(ENYERIBE EJIOGU and SIJIBOMI OYEDEPO-FATAYO)
ACROSS the landscape of Nigeria, there is a deafening groan of pensioners in pain, men and women reduced to near poverty by long years of neglect by the government and civil bureaucrats, who devised all manner of schemes to embezzle funds that should have taken care of the gratuity and pensions of these retired workers.
It is a vicious cycle that is agonizingly exemplified by the case of Mr. Yemisi Odulaja, who rose through the ranks in the civil service to attain the position of an Assistant Chief Executive Officer on Grade 13, the point at which he retired from service. Today, life in retirement is a living horror.
He suffers from arthritis of the nerves, a situation that makes him have terrible hiccups, worsened by the mere effort to speak. Odulaja was employed into the Federal Ministry of Justice in 1968 as a Third Class Clerk and gradually rose in rank over a period of 16 years, to become a Higher Executive Officer (HEO) on Level 8, which was quite a good thing, in the good old days when the economy was good and inflation was close to zero, food and other essential commodities were freely available, the healthcare system was reliable, power supply was steady. Life was generally good for the middle class and even the lower income group. He was then transferred to the Ministry of Defence as a HEO. With subsequent promotions, his Grade Level rose to 12. From Ibadan where he was serving in the Defence ministry, Odulaja was posted to Calabar, on promotion as an Assistant Chief Executive Officer, Grade Level 13. He retired from the civil service in 2003 while in Calabar, and that was when his troubles with the pension system started.
First, it took three years of making several visits to Abuja and writing letters before his gratuity was paid in 2006, when the Federal Government, usually paid as a lump sum; his pension which had accumulated from 2003 was also paid. But from January 2007, he was not paid again until 2010, after he had done the verification exercise, which established that his name had been omitted from the pension list. The omission was then rectified and he was paid N5000 in September 2010. Aghast and angry, he fired off a protest letter.
“How could the government pay me just N5000?” a justifiably angry Odulaja asked, and went to the pension office to also complain in person.
“They said that they did so to know whether my account was dormant or not. I told them that it was unacceptable. How could they pay me N5000? The following month, the amount was raised to N6000. At that point I said something was wrong. Other people, who were similarly affected, like me, complained and wrote letters to the Pension Office.”
The pensioners then sent a team of their members to present their case at the pension office. Predictably, the officers in Abuja promised to do something but absolutely nothing was done to alleviate the plight of this old man. Then in 2013, the Federal Government made a slight increment of 33.5 percent which raised Odulaja’s monthly pension to N8000, which is what he is being paid till date.
On this, he laments: “How can someone who retired from service on Level 13 be paid N8000 a month? Even if I was a cleaner, it is not what should be paid. The government officials in the pension office said they were working on it. Up till today, they have not done anything.”
Odulaja has a health challenge which started when he was in service. He experiences severe hiccups when he talks. The problem has become worse since he retired. When he looks at pictures of him taken when he was 68, just two years ago, they are a far cry from his present situation. It was in April 2013 that Odulaja was diagnosed of arthritis of the nerves.
It is instructive that Odulaja opted to retire from service in 2003 after he had reached 35 years in service. At that time, he was just 55 years old. As his wife, Princess Modupeola, told Sunday Sun, Odulaja loved his job with passion. The couple have been married for 35 years. Modupeola said that she had opposed his decision to retire at the time, but her husband had insisted to leave after 35years of service because if he waited till he was 60 years, the government would deduct all the salary he earned after his 35th year, from the gratuity and the balance given to him. The prospect of that convinced him that it was wiser to leave the service. At the time of retirement, his five children were just getting into the university. Expectedly, the battle to pay school fees and feed the family was tough. At that point, the wife had to reach out to her relations, especially her mother, Mrs Bisola Olotufeshe and her uncle who is now late.
To enable her be available to adequately care for her husband, she closed down her business, which was engaged in renting out chairs, tables and pots to people for events.
“I had to close down my shop to take care of him. The pension office has really punished me. Let them pay my husband’s money so he can take care of himself. What if we didn’t train our children the right way? God has helped them to take care of their father. These days, when we want to go to Orthopaedic hospital, one of our friends, Mr. Adewole will send his driver to take us. What if we didn’t have people around us willing to help? We go to the Physiotherapy clinic at Navy Town. It is a lot of money and it is the children that have been there for their father to get medical care.”
Primarily because of the arthritis, Odulaja is no longer able to walk well. His health condition does not allow him to stay in one place for long. He uses a wheelchair and a walker for mobility. As if these problems were not enough, he also had eye surgery in 2012. He was unable to foot his medical bills; the children have been responsible for the upkeep of their parents, and sometimes, the friends of the children that are overseas send vital medications for Odulaja, another victim of the “lootocracy” that has become the bane of the civil service and public governance in Nigeria.