June 25, 2024

My Pension, Your Pension In The Hands Of ‘Lagos’

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Lagos does not have restraints when it comes to spending money. His first name is Nínál’owó (Money is meant to be spent). His middle name is Gbogbo ejò jíjeni (All snakes are edible). But I won’t keep quiet while he puts my future in the incinerator of his ways. Lagos is like an agbara ojo (erosion). Yoruba elders say àgbàrá òjò ò’lóhun ò nílé wó, onílé ni ò nì gbà fun (the mission of erosion is to destroy the building; it is the owner that will resist it).

The Yoruba word for spendthrift is àpà. There is Arungún (ruiner of inheritance) sitting very close to àpà. Both are relations of ikán (termites) in Yoruba semiotic. No matter the semantic shift exercise one carries out on each of them, they give the same meaning; denotatively and connotatively. Àpà is a waster. Arungún, otherwise known as Omo òsì (child of misery) is a destroyer of inheritance or estate. He is a typical reverser of fortune. Nothing is too precious for an àpà or an arungún to destroy. Termites eat up anything, no matter how precious.

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There is an Ekiti folk song that warns of the activities of an arungún. The song warns of the implications of leaving one’s inheritance in the hands of a waster. Èhìn ayé enin/ kò se fi sílè fún omo òsì (One should not leave one’s estate for a waster child). No parent prays to have such a child to inherit his or her estate. No matter how many years it took the parents to build their estates, once such are inherited by an arungún, the estates go into ruins within a short period.

Years ago, an elderly man, a senior journalist, pointed at a telecommunications mast on Ugbague Street, Benin, to me. “You see that mast over there, Suyi”, he said. I followed the direction of his pointed finger and affirmed. He continued: “Will you believe me if I tell you that that plot of land and all the plots that have now turned to market once belonged to an Esama of Benin Kingdom?” I answered that it was not possible. My little knowledge of Benin chieftaincy matters tells me that only the wealthiest becomes the Esama of Benin. The elderly fellow affirmed that, and added that the owner of the property was once a wealthy man and was conferred with the title of Esama by the reigning Omo N’Oba then.

But upon his death, his arungún children sold off the estate the man had such that nobody could remember that their forebear was once the richest man in the Kingdom. The elderly fellow told me the story behind the ruinous heritage of the once prosperous Esama. I reserve that story for another time when we would have the time and space to discuss it. Pray you don’t have an arungún to inherit your estates; they leave such in ruins! Terrible!

Arungún omo abound in our localities. We have wasted estates of once prosperous parents in our neighbourhoods. Nothing can be worse than for people to say the family of Mr. Làkásègbé was once wealthy. Once an arungún manages an estate, the siblings end up as paupers! Because of an arungún, children of butchers beg for bones, and those of the wealthy roam the streets in abject poverty. Nigeria has been unfortunate with its arungún leaders, especially those we have had since the collapse of the First Republic. From the North to the South; from the West to the East, all the legacies left behind by the founding fathers of the country have been laid waste by the arungún children who took over leadership positions.

Nigeria is a typical example of a family once in wealth but now in poverty. Our case is not because our natural resources have dried up. No. God has blessed us more than many prosperous countries of the world. We have many other natural resources that we have not even tapped. Our problem lies in the fact that we have had termites as leaders. We have been unfortunate to have wasters in the helms of our affairs, at virtually all levels of government. We are a nation led by leaders who don’t save for the future. We have been ruled and ruined by those who eat the yam tubers and the seedlings for future planting seasons. They are the type called òjusu jègùn (he who eats both the yam and the sprouting seedlings) in my native tongue. The elders of my place, again, say an òjusu jègùn has eaten the next harvest (òjusu jegùn; àmódún ló je).

Nigeria is the only country where people work in the civil service for over three decades and retire into penury. We are not known to pay gratuities to retirees at the point of their disengagements from public service. Many of them die without collecting their gratuities. While Kayode Fayemi was governor of Ekiti State, he came up with a ‘novel’ solution to gratuity payment. He asked retirees willing to get their entitlements to let go of as much as 25 percent of their gratuities, otherwise, they will wait till only-God-knows-when! The last set of retirees in the state who got their entitlements were those who retired in March 2014. In the last 10 years, no retiree in Ekiti State has been paid his gratuity. Worst hit are local government and primary school teachers’ retirees, who have not been paid gratuities since 2012! The same thing goes for the monthly stipends to retirees known as pension. Stories abound about how senior citizens die on the queues while waiting to collect their pension. These are people who spent their youthful years serving their fatherland!

To address the problem, the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo introduced the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS), in 2003. Under the scheme, both the employers and the employees are compelled to contribute a certain percentage of the employees’ salaries to the fund on a monthly basis. The funds are also placed in the hands of independent financial institutions known as Pension Fund Operators (PenOP) to manage. The beauty of this scheme is that while government intervention in the management of pension is eliminated, employees in the private sector (corporate bodies), who were hitherto at the mercy of their shylock employers, are also accommodated.

