El Rufai’s lifeline to senior citizens

By Manasseh Istifanus

Malam Nasir El Rufai, the Executive Governor of Kaduna State, had first mentioned it in passing during one of his live media chats with select journalists at Sir Kashim Ibrahim House. In the interaction, he lamented the stipend that was being paid to our senior citizens as monthly pension. According to him, some of these retired civil servants got a paltry N3,000 per month! There and then, the Governor had promised to pay N30,000 as the least pension in Kaduna State, to bring it at par with the minimum wage. The increase, he pointed out, will bloat the wage bill of the State by N200 million but the Governor was ready to shoulder the burden. On March 13, 2020, El Rufai made the formal announcement.

In a statement issued by Mr Muyiwa Adekeye, the Special Adviser on Media and Communication, the Governor said that the increase will commence that month as retirees on the old Defined Benefits Pension Scheme will enjoy the largesse. Specifically, the new wage would upgrade 11,511 pensioners, especially their standards of living, the statement had implied. Adekeye pointed out that the increase was part of the state government’s “continuous efforts to ensure the welfare for both serving and retired public servants.’’

Significantly, the entire pension scheme has been overhauled in Kaduna State. The Kaduna State Pension Bureau formerly known as Kaduna State Pension Board is responsible for the payment of pension and other retirement benefits of retired civil servants. The Contributory Pension Scheme Law was introduced in 2007. However, implementation was not in total conformity with the provisions of the law, which led to the enactment of a new Pension Law in 2016 by the present administration.

In the old Pension Law, there were irregularities that compounded the issue of pension in the state. There were situations where contributions were deducted but the total amounts were not remitted into the employees’ Retirement Savings Account (RSAs). In some cases, the employer, whether state or local governments, did not remit their own contributions to the RSAs of their employees as provided by the law. Not that alone, past administrations were unable to determine, let alone pay the backlog of gratuity and pensions owed its retired workers. The lax and uncommitted implementation of the old contributory pension compounded the issue.

After a careful examination of the problem, Governor Rufai set up a 13 man committee in December 2015, to review the issues and the committee submitted its report in June 2016. Regarding the old Contributory Pension Scheme, for example, the committee found that although previous administrations made contributions of N18bn to four Pension Fund Administrators(PFAs) for the Retirement Saving Accounts (RSAs) of 39,432 workers, they did not fund the RSAs of 21,173 workers. This left outstanding liabilities of N12bn. The PFAs were also to refund N1.62bn to 14,702 employees who had exited the Contributory Pension Scheme.

Governor el-Rufai came in with a determination to correct and sanitize the system. For example, at that time, some workers would retire today and get both their gratuities and pensions in a few months. However, many others who were not so lucky, retired for years without payment. It was a case of ‘you rub my back, I rub yours’, which is polite phrase for the corrupt system.

Luckily, things have now changed for the better; with all the reforms and the mechanisms the Governor had introduced in the pension administration, it is no more business as usual. As it is today, no one, no matter how highly placed the person may be, would retire and receive payment ahead of those who retired before him or her. Payment is now based on ‘’first to retire, first to receive payment.’’ Above all, Kaduna State has reduced the backlog to 2016 for the state civil servants and 2014/2015 for the local government employees. How did Kaduna State achieve this feat?

In 2017, Malam Nasir El-Rufai was the first state Governor to disclose the receipt of some Paris Club refunds, at the signing of that year’s budget. Without mincing words, the Governor announced that he would approach the Kaduna State House of Assembly for supplementary budget to capture the refund. A supplementary budget was subsequently passed by the State Assembly which the government used in reducing the backlog of pensions it inherited, spanning as far back as 2008.

Significantly, this feat was mostly achieved due to the Pension Law 2016, which has some of these progressive features. First, the Government has increased its contribution percentage to 20%, the highest by any employer in the country. In addition, it merged the Bureau of State and Local Government Pension and created the State Pension Bureau as a separate legal entity. Likewise, it has provided for the opening of Retirement Benefits Bond Redemption Fund Account at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), for the accumulation of funds to pay accrued pension rights. The El-Rufai-led administration has been consistent in fulfilling its obligations to its retirees as they now receive their pensions promptly. In Kaduna State, salaries are paid on 25th of every month but pensions are often paid earlier.

However, there are a few people who are yet to access their benefits after leaving service. For these category of retirees, it is either they have not approached their RSA Managers or they have not been captured into the State Pension Bureau’s data. Possibly, the State Pension Bureau is yet to reach the retirement date of those affected. Remember, the backlog dates back to 2008 and there are no ready funds to clear them all at once. In summary, retirees who are yet to start enjoying their pensions under the new Contributory Pension Scheme should approach the Kaduna State Pension Bureau to ensure the accuracy of their documents. In addition, they should also get across to their Retired Saving Account Managers to confirm their retirement status and benefits. If all these are intact, they should also contact the last place of primary assignments, especially to confirm if their files have been forward to the State Pension Bureau after their exit.

Significantly, apart from these few exceptions, the El Rufai administration has generally improved the welfare of our senior citizens, to the applause of all and sundry. In fact, the Kaduna State chapter of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners(NUP) has commended governor Nasir el-Rufai for raising the minimum pension payment in the state to N30,000 monthly. In a letter to the Governor, which was signed by Alhaji Abdu Ramalan Kwarbai, NUP noted that El Rufai was the first governor to announce the payment of minimum pension, underscoring his concern for the senior citizens in the state.

Collectively, paying salaries as and when due, prompt payment of pensions to our senior citizens and taking care of the people’s welfare, including the various reforms in the health and education sectors, as well as the development of infrastructure, is the hallmark of the people-centred administration of Malam Nasir El Rufai, which has won the hearts and minds of residents of Kaduna State and Nigerians at large.

Istifannus is a Special Assistant on Media and Communication in Kaduna State Government