Yet another positive of the #EndSARS protest is that it brought to the fore the pitiable welfare of the Nigeria police. As we push for the reform of police orientation, the Federal Government should also worry about reforming their pockets. Back in the day as a student on self-sponsorship at the University of Lagos, one of my routines was to get into town and make quick sorties to a few relations and friends.
It was then a life without mobile phones. The few functional analogue landlines were never enough. Sometimes, you had to queue endlessly at the available public phone booths to make a call. And on some occasions when you were lucky, the call recipient might not be available. Such humdrum. One of my favourite places of visit was the Obalende police barracks, and later the Ikeja police barracks. Then my cousin was a cop. He lived in the barracks with his family. Visiting him was my first encounter with the downside of the Nigeria Police Force. Forget the uniform, the raw aura of power and sundry privileges they enjoy from the society, the life of our police personnel is tawdry. Their abode, the barracks, is dirty and ill-maintained. Their pay is small compared to those of their 4contemporaries in the military and corporate Nigeria. But typical of the Nigerian spirit, they get by. They create their own fun inside the barracks. They just pull through, somewhat, happily.
But beyond the allure of the uniform and its attendant privileges, what the police personnel dread the most is life after service. The system is wired in such a manner that as soon as a cop retires or leaves service via any other exit route, such a cop loses his or her place in the barracks. It’s worse for those who did not build their own house during service; and equally hellish for those who made light of their pension contributions during service. They go home almost empty-handed.
Visiting my cousin in those days, it was commonplace to overhear policemen counting down to their retirement often in hopeless and despairing tone. You could say they dreaded retirement more than they dreaded the meanest of armed robbers and drug-addled criminals. This fear of retirement rings through from the rank and file to the officers.
Perhaps, this might be why the authorities, having seen the stark poverty and bleak hopelessness that accompany police personnel out of retirement, birthed the Nigeria Police Force Pensions Limited. Granted license by PenCom on August 12, 2014 as the 21st Pension Fund Administrator (PFA) with a mandate to manage exclusively the pension assets of the Nigeria Police personnel, it has become the succour of the cops, especially those cops who have diligently followed through with their updates and documentation. Nigeria currently has 330,000 police personnel policing about 200 million people. This is a far cry from the basic minimum recommended by the United Nations. And it says only one thing: our police personnel are over-worked, stretched for time, energy and emotion. They, therefore, deserve a better deal, better pay, at least basic comfort and an assurance that when the unexpected happens (death, etc) or the expected (retirement) there will always be a guaranteed substance to cushion the pain for their families. It’s the least a nation should do for a group of persons that risk their lives to defend and protect others.
So far, the NPF Pensions Limited (NPFPL) has rallied to keep its mandate, paying out a staggering N50.27 billion in lump sum and arrears of monthly programmed withdrawal (PW). A good 18,935 retirees have been paid their benefits while the sum of N4.6 billion has been paid as death benefits to 1,208 beneficiaries. The police pensions scheme has assuaged much pain including disbursing free-of-charge (no interest, no repayment) the sum of N500 million set aside annually from the company’s profit to retirees to enable them resettle after retirement while awaiting the payment of their accrued rights. This is unique and it’s the first of its kind by any of the 22 licensed PFAs in the country.
Pension for the police, like any other agency, is a well-thought out initiative. It gives hope for good life after service. Yet, in the case of the police pensions, some police personnel have been known to complain about the end-reward. Some even agitate to quit the contributory pension scheme. This is largely due to the poor pay of police personnel and the historical frustrations they go through getting their entitlements especially in those days when their contributions were being managed by their employer – the Federal Government. These are the fears the NPFPL have come to take away.
Yet, while the NPF pension scheme has given fillip to the morale of serving police personnel, there are still a few issues that yearn for the attention of the Federal Government. These issues are already on the table of President Muhammadu Buhari, seeking and desiring his approval.
First, the NPFPL is seeking the president’s approval to grant special gratuity for police retirees at the rate of 300 per cent of their last annual gross pay just so that the balances in their Retirement Savings Account (RSAs) will be channeled towards their monthly pension payments. This argument draws strength and legitimacy from Section 4 (4) of the Pension Reform Act, which provides that an employer, notwithstanding the provisions of the Act, may agree on the payment of additional benefits to the employee upon retirement.
The second is a request for the recognition and treatment of police officers from the rank of Assistant Inspector-General of Police (AIG) and above as public office holders who should retire with their full benefits, just like permanent secretaries pursuant to Section 7 of the Pension Reform Act. Professionally, within the police fraternity, it’s often presumed, and rightly so, that your career as a police officer ends at the rank of Commissioner of Police (CP). All other ranks above CP – AIG, DIG (Deputy Inspector-General of Police) and Inspector-General of Police (IGP) – are deemed to be ‘political.’ This explains why officers from AIG and above can be retired at any time there is change of guard irrespective of whether the officers concerned are due for retirement or not. This is at the core of the manifest fear and seeming hopelessness among officers, including very seniors ones. The nature of police duty is such that they operate, everyday, on the fringes of uncertainty. Just like their colleagues in the military, they deserve better pay, a seamless and rewarding exit plan and most of all, an assurance that in service or out of service, they are at least guaranteed minimum comfort.
Graciously, the request by the NPFPL has the backing of the Pension Fund Operators Association of Nigeria (PenOp), the umbrella body of all PFAs in the country. President Buhari has never hidden his desire to improve the lot of the nation’s men and women in uniform. The request from the NPFPL presents him yet another opportunity to show his love for these men and women who keep awake while the rest of us sleep. The police sure deserve a good life after service.