In Defence Of Pension Assets, By Issa Aremu

President Goodluck Jonathan in the new year has the urgently call order the Chairman of the presidential Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT,) Abdulrasheed Maina. Importantly President Goodluck Jonathan  has the responsibilty safegaurd and protect the 8 year-old new pension reform  of 2004 which currently stands at 3.6 trillion Naira.

Stakeholders including the organized labour led by NLC watch with utter dismay how Abdulrasheed Maina year defied public summon by  the Senate Joint Committee on Establishment and and Local Governments during its recently concluded public hearing on public pension administration. Also clearly unacceptable the way and manner the controversial chairman of what supposed be a short term presidential task force carries on as if the task force (meant manage police pension fund mess and which clearly lacks any legal backing whatsoever ever!) has come stay permanently. Presidential task force cannot and should be another alternative pension commision in the country. There only one regulatory pension commission and that National Pension Commision, PenCom established by an Act of parliament in 2004.

Maina has making an ill informed, unguarded commentaries on the accumulated pensions assets contributed through the hard earned savings of Nigerian workers in both the private and public sectors of the economy in the past eight years the Pension Reform Act of 2004 came into . These commentaries if unchecked are capable of undermining the budding national pension fund and even subverting the entire pension market. For instance he was recently quoted as saying that about  trillion Naira pension assets already built in the pension system commendably managed by PENCOM led by M.K. Ahmad and scores of pension fund administrators, PFAs as well as pension fund custodians should be  made available the state governments for their  so-called infrastructural development in clear violation of pension reform Act of 2004 and investment rules guiding pension fund in the country.

The point cannot be overstated. Pension funds assets  (contributed by close to 6 million workers) a contributory funds by workers for pension after work. Nigerian workers in the past decade did save  7.5 per cent of their relatively low earnings to fund the so-called infrastructural development of the state as canvassed by new funds scavengers like Miana. On the contrary, workers voluntarily contribute to pension fund every month against the raining days, for life after work up to retirement age through their respective Retirement Saving Accounts (RSAs).

Workers’ RSAs must be protected at all costs failing which Nigeria might witness a national pension strike. Nigerian workers are currently witnessing all forms of wage theft either by short changed payments, delayed payments, diverted pay and bare faced pay official robbery. Any additional pension theft through dubious pensions “for infrastructural developments schemes” or phony top-down social insurance scams as   proposed by Abdulrasheed Maina will be one pension /wage theft unacceptable and clearly provocative.

Nigerian pensioners especially in the publuc sector are already caught between the two extremes, namely official government neglect and public sympathy, none of which is beneficial to them.  Contributory Pension scheme which is now in trillions is a legitimate hard earned savings of workers.  It is a deferred , which both the workers and employers are compelled to set aside so that workers at old age will be living on some degrading charity as if they are destitute.  The challenge lies in how to make the principle of contributory pension work in Nigeria and undermine it through illegal raid on the fund and sheer diversion to other purposes rather than pension as being canvassed by the likes of Maina.  Most state governments that can hardly account for monthly allocations cannot be privileged with pension assets. It will be illegal, extortionist, arbitrary and resisted by all the labour/pension Market actors.

Pension Act of 2004  represents a progressive labour legislation because it attempts to address the naughty issue of compensation after work. The scheme is also strong on corporate arrangements that are radically different from the past mismanaged public sector schemes; National Pension Commission supervises the Pension Fund Administrators and Custodians.

President Jonathan must put a time line on the activities of the Task Force on pension in the public sector.  It is not the amount of billions the task force claims to have recovered. It is not amount of claims and counter claims of stollen pension funds both the Task Force and the legislators are trading. The critical issue is   how many pensioners in the relevant public sector institutions have paid their pensions and gratuities? This is the critical question the Pension Act of 2004 sets to address. Already PenCom commendably pays some  N2 billion Naira monthly to some 60,000 retirees under the new Contributory pension scheme, a radical departure from the hitherto unfunded non-contributory scheme.   The president must strengthen the new contributory pension scheme by protecting it against invaders looking for funds for other purposes rather than of retirees. no one touch or divert pension asset from it’s legally sanctioned objectives.

Issa Aremu, mni

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