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Lagos Model And The Current Near-Miss Of Opportunities In Osun – Part II (Pensioners’ Protests)

Lagos Model And The Current Near-Miss Of Opportunities In Osun – Part II (Pensioners’ Protests)
  • PublishedDecember 5, 2021

By Wale Bolorunduro

I was told that the Osun pensioners protested again in Osogbo on Tuesday, November 23, as I wrapped up this piece. The protest is the second in one month, recalling the fact that the last protest took place in the middle of October, this year. This definitely calls for genuine concerns about issues relating to pension in Osun.

The recent protests by the Osun pensioners and their fallouts will not be the last as the first tenure of the current administration runs out and as the administration enters its lame duck session. One does not need a prophet to say so. This is 2014 replay of the match and it offers the opportunity to assess the event using the prism of the governance model of Aregbesola, which was presented in Part I of this write-up. It is good to get it straight; there will be more protests very soon, protests by students, workers and other stakeholders as the July 16, 2022 election draws closer, irrespective of whether the administration terms it blackmail or work of disrupters. That is the “normal kiss” in Osun political space and all politics are local. While the pensioners and students could take to the streets, the silent majority, the masses in the stakeholders management prism of the model will wait till the 2022 election, for their voices to be heard, loudly.

The first protest by the pensioners in October, 2021 is the focus of this piece. Many questions are lingering on the protest vis-a-vis the treatments meted out to the pensioners by the handlers of Governor Oyetola’s administration and the rackets created in the media such as:

  1. Why did the protest spill to the main road? Is it because the protesters couldn’t gain entrance into state government office where they were supposed to tender their grievances? Is it fear of possible victimisation by the government, similar to the one meted out to civil servants, who complained previously, about the delay of remittances to cooperatives on salary deductions?
  2. Who locked the state secretariat gate against the protesting pensioners and why were they not allowed to get to the front of Bola Ige house for proper address by government officials?
  3. Why is it that, it was under the current administration, that is purported to wear a toga of “gentleman” but bite with iron teeth behind, that a bonfire protest was made on the road by protesting pensioners, in an unprecedented manner?
  4. Now that the chickens have come home to roost, is it true that the current handlers of government in Osun, who were the main parts of the Ogbeni’s regime did not learn the basic of conflict resolutions and people management then, because they only concentrated on the yummies side of government businesses.
  5. Is it because of the Osun government’s antipathy towards freedom of expression that such treatments were meted out to the pensioners and the subsequent media attempts were made to blackmail these senior citizens?
  6. Who is blackmailing who? If the pensioners are saying government’s claim of paying pensioners is not reflecting in their pocket, does it amount to blackmail?
  7. Why is the government of Osun under Gboyega Oyetola bothering the whole world with the retirees’ negotiation that happened behind the closed door, especially when such discussion was an attempt by the pensioners to proffer solution? Why losing huge opportunities to engage stakeholders and to show genuine empathy to the pensioners?

When the news broke last month that the pensioners were protesting the non-payment of their retirement benefits, the current government of Osun, in its usual way of cloaking its false pretense about the welfare of the citizens it threatens, reacted by adulating itself on prompt payments of pension, as if pension is the only entitlement of retirees. Figures were quickly reeled out on how much has been paid to state and local governments retirees in their 33 months, as if the revenues of the local governments belong to His Lordship of the State of Osun. 

As long as their fussy maths on pension payment gives them a figure, which is higher than what Aregbesola paid in his first term, it serves their imagination of the people’s mind. It is however, unthinking, that they don’t make similar comparison on roads, schools and other infrastructures constructed by the former governor. From their responses on the issue of protesting pensioners, Governor Oyetola and his people forgot to address the grouse of the protesting pensioners, their needs and the retirement benefits in question; a deliberate attempt to dissemble or cover up the issues. In Osun, there are categories of pensioners with corresponding benefits peculiar to each category. Retirements benefits are basically gratuities and pensions for those who retired under the old scheme, which differ from one category to the other depending on the period of retirements and the corresponding operational schemes. Also, we have accrued rights (lump sum monies) and retirements savings of monthly pension contributions of those, who retired under the Contributory Pension Scheme established by Oyinlola’s administration in February 2010. They know the devil is in the detail; so, initially they wouldn’t launch into it, they reserved it as the final salvo to blame their predecessors.

