BBC Africa Eye: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 4 May 2021:
A new investigation by BBC Africa Eye into pensions in Nigeria has uncovered an unfair and corrupt system which leaves some elderly people sick and penniless, with government workers soliciting extra payments before paying out pensions, people arbitrarily being declared ‘dead’ and having to prove they are alive before their pension is reinstated, and politicians being offered outrageous retirement packages.
The five month investigation began when Africa eye was approached by Obaji Akpet – a reporter / producer from Cross River State (Southern Nigeria) (Photo), who told us that his mother, a nurse, did not start getting her pension payments as would be normal, when she retired and that she was being asked to pay cash directly to an official working in the pension department before they would pay out her pension.
Via a hidden camera Obaji filmed a civil servant accepting money for herself, and suggesting senior managers in the department also needed to be paid before the pension paperwork would go through.
Despite these payments being made, Obaji’s mother’s (Photo below) pension didn’t arrive until for five months later, a delay that caused her extreme financial problems and left her feeling like she was “in hell fire” and “no more a human being.”
Africa Eye also uncovered a list of over a thousand people in Cross River state whose pensions had been stopped because the state had decided they were no longer alive. Many on the list spent months trying to prove they were alive, often travelling long distances to the state capital, Calabar. And this doesn’t just happen in Cross River state, but is replicated in states throughout the country.
Africa Eye hears first-hand testimonies about the extreme hardship caused by being arbitrarily declared ‘dead’, and trying to survive without a pension. One man told the investigation he had travelled to the capital five times to prove he was alive and sometimes stayed there for up to two weeks, with no resources. He says “At times we sleep outside while the rain is falling, that is why I’m sick until now and my body is not like before.”
Others said that once they arrived at the pensions office they were subjected to treatment they describe as ‘dehumanising’.
Ekpenyong Ewa (Photo) was declared dead and when her pension was stopped, after months of writing letters, visiting the offices and begging for it to be sorted out, she took an active part in a public sit-in outside the Auditor General’s office. She tells us she was then intimidated into making an apology, which was filmed and put on the internet to further humiliate her.
‘Ghost Pensioners’, a term used to describe people who don’t exist but are somehow ‘receiving’ pension payments, are a real problem in Nigeria and according to Jerry Uwah, a finance journalist, Sometimes there are more fake pensioners than real ones on the pension books of a state.
But creating fake or ghost pensioners is not something ordinary people can do, he says: “The people at the top, they will pay those ghost pensioners immediately, and the money goes in their pockets. It’s not something that a clerk can do because it would be discovered.”
At the other end of the scale, we found politicians awarding themselves huge pensions and additional perks and in some cases trying to change the law to give themselves even more.
As one politician told us ‘What a typical state governor takes home as pension can settle the wages of over 3-4000 teachers. Why should the state dedicate such sort of money to former governors’.
Kolawole Oluwadare is the Deputy Director of SERAP, an organisation that advocates for more transparency in government says “technology should be available to identify pensioners.” He has been trying to find out through the courts exactly how much retired politicians receive.
The government set up a Pension Reform Taskforce in 2003. In 2015 the chairman was accused of laundering 2.3 billion Naira, from pension funds for which he is currently on trial for.
The government alleges members of the Pension Reform taskforce opened fake accounts and were using them to launder money that was stolen from pension funds.
Despite the president’s assurances to pensioners that the system will be sorted, Africa Eye found a pensions system still hampered by corruption causing devastation in the lives of elderly and vulnerable Nigerians while allowing the rich to retire even richer.
We put the findings of our investigation to Mrs Angela Etta, Mrs Franka Inok and Governor Ben Ayode of Cross River State and asked for a comment but they declined to respond to the investigation.
The full film can be viewed here:
Gentlemen – the self-centered attitudes of our African brothers and sisters is not something that started overnight; It is a strange behavior that has always been there like a frown on the face of Maada Bio.(lol) Countless decades ago in India an Englishman that was anxious to sell a newly invented tractor tried to convince the famers in a small village in Rajasthan that it was inhumane to use cows and donkeys to plough their farms; He then told them that he had something more efficient and worry free that he was willing to offer them at a moderate price but the farmers refused and said to him.
These cows play a critical role in our farming methods because they help us produce food, and they are invaluable in helping us control pest populations and above all they contribute to Biodiversity – thanks for the offer but we will stick with the Cows” As so they schooled the Englishman, and taught him a lesson he could never forget – Avoid being shackled in debts, be judicious with what you have. The English salesman brushed himself off and came to our Continent and said the same crafty words to our people; “How much will the tractors cost they enquired?” The Englishman replied; “Not a whole lot; If you decide to buy at least 100 pieces; I would only need a reasonable down payment and we can spread the rest of what is owed to me throughout the coming years.”
Folks,that’s how Africans started getting into debts that they are unable to pay back – They keep on buying things they cannot afford and practicing riotous lifestyles they are unable to maintain that eventually leave them no other options but to cheat,steal,rob and plunder our meagre resources.That’s the totally sickening attitudes they are now brazenly putting on full display against the legitimate interests of old Pensioners asking for what rightfully belongs to them. Government of Nigeria – Do the right thing – Give Pensioners what is duly owed to them.(lol)
According a report by transparency international, by 2012, Nigeria have lost more than 400 billion pounds dollars, to corruption since its independence in the 1960s . Enough to build schools, roads,housing for the poor, railways, health centres, and free education for every Nigerian child, especially in Boka Haram infested Northern states. Instead , and as a result of this state neglect , the security, or the very existence of Nigeria has been put to the ultimate test . The kidnapping of school children for ransom is now becoming the norm, rather than the exception. This scamming of Nigerian pensioners, is just an other corruption tool kit used against retired citizens of the Nigerian state. It’s a shame because this public officials have devoted their entire lives trying to make their contribution for a perfect union of the Nigerian federation.
Now they have been rewarded by denying them to pensions when they are at their fragile state. To the extent, when you want to draw your state pension, you are in some cases required to provide evidence that you are not a dead man walking, underline how left unchecked, corruption can have a very corrosive, and destructive effect in the very fabric of society. Rampant corruption eats away the trust between the citizen, and the state. The saddest part, majority of this corrupt officials, travels abroad, and look at other countries, how they are structured, both in terms of governance, and how their governments have set up delivery programmes for their citizens.
Scandinavian countries are good at giving a helping hand to their citizens, especially their pensionable age citizens. In majority of African countries, like Nigeria and Sierra leone, we the citizens are exploited from cradle to grave by our political classes that are supposed to look after our interest. Corruption and greed by our elected representatives is the only thing we share in our vast mineral rich continent.
Gentlemen – We are fully aware that corruption in all its despicable forms,bribery and rampant thefts are being seen by the distorted African mind as a normal way of survival in a harsh terrain where laws are so flexible and flimsy they can bend quite easily like grass swaying in the wind. Honesty,decency and frugality are no longer considered sacred admirable virtues that should be highly cherished and practiced throughout our poor African continent today; Its now all about money,fame,and power; Our lives have become intricately wrapped up in superficial mundane pleasures and cravings that will never satisfy the flesh or give solace to the self-centered human soul.
Its a very sad thing for someone to toil from dusk to dawn for many years,contribute into what seemed like a credible Pension scheme only to end up being short-changed,cheated and tricked by corrupt government officials in the end. Our economies and in shambles,peoples lives are full of struggles and troubles no one is able to help them solve. I mean seriously, its a very big disgrace for Old Grey Buhari to be holding the highest office in the land while Pensioners are
being abused,humiliated and cheated of what rightfully belongs to them. Nigeria is a failed State; an eerie,frightening place where abject poverty and abundant riches are disgruntled neighbours living right next to each other.
The saddest part of all is that they are very busy building a society on the shaky foundations of corruption so fragile, even a sneeze from a toddler is bound to make it crumble into dust. Strange is it not, that Nigeria that many folks used to call the “Giants Of Africa” have ended becoming fearsome,gruesome monsters that furiously eat up their most fragile, vulnerable, people – pensioners who are old,weak,sick and disabled? Shame on all those whose principal objective is to cheat and rob frail pensioners of what rightfully belongs them. Shame on the Governor of Cross River State, Ben Ayade for his gross indifference on this critical matter.