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Groan Under Burden of Unpaid Pensions
Wale Ajao ,
Africa - May
This is not the best of times for the
authorities of the country's first generation universities of Ibadan,
Benin, Obafemi Awolowo University, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and
the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.
Apart from the difficulty they are
facing in paying their serving staff, which is reportedly due to the
inadequate recurrent grant from the federal government, Vice-Chancellors
of these universities are also losing sleep over the non-payment of
pension to retirees for about 17 months, many of whom have started giving
up the ghost due to want of money to care for their medical needs. The
situation is unique to these first generation universities which came into
existence more than 40 years ago, apart from the University of Ibadan
which is 54 years old. Thus, they harbour large number of retired staff
who had started working with them right from inception, and had therefore
put in the statutory 35 years of service.
These pensioners are in two categories
and they both suffer the same fate of irregular payment of their pension.
The first are those who retired before 1991 and those who retired after
1991. While the pension of the pre-19991 group is paid directly from the
recurrent grant given to universities, the post-1991 retirees are paid by
the Federal Government through the NICON Insurance Company.
The predicament of the first group is
inextricably intertwined with the alleged inadequate recurrent grant which
the federal government gives to federal universities. Yet the guideline
given by the National Universities Commission (NUC) on how the recurrent
grant should be expended is that only one percent of it should be used in
paying pensions. But this amount falls short of the actual pension bill,
making it difficult for Universities to pay them.
Professor Ginigeme Francis Mbanefoh,
the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka vividly explains
He says: "The NUC formular is that
we should pay the pre-1991 pensioners with one percent of our recurrent
grant. In my own case, at UNN, this one percent of my recurrent grant is
about N2.1m. And the pension bill for this group of pensioners is around
N18m." This shortfall puts both the Vice-Chancellor and the
pensioners in a difficult situation. This is because preference is given
to the payment of salaries of serving staff to the detriment of retirees.
Mbanefoh says: " I do not even
have any opportunity of taking out that N2.1m because the total package I
got is not enough to pay those on the ground."
Similarly, the huge pension bill of
over N30 million which the University of Ibadan has to pay its pensioners
is also weighing down on the University, which is still grappling, like
other big Universities, with shortage of subvention in paying its serving
While it is easier for the pre-1991
retirees of universities to ask questions from bursars and
Vice-Chancellors why they are not being paid, the same cannot be said of
the post-1991 retirees whose gratuities and pensions are paid by the
federal government through NICON Insurance.
At the UNN for instance, this group of
retirees are being owed arrears of seventeen months while many who retired
two years ago have not collected their gratuities. The story they get from
NICON is that the federal government has not remitted their money to it.
Mbanefoh, in an attempt to lessen the
hardship of the pensioners had taken it upon himself in paying the
post-1991 retirees initially with the expectation that NICON would
promptly pay him back.
This is how the University is being
owed to the tune of nearly half a billion naira by NICON. The pension of
this group of retirees is estimated at about N40 million monthly.
These unpaid pensioners can be found
standing or sitting in groups at the UNN's campus in Nsukka discussing
their fate. They look gaunt and wear long faces. They still reside on the
campus even though they have retired years back. The university
authorities do not have the effrontery to ask them to move out of the
their official quarters since they have not been paid their terminal
They are an additional burden on the
University which has an unenviable unique feature of acute shortage of
infrastructural facilities as well as the largest number of uncompleted
projects in comparison with other first generation universities.
This situation is so because it took
off in 1960 without a grandeur master plan, and the civil war truncated
the implementation of the one that was drawn up later. The post-war
reconstruction efforts were also disrupted by the economic downturn
witnessed in the '80s.
But what are the background of some of
these pensioners who are currently oscillating between life and death
occasioned by unanticipated deprivations?
Dr William Dikedi Nwaegbe, retired at
UNN in May 2001 as a senior lecturer at the age of 65, after putting in 28
years of service. Nwaegbe had joined the service in UNN in 1973 and was
immediately drafted to Calabar to start the University of Nigeria there.
He had the singular honour of gathering all the students of the new
university together to teach them the first lecture in the university on
the Use of English. But for the financial assistance which he said has
been coming from one of his daughters who works with a Lagos-based bank,
Nwaegbe could have possibly gone blind, or could have lost the battle to
survive. A large chunk of the money that comes in to him from his daughter
is eaten up by drugs recommended by doctors to prevent him from going
If Nwaegbe has to contend with eyes
problem and is still holding tight to the string of life, Barrister Nyama,
who retired as a Principal Assistant Registrar and Mr Idika, who retired
as a Higher Executive Officer were not so lucky as they had been snatched
away by the cold hands of death which struck by capitalizing on their
inability to pay for proper medical attention.
So bad was the situation for Idika's
immediate family that they could not raise the money to bail out his
corpse from the hospital where he died. The hospital management had
refused to release his corpse for burial because he did not pay for his
treatment till he gave up the ghost.
Isiguzo Peter Nwakire, who retired in
1996 as a Reception Assistant after putting in 35 years of service,
laments the non-payment of his pension for the past 17 months thus: "
I have two universities graduates who have not started working. I'm
responsible for their feeding and upkeep, including five other children of
mine who are struggling to get admission.
"My wife sells vegetable in the market. It was one Reverend Father
who gave me N2,000 yesterday. I appeal to government to pay us all the
arrears of our pensions."