A line in the Nigerian Anthem reads: ‘the labour of our heroes past, shall never be in vain.’ Today, the practicality of this line is playing out among the pensioners who had served the nation for some 35 years, watching their past labour going down the drain.
This is why this group of senior citizens are now crying to the Federal Government to come to their aid, for them to be able to account for the labour of 35 years.
Pensioners under the aegis of the Nigerian Union of Pensioner (NUP), recently converged on the premises of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, Yaba, Lagos, from all over the country to drum home their requests. The senior citizens had defied the harsh weather to gather themselves as a formidable force, travelling from all the geo political zones in the country to attend the rally, which they prayed would yield favourable result.
Chairman of the organisation and former staff of National Cereal Research Institute, Badeggi, Niger State, Elder Samuel Adenrele Kojusola, addressed his teeming members and promised the struggle must continue to the end of achieving a better future for themselves and for the next generation.
On how the organisation was able to gather such crowd, Kojusola said, “We have to thank God, we worked hard on our members, we are the ones who know what we are suffering and we have to take our destiny in our hands. Our members in Ogun State tried a lot and looking at the Railways pensioners, you know they have a large number, that is an advantage here today,” he said at the rally.
On what the rally was all about, the Chairman said, “It is to sensitise the people who retired under the new contributory pension scheme. The Nigerian Union of Pensioner (NUP), is a forum where we can meet, discuss and fight for a common goal,” adding that, “it is what we should look forward to, that is why we have the union. The government felt once you retire under the contributory pension, you are on your own. So we have gone far with the struggle.”
Stating the reason for the agitation, he said, “There is an old system on ground, when you retire under the old system, before you leave the service, you know your gratuity, you know your pension, because there is a desk officer. You go there, he will compare notes, but today, nobody knows how PENCOM is calculating it. That is why we have gathered all the way from across the country. There are people from Zaria, Bauchi, Borno, Enugu, other places here today in order to push this struggle forward.”
Warning the future generation, he said, if his group fails to win the battle today, the future generation would suffer it. “As you can see, if we don’t fight like this, generation of young workers will curse us. They would say our generation did not do anything.”
Also at the event, Secretary of the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) pensioners, Mr. Biodun Lesi, said, the Federal Government has not been fair to pensioners who had worked their lives out for national development. In his words, Nigeria is buoyant enough to cater for her old citizens of which class the pensioners belong.
“It is a matter of policy. What really happened was that prior to contributory pension scheme, when you retire after 35 years in service, you are entitled to 300% gratuity and 80% per cent pension, but when the era of the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) came in, it made us receive lesser amount,” he said.
Lamenting further, Lesi said, “Nobody can even say this is how they are calculating it. I retired as a level 14 officer and now, I’m receiving an amount far lower than what I should be getting according to my final salary. I see it as a rip-off. Although the scheme is good, it is only good for the old staff. Another thing is that the contributory pension scheme has no provision for inflation. If you retire on N1 salary, that is what you are based on for the rest of your life, it is unfair. It has no value for money. When the government is reviewing salary, they should review pension too as enshrine in our constitution, section 213(3).”
According to Lesi, if their agitation is addressed, it would help curb corruption in the civil service. “This will help safe the country from corruption because any staff now who has no hope for the future will be corrupt and we are saying we want to stop corruption. I’m praying that if the government wants to stop corruption, they should review contributory pension.”
Advising the young people who are yet to get close to the middle of their career, a pensioner at the event, Mr. Ezekiel Olujide Fawole, said, “Those who are still in service now have a brighter future. Those before 60 years of age or 35 years in service, with the success of this struggle, will have good reward for their labour.”
Leading his contingent from Ogun State, the Ogun State Chairman of the group, Comrade Olaogun, is optimistic that the struggle is at the peak and by next year, pensioners would smile.
“We have seen green light. Green light in the in the sense that the more we penetrate the states, the more members we have and the more members joining us, they are ready to support us. This support comes in terms of finance, physical presence and in all ramifications. I am praying that everything will be okay by next year. The members in the states are ready, I can tell you that by next year, it will be better than this stage. We are at an advanced stage with this struggle and I can assure you that those who are aggrieved will be settled.”
Narrating the sad ordeal of some of the pensioners, Chairman of the pensioners at the Federal Medical Centre, Abeokuta and Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Aro, Abeokuta, Mr. Joseph Adeseun Adewoyin, said, the plight of pensioners in Nigeria is becoming unbearable as some die of curable sicknesses.
“The government should put succour on the faces of those that have worked for 35 years. There was a publication that somebody died of asthmatic attack in one hospital in Nigeria because he could not buy a N450 inhaler. Also a retiree died at the FMC Abeokuta, because he could not buy drug for hypertension. We are calling on President Buhari to pay us the stipulated 80% of our last salary as pension because those that did not contribute anything are the ones benefiting,” he said.
Also, at the event was the Public Relations Officer of the organisation, Mr. Paul Ukpe, who retired at the National Horticultural Institute, Ibadan in 2011. He complained that the nation is not taking care of the old citizens who had served her meritoriously.
“Someone who worked for 35 years and retired as Assistant Director is earning N55,000 a month, while a school Principal, who retired with the old scheme is earning between N120,000 and N130,000 a month, how do you explain that?” Ukpe asked.
Ukpe argued further that politicians earn more than those who practically built the nation. “If you know how much a politician is taking home, you will see the wickedness. We suffered for this nation that is why we are calling on the President who is a benevolent man, he is also a retiree and pensioner to look into this. The new system is supposed to be better than the old one, the new system we have on pension is worse off than the old one, those that retired with the old system take home 80% of their last pay, but now we take 25%. How do you marry that dichotomy in this country where people who worked for the Federal Government and retired are being paid under two different systems?”
Travelling all the way from Bauchi to attend the rally was Mr. Musa Bayero Mohammed, a retiree from the Nigerian Railway Corporation. According to him, the meagre amount being paid the pensioners is not enough to handle the modern day challenges.
“The meagre amount they are giving pensioners is not enough for their families, we are calling on President Buhari, to come to our aid. It is a government of change, we are calling them to abolish this pension scheme, it is not good for us, it is not good for the future, we are not praying for Nigeria to dwindle economically, therefore, the responsibility of the government should be shouldered by the government, not contributory,” Mohammed said.
He stated further that, “We from the North East say enough is enough. Railway pensioners are not underdogs. I had walked on my legs for 50kilometres as a District Director just to contribute my best to the service which is now unfair to me. We are also entitled to our loan for agriculture and animal husbandry. The contributory scheme is an alien arrangement by the foreigners, they were doing it so that if they go away, they would go away with our money to build their country and that is why it was removed initially. If Nigeria at 55 must come back on track, she must understand the yearnings of the people that have served and address the issue.” he said.