The North-South Economists’ Forum (NSEF) a focus group of development economists, has commended Gov. Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta, for showing appreciable concern in the management of pensions in the state.
NSEF Chairman, Malam Ahmed Abdulkadir gave the commendation in a statement yesterday in Lagos.
According to him, Okowa should not be blamed for the pension arrears of retired primary school teachers, as well as local government workers.
Abdulkadir stated that those who criticised the governor for allegedly neglecting local government area pensioners, did so either because they lacked understanding of the new contributory pension scheme, or out of mischief.
The retired local government area workers and primary school teachers in Delta protested recently, calling out the governor for not addressing their plight.
Abdulkadir faulted the argument of the protesters, saying it was a sign of ignorance and a lack of understanding of the dialectics and economics of the reformed pension administration in the country.
He added that the protesters should direct their anger at their respective local government chairmen, whose responsibility it was to administer local government and primary school pensions.
The NSEF chairman said the group had undertaken a state-by-state analysis of pensions management in the country.
According to him, Delta is ranked among the top states in Nigeria that have successfully migrated from the old pension scheme, to the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS).
“As at November 2021, the National Pension Commission (PenCom) in its report, said only four states; Lagos, Osun, Kaduna, Delta and the FCT are paying pensions to retirees under the CPS.
“PenCom noted that only these four states and the FCT were funding the accrued rights benefits, under the old pension scheme that the retirees are also entitled to,” he stated.
Abdulkadir said these four states and the FCT could be said to be performing their pensions duties effectively, without short-changing their retirees.
He added that pensioners in these four states and FCT were the only pensioners that got the full benefits of the contributory pension, in addition to their benefits under the old scheme.
”Our study showed that Delta government under Okowa is among the few states that have shown genuine sincerity at understanding and implementing the CPS.
”We think it borders on lack of understanding that pensioners in Delta, one of the best performing states in pensions management in the country, are the ones protesting, especially when the government has published its synergy with local governments.
“This is to ensure that all pension arrears of primary school teachers and local government retirees are cleared.
”Except there is more to the protest than we can fathom, we do not see any need for the protests,” he said.
He recalled that following the protest, the state government through the Commissioner for Information, Mr Charles Aniagwu said upon assumption of office in 2015, discovered that workers under local government administration, were owed months of salary arrears.
Abdulkadir quoted Aniagwu as saying that retired primary school teachers were also affected.
According to him, Aniagwu said that after reviewing the situation, Okowa had to assist local government areas with N600 million monthly, to augment in defraying the salary arrears.
He said that N3 billion grant was further extended to the local government councils to address the salary issues and get them out of the woods.
”In the area of pension, we have been assisting the local government councils to meet their obligations; since inception, Okowa had on monthly basis, released N150 million to the local government councils.
”After three years, he increased the pension support from N150 million to N300 million and later to N500 million monthly, to fast-track payment of the backlog of pension owed local government workers, including the primary school teachers in the state.
”By this intervention, the state government had reduced the burden of pension arrears owed the local government workers to 2018 and for the primary school teachers, who were owed many years of pension, we have pushed it up to 2016,” he quoted Aniagwu.
He said Aniagwu had also said that Delta was ready to commit about N10 billion grant to the local government councils to clear pension matters in the state, which informed the recent demand for N150 billion Bridging Finance by the government.