The initial reaction of Oyetola government is that they will continue to attend to the retirees and their benefits, which was at least, civil and expected. Although, it wouldn’t go without a soft punch, to call out Aregbesola into it. It was soft because it came from a professional (Madam Funke Egbemode), who has always brought civility into conflict management in her own little way. Surprisingly, her statement ended by scolding the senior citizens for listening to the blackmailers. So who are the blackmailers this spokesperson referred to? The pensioners had dropped their message and they were definite with their demand. Is it not obvious that the government is the one trying to blackmail the retirees for demanding their entitlements?

On the protest of pensioners, the current Osun government wouldn’t be satisfied with its initial reaction because Aregbesola had not been blamed. Definitely, the “real man” behind the poker face would not be comfortable in this circumstance. Then, came the media hatchet man of the administration, Ismail Omipidan, the Chief Press Secretary himself. He went to all the radio stations in Osun to draw the bad card; not minding how ridiculous and monotonous his same message was becoming and he never stopped, until some callers started abusing him and the current government because of their penchant to abdicate responsibilities. Omipidan’s message was that the pensioners are protesting because of the backlog of pension they inherited from their predecessors. What a loss of opportunities to take responsibility and use the Aregbesola’s model to engage the people and to deliver services to the people. Unfortunately, their motive is different, their sincerity of purpose is questionable and it is obvious, what you don’t have, you can’t give. Definitely, when an administrator has the power of government on one hand and the sensational media on the other hand, the line takes on a darker meaning. It does big time. 

As usual, Omipidan also launched into perfidy, but in a field that he knows little or nothing about, public finance!! He tried to blackmail the pensioners that they had earlier presented a proposal to Oyetola government to borrow to clear their outstanding entitlements and like a rookie, he started grandstanding and deriding the pensioners, “that we cannot borrow for recurrent expenditure”. Mr Omipidan and his co-encyclopedias of finance, please note that pension is a statutory obligation and that is why it is always charged to Consolidated Revenue Funds account and where were you, when the Federal Government (under Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who hated borrowing) borrowed via bond issuance to pay off the federal civil servants and their accrued rights for their lump sum entitlements, under the Contributory Pension Scheme in 2004? Where were you, when Magret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of United Kingdom did similar thing to raise funds to settle her civil servants, when she was right-sizing her workforce? So Mr. Omipidan, there are many recurrent expenditures in public finance and there is ranking of recurrent expenditures in public finance. Some are mandatory and critical expenditures. Since governance is all about providing solution to the problems of the people pensioners (inclusive), waiting for the pensioners to provide solution could be tantamount to being bereft of ideas and the lack of empathy for the people you are supposed to care for; a loss of opportunity to extol the virtues of progressivism, which our party, APC stands for.

Omipidan has forgotten that the Contributory Pension Scheme which started in 2010 has begun to reach maturity under the administration of Oyetola and many civil servants have retired since November 2018. They should cross their hearts and tell us how many of these retirees under their own regime have been settled and how their entitlements would not become backlogs for the future administrators of Osun. That is the moral burden for Oyetola’s administration; since they promised to continue, to make things better than they were in 2018. Now, for the backlogs, we will have to open the pandora box (not pandora news) and the sources of backlogs inherited by Aregbesola and how he confronted them, using the governance model, bequeathed on this current administration in Osun. It is left for this administration to face the reality and stop this macraba dance of blame game in the public and settle for serious and rigorous governance. It is never late until it is late.

