He flashes a warm smile as he settles into the sofa at a corner of the living room. It is a modest one – a six-seater overlooking a tiny shelf housing a 21-inch television set, a video compact disc player and a radio that has seen the best of time, everything in
and around the room testifies to the simplicity of its occupant. Now almost 91, with all of his children married and his wife and best friend of many years ‘gone to be with the Lord’, Pa Jacob Kehinde Babajide’s life has become even quieter these days especially since August 2010 when his monthly pension was abruptly stopped. Apart from now having to depend squarely on the financial support of his children to survive, the psychological effect of the entire experience has compounded the old man’s agony.
“Nobody gave me any reason for stopping my pension,” the nonagenarian said, pausing for a few seconds before continuing with the emotional narrative. “I just noticed that I didn’t get alert from the bank anymore. There is this lady I used to contact at the pension office; she was the one who helped me before they paid me some arrears till August 2010. Since then, I haven’t heard anything.
“When I contacted her again, she said I should bring the copy of my pay slip from the bank. I sent it to her, then she phoned back saying I should bring my first letter of appointment which I received on July 10, 1950. Don’t you see they don’t want to pay the money? Where on earth do they expect me to get the letter? If you calculate very well, I got that letter about 64 years ago.
“She told me that the person she normally contacted said unless I brought that letter, a letter which I got before he was born, they would not pay me. But for my sons and daughters, my condition would have been very terrible.”
The last four years have not been easy for the Oke-Igbo, Ondo State-born grandfather– deprivation and challenges have come in different forms. Though, Babajide told Saturday PUNCH that he has no regrets giving 35 years of his life to serving the nation diligently, this was not the type of retirement he looked forward to while joining the accounts department of the now defunct Post and Telegrams under the Ministry of Communications on July 10, 1950. The situation leaves him deeply worried.
“I have an extension behind my flat, the place is almost crumbling. If this money had come, I could have rebuilt it and be living better. Nowadays I depend only on my children to send me money, when they don’t, I suffer.
“While I was in service, I was not looking forward to this type of treatment because I didn’t do any funny act. I worked as honest as possible. This was not the type of reward I was looking ahead to while I was still working.
“I give glory to God that I had been a Christian before I joined the service and I was honest throughout my time there. I was not like other people who would go to meet the senior men and be doing eye service, no. I simply concentrated on my job.
“During my time there, I was always sent to the most difficult sections especially when there was problem but God always helped me out,” he said.
Between 1950 when he joined service and 1985 when he retired, Babajide, by virtue of the position he occupied, had several opportunities to take advantage of the system. But being the honest and reliable man that he is, the trained accountant rebuffed temptations in different forms to discharge his duties as frankly as possible. Taking our correspondent through highlights of his time at the P and T, the old man revealed how corrupt officials turned the tide in their own favour to the detriment of others.
“I had a colleague, we were both Assistant Chief Accountants and I was in the payment section which took care of any form of payments. I was also controlling the votes that came to the department. The man was in parcel section and people who had complaints on parcels would go to him. Some of them who had claims, we had to refund them.
“So, on different occasions, he brought nine vouchers. When I received them and if there were documents that were supposed to be attached, I would ask him to bring them and I would acknowledge them. When I satisfied myself, I authorised the vouchers and sent them to the post office and our bank in the department. When those vouchers were paid, they did not come to me again.
“It continued like that until one day when I got to the office and a senior investigation officer entered and brought out one of the vouchers. He asked if I authorised it because my signature was on it and I said yes. I told him that by the time the vouchers left my table, the attached documents were also intact but after payment, it didn’t return to me and that I didn’t know what was responsible for that. The man at the parcel department called Mr. Leke was very clever. He ate, drank and spent lavishly and I began to wonder where he got such money from. The senior investigation officer was on that case for a year and eventually took the case to court. The man in the parcel department was found guilty and was jailed for a year without the option of fine.
“After the case, I asked the investigation officer if he confirmed from those whose names were on the vouchers if I had ever seen them before or knew them at all. He said it had nothing to do with me. That was an experience I will never forget.
“I was sitting on money but I never for once thought about stealing from the system. But in my old age when I am supposed to be enjoying the fruit of my labour, it is the system that is now robbing me of happiness. I deserve better than this,” he said.
