By Omolara Otuyemi
The most practical source of livelihood for retirees after serving meticulously in any organization, remains the pension funds. It is the most certain and reliable source of welfare for a larger percent of retirees. Besides the recognition of the fact that most pensioners are somewhat dependent on the pension funds and the government to see them through their remaining years, improving pensioners’ welfare also plays an integral role in the economic development of any nation.
The Lagos State government has made conscious efforts at prioritizing and seeing to the welfare of retirees in the state through various means. In 2020, the government, despite the deficit in revenue, due to the lockdown caused by COVID-19, showed its commitments and passion toward the welfare of retirees’. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu extended the dividend of democracy to pensioners when he approved a 33% increase on all state pensioners pay who were under the underfunded Defined Benefits Scheme (DBS) popularly known as Pay As you Go. The Sanwo-Olu administration has also mapped out diverse plans and saw to the implementation of several social efforts that support the well-being of staff after retirement.
The administration’s advocacy for innovation led it to take advantage of technology by flagging off an online biometric verification for pensioners in the state. This is to lessen the burden of pensioners having to travel from long distances for audit exercise. Aside from saving time, the ideology behind this innovation is also centered on concern for the well-being of the elderly citizens. The online verification allows the primary collectors to be in the comfort of their homes, irrespective of their location.
An integral part of the new deal of the Mr. Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu led government for the retirees is to empower them with skills that could enable them become even more productive in retirement. In some cases, staff retire and realize that they spent more time during their hay days building careers that end immediately after retirement, without needed skill to fall back to. According to the Lagos State Head of Service, Mr. Hakeem Muri Okunola, the need to empower the pensioners is part of the fulfillment of the Sanwo-Olu administration’s pledge of an all-inclusive government. Apart from helping them to acquire productive skills, Muri-Okunola said the line of constant interaction that now exists between the government and pensioners avails the opportunity to sensitize and educate the retirees on different aspects of the state’s policies that may affect them in one way or the other.
During the 2nd edition of the quarterly training and sensitisation programme for retirees, held at the Adeyemi Bero Auditorium, Alausa, they were given training in fish and snail farming as well as soap and germicide production.
It also witnessed showcasing of coconut value chain alongside other skills acquisition activities. General Manager, Lagos State Coconut Development Authority, Mr. Dapo Olakulehin, explained benefits of skill acquisition in the Coconut value chain to retirees. He said the agency has the capacity to train the retirees to acquire needed proficiency in generating more personal revenue from coconut. At the closing session, certificates and start-up kits were presented to the participants to aid them in putting skills gained into productive use.
Without a doubt, prompt payment of pension funds plays a crucial role in the lives of retirees. In a way, it helps to check their physical and mental health. After statutory retirement, every retiree expects that his/her accrued pension fund is paid as at when due. Developing countries are often faced with risk factors concerning pensions. Most prominent being mismanagement or misappropriation of funds that leads to budget deficit. This, therefore, leads to the number of unpaid retirees’ inclining, while allocated funds get depleted.
The arduous pains that retirees experience across the country before collecting their hard earned benefits usually send jitters down the spine of those still in active service. Invariably, the period of retirement, purportedly meant for resting and relaxation, becomes the time of stress and anguish for the retirees. Often, some of them lose their lives in unavoidable circumstances.
By far the most outrageous ill- treatment these elder citizens get is the mismanagement of the pension funds. Sometimes ago, some officials in the federal civil service were arraigned for diverting the pension funds for their personal use. Although sensationally reported in the media, the case, like others of its kind, seems to be neither here nor there. Cheerfully, the Lagos State Government is providing the right example for others to follow in the country in the area of prompt payment of pensioners’ entitlements. The state government has consistently shown its commitment to retirees’ welfare by not missing the monthly deposit of over 1 billion naira into the Retirement Saving Account (RSA) of pensioners.
This may have prodded the Nigerian Union of Pensioners (NUP) to confer an “Excellence and Greater Commitment to Pensioners’ Welfare” award on Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu. This, the Union said, is because the governor had clear inherited pension liabilities of past administration in the state within a period of two years. Also, the traditional pattern of pensioners having to wait over a long period before receiving their terminal or retirement benefits is gradually coming to end in Lagos State. The Sanwo-Olu administration has done tremendously well in this regard by ensuring that retirees receive their benefits without undue delay.
As at June 2021, the Sanwo-Olu administration has credited a total of 7,998 pensioners with over N32 billion in their RSAs. According to the Commissioner for Establishment, Training and Pension, Mrs. Ponnle Ajibola, the state government is fully dedicated to the interest and welfare of its pensioners. Hence, the priority accorded to them via the prompt payment of their entitlements.
The Director General, Lagos State Pension Commission, LASPEC, Mr. Babalola Obilana, during one of the meetings with pensioners, assured them that the Sanwo-Olu administration is working assiduously to ensure that the retirees will no longer have to wait for long before receiving their retirement benefit.
Pensioners who have spent the most active parts of their lives to serve their nation must not be subjected to ridicule or treated with disdain in their old age. Any society that treats its pensioners with contempt does so at its own peril. If, indeed, the labour of our heroes past must not be in vain as the composer of the National Anthem rightly puts it, governments across the land as well as all employers of labour must take a cue from the Lagos’ example by taking the issue pensioners’ welfare as a very sacrosanct concern According to famous Roman philosopher and orator, Marcus Cicero, “the welfare of the people is the ultimate law.” What happens to a worker while still in active engagement is as essential as what becomes of him/her in retirement. Through the renewed efforts of his administration to make life easier and more meaningful for the state’s pensioners, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has demonstrated that he is a man of his word.
Upon his inauguration in May 29th, 209, the governor affirmed his resolve to better the lot of the state’s public servants both during and after service. In contrast to Napoleon Bonaparte, who once said that “the best way to keep one’s word is not to give it”, Governor Sanwo-Olu has not only given his word, but he has actually kept same!
Otuyemi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.