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Protecting The Rights of Nigeria’s Pensioners

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The retired civil servant is one who receives pension,
especially those who have served the government for thirty-five years or have attained the age of sixty years.  It is on record that about three million Nigerians on pension are feared dead each year according to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
Indeed, this huge number of retirees who are on pension die every year from lack of adequate care, and neglect by the same government, which they meritoriously served for thirty-five prospective years of their youthful age.
It has become difficult to be silent than rather be quilt to the fact that civil servants offer the Nigeria State, their head their hands, their legs and their hearts amongst others to function.  Therefore, for any responsive government to succeed, the people’s development should be paramount.
Today, the retirees on pension in Nigeria are saddled with myriad of unprotective conducts accorded them by the very government they meritoriously served before their statutory retirement from service.  What  with the non payment of the 53.4% arrears of pension increment arbitrarily reduced to 33% on current wages increase.
It could be recalled that during implementation of the said wage increment, 20% representing tax on housing and health schemes were deducted from workers wages without considering the fact that pensioners are exempted from paying such taxes.
Again, it is ironical to note that even the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, in its first schedule part (1) chapter (4) section 173-(1) provides for the protection of pension rights of a person in the public service of the federation to receive pension or gratuity and to be regulated by law.
The same law in sub-section (3) provides for the review of pension after every five years or together with any federal civil service salary reviews, whichever is earlier.  In the same vein, section 210-(1) sub-section (2) states that the right to pension in the public service of a state shall be regulated by law.
Furthermore, section 210-(2) stipulates that any benefit to which a pensioner is entitled in accordance with or under such law as is referred to in sub-section(1) of this section shall not be withheld or altered to his or her disadvantage except to such extent as is permissible under any law, including the code of conduct.
Unfortunately, all the past governments at the federal and state levels have neglected implementing these constitutional provisions as and when due.
It may interest the reading and listening public and also the federal government to know that pensioners were due for another pension increment in year 2015 as the last increase was made in 2010.
It is also worrisome to note that the various salary harmonization exercises carried out in the past were not being properly done as there are glaring cases of wide disparity between pensions of officers of the same rank who statutorily retired at different dates.
As it is, a foolproof methodology be put in place to avoid cases of some retired officers being short-changed during and eventual harmonization exercise. It is indeed a concern to note that the current minimum wage enjoyed by workers did not incorporate pensioner’s rights as being articulated.
It is very sad because so many of our pensioners still receive monthly pensions below N10,000.00 in contravention of section (173 (3) and 201 (3) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.
“What is good for the goose they say is also good for the gander”. Presently, the plight of pensioners under the Contributory Pension Scheme does not stand the test of time.
This is because pensioners under the contributory pension scheme have not been able to access their monthly pensions since July, 2014 and worst of it, no gratuity was approved for them after serving government with thirty-five prospective years of their youthful age.  These categories of pensioners deserved to be attended to with dispatch in order to alleviate their sufferings.
Again in order to make life easier for pensioners, Nigeria’s Pension Managers should do well to place them on first line charge.  This will enable early payment of pensions before payment of workers’ salaries as a mark of honour and respect for the senior citizens of the country.  It is indeed disheartening to note that in Rivers State, employees who statutorily retired from service effective from August 2007 have not been paid their federal share of gratuity up till date, the objectives of the Pension Reform Act 2004.
In any case pensioners in Rivers State Civic Service shall ever remain grateful to His Excellency Chief Barr. Nyesom Ezenwo Wike (CON) who within his first one hundred days in office graciously approved and instantly paid the backlog of six months unpaid pensions owed pensioners by the non-workers friendly government of Mr Rotimi Amaechi.
In the same vein, pensioners are passionately appealing to the people friendly Governor, Chief Wike to reconsider the pathetic plights of these pensioner’s by evolving necessary administrative processes to upwardly review and harmonise their pensions accordingly.
This is equally important for the sitting government  to revisit the verification exercise to payment of federal share of gratuity, earlier undertaken by the past administration of Mr Rotimi Amaechi, to authenticate illegibility of beneficiaries and cash involvement as to conclude approval formalities and give express order to payment of outstanding share of federal government “gratuity” to the affected employees of the state.
It should be noted also that the past administration of Mr Rotimi Amaechi, was unable to conclude issues to pay the “Federal Share of Gratuity” and even the unpaid six month pensions at the time due to the former governor’s preference in political adventure, to the detriment of civil service which he was elected to effectively supervise.
This tendency of flagrant disregard to the protection of the rights of pensioners indeed aroused the political consciousness of retirees in Rivers State