Across Europe and other advanced societies, the treatment of pensioners is a delicate subject that politicians only dare to touch with a long pole. The latest example of the difficulty in dealing with this hot-button topic are the protests in Russia that have appeared to undermine the immense popularity of Vladimir Putin who intends to make reforms to the country’s pension structure. Putin has offered to increase the retirement age of women from 55 to 60years and that of men from 60 to 65years and the people have not taken it very lightly. The proposition has sparked pockets of protests in cities across the country by citizens who believe they are entitled to retirement at an early age in life after working for decades.
Yet the opposite is obtainable in a place like Nigeria. Everyday citizens forge and decrease their real birth ages so as to remain eligible to work and earn a salary knowing that after retirement, they will become subject to complete abandonment by the government they have toiled for throughout their adult life. The criminality of this practice thus reveals a more fundamental problem Nigeria has in its treatment of her senior citizens. It is an indictment on the way and manner our pensioners are treated by government organizations and governments themselves. It was only recently that the federal government approved the sum of 22Billion Naira for the 50% pension payment of employees of the defunct Nigerian Airways which was liquidated in 2003, after 15 years.
A critical case in hand is the situation of a group of nearly a thousand Nigeran Security Printing and Minting Plc (NSPM) pensioners who were forcefully retired by the organization and have since been forced to wallow in neglect and poverty due to the non-payment of their retirement benefits by the organization for the past 26 years! Even more heartwenching is the callous, drawn-out litigation process they have experienced for decades while their peers fell ill and die off without reaping the benefits of their struggle. This is nothing short of a despicable attitude being meted out on these old and sickly individuals by those at the management of the organization they once served so diligently.
The crux of the case has been the dogged denial by the NSPM management that the retirees are public servants entitled to pension and gratuities as mandated by Nigeria’s 1999 constitution and the pensions Act of 1990. This position is untenable and beggars belief, as the federal government is the major shareholder of the NSPM and is by implication the employer of these workers. Thus, the idea that they are not entitled to federal gratuities is absurd. In a recent TVC interview, the retirees claimed to have been receiving between one to three thousand naira monthly as their pension. Whatever pension plan the NSPM has that allows such peanuts as gratuity for our elderly citizens is unconscionable and an insult to these men and women who worked for decades for the federal government of Nigeria.
The courts have not helped matters in their consideration of the plight of these senior citizens either. Although the judiciary is said to be the last hope of the common man, the protracted litigation of the case via court adjournments and appeals, the courts’ excessive focus on legal technicalities, the constant redefinition of judicial jurisdiction, and the entire back and forth process of sojourning the lengths and breadth of the Nigerian judiciary system has meant that a final judgement has eluded these aging men and women even by the courts that have displayed the best of intentions in addressing the issue. They have thus now been condemned to rallying public empathy through press stations like TVC.
This level of injustice and hardship towards senior citizens is intolerable. It is said that a society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens, and the treatment of these pensioners by the NSPM is an indictment on our society. The federal government must be made to intervene and bring this extended matter to an end, it must show that it respects the dignity of its workers and avoid the stain of being judged by this problem. 26years is simply too long for these men and women to be dragged through excruciating legal proceedings, and very Nigerian worker deserves their due entitlements.