As pointed out above, there have always been backlogs of pension and gratuities since the creation of Osun in 1991 as follows:

  1. Pensioners who worked and retired in legacy state (Oyo) who were deported in 1991 to new Osun with their monthly pension liability and outstanding gratuities liabilities;
  2. Military administrations, who ruled Osun for almost a decade, started rationing funds for gratuities using first in first out basis, which led to backlogs of humongous gratuities liabilities in excess of 4 billion naira for state and 3 billion naira for local government on over 6,000 state retirees and over 3,000 local governments retirees, which Aregbesola had to clear and pay in his first term.
  3. Review of pension basis by Former Military dictator, Gen Sani Abacha, who raised the pension basis by 142 percent resulting in pension liability outstanding of 3.6billion naira because successive governments since then, refused to pay until Aregbesola paid 2.5 billion naira out of the outstanding amount in 2014 and subsequently paid close to 75 percent before he left.
  4. There were challenges inherited from the previous administration of Oyinlola, when it domesticated the Pension Reform Act, 2004 (new pension scheme). This led to the exit of many workers, prematurely, who had chosen to exit the civil service. The retirement, which crystallized during the first term of Aregbesola between 2011 and 2013, made the number of state retirees, under the old scheme to increase from 6,000 retirees to 9,500 retirees and the local government retirees increased from 4,000 to 6, 500 retirees. So, what could Aregbesola do? Was he expected to stop the rights of the workers to retire or break the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which places pension under the exclusive list. He did what could be done by dedicating more resources to pension to take care of this premature retirement. This singular factor was responsible for the increase in monthly pension, under the previous administration from about 200 million naira monthly to 400 million naira. For a state, whose annual retirees had never been more than 300 retirees per year, to shoulder a surge of 4,000 sate retirees and 3,000 local government retirees at once, it was a lot of work to bite the bullet and pension-rolled all of them. This legacy problem made the monthly pension of Osun the highest in South west and even higher than Lagos at 300 million monthly pension for retirees, under the old scheme. While the monthly pension was properly caged, the humongous gratuity could only be spread over time. It was in the neighborhood of 8 billion for state and 7 billion naira for local governments as at November 26th, 2014 and based on the claims of those that had been pension rolled. Despite the fact that the previous government didn’t set aside funds for the resulting gratuities, Aregbesola had to devote additional funds to defray part of the outstanding gratuities. This is the key issue that the current government needs to address like items 1 to 3, which had been cleared by Aregbesola.
  5. Despite, the challenges and the fact that the contributory pension scheme had started since February 2010, it was Aregbesola who got the state to comply with key elements of the regulation in 2012 and started fulfilling its monthly employers’ responsibilities, which include Employees insurance coverage for all the employees, under the scheme. When a worker retires under the scheme, there is also a lump sum amount to be backed by a bond for the retiree. The upside of this scheme is that government, do not have to pay monthly pension again for this category of pensioners and the number of retirees is “way below” the number of retirees under old scheme (item 4 above).

Under Aregbesola, payments on item 1 to 5 on a monthly basis at peak month in his first term was 750 million naira, comprising of 404 million for Pension (state workers); 120 million for Gratuity (state workers); 140 million contributory pension and 86 million Pension subventions (Local Governments staff and Primary school teachers). So when we read the monthly press release from the current administration of Governor Oyetola and the attending grandstanding, that a pension amount of 708 or 720 million has been released monthly, we know the breakdown and we are happy, it has not come down significantly from the amount, which Aregbesola was releasing monthly. But one is sad that the amount has not increased to take care of the outstanding gratuities as discussed in item (4) above and the main reason for the protests. It is also expected that since the current governor is a practitioner in the insurance industry, a one-time solution to the humongous monthly pension of 400 million Naira, through annuity, which Ogbeni “thinkered” with, can be resuscitated to bring down the monthly cash requirement.

Since Aregbesola had already pension rolled all the retirees, what would be interesting and critical to hear from the current government is its effort, which has been channeled to clear the gratuities of retirees, under the old scheme and the retirement bond of retirees under the contributory scheme. When a problem is defined and well dimensioned, it becomes easy to solve, not all these self-aggrandizing moments from officials and the needless blackmailing of the pensioners, who have rights to protest and proffer self-help to their problems.

The above treatments are needed urgently to make pensioners happy and to prevent further embarrassment to the government of the State of Osun.

  • Wale Bolorunduro, Ph.D, a former Commissioner for Finance, Budget and Economic Planning, State of Osun writes from 6B, Lase Ogunleye Street, off Fadahunsi Avenue, Ilesa, State of Osun.

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