Babajide, who has a fair knowledge of how some of the crimes are perpetrated, told our correspondent that the non-payment of his monthly stipend is the handiwork of corrupt elements within the system and not as a result of government’s failure.
“It’s been a fairly long time since I left service in 1985 and the people preparing the allowances would have thought that I am dead especially when they look at my age. It is something I know people who pay pension do very well. They would say this man must have died, so let us not pay the money into his account anymore, and they now divert it to their personal accounts.
“So, I am sure they must be paying my pension regularly into one of their accounts thinking that I am dead by now at almost 91. I am not surprised that this type of thing is happening. It is not as if government stopped my pension but somebody is paying it into another person’s account thinking that I am dead.
“I am a Christian and in all things, God says I should give thanks. That I sleep and wake up, I thank God. I go to bed smoothly and He wakes me up full of energy. I am really grateful to God,” he said.
Mrs. Bose Daramola who had been helping the 90-year-old to process his monthly entitlements at the pensions office, Abuja, told our correspondent in a telephone interview that she left service about eight years ago and so was not in a good position to render any form of assistance at the moment.
“Baba should go to the pension office in Abuja to complain. Their office is on Katsina-Ala Street in Maitama; if he introduces himself as a pensioner, they might take pity on him and address his case.
“The situation is, there is a regular verification exercise where you must present some vital documents including your confirmation letter and first appointment letter. I told him this several times but I was just doing my best to assist him through the people I know there. I am no longer working at the pension office; I left there eight years ago.
“But maybe if he goes there himself, they can assist him based on his age and condition. Else, he will have to show them those documents before he receives his pension,” she said.
Head of Corporate Communications, Pension Transitional Arrangement Department, Mr. Yusuf Addy, toldSaturday PUNCH that at the moment, the office is dealing with verification of police pension after which biometrics and verifications of all other pensioners like Babajide would be done. After the exercise, Addy said pensioners would not be asked to tender any documents again but would be able to have access to their entitlements from anywhere in the country regardless of their point of registration.
However, for the 90-year-old former accountant to continue to access his monthly payment, he might have to present an affidavit sworn at a recognised court including at least a document to prove that he was once and employee of the P and T.
“We feel the pains of the old man but the issue is that he might need to tender a genuine affidavit and at least something to show that he once worked at the P and T. Very soon, a comprehensive verification and biometric exercise would take place, after that nobody would be asked to bring any document again.
“So, the man should try to present these items and the matter would be resolved. Nobody is keeping his pension away from him deliberately. We are here to serve the people diligently,” he said.
Dr. Franca Attoh, a lecturer at the Department of Sociology, University of Lagos, told Saturday PUNCH that the new pension reform act is supposed to have taken care of all pension related matters because it is a contributory scheme where a certain percentage of the worker’s salary is set aside while active. According to her, with the new reform, issue of non-payment or denial has become almost a thing of the past but if anybody is found bending the law in his or her favour to the detriment of those who have invested genuine labour, they must be punished.
“With the new pension reforms, I don’t think anybody should still have complaints. It is a system that does its best to be fair to everyone. But if there are people still complaining of not getting their pensions, then you have to examine what is responsible for that carefully. Some of those people might not be telling the whole truth.
“However, if any official is found to be manipulating the system for personal gains at the expense of those who gave many years of their lives to serving this nation at various capacities, then such people must be made to pay the price. The new pension reform is working, people must understand how it works,” she said.
Babajide is not the only one who has been left to endure a life of agony, pains and heartbreaks after putting in scores of illustrious years serving the country in various capacities – he is only one of many pensioners across Nigeria whose lives have been made miserable following months and years of unpaid entitlements. While dozens have died fighting and waiting for privileges that they truly deserved, pension continues to be far away from the reach of thousands still alive.
I regret teaching for 35 years
In Iganmu, a Lagos suburb, for example, Mrs. Akinbule Fadekemi, is merely surviving on the mercies of God. After putting in more than half of her life into the teaching profession, the 78-year-old mother of three has nothing to show for all her efforts in impacting lives, teaching across several government-established primary schools in Lagos. Today, all Akinbule has is a small plastic cooler on which she displays edible items not worth more than N3, 700. She earns a paltry pensiom of N1,600 every month. The situation is a distant contrast from the future she had looked forward to in 1987 when she completed 35 year in service as a teacher.
