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Saturday, 8 August 2020

Osun Pensioners and Antics of Agent Provocateurs.... by Adebayo Adedeji


In the days of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), when he was persecuted on the day of Taif, he prayed to God to forgive his foolish persecutors perhaps something good would come from their generation. 


Ordinarily, the above Islamic allusion should be the operational compass of any good leader. This should be his guide so he does not use his quality time, meant for statecraft, duelling with politically motivated irritants. However, ignoring the antics of some political perverts, the irredeemable aberrants, for more than necessary, (in the name of expecting them to turn a new leaf), could be inimical to healthy political and social living of a community; hence all men of good conscience must rise above primordial partisanship to support a genuinely working  and pertinacious government. The foregoing is what has informed this current intervention of the writer.


There is no doubt that, in recent time, the rating of the state governor of Osun has soared— leapfrogged— to chagrin of enemies of good governance. The Oyetola led government is the talk-of-the-town, even when the taciturn but calculative governor might choose to do his work quietly without any media attention. The public opinion has rated him high in the areas of health revitalization, security, road construction/public infrastructure and prompt payment of workers' salary and pension. 


Contrary to expectation of some people, the Osun State Government since November 2018, when the current policy drivers came on board, has been religiously committed to payment of monthly salary, monthly pension; and to defraying backlog of gratuities.... But the more the government demonstrates her serious dedication to the welfare of pensioners and workers, the more the political naysayers become lugubrious, desperate, and roam the town with mendacious narratives about the intention of the government. They, at every now and again, recruit other perverts, arm them with placards and send them on the streets of Osogbo, and other big towns in the state, to blackmail the government and portend to give the government and her handlers negative press they do not deserve.  


The issue of pension is an important one and every decent government must pay attention to it. No government should ever deny the respected senior citizens their retirement benefit. They deserve it for they have worked for it. Every legitimate and reasonable demand for pension payment is right and should be welcome by every government. I believe it is because Governor Gboyega Oyetola understands the import of this truism he does not toil with pension payment; same way he does not toil with what concerns the active workers. What this writer feels should not be tolerated and unreasonably elevated is incitement, veiled hatred, wilful misinformation, in the guise of pension advocacy.


Since his inauguration in 2018, Oyetola has not owed workers and pensioners their entitlements. Simpliciter! Their payments are prompt and regular. The only lingering issue is that of pension arrears owed by previous governments which the current handlers are making concerted effort to offset.


As at May 2020, the government of Oyetola has spent more than N10 Billion on Civil Pension, Gratuity and Contributory Pension alone : N9 Billion has been spent on Civil Pension, over N400 million on Gratuity while close to N700 Million has been disbursed as Contributory Pension within this period. Just from November 2018 to May 2020!


In addition to the above, the Osun State Government around July 6 this year approved a fresh N150 Million for gratuity payment; and some days ago too, approved another N500 Million for pension payment of Osun retirees on Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS). Of the N500 Million, N300 Million would go to retired primary school teachers and local government workers; while N200 Million would go for settling pension of retired workers in the  state’s civil service and parastatals.

  

For the purpose of our understanding, it is important some terms are explained. In Osun State, like many states of the federation, there are two classes of pensioners: those on the  Defined Benefits Scheme (DBS) and those on the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS).


The CPS is an arrangement where both the employer and the employee contribute a portion of an employee’s monthly emolument towards the payment of employee’s pension at retirement. The Pension Reform Act (PRA) 2004 which established the CPS provides that 7.5 per cent of employee’s consolidated pay should be deducted from the staff salary and be remitted into retirement savings account ( RSA) with the Pension Fund Administrators (PFA) of his choice. At retirement, an enrollee on CPS is paid a lump sum from the saved money in his RSA with PFA and he is also given a monthly pay for 18 years, maximum. This is applicable to an enrollee on Programmed Withdrawal.


Conversely, the Defined Benefits Scheme (DBS) is the old pension system where obligation is singly borne by the government. Under this scheme, a retiree is given a lump sum ( golden handshake or gratuity) at retirement and he is also paid a monthly pension for life by the employer.


