Ask the average man or woman on the streets of Nigeria of what benefit is Democracy to him or her ten years later, when men and women who have given their best 30 to 50 years of the service to their Fatherland are allowed to die waiting for their retirement benefits such as their basic monthly pension entitlements. Retirees in their seventies and older who in more civilized societies are accorded respect and dignity they deserve especially as senior citizens through the state provision of free or highly subsidized health care, food, shelter, and transportation, while their counterparts in Nigeria are treated with disrespect and humiliation – Thanks to Nigeria their land of birth where guaranteed economic hardship is a way of life prescribed by mean hearted corrupt leaders to the masses they serve.
This economic hardship is by no means a result of lack of funding or poverty but rather a pervasive and endemic corrupt system as Nigeria is richly blessed with resources such as crude oil which brings in billions of dollars into Government coffers on a daily basis. Many who have meritoriously served their countries in various capacities are required to make fruitless and multiple trips from all parts of Nigeria by traveling many thousand miles in their frail state of health to the capital city Abuja to collect their pensions only to be told that their pension is not ready because some corrupt politicians have diverted the funds into their personal bank accounts through corrupt practices. These corrupt Government workers and politicians do this only to steal the accrued interests before these monies are released to the pensioner which usually is after 6 months to 2 years late.
This sort of pervasive and callous corrupt practices has continued to send innocent Nigerian retirees early to their graves due to starvation as a result of lack of food, shelter and health care for the elderly. Many die traveling on the roads of Nigeria from their various states of residence to Abuja, the capital where the pension board (aka cipro) is located. Nigeria roads are known to be treacherous and riddled with pot holes and are also known as death traps and among the worst the world over.
Many retirees who are fortunate to have children or relatives living abroad especially in the west, have been saved early avoidable death since they have been invited to join their children abroad who now cater for them to alleviate this economic hardship. These children or relatives of retirees have now taken the responsibilities of maintaining and providing for their parents in their golden years because their land of birth have continued to deny them their basic and fundamental rights to shelter, peace and happiness even in the midst of so much wealth.
Democracy, ten years after in Nigeria should not be about stolen elections and power for the leaders with complete neglect or disregard for the people. Democracy should be about caring for the people. A working democracy should have a human face which is obviously lacking the case of Nigeria as a result of greed and corruption by the few and powerful elite. Why must Nigeria’s burden and lack of foresight by her leaders continue to be the burden or responsibilities of other nations who have managed their resources well through better accountability and transparency? This is a question that the west must continue to seek answer for from the corrupt nations of the world!! If this is not addressed soon by these nations of the west, it may later become their problem and that of their children!!!
The problem with the Nigerian situation is not the lack of funding, but contrary to that as billions of dollars are allocated and published all over the newspapers creating the false impression that all is well with the pensioners while those who are entrusted with the responsibilities of disbursing these funds corruptly divert these monies into their personal bank accounts with the connivance of many so called politicians and leaders in Government establishments. The system is littered with so much corruption and lack of accountability throughout the distribution line that nobody feels the responsibility for the torture that these retirees in Nigeria are forced to endure on a daily basis. The system is never probed or audited so that any clogs or kinks in the system can be corrected or removed thereby saving many retirees the torture of sending them to their early grave.
Nigeria Government must realize that for anyone to take her seriously in the democratic world and in the comity of nations there must be genuine accountability and established measurable minimum goals. The welfare and treatment of retirees in the Nigerian economy must be removed from the back burner and brought to the fore front as a matter of critical urgency. It is a black eye to the leadership of Nigeria both past and present that despite the enormous wealth generated from oil revenues her retirees who have served meritoriously are still treated with such disdain and humiliation. Nigeria politicians should realize that the so called leaders and workers of today are the retirees of tomorrow and of course they do not want the treatment meted out today to the retirees to be meted on them when they wear the same shoes.
Many of these retirees have spent thirty-something or more years working for the Federal Gov. of Nigeria or State Govt. only to be discarded when it is time to get paid their entitlements while the corrupt leaders feed fat on corrupt practices from the resource that was built from the blood and sweat equity of the retirees. These are the kinds of negative indicators that will continue to put Nigeria miles behind its peers in terms of caring for her citizens and carrying the people along in her democratic experiment. Many of the politicians do not care about the people as long as they continue to steal ballot boxes with impunity and thereby muzzling the voices of the majority. Many of the politicians know what the problem of Nigeria is but due to selfish gains and lackadaisical attitude of the people continue to swim in the troubled waters.
The government without further delay should review all policies concerning the state of her retirees and not just policies on paper but what is actually happening on the ground.
We should as a matter of urgency contact the living retirees and ask them to evaluate the system that has been so callous to them and make suggestions on how it can be made more efficient and transparent. Anyone found to be a cog in the progress, regardless of position or connection to power must be removed and prosecuted to the full extent of the law and made example of, for others to see. They should be no sacred cows. Nigerian leaders must not be seen as selfish, self centered and callous who careless for her citizens.
All retirees who have served this nation meritoriously whether they reside in Nigeria or overseas must be fully compensated and apologies tendered for the way they have been abused and mistreated so far and only then can a new leaf be opened to move forward. Only then can the true healing begin. Dignity and respect must be the operative word when dealing with retirees who have given their best years to their land of birth. Nigerian Leaders owe it to the world that they are willing to turn a new leaf in relating to their bosses-the masses!! Elections must not only be credible but must be seen by all as fair and credible. Like many developing and developed countries Nigeria’s funding for retirement and pensions must be reprioritize and placed as a first line item to be paid before any capital or recurrent expenditure is paid. The system must be constantly reviewed, audited and purged to bring efficiency and transparency to the forefront.
Maybe the Nigerian Government with retired federal employees should emulate the states of Kano and Lagos for they are probably the two states in Nigeria that are not indebted to its pensioners thereby cutting down on the crime rate which increases dramatically when retirees and employees are not paid there incomes on a consistent and timely basis. Prompt and consistent payment of pensioners their entitlement should be seen as a matter of national importance which the nation cannot afford to gamble with.
The retirees are sick and tired, the teachers are tired, the hospitals are stretched, doctors are crying for poor remunerations, the masses are sad and the only smiling faces are the corrupt politicians and leaders living in opulence….the drums are beating LOUDER AND LOUDER and the question is how long will be this be tolerated. It is a clarion call for justice and equity and fair play…are the leaders listening????
By Vincent Ogboi