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FG’s retirees groan under N230bn pension arrears

No payment made for over a year

The agonies of retirees from the Federal Civil Service appear to be getting worse as the Federal Government has failed to release funds for payment of accrued pension rights in the first half of 2024, H1’24, which ended yesterday.

The FG had reneged for the full year 2023, FY’23, as no funds were released despite budgetary provisions.

The release made in the first quarter of 2023, was for outstanding payments in 2022. This comes against the backdrop of FG’s failure to implement its policy on
the upward review of pension amounts under the Contributory Pension Scheme, CPS, for 15 years, against policy prescriptions of upward review every five years as stipulated by law.

While the law stipulates that pensions shall be reviewed every five years or together with any federal civil service salary reviews, whichever is earlier, the FG has failed to implement pension adjustments under the Contributory Pension Scheme, CPS, since the scheme’s inception in 2004.

The FG’s indebtedness to retirees on accrued pension rights in the last 16 months is estimated at N230 billion.

Some pensioner groups have called for a boycott of investing pension assets in FG securities since the government borrowing comes mainly from pension assets. At the same time, the FG has always been found wanting in complying with the extant pension scheme.

* Accrued rights

Accrued rights represent an employee’s benefits for the past years of service up to June 2004, when the Pension Reform Act (PRA) that birthed the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) came into effect.

According to a report by the National Pension Commission, PenCom, in 2021, the FG released a total of N100.29 billion for payment of accrued rights which brought the total amount released by the FG from inception to N980.18 billion.

In March 2022, the FG released N14.92 billion for payment of accrued rights.

However, according to the Pension Fund Operators Association of Nigeria, PenOp, the FG has released funds up till February 2023, with no payment made after then.

According to experts, the delay in the release of funds for payment of accrued rights was inevitable as the provision for pensions, gratuities and retirees benefits in the 2024 Appropriation Act declined by 21.3 per cent.

According to the 2024 Appropriation Act, provision for Pensions, Gratuities & Retirees Benefits declined to N673.01 billion from N854.81 billion budgeted in 2023.

Financial Vanguard checks also reveal that over 60 per cent of pension assets have been invested in FGN securities since the establishment of the CPS in 2004.

Further analysis shows that in the first quarter of 2024, Q1’24, 62.03 per cent of the total pension assets were invested in FGN securities amounting to N12.2 trillion against total pension fund assets of N19.7 trillion.

Further analysis shows that in Q4’23, 64.94 per cent of total pension assets was invested in federal government securities amounting to N11.9 trillion against a total pension fund assets of N18.4 trillion.

* Experts, stakeholders’ insight

According to the Chief Executive of Stanbic IBTC Pension Managers Limited, Mr Olumide Oyetan, the last time the federal government released funds for payment of accrued rights to retirees was in February 2023.

Oyetan said: “Funds were last released in February 2023, however, approval for March and April has been made but no money has been released.”

Also speaking, the Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian University Pension Management Company Limited, NUPEMCO, Mrs Oluwakemi Ugwu, said: “The purpose of the CPS is defeated if you retire and you are not paid your benefits.

“We need supporting legislation to ensure that once the money is there it is not wired to other needs of the government.”

Also speaking, the Chairman, Committee on Establishments and Public Service of the Senate, Senator Fasuyi Oluwole said that as people retire, they should get their retirement entitlements.

He said: “PenCom should give us the total amount of outstanding accrued benefits and also give us an estimate for the next five years so that we know how to pursue it from the government.

“What we want to achieve now, at the National Assembly is that as people retire, they should get their money. Pension should be payable at the point of retirement and if we don’t achieve that, it means we are not doing anything.

“However it is going to be, whatever means we are going to employ, these accrued benefits have to be dealt with so that our people will not continue to suffer.”

Lamenting the situation, the President of the Contributory Pensioners Union of Nigeria (CPUN), Ibadan Branch, Mr. Amao Shittu said that the FG’s indifference to the plight of pensioners is appalling.