The CPS Act was domesticated in Osun State in 2012 and workers that were not willing to enroll in the scheme were mandated to retire. Unexpectedly, about 17,353 workers left and chose to be on the DBS. The mass retirement was ‘unexpected’ because a large chunk of the retirees had not served the mandatory years in service, so it was not expected they would leave abruptly. This is where the pension hiccup began for  Osun State Government. The unplanned mass exodus of retirees in 2012 placed a gratuity burden on the state....The government, since that time, has struggled to pay gratuity of pensioners who left the service at once, at the time mainstay of the state finance (allocation from the federation account), was becoming utterly unpleasant. This was what the current government of the state met and has since been grappling with.


Explaining the situation further so one could understand the enormity of challenges the current government faces.... The image painted previously shows that every month, besides paying  workers' salary, the state government must also make provision for paying 7.5 per cent extra for workers on CPS. Independent studies indicate that the government's workforce is 18,653 people (this is not inclusive of about 10,000 youths employed on O' YES Scheme). The strength of DBS pensioners is about 20,000 people. That is close to 39,000 people in all. Meanwhile Osun population is 4,705,589 people (2019 projected figure)


If calculated, we get 0.8 per cent as the number of pensioners and active workers to the total population! Before the COVID-19 pandemic, reports had it that the State made average N1 Billion monthly from IGR ( though the state targets N3 Billion monthly IGR, this no doubt is a huge leap from what the State used to make before Oyetola's arrival ); and N2 Billion from the federal allocation. These figures could be verified from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). In other words, a total of N3  Billion was made on the average in the state before the corona outbreak. Out of this revenue, N2 Billion was used for payment of workers' salary, pension and 7.5 per cent  markup for workers on CPS.


 Having carried out these statutory obligations, the state would be left with just N1 Billion to fund other government projects like repairs and maintenance of schools and health facilities; providing special equipment for crime prevention and control;  rehabilitation of roads, etc. In a simple term, 75 per cent of what the state government of Osun makes every month go to servicing workers and pensioners who are just less than 1 per cent of the state's population! 


In view of the above, one might be tempted to ask how does Oyetola manage the situation, given the fact that his government still pays workers and pensioners as and when due, and the State is also a construction hub? Strong financial engineering, you say? 


Despite the financial privation of the dwindling federal allocation, occasioned by servicing of debt owed by previous governments (surprisingly, Oyetola government has offset over N40 billion of the debt) and the rising wage bill, the state government has been responsible and responsive to the welfare of the pensioners, even to the admiration of the organised union of pensioners. 


Just last month, the leadership of the union, under the auspices of Triangular Group of Pensioners, in a press conference held in Osogbo, the state's capital, spoke glowingly  of the state governor, Gboyega Oyetola, dubbed him an exceptional person who had exhibited the value of a good leader.


In his words, Prince Rotimi Adelugba, the union's chairman  maintained: ’ Our group is in constant discussion with the governor on outstanding gratuities to those retired in 2012, payment of 30 percent areas to the entitled pensioners, and sustainability of prompt payment of full pensions to retirees.


‘ We seriously appreciate Mr Governor, (Dr) Gboyega Oyetola for making good his campaign promises towards full payment of monthly salaries in the state since his inauguration as governor of the state of Osun.As members of Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) — an affiliate of Nigeria Labour Congress(NLC) — we find it difficult to believe that the governor can sustain the payment of full salary bearing in mind the meagre resources of the state.’


The pensioners thanked Oyetola for what they called gradual payments of gratuities to the entitled pensioners and his commitment to touch all aspects of retirement benefits including those under contributory pension scheme in the state. These are kind words of down-to-earth statesmen. Even when they have got some legitimate demands to make, they are not selfish about it or resorting to brigandage and petulant protests as some political hirelings are wont to do.


The organised pensioners are at peace with the state government because they know the Government has prioritized their welfare. They know that even with the fall in the state’s Internally Generated Revenue (IGR)  by 40%, a heavy blow caused by COVID-19 pandemic, the state government would continue to work for their interest. They know this; an average Osun person knows this, so no uncanonized epistle from the pit of falsehood merchants could set the respected and genuine senior citizens against the government of Oyetola. No sponsored protests by the drowning opposition party could make the people hate Oyetola and his party, APC. 


Governor Gboyega Oyetola and his hardworking team should continue to ignore the rantings of the perfidious rent seekers in the garb of retirees. Government work should continue sans distraction, while the perennial street trekkers and mischief peddlers find the good people of the state to contend with.


 Adedeji writes from Ilesha, Osun State.

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