Only a few years ago, payment of the pension of former federal government workers under the Defined Benefits Scheme [DBS] was a complete mess, but there has been a noticeable improvement in recent years due to the reinvigoration of the implementing agency, the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate, PTAD. After the pension reforms of 2004, this agency inherited the old pension offices of the civil service, police, paramilitary organisations as well as the boards of trustees of pension funds of parastatals. Together, these agencies had accumulated N2 trillion in unpaid pensions as at 2004.
Unlike the new contributory pension scheme which for more than a decade has become noted for its order and efficiency, inefficiency, fraud and chaos continued to pervade DBS for many years. Under the Buhari Administration and under the leadership of Mrs. Sharon Ikeazor however, PTAD has recorded progress in many areas in a sector that used to be the shame of a nation. Among the achievements it recently touted was the creation of a formal, sanitized and digitalised database of pensioners where none existed previously and the phenomenon of “ghost pensioners” was pervasive.
This database was built through biometric capture and verification exercises for 228,898 federal government pensioners. Of these, 99,645 are from the mainstream civil service; 101,315 from parastatals; 16,013 from police and 11,925 from paramilitary services. Since 2016 for example, PTAD has successfully verified 109,308 civil service pensioners nationwide, paid the full death benefits to 338 Next-Of-Kin of deceased pensioners who died after service and paid half a billion naira as gratuity arrears to 174 War Affected Retired Police Officers [WARPO]. These were police officers dismissed from service after the Civil War but who were pardoned in 2000.
In addition, the pension rolls of 253 disaggregated parastatals and universities were taken over and consolidated. Payment of all pensioners online using the Government Integrated Financial Management and Information System [GIFMIS] has also greatly minimized avenues for fraud. Over the past decade, many officials were charged to court for suspected pension fraud but online processes have now minimized these incidents.
PTAD also said it weeded out 19,000 unqualified pensioners from the payroll because they did not have Biometric Verification Number, BVN. Also noteworthy has been PTAD’s drive to recover N22 billion cash and non-cash assets from Boards of Trustees of universities and parastatal pension schemes as well as insurance underwriters who previously held and for the most part mismanaged those assets.
There was also the huge problem of pensioners of defunct or privatized federal agencies and companies. Pensioners in this category had gone for over a decade without receiving their pensions. They include former staffers of Delta Steel Company, Aladja ; Federal Housing Authority ; former civilian staffers of Nigeria Defence Academy ; Nigeria Reinsurance ; NICON Insurance ; NITEL/Mtel [11,000] and New Nigerian Newspapers . All these were verified and placed on the monthly pension payroll, in many cases for the first time ever.
All of these achievements have together helped to change the face of pension administration in this country, which was once regarded as hopeless, to one in which many pensioners now wear smiles on their faces. Immense problems still remain, though. The arrears due to these pensioners, in some cases amounting to 13 years, are in hundreds of billions, if not trillions of naira. the Federal Government says it is looking at ways and means to liquidate these debts, probably by floating bonds or issuing treasury bills as the Obasanjo regime once proposed.
The significant turn-around that we have witnessed in the Defined Benefits Scheme is a major achievement of the Buhari Administration. It was often said that the virtual collapse of the pension system accentuated corruption in the civil service because officials made their own provisions for life in retirement. It is therefore a very big complement to the anti-corruption war and we urge the government to sustain it. We also urge state and local governments to borrow a leaf from PTAD and improve their own pension arrangements.