He said: “The situation is very appalling because lawmakers are taking millions every month. The reason why former President Obasanjo created the CPS is that benefits will not be delayed, but unfortunately, the reverse is the case.

“Also, recently, FG released palliatives to workers but none was given to retirees. We are not enjoying anything contrary to the objectives of the CPS which states that retirees should enjoy their retirement and get their benefits when due.

“Even the retirees that have been collecting pension did not get theirs this month until after the Sallah holidays when the payment should have been made before the holidays.

“So we demand that henceforth any entitlement due to retirees under CPS should not be delayed.”

Also speaking, the Chairman, of Lagos State Chapter of the Association of Retired Federal Senior Public Officers of Nigeria, ARFESPON, Mr Olufemi Odewabi said: “Non-payment of accrued rights of retirees long after they retire is a crime against humanity.

“Despite several calls on FG to look into the plight of retirees and effect immediate payment of pension arrears has fallen on deaf ears.

“Due to the waiting period, some retirees who would have had access to health care are deprived and they die early. Life expectancy in Nigeria is less than 70yrs which means they have cheated death; yet they wait for an average of one year before they access their funds. This is very pathetic.”

Speaking on the development, Executive Director of the Centre for Pension Rights Advocacy, Mr Ivor Takor, stated: “It is common knowledge that federal public servants often retire and wait for extended periods, sometimes a year or more, before receiving their benefits.

“This delay in payment directly contradicts the objective of timely payment of retirement benefits outlined in the Act. It reflects systemic issues within the government implementation of the CPS, which need urgent attention.

“These delays impact retirees’ financial well-being and erode trust in the pension system and the government’s commitment to fulfilling its obligations under the law.

“The second issue has to do with the constitutional provision for an increase in pension. Section 173(3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides that “Pensions shall be reviewed every five years or together with any federal civil service salary reviews, whichever is earlier.

“The governments of Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari breached the provisions of Section 173(3) of the Constitution and Section 39(3) of the Pension Reform Act 2014 by failing to implement pension adjustments for pensioners under the CPS. Unfortunately, President Tinubu’s government has followed the same path, perpetuating the disregard for CPS pensioners’ rights as outlined in these crucial legal frameworks.

“From the instances stated above, it is evident that the federal government is not fully implementing the CPS.

“Therefore, pension fund assets should not have been invested in bonds, sukuk, or other debt instruments issued by the federal government in the first place.

“The omission of listing the federal government in Section 2.8 of PenCom’s Regulation on Investment of Pension Fund Assets may have been based on the assumption that the federal government would fully implement the CPS as mandated by law.

“However, the reality of delayed pension payments and other challenges faced by retirees indicates otherwise.

“This situation raises concerns about the appropriateness of investing pension funds in instruments tied to entities not fully compliant with CPS implementation.”

However, the Head of the Media Committee, Pension Fund Operators Association of Nigeria, PenOp, as well as Managing Director of Fidelity Pensions, Mr Donald Onuoha, said that boycotting federal government securities may not be the right thing to do as it may not benefit retirement savings account holders.

Onuoha said: “Essentially, what we do as pension fund administrators is to hunt for values for our customers.

“If for example, there is a government instrument for 21 per cent, PFAs will take advantage of that opportunity and add value to customers’ savings.

“I do not think that boycotting investing in federal government securities should be beneficial to RSA holders.

“However, what should work is engagement and collaboration. What we can do as an industry is to engage more with the government especially the minister of finance and all the relevant parties that would help to solve the problem and also involve the Nigerian Labour Congress and TUC.

“Every Nigerian worker belongs to either NLC or TUC, so they can also bring some level of pressure on the part of the government to do the right thing.

“Boycotting investing in federal government instruments will not solve the problem, it may just be a temporary relief, but that cannot help us to solve the problem.

“So the right thing is to engage more and collaborate with government. If Lagos state government can get it right, it simply means that if we have the right type of leadership, and collaboration, we can solve the problem of accrued rights in Nigeria.”

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