Speaking recently at a meeting with PenOP, Obasanjo said that one of the major reasons for the pension reform was his pain at seeing so many pensioners queuing up to collect their pensions, especially during his first term in office. The retired General stressed that he was particularly pained to see military men who had served the nation, spending hours or days to collect their pensions. “With this in mind, we resolved to see how the government could make pension management and administration private sector driven and more in line with global best practices. I was pleasantly surprised at the growth of the pension assets over the last 20 years as my administration instituted the pension reforms, and pushed to have a bill to reform the way pension administration was done in Nigeria. They did not think that the assets would grow this quickly and have the positive effect it has had so far.” The former president enthused. In the last 20 years, the funds in the various pension accounts, contributed by workers in the public and those in the private sectors, have grown to over N20 trillion. That is how leaders grow estates. That is how forebears take care of the future. But hand over such an inheritance to an arungún omo, the people will be in pain afterwards.

The over N20 trillion in the pension funds account is the next nectar that the Lagos man in charge of our affairs is targeting to lick in the name of building infrastructure. Having drained all the available resources, the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration is taking his predatoriness to the pension account. To many of us, we don’t find this behaviour strange given the fact that it fits perfectly to the financial identikit of President Tinubu as a Nínál’owó. Expectedly, since the Tinubu administration, through its Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Mr.Wale Edun, muted the idea of taking the owó ojú eégún (money kept in the masquerade’s grove), hell has been let loose on the government. Also, many groups, obviously members of the government’s Hallelujah orchestra, have been unleashed on the media space to defend the government.

Former Vice President and presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, while reacting to the development said that the move is “illegal”, as “there is NO free Pension Funds that is more than 5% of the total value of the nation’s pension fund for Mr. Edun to fiddle with.” Atiku, who was with Obasanjo when the pension reforms that resulted in the over N20 trillion being coveted by Tinubu and his Lagos boys warned: “Even at that, this move must be halted immediately!  It is a misguided initiative that could lead to disastrous consequences on the lives of Nigeria’s hardworking men and women who toiled and saved and who now survive on their pensions having retired from service. It is another attempt to perpetrate illegality by the Federal Government. The government must be cautioned to act strictly within the provisions of the Pension Reform Act of 2014 (PRA 2014), along with the revised Regulation on Investment of Pension Assets issued by the National Pension Commission (PenCom). In particular, the Federal Government must not act contrary to the provisions of the extant Regulation on investment limits to wit: Pension Funds can invest no more than 5% of total pension funds’ assets in infrastructure investments.”

As it is wont to do, the Tinubu government unleashed his attack Rottweilers on Atiku and every other person that has risen against the intending daylight robbery of the pension funds. One of such nondescript groups, the Independent Media and Policy Initiative (IMPI), equally led by one Niyi Akinsiju, I am told he played the same under President Muhammadu Buhari, said that by voicing his opinion against the move to use the pension funds for infrastructural developments, Atiku had merely become “a government critic and opposition leader.” One wonders what Atiku is expected to do if he could not criticise bad government initiatives! The group quoted sections 5.15.2 and 5.15 of the Pension Reform Act, 2014, to justify why the light-fingered Federal Government of Tinubu could dip its filthy hands into the pension pockets and spend the funds therein. Ridiculously, IMPI assured Nigerians that after tampering with the funds, the government would guarantee its safety on the jejune argument that the “…FGN issued securities are considered as the safest of all investments in domestic debt market because it is backed by the ‘full faith and credit’ of the Federal Government, and as such it is classified as a risk-free debt instrument.” Nonsense! Balderdash!! Bunkum!!!

It baffles me why some people deliberately choose to be fatuous. If the Federal Government could guarantee the safety of the pensions, why was the need for the pension reform in the first instance? Where was this Akinsiju of a mould, when pensioners were dying in their hundreds on the queues waiting for their pensions? Is he that ignorant to note that what this wastrel government intends to spend belongs to workers in both the public and the private sectors? That the pension funds belong to workers of the government’s civil services and those from the infamous AFAMACO JOB (work without pay) of Benin? Can Akinsiju and those in his caste tell Nigerians how many of those things committed to this government in the last one year it has been able to secure? Can he tell us how this government met our economy and how low it has taken it? What was the cost of living before Tinubu came on May 29, 2023, and what is the cost of living now? How on earth would anyone want to commit the future of hapless Nigerian workers both in the public and private sectors to the hands of these thriftless individuals who spare nothing? How long would our leaders behave like common arungún and we would clap for them?

I have no doubt that this government is both deaf and dumb. I suspect also that compassion is in abysmally short supply in this era. I am equally of the strong opinion that neither President Tinubu, nor his boys and hangers-on, have any soupcon of respect for the Nigerian masses. But I want to quickly tell them that the pension fund is the life and last hope of many Nigerians currently working in the private and public sectors. If I were Tinubu, I would not touch their money!

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