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HARMONIZED POLICY: TORTUOUS JOURNEY FOR CBN PENSIONERS

By NBF News
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Over a decade after they sought refuge in court, thousands of retirees of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) are still battling to get justice even after the court has pronounced their cause just. Following the denial of their rightful entitlements under the new harmonized pension scheme about 4000 affected retirees approached the Federal high court sitting in Lagos in July 1999 to seek redress.

These elderly men and women who had spent the best part of their lives in the service of their fatherland had to pull their meager resources together to compel their former employer to pay them harmonized pension.

The Pension Harmonization Policy was introduced by the Federal Government in 1997 to eliminate disparity in the pension of those who retired at different times.

Jacob Amao, Joachim Ajala and Thompson Jemilo had instituted the action on behalf of 4000 retirees after all pleas to CBN to implement the new policy fell on deaf ears.

The retirees under the aegis of CBN Pensioners Club said that the disparity in pension is so wide that those who retired earlier now receive less than 30 percent of what is paid to recent retirees in spite of the low state of Nigeria's economy.

These senior citizens were elated when they were vindicated by the high court in its judgment of May 22, 2000.

To them, it was time to eat the fruits of their labour after struggling so hard for it. Many of them had hinged all their hopes on a better pension.

In its judgment, the court directed the apex bank to commence the payment of 'all accrued pensions calculated with effect from January 1, 1997 on emoluments currently earned by their serving counterparts as prescribed under the Federal Government Policy on harmonization of pension aforesaid and subsequently all such pensions as and when fall due.'

However, their joy was cut short when CBN challenged the judgment by filing an appeal against it before the Court of Appeal which further affirmed the judgment of the trial court in its verdict of December 5, 2006.

Again, their celebration could not last as their former employer took the battle to the apex court.

Fortunately, the retirees floored the CBN as the Supreme Court upheld the judgments of both the trial court and the appellate court. In a lead judgment delivered by Justice Walter Onnoghen along with Justices Dahiru Musdapher, Francis Tabai, Ibrahim Mohammed and Olufunlola Adekeye, the Supreme Court dismissed the CBN appeal.

In a rare show of concern to the plight of the affected senior citizens, the court lamented that due to Nigeria's harsh economy, old people who are supposed to be shielded from suffering are being frustrated by the actions of an institution established by the Federal Government:

'It is rather unfortunate that the efforts of the Federal Government to put smiles on the faces of the applicant (the CBN) so as to alleviate their sufferings having regards to the harsh economic realities of this country have been almost frustrated by arguments on legal technicalities whilst the people continue to suffer year in year out.

'It is disturbing because the people involved are senior citizens of the country who have contributed their quota to the development of the nation during their prime, but look at the way an organization like the appellant is treating them. It is important for every organization in the country, including the appellant, to wear a human face in the treatment of the people, particularly the senior citizens, because it will be anybody's turn to be a senior citizen.

'We must re-examine our attitude towards the senior citizens of this country so as not to make them regret their sacrifice for the nation in whatever capacity. The respondents (pensioners) need not be put to expenses of litigating this matter in the first place let alone all the way to the Supreme Court.'

Consequently, the apex court ordered CBN to obey the court and start paying the pensioners their accrued pension arrears while pronouncing the appeal as lacking in merit. It further awarded N50, 000 costs in favour of the retirees.

The court insisted on the need for 'an assurance that our old people will spend their retirement without hassle and anxiety in the process of earning their retirement benefits.

Though the end of their struggling and suffering is in sight, the pensioners while still savouring their bitter-sweet victory have called on CBN Governor, Lamido Sanusi, to implement the courts' orders by ensuring the payment of the harmonized pension.

On behalf of the retirees, their spokesman, Chief Chimezie Ahaneku, called on CBN to obey the courts' directive as fast as possible.

'With the final conclusion of this protracted legal tussle now, the over 4000 CBN pensioners who are expected to benefit from this victory are therefore appealing to the CBN Governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, to urgently implement the courts' orders by ensuring that the pensioners are paid the harmonized pension and the accrued arrears that have accumulated over the years as quickly as possible.'