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Alia’s strategic and timely pension reforms in Benue

Alia’s strategic and timely pension reforms in Benue
October 19
15:36 2023

BY TERSOO KULA

In 2015, Nigeria adopted the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The target of the SDGs is to, amongst other things, reduce inequality by the year 2030 — especially in vulnerable populations, such as elderly people; empower and promote social and economic inclusion, irrespective of age, sex or status.

However, successive administrations across the country have made the attainment of this goal by 2030 difficult, especially as senior citizens or retirees were left to deal with social and economic insecurity worsened by non-payment of their legitimate retirement entitlements, including pensions and gratuities.

In Benue, for instance, many pensioners have had a raw deal with successive governments over their failure to fulfil labour contracts or agreements with seniors. Retirees kept lamenting, staging protests and making official communications to no avail.

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They have shared stories about their depression, hardship, and frustration due to the government defaulting to pay them their pensions and gratuities years after retirement.

As a survival scheme, some of them even took to subsistence farming, regardless of their age, declining physical strength, just to make ends meet. Those who had ailments that cannot permit physical activities went to their graves untimely while others slid into states of destitution.

There was virtually no future for those still in active service as civil servants as the introduction of the contributory pension scheme perpetually fell on deaf ears.

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Civil servants in Benue consistently wallowed and groaned in agony as the immediate past administration of Samuel Ortom continued to withhold the government’s 10% contribution to the scheme.

The administration consciously refused to disclose why only the 8% deducted from civil servants’ accounts was remitted to the contributory pension scheme instead of the 18% as stipulated by law.

When pushed, Ortom had cited the lack of funds as a challenge during an interview in September 2022.

He had complained that securing loans for the purpose was an arduous task and a decline in internally generated revenue (IGR) made it difficult to clear the arrears owed civil servants and pensioners in the state.

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However, ever since Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia took over as the 6th democratically elected governor of Benue state on May 29, 2023, he has refused to give room for excuses. Rather he has, in a short period, brought in some reforms to tackle the challenges his predecessors got no solution to.

As one with a fear of God who has enormous respect for human dignity and respect for senior citizens, he demonstrated it by regularising the payment of pensions and gratuities meant for the retirees.

This he has gone to the extent that those who retired from May 29, 2023, have been fully paid their gratuities.

Furthermore, the administration has now fully complied with the contributory pension law.

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As part of the reform packages, the required percentage is now constantly remitted to the pension funds administrators.

Moreover, modalities have also been put in place to gradually clear the huge backlog of arrears that have amounted to an astonishing ₦359 billion debt profile for the state.

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Again, the administration has reintroduced the payment of death benefits that were, for no reason, stopped. Going forward, those who died while in service will have their benefits fully paid to their next of kin.

It is interesting to note that, in line with the reforms, retirees who left the civil service as far back as 2020 but were not captured for payment have now been duly captured and will be paid their pensions accordingly.

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Again, having considered the numerous screening exercises retirees go through, including a very long time of capturing as was the case in the past, the Alia-led administration has decided to ease the process. The governor has directed that going forward, anyone who retired from the civil service should immediately be paid their full gratuity with their pension package given to them as stipulated by their various pension administrators.

To make this timelier, civil servants who are yet to submit their pension identification numbers to the payroll office have been directed by the governor to do so immediately. This is to enable the government to appropriately prepare their pension package ahead of time.

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While retirees in Benue battled depression, destitution and lack in the past, the Hyacinth Iormem Alia-led administration has demonstrated good leadership by providing a better life for the senior citizens in the state.

Kula is the chief press secretary to the governor of Benue state



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