reduced to destitution as a result of the government’s failure to fulfil its obligation of paying his pension since his retirement in 2018. 

To compound his misfortunes, Mustapha was diagnosed with a debilitating eye ailment that necessitated a surgical procedure. Although he managed to scrape together enough funds to cover the expenses for the initial operation, he was financially incapacitated when his doctor scheduled a second one.

Unfortunately, his troubles did not end there. In an unexpected turn of events, he experienced a partial loss of vision, which was a devastating blow. However, his ultimate downfall commenced in 2019 when he completely lost his sight. 

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“As I speak to you, my wife is paralysed. This is even after experiencing a stroke. I didn’t even need to tell you before you’ll know that I’m depressed,” said Mustapha, a retired director from the Niger State Ministry of Education. 

“Maybe it’s a test from God,” he added. 

In accordance with Section 3 of the Pension Reform Act 2014, civil service workers are entitled to certain legal rights, such as receiving a specific monthly pension amount based on their retirement level.

In June 2023, a report highlighted that approximately 34 outgoing, returning, and sitting governors were leaving a significant burden of unpaid gratuities, while 27 of them were grappling with unpaid multibillion pension arrears.

According to data on poverty from the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the number of Nigerians who are multidimensionally poor are 133 million, representing 63 per cent of the nation’s population.

Retired civil servants in Nigeria are entitled to a specific monthly sum based on their retirement level. However, retirees in Niger state have expressed their grievances regarding the non-payment of pensions, which has negatively impacted their livelihoods for several years.

Retirees in Niger state protest non payment of benefits
Retirees in Niger state protest non-payment of benefits

Mustapha, sharing his plight with The ICIR, revealed that when his child secured university admission, he couldn’t afford the registration fees due to poverty and government negligence in disbursing his retirement benefit. 

Racheal Adeyanju, a retiree from Chanchaga local government, faced a similar ordeal, waiting twelve years for her gratuity after a five-year struggle to receive her monthly pension. Another retiree, Danladi Gwamna, experienced a six-month delay in receiving his N23,000 monthly pension.

Danladi Gwamna
Danladi Gwamna

Despite retiring in 2012 with an expected gratuity, which he said was N2.5 million, Gwamna only received N85,000 initially, with officials later informing him of an investment scheme entitling him to a monthly amount.

Fourteen years later, the outstanding balance of remuneration and the earmarked funds for his prospective investment remain unpaid to him. Gwamna, speaking to The ICIR, said that his monthly pension initially stood at N23,000, only to be subsequently reduced to N14,500. He expressed bewilderment regarding the rationale behind this reduction.

Owing to the government’s delinquency in disbursing pensions and gratuities, a multitude of individuals find themselves ensnared in a crisis marked by acute suffering, despondency, and the tragic loss of family members to maladies.

In the face of advancing age, compounded by deteriorating physical well-being and the inherent security hazards prevalent in agricultural pursuits, the majority of these retirees have resorted to subsistence farming as a means of sustenance.

The Chairman Niger State Retirees Pressure Group, Steven Daniel Zitta, told The ICIR that retired civil servants from the Governor’s Region receive prompt payment of their retirement benefits, compared to those from other parts of the state.  

“A very close colleague of mine from Zone C –political zone where the then Governor of the state comes from who retired in 2022 has received his gratuity. I have retired since 2012, but I have not received mine. It is clear that it’s because I am not from the same senatorial district as Mr. Governor and other government cabals.”

Pensioners in Niger state protest non-payment of benefits in 2023
Pensioners in Niger state protest non-payment of benefits in 2023

Despite the proclamations by the Niger State government in 2022, affirming the release of one billion naira for the disbursement of 178 retirees within the state, Zitta and some of his members bemoan the stark reality of non-receipt.

Zitta posited that the registry of retirees slated for the forthcoming phase of disbursement conspicuously comprises a preponderance from the former Governor’s political zone, marking a neglect of the egalitarian tenets espoused by Section 14 of the Nigerian constitution, mandating governmental actions to be predicated upon democratic principles and social justice.

In lamentation, Zitta recounted the recurrent instances of his members taking to the street to protest on seven occasions, demanding their rightful retirement entitlements, all to no fruition.

Zitta, however, said that the then Director General of the Niger State Pension Board (former), Nasiru Saidu Namaska, gave them the assurances of finalised arrangements for the remuneration of the retirees. Zitta said, Namaska affirmed that disbursements aligned with individual retirement timelines would expeditiously transpire upon the release of funds.  Regrettably, Zitta contends, such affirmations have yet to manifest into tangible recompense.

When this reporter visited Namsaka’s office in April 2023 for comments and further clarification, he was not present on multiple occasions.

On being reached by phone later, Namsaaka said the government did not release any funds for the payment of gratuities in the state. When the reporter pressed for further information regarding the state of the state’s retired civil servants, he declined to comment.

However, in November 2022, Namsaka informed the public during a press conference that the board had received N1 billion for the payment of gratuities for both state and local government retirees.

A national daily, Tribune, reported that “Over N14 billion is being expected to be expended on the total of 14,000 pensioners in the state as gratuities, with no fewer than about N2 billion in death gratuities, while the state grapples with monthly pensions to retirees worth about N3 billion, adding that the board had augmentation of N1.3 billion in respect of those who moved from old pension to new pension.”

The Niger state had stated that it was the pension system. In November 2023, the governor, Bago, stated that the process was being automated.   A month later, in December Namaska, the state pension boss said the overhauling which included verification and capturing of the scheme, was ongoing as scheduled. At the same time, emphasising that only those who are verified will be enrolled.

However, in January 2024, several months after the first interview, Zitta later expressed concern over the government’s pension overhaul, stating, “The government needs to expedite the screening process. It’s been two months for Zone B alone, and the progress is slow.”

Zitta acknowledged that the verification exercise will serve to reduce corruption within the system but emphasized the need for efficiency, saying, “If the government wants this exercise to be fast, it should be completed within the shortest period of time.”

    Niger state pension office
    Niger state pension office

    While acknowledging Governor Mohammed Umar Bago’s promise to prioritise pensioners’ payments, Zitta highlighted the unhappiness among pensioners due to delays.

    He said, “We are not blaming Governor Bago, but the process needs to be quicker.”

    Zitta pointed out the plight of pensioners who moved to new schemes, stating, “Those moved to new pensions are not receiving anything; their situation is more pathetic.”

    Concerned about the prolonged screening, Zitta revealed discussions at the Joint Action Committee (JAC) meeting with the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT). “We are aligning with NUT to demand prompt action. Resuming a monthly pension is better than the current uncertainty,” he asserted. The issue of unscreened pensioners moving to new schemes remains unresolved, as Zitta concluded, “They are just hanging, waiting for their files to go through audit for proper capture.”

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