By Turaki Adamu Hassan , Special Adviser Media & Public Affairs to the Speaker.
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon., Yakubu Dogara, has assured pensioners that the House of Representatives will meet with President Muhammadu Buhari to work out a definite plan to offset outstanding pension liabilities which currently stands at over N200 billion.
He also disclosed that the House will tomorrow (Thursday), consider a motion to invite all key players in charge of pension matters to appear in plenary next week Thursday to speak on how they plan to clear the pension liabilities.
Speaking when he received a delegation from the Nigeria Union of Pensioners, led by its national president, Dr Abel Afolayan, in the National Assembly, the Speaker emphasised that all pensions due to retired public service workers must be paid because it is a constitutionally provided right to be paid their pension.
Citing section 173 (1 & 2) of the 1999 Constitution, he stressed that it is the responsibility of the federal government to ensure that pensions earned by the pensioners are paid as and when due, as failure to do this could be a breach of the laws of the country.
Dogara said, “I refer us, all of us, to the provision of Section 173, sorry if I sound legalistic, we have to get it right. Provision of Section 173, subsection 1 of the Constitution provides as follows and I quote, “subject to the provision of this constitution, the right, right, that is the word the Constitution used, the right of a person who works in the public service of the federation to receive pension and gratuity shall be regulated by law.”
Obviously, the law, we have passed it, we have done our own part of the bargain which is the Pension Reform Act of 2014 to fulfill the provision laid by section 173 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Subsection 2 provides also and i refer to it and quote, that “any benefit to which a person is entitled in accordance with or under such law as is referred to in subsection 1- and I have said for purpose of subsection 1 is the Pension Reform Act – shall- the framers of the Constitution used the word shall – not be withheld or altered to his disadvantage unless to such extent that it is permissible under any law, including the code of conduct.”
“If pension is a right and pensioners must be paid, it means that the federal government is indebted, it is in debt and if it is paid, the government is not doing a favour to anybody, we don’t even deserve any thanks because pension is earned is a right.
“There is no politician out there from the number one politician who is Mr President, down to us, who did not take an oath to defend and protect the provisons of this Constitution. So, unless there are plausible reasons why the pensions cannot be paid, reasons that are patently clear, then it will appear that for us to fail in this regard, we will be breaching our oaths of office. That is how serious this matter is.”
Dogara further noted that the federal government’s fight against corruption in the public service will be greatly enhanced by prompt and due payment of pensions and pension liabilities as this will reduce the temptation to divert public funds for post-retirement upkeep by public servants.
He assured the delegation that the House will ensure that it “speaks with a loud and clear voice” on the need to make this aspect a priority, while casting doubts that President Muhammadu Buhari is aware of the huge debts owed them.
“The President is a pensioner himself, he is and I know that he has always been concerned about issues related to salaries and pensions. He has been so concerned that he has extended assistance to state governments to bail them out with funds to pay for salaries and pension at state levels and I believe having taken such steps he won’t be so unconcerned about his own responsibility to pensioners of the federal Republic. So I believe there is a disconnect somewhere and that is what we have to connect now and to see that even if the last person in the state gets his salary and pension, if we don’t address our pensioners at the federal level, we have failed. and that message will be delivered by God’s grace,” he assured.
Earlier, national president of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners, Dr Abel Afolayan, appealed to the Speaker and his colleaguws in the National Assembly to use their good offices to provide sufficient funds in the 2017 budget to offset the N113 billion pension liabilities owed pensioners across the country.
The union also appealed that pension should be put on first line charge to put an end to the traditional rigorous budgetary allocation process, and solicited assistance of the Speaker to facilitate the payment of outstanding 18 months arrears of the 33 percent pension increase.
The House had last week passed a Resolution urging the Federal government to offset three years pension arrears owed pensioners since 2014.