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Why Emefiele should accede to request for CBN pensions review

By Justus Nduwugwe, Abuja
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In those days, up to the late 1980s, retiring from the services of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) was a rare privilege. Not in the sense of the pecuniary advantages, but the recognition of the efforts they had put in sustaining the legacies of a truly national institution. Pensioners were adored because it took uncanny commitment and moral rectitude to pass through and survive the 35 years of postings and transfers to various branches, currency centres, departments and units in the Bank. Some postings were very far-flung and outrightly risky. In character and work ethics, one must be above board as a staff of the apex Bank.

Relatively, the pay package at that time was poor, far less than what was obtainable in the commercial banks. Yet, many resolved to remain in the services of the Bank, in the face of attempts by Commercial and Merchant Banks to lure staff away from the CBN. Staff were always eager to sacrifice their time and talent to ensure the efficient working of the financial system.

Though its affairs were conducted in the most conservative tradition, the processes and systems of the Bank were run like a well-oiled engine; noiseless, non-obtrusive and efficient, yet requiring constant attention. And the results showed!

It bears repetition to state here that the CBN in those years, created, staffed and nurtured virtually all the present agencies in the financial system in Nigeria, including, the Nigeria Stock Exchange (NSE), the Debt Management Office (DMO), the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) and the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC).

Furthermore, other agencies that had the imprint of CBN’s ever resourceful staff in those days were the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company (NSPMC), Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS); Bank of Industry (BOI); Nigeria Export Import Bank (NEXIM), etc. To a large extent, many of these agencies still bear the traditional efficiency of the CBN in the early times.

It is therefore an irony, like many other pensioners in the Federal and State public services, staff who worked assiduously to strengthen and build the Bank to a position where others have come to contribute their quota, are not given their dues as at when due.

Truth be told, the Governor, Godwin Emefiele has shown some measure of understanding to the plight of the CBN pensioners but he has to quickly cause the review of their pay, not only because it is a constitutional provision but in appreciation of their contributions at the prime of their lives.

Indeed, the predicament of the pensioners has been mildly captured in the letter written by the Pensioners’ representatives to the Governor, partly reproduced hereunder. Mildly, one can say, because it is a lot harsher out there. From the cost of health maintenance to putting food on the table; from children’s educational responsibility to house maintenance costs; from buying jobs for children who had graduated to pandering to the needs of extended family members, all these are costs that pensioners can hardly run away from. Yet, for almost ten years, the pensions have remained static!

It is heart-rending that the pensioners are appealing to the Governor to effect an upward review of their pension “before we die”, more so when the pension has been due for a review for five years, coinciding with the period of the Governor’s first tenure.

As reported in the Nation newspaper of June 5, 2020, the Pensioners said: We don’t want the payment of the enhanced pension to be delayed beyond this month,” they said in a May 26 letter to Emefiele, which is a sequel to their April 20 letter for which they are yet to get a response”.

According to the report, the pensioners, through their spokesman, Chief Chimezie Ahaneku, urged the CBN governor to act quickly, and recalled that “an agreement (was) reached during a high-level CBN management/pensioners meeting held on March 9, 2017. A subsequent meeting was held on August 20, 2019, on the same subject”.

“We were assured that the process of the general pension review was seriously progressing and would be completed in no distant time.

“In furtherance of that process, a general headcount of the 5,000 CBN pensioners was carried out in January this year to determine those still alive and would be eligible for the payment,” the pensioners said.

They hoped that the enhanced pension would be paid by March 2020.

“To our greatest surprise and dismay, up to now, even after this month’s (May) pension has been paid, we are yet to receive it.

“This is a clear contravention of Section 173 (3) of the 1999 Nigeria Constitution, which stipulates: ‘Pensions shall be reviewed every five years or together with any Federal Civil Service salary review, whichever is earlier.’

“The last pension review in the CBN was with effect from July 1, 2010, while another pension review would have taken effect from July 1, 2015 – almost five years ago.

“The longer this pension review is unduly delayed, the more pensioners die one after the other without receiving the long-awaited pension increase.

“The unfortunate thing about it is that the moment a pensioner dies his/her pension payment is automatically stopped. Within the last five weeks, we have lost three pensioners. Nobody knows who would be next.

“As elderly and among the most vulnerable people in the society, we had since March expected the CBN to have paid us a palliative at this critical time of COVID-19 and the resultant general lockdown.

“Since the bank management is not thinking along that line and since our strong expectation of receiving the enhanced pension in May has been dashed, we hereby very respectfully implore you to kindly direct that action be urgently expedited in ensuring the conclusion of the review process to enable us to receive the enhanced pension together with the accrued arrears before the end of June 2020.

“The urgency of this matter is clearly borne out of our desire to receive the anticipated pension increase while we are still alive,” the pensioners said.

There is no doubt that the COVID-pandemic has made this request more apposite because it has worsened the delicate health status of elderly people like the CBN pensioners. Everywhere you go, it is advised that the elderly should take good care of their health at this period, but how do you take care of yourself without the financial resources to so do. The cost of drugs and food are going up with the attendant worsening of the economy.

Moreover, the CBN Governor is at the forefront of creating stimulus packages to stabilize businesses, create wealth and enhance livelihoods across the nation; would he therefore allow his own pensioners to suffer and die? I guess not! As a humble man and someone who has the proverbial milk of human kindness, he should please save the poor pensioners the stress, time and money spent in going to court to seek redress.

Justus Nduwugwe, a CBN Pensioner, is the editor, and writes from Abuja

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