READY to tackle the seemingly endless pains and hardship suffered by pensioners, the Senate yesterday mandated its Committee on Establishment and Public Service to carry out a comprehensive investigation into the management of pension service in the country.
It also charged President Goodluck Jonathan to immediately facilitate payment of all outstanding pensions and ensure that future payments are promptly effected through relevant agencies.
The developments came as a joint sitting of the Senate and House of Representatives committees on environment vowed to deal with the alleged abuses of the ecological fund and environmental degradation. The lawmakers also pledged to address the issue of gas flaring within the next four years.
The Senate resolution was made during a debate on a motion moved by Heineken Lokpobiri of Bayelsa West Senatorial District on the plight of pensioners in Nigeria.
In his submission, Lokpobiri noted that pension is a safety valve, which Nigerian workers hope to experience for giving their best while serving the country in their respective employments.
Stressing that pension and gratuity are serious issues that border on the dignity of human person, peace, security and survival of the country, he added that dexterity in the administration of pensions and gratuities would boost the impetus for fighting against corruption in the country.
While recalling the long period retirees take to access their pensions, Lokpobiri described the situation as not only worrisome but unacceptable. “That pensioners take as much as three years after initial retirement to process their papers and are in some cases owed arrears of payment for several years is not only worrisome but unacceptable,” he said.
The Senate President, David Mark, in his contribution, condemned the old pension administration, saying that the most worrisome aspect of the scheme was the inhuman treatment pensioners go through in the process of accessing their pension. Mark added that if voters were not expected to gather in one particular city to register for voting, there was no necessity for pensioners, who are less in number, to be subjected to long-distance journey for the purpose of verification.
According to him, “the contributory pension scheme is working; the one that is not working is the old scheme. There is need for action to be taken so as not to lose more Nigerians in the process of accessing their pension.”
All the Senators, who made contributions in the debate, including the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, Victor Ndoma-Egba, Smart Adeyemi, Chris Ngige, Chris Anyanwu, Ita Enang, and Mathew Nwankwo, spoke in favour of the motion.
Ekweremadu urged his colleagues to support the motion to enable the Senate send it to the relevant committee for necessary urgent action.
For the Senate Leader, Ndoma-Egba, the moral strength of any society is judged, not by how the mighty are revered but how the vulnerable are treated.
“How do we judge the moral strength of any society? It is according to how it treats the vulnerable – children, women, elders and the disable. Society is judged by how it treats the most disadvantaged people and not the mighty. These people are not just vulnerable but gave their best to the country. They offered their lives for the country and today, young people, who have not made as much sacrifice as they did, would expect a 91-year old person to move from his village to Abuja to present a paper that was given him at employment. How come we are unable to keep records?”
Suleiman Adokwe of Nasarawa South, suggested that Senate adopt his state’s style, where civil servants do not receive their monthly salary until pensioners are paid. This system, he noted, would ensure that pension administrators perform their duties efficiently.
Robert Boroffice, representing Ondo North expressed the need to decentralise the verification exercise as a way of reducing the risk of travelling long distance for same exercise.
Ayogu Eze of Enugu North recalled bringing up similar issue in the past. He blamed a situation where the elderly are expected to travel from their various villages to Abuja for verification on apathy on the part of pension administrators. He described their action as wickedness and urged the Senate to treat the issue with the seriousness it deserves.
For Abdulahi Adamu, Nasarawa West, Nigerians do not have the culture of appreciating people.
According to him, pension officers are rather attracted to the fund mapped out for the exercise.
“The attraction for those who administer pension is the sum of money meant for verification. Even when there is no need for the verification, they insist so that they could have access to the money provided for the exercise. If we can put the issue of pensioner in first charge, it will be good for the nation,” he added.
Solomon Ita Enang, Akwa Ibom North East, called for thorough investigation of the entire scheme, including the new scheme to ensure that clients’ savings are not liquidated.
“The danger which the House has not addressed is the establishment of Pension Fund. Steps should be taken to ensure that people are paid their money when they retire. There are looming rumours that will burst very soon,” he said.
For Senator Chris Anyanwu, life is devalued in the country. She said the pensioners are only paying the prize of corruption.
At the joint sitting of the Senate and House of Representatives committees, Abubakar Saraki, in his opening remarks, said the panel would undertake thorough oversight check on the Ministry of Environment and agencies of government under its purview with a view to ensuring that they deliver on the job of protecting the environment.
Chairman of the House Committee on Environment, Uche Ekwunife, who lauded the initiative, assured that both committees would work closely to ensure that the environment is protected.