“I wish I had done something else with my life and not teaching,” she told our correspondent in a quaking voice – one capable of melting even a heart made of steel. “My mates who went into secretarial studies and other ventures are better off. I look at their lives today and I wish I had never taken to teaching at all. They are far better than me. They are fulfilled and full of happiness. This little cooler is all I have. The amount I get every month cannot sustain me, let alone with my children,” she said.
Mrs. Yetunde Yusuf’s life has not remained the same since those painful experiences in 2012. After losing a pregnant daughter seven days to her wedding and her own husband weeks later because she could not afford the medical cost as a result of unpaid pensions, Yusuf has not regained balance ever since.
Having retired from the Federal Ministry of Defence in 2005, the elderly woman described retirement as the most turbulent period of her life.
“The government employed me when I was still very young, I retired in 2005 and since, I have not been paid my gratuity and pensions. I have suffered so much and even lost my daughter with pregnancy and my husband. Government should please have mercy on me,” she cried.
In Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, Mrs. Katherine Harry is still waiting for her gratuity almost three years after retirement from one of the government liaison offices. Though, now receiving monthly pension, Harry struggles to survive especially with four children, an aged mother and a handful of older relatives to cater for. The last few years have been a mixture of struggle and deprivation for the 61-year-old.
And public holders work out their pension upfront
Sadly, many public office holders across Nigeria who barely spent a quarter of the years the likes of Babajide, Akinbule and Harry put into serving the nation, continue to enjoy bogus pensions and other benefits today. Last year, Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio, reviewed the pension and allowances of former chief executives of the state and their deputies. Apart from the outrageous take home package, Akpabio and his deputy after quitting office would get choice houses not only in Uyo, the state capital but also in Abuja the administrative capital of the country. Akpabio is not the only public office holder guilty of this moral ‘crime;’ he merely makes up the numbers in a well-known phenomenon.
Two weeks ago, Senator Bukola Saraki who is representing Kwara Central in the senate announced that he would be donating his pension, which he put at N45m since he left office in 2011 to students in tertiary institutions all over Kwara State.
In two tweets he posted via his handle @bukolasaraki, the ex-governor, who disclosed that he had not accessed any portion of the pension, said it would be made available to students with good grades but who need financial assistance through his foundation, the Abubakar Bukola Saraki Students Foundation.
Ironically, Saraki only spent eight years as governor of the North Central state and the N45m bounty accrued between 2011 and 2014.
However, in the United States and other western nations for example, it is a different ball game entirely for retirees. In addition to getting their gratuity within the first few weeks after retirement, accessing monthly pensions is far easier than in Nigeria.
Bottleneck of greed
To arrest the troubling trend, successive administrations at all tiers of government in Nigeria have come up with various strategies to effectively compensate pensioners. This led to the repeal of the 1979 Act and subsequently the amendment of the Nigerian Social Trust Fund Act of 1993. To further get the system working, the Pension Reform Act, 2004 was promulgated. It was created as a contributory pension scheme for the payment of retirement benefits both for the public and private sectors.
But despite these laudable reforms, accessing gratuity, pension and other entitlements remains a big problem for many retirees. At the forefront of this disturbing trend is corruption on the part of government officials and pension administrators.
In 2013, an investigation into police pensions opened a can of worms about the wanton sleaze in the system. Consulting firm, KPMG, which audited the accounts, found several irregularities and unauthorised transactions and remittances running into billions of naira.
Milking pensioners dry
For instance, N1.5bn was said to have been remitted to the Police Pensions Office monthly, as against the N500m that was actually required while another N24bn was kept in an account meant for the payment of harmonisation arrears. Findings from that investigation rank among one of the biggest corruption scandals anywhere in the world, especially with many of the perpetrators yet to serve jail sentences.
But for the likes of Babajide and thousands of retired civil servants wallowing in abject neglect despite investing years of quality labour into making Nigeria a better society, going hungry to bed was the last many of them wished for in their prime. Only an urgent intervention and change of fortunes could soothe an old man’s bleeding heart.