By Tope Adeboboye
Last month, Nigeria was literally in a paralysed state for several days, as sheer anarchy reigned in many states following the seizure of the EndSARS protests by suspected criminal elements.
The EndSARS agitation, spearheaded by thousands of youths in virtually all parts of the country, was largely peaceful, with its promoters demanding an immediate end to the several unlawful activities of some personnel of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a special police unit set up to fight armed robbery in the country. The protesters also sought better welfare for police officers.
For years, there had been countless allegations against the operatives of the squad, most of who were believed to be far worse than the criminals they were set up to fight. Brutal killings of suspects and innocent Nigerians, inhuman torture, intimidation and mind-boggling extortions were among the many accusations levelled against the SARS operatives by those demanding the disbandment of the police unit. Eventually, the Federal Government acceded to the demands of the protesters and dissolved the squad.
But the protests continued nonetheless. Following the invasion of Lekki, the epicentre of the protest in Lagos, and the subsequent shooting allegedly unleashed on protesters, the hitherto peaceful agitation turned violent.
A regime of anarchy
Hoodlums and other criminal elements began a regime of lawlessness in Lagos and some other parts of the country. Police stations were invaded, looted and burned, hundreds of police vehicles razed, and armed gangs operating in broad daylight killed many police officers. Public and private buildings were destroyed in many states. In Lagos, the governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu has asserted that about one trillion naira would be needed to rebuild public buildings and other items devastated by hoodlums during the crisis.
Inspector-General of Police, Mr Mohammed Adamu, said 22 police officers were killed during the crisis. He added that 71 public warehouses and 248 privately owned stores were looted during the protests in 13 states, including Lagos, Edo, Delta, Oyo, Kano, Plateau, Osun, Ondo, Ogun, Rivers, Abia, Imo, and Ekiti as well as the Federal Capital Territory.
The police boss also informed that 205 critical national security assets, corporate facilities and private property were attacked, burnt or vandalised.
A demoralised force
The development forced many policemen away from their beats in many parts of the country. Even after the anarchy had been reasonably curtailed, the morale of law enforcement agents remained pitiably low. Several days after the killings, arson and looting appeared to have abated, law enforcement agents stayed far away from their duty posts. In Lagos, the absence of security agents triggered pure lawlessness on the roads. Young men wielding clubs, axes and machetes mounted roadblocks, demanding money from motorists. Different cult groups engaged rival gangs in supremacy battle in Ikorodu, Surulere, Ketu, Mile 12, Iyana Ipaja and other parts of Lagos, killing, maiming and disrupting vehicular movement in broad daylight.
The development earned personnel of the Nigeria Police considerable flak from members of the public who wondered why the police would abandon their duty posts, paving the way for criminals to operate without restraints.
The police have since returned to the streets, and life seems to have come back to the different states. But many have also spoken about the welfare of the police, which is deemed generally poor. It is believed that the morale of the police is abysmally low owing to the very poor welfare policy for Nigeria’s police officers as well as their poor retirement benefits.
Besides the pathetic monthly remuneration for police officers, there have been general complaints about the poor allowances of officers. Police barracks, where most of the personnel live, are in a general state of decrepitude. It is said that there is no provision for the majority of the police officers in the barracks, as the facilities lack the capacity to provide accommodation for most of their personnel.
Police spokesman, Frank Mba, recently told a newspaper: “If you look at the number of police officers in Lagos and you juxtapose that with the number of housing opportunities available to them, you’ll realise that beyond the fact that those facilities are overstretched, 60 per cent of the police officers are housed outside the barracks.
“While police stations and police responsibilities are increasing at a geometric rate, residential facilities of the police are almost at a standstill or at best growing at an arithmetic proportion.”
President Muhammadu Buhari has also spoken of his commitment to improving the welfare of the Nigeria Police.
At the virtual commissioning of the new Head Office Building of the Nigerian Police Fund Pensions Ltd, Buhari assured officers and men of the Nigerian Police that the Federal Government was fully committed to improving their welfare. He also applauded the Nigerian Police Fund Pensions Ltd for instituting a Retirees Resettlement Support Scheme, which has been designed to provide financial support for retired police officers.
No reprieve, even in retirement
Indeed, it is not only serving police officers that are passing through hard times. Those that have retired from the force are also not protected from the penury afflicting the average Nigerian police officer. In fact, it is said that most police officers look forward to retirement with tremendous trepidation.
A retired senior cop that does not want his name mentioned, informed the reporter that shortly after retirement, the erstwhile police officer loses his accommodation in the barracks. And for someone who might not have built a retirement home for himself and his family anywhere, life in retirement becomes one of fear, anxiety and uncertainty.
“That is why many policemen and officers will do whatever they can to make money while in service. How much is the salary of a police officer? And after retirement, when opportunities to make money cease, what is the officer expected to do? So, the government should be blamed for playing politics with the welfare of police officers. Those people you give guns to, how much do they get as salaries? That is why you find them trying so hard to make money while still in service. This is not justifying whatever bad practices that some officers engage in, but the government should also play its own part,” he noted.
Police pensions fund
On August 12, 2014, the National Pensions Commission (PenCom) granted an operating licence to the Nigeria Police Force Pensions Limited (NPFPL), as the 21st Pension Fund Administrator (PFA). The company had earlier been incorporated on October 21, 2013. Its mandate is to manage exclusively the pension assets of the Nigeria Police personnel.
The initiative has been described as a very heartening one, even as the company has also received some applause for working hard to make retired police officers happy.
It was gathered that the company was established to, among others, address the legitimate complaints of police personnel regarding their retirement savings accounts (RSAs).
The reporter gathered that many of the issues inherited from other pension funds administrators, such as unfunded RSAs, multiple PINs and others, have been largely resolved.
The NPFPL, it was learnt, has paid out over N50.27 billion in lump sum and arrears of monthly programmed withdrawal (PW) since its establishment. Over 18, 000 retirees have been paid their benefits, and more than N523 million has so far been paid to 15, 855 retirees as monthly programmed withdrawal. It was also learnt that each year, the company disburses free-of-charge the sum of N500 million set aside annually from its profit to retirees to enable them resettle after retirement while awaiting the payment of their accrued rights. It was gathered that 10, 400 persons have received more than N1.5 billion under the Retiree Resettlement Support Scheme (RRSS), even as N4.6 billion has been paid as death benefits to 1, 208 beneficiaries.
The police pension matters are in three layers, it was gathered. These are police officers who retired prior to the commencement of Pension Reform Act (PRA) 2004: handled by Pension Transitional Arrangement Department (PTAD); officers who retired prior to the establishment of NPFPL: handled by other PFAs; and officers retiring with effect from January 1 2016: By NPF Pensions Limited.
But in spite of what many have termed the laudable efforts of the NPFPL, some analysts have said that all is still not well with police pensions.
It was gathered that certain outstanding issues that have not been resolved by the Federal Government still constitute a veritable impediment to the realisation of a genuine welfare scheme for retired police officers.
Because of the very poor salary structure of the police, it is only natural that the pension would be equally low. To resolve this, it was gathered that a tripartite meeting involving the pension industry regulator, National Pension Commission (PenCom), authorities of the Nigeria Police Force as well as the leadership of the pension fund administrator (PFA) was set up, at which certain agreements were reached on how to effectively resolve the issue.
Subsequently, the Inspector General of Police took a letter giving details on how the issues could be resolved to Presidency. The letter, it was learnt, was received and duly acknowledged by the late Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari.
Kyari, the reporter learnt, later referred the letter to PenCom seeking further clarifications. Unfortunately, nothing was done on the issue before Kyari’s demise.
The two major issues awaiting resolution, the newspaper was told, are the approval and payment of gratuity to retiring personnel at the rate of 300 per cent of an officer’s last annual gross salary; and the recognition and treatment of retired police officers on the ranks of Assistant Inspector General (AIG) and above as public office holders who should retire with their full benefits just like it is done in the case of permanent secretaries.
Stakeholders have wondered why the president has refused to approve the recommendation.
A senior police officer told the reporter: “Some senior officers are not so excited about this whole pension scheme because as it is presently constituted, the pension is very poor. As it is, even a Commissioner of Police many not get more than N10, 000 a month. You can now imagine how much other officers of lower ranks would be getting. That is why one is absolutely confused over the refusal of those at the presidency to act on the matter.”
Also causing some anxiety among serving and retired police officers is the issue of outstanding accrued rights. And it was learnt that since November last year, no pension has been received and that agreement reached for payment to be made are not being supported during the budgeting process.
“We understand that at least five different letters have been written to the Presidency on this matter without any positive feedback. This is sad.
“Within the police, it is believed that career as a police officer ends at the rank of Commissioner of Police (CP). All other ranks above CP, whether AIG, DIG or IGP, are all deemed to be ‘political posts.’ That is why officers from AIG and above are easily retired whenever there is a change of guard, irrespective of whether the officers concerned are due for retirement or not,” the police officer said.
Many stakeholders are of the belief that the Federal Government should do the needful to boost the morale of serving and retired officers. Already, the Pension Fund Operators Association of Nigeria (PenOp), the umbrella body of all PFAs in the country, has given its full backing to the demand of the NPFPL. Many believe the Buhari administration would have done a great job if it could resolve all the outstanding issues concerning police pensions.
“Part of the demand of the EndSARS protesters is the issue of police welfare,” recalled Mr Henry Sodje. “Police retirees should be treated with dignity. Mr President should do the needful as soon as possible.”