Hajia Aisha Dahir-Umar, Acting DG PenCo
Police retirees under the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) supervised by the National Pension Commission (PenCom) are groaning over the undue delay in the remittance of their accrued rights which they say have been in arrears of one year. This is as the retirees are complaining of low monthly pensions paid to them by the Nigeria Police Force Pensions Limited (The Police Pension Fund Administrator).
These retirees, under the aegis of Association of Retired Police Officers (under the Contributory Pension Scheme) rue their woes and the attendant hardship they, with their families are facing, no thanks to their meagre pension. They lament that that after 35 years of meritorious services to their fatherland, and having put their lives on the line for the safety of the Country and her citizens, they deserve better treatment in their retirement life.
The situation is not only undermining the core objective of the Contributory Pension Scheme but also denting the image of Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs). It however appears that Police PFA, NPF Pensions Limited is the worst hit because all its clients are Police, unlike other PFAs that have a mix of probably 20 percent public service and 80 percent private sector clients.
A Police constable earns between N42,000 and N47,000 after deductions of tax, accommodation allowance and others; a Sergeant’s pay is about N50,000 while a Police Inspector now earns at least N60, 000 monthly. In the Senior Police Officers (SPO) cadre, an Assistant Superintendent of Police earns a little above 80,000 after deductions have been made.
This is greatly affecting pension benefits paid to the officers at retirement because pension is a function of salary, hence the benefit at retirement are also low. At retirement, a Police Inspector earns just about N20,000, while those in the Superintendent cadre earn about N30,000.
The recent reversal of the template used to calculate pension payments by the regulator, the National Pension Commission (PenCom) has further caused some negative issues with the system, with the Police retirees agitating against NPF Pensions Limited that they want to exit the CPS entirely. They believe that NPF Pensions is tampering or fraudulently dealing with their pension payment.
It is absurd to say the least that PenCom has refused to approve payment to the retirees from the available balances in their Retirement Savings (RSA) Account pending when the Federal Government will pay their accrued rights. Part of the agitations of the retirees is that PFAs are not allowed to pay them from their contributions that have accrued since they joined the CPS. They have every right to ask for this because the Federal Government is unable to fulfil its obligation in the first place. And so within this problem, PenCom should exhibit a human face in its regulatory and supervisory activities. Some of the retirees die without enjoying the fruit of their labour on the back of the Commission’s claim of waiting for accrued rights.
While waiting for accrued rights, PenCom should allow PFAs to pay retirees from the balance in their RSAs. By the time a retiree is paid for a year, the accrued rights are paid and then the PFA can regularize and pay the balance. The question of exhausting the balance in one year as argued by PenCom is not tenable because a retiree cannot exhaust his or her balance. There is always return or interest from investment of the pension fund made on behalf of the retiree by his or her PFA. When the retirees are not paid because their employer, the Federal Government have not paid accrued rights, does PenCom consider that they have responsibilities to their children and other members of their family? Should the retiree die waiting? Does PenCom remember that they were bread winners of their homes before retirement and now you stop them payment for more than one year from earning a living because you have not received their accrued right. How are they going to survive? Even if it is N1 million that they were able to contribute into their account, allow the PFA to spread it, so that there will not be sudden cut of income to zero. If an officer was earning a N100,000, it is better he or she earns N10,000 per month as pension than nothing.
It is pertinent to state that from my research, the Pension Reform Act did not state that a PFA should wait and consolidate accrued rights before a retiree can be paid. It is being imposed by PenCom based on administrative convenience on their own part. It means they have to give approval twice and for the Commission, this is additional work.
But President Buhari and PenCom should remember that these people have been armed people all their lives. You have taken away their career, you have taken away the salary, can’t the human mind think of criminality to survive? The President should remember that we have trained them in arms and weapon handling. This is a significant security challenge to the country because a hungry man can do anything to survive. Allowing them to retire without paying them any pension benefit nor placing them on low monthly pension is a disaster waiting to happen.
The officers have every right to agitate for a better deal at retirement and these agitations must be immediately addressed by PenCom. The Inspector-General of Police and NPF Pensions Limited. They need to save the nation from the looming outrage of retired police officers and men.
The Police PFA is currently being associated with the fraudulent activities at the defunct Police Pension Office, carried out by Police Pension Reform Task Team, led by Abdulrasheed Maina. The bad legacy left behind by the ‘Mainagate’ before the establishment of NPF Pensions is making it difficult for trust to be gained by those currently running the administration of the Police PFA under the CPS.
Suffice it to state that NPF Pensions, in collaboration with the Police authorities in its wisdom set up a N500 million Retiree Support Fund in 2017 to cater for the retirees while awaiting their legitimate pension. It was created to support the retirees such that when pension has not been paid due to unpaid accrued rights, NPF Pensions give them some money as a relief pending payment of their pension.
But because pension has not been paid for more than a year, the Retiree Support Fund is being misconstrued by the retirees as their legitimate payment. They want their pension entitlement. They think that perhaps somebody is keeping their money and giving them just hand out. Even police officers do not believe that the CPS is a different scheme. In their mind, these regulators can muddle the old Police pension fund with the CPS and again, mismanaged their pension funds.
It is worthy of note that a police officer at the Force Headquarters (who pleaded to remain anonymous) disclosed that a tripartite committee made up of the Acting Director-General, Mrs Aisha Dahir-Umar and her team; a police team headed by a Deputy Inspector-General of Police and NPF Pensions team tried to address the agitations by police retirees to exit the CPS two years ago. They met to brainstorm on the low pension payment and PenCom agreed to address the smaller balances of the retirees.
They resolved in a Memorandum of Understanding that the Federal Government should approve a special gratuity for the police so that when they retire, the lump sum of their total pension will not be taken from their account and the balance will be channelled as monthly programmed withdrawal, which will make their pay out more quantitative. They agreed that the Federal Government should consider the gratuity in form of 300 per cent of a police salary which is the approximate that used to be the gratuity.
The crux of their argument was that if permanent secretaries in the federal service are treated differently and allowed to retire with their salary, why not allow a police officer that is on the rank of AIG, equivalent to a permanent secretary be allowed to retire with his or her salary. So the police are saying that once you retire from the rank of AIG and above you should be treated like permanent secretaries and judges. They want to retiree and leave with their salaries. These are their agitations.
Based on these agreements and resolutions, NPF Pensions was able to convince their retirees to give the Federal Government time to look at the issues. But up till date, nothing seems to have been done with regard to the MOU. Following the tripartite committee MOU, two IGPs have written to President Muhammadu Buhari. The former Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris wrote to him and the current IGP, Mohammed Abubakar Adamu has also written.
Unless the retirees are given a gratuity separate from pension, they will continue to complain. It is painful to them that after risking their lives to protect the country, a ministry worker will earn better than them at retirement just as he has always earned more while in service. Two people worked in the federal service, one worked in Federal Ministry of Health, the other worked in Police. They went to university together, they worked for 30 or 35 years. At retirement, the police man is paid N20,000 monthly as pension and the ministry worker is paid N60,000. This cannot be considered fair.
Even the military, an arms carrying agency which the police is one, earns six times more. An equivalent of the Commissioner of Police in the army retires with almost like 6 times what the CP gets. Same with the immigration and customs. This is because it is a function of their salary in the first place.
The Federal Government should immediately pay accrued rights to relieve the retirees even if it’s not much. President Buhari should give them what is theirs. They should also be paid gratuity and unless this is done, the police will remain cheated and will feel cheated. They will continue to agitate and it might lead to worse consequences because they can mutiny against the people and the government.
By Concerned Stakeholder, Ismail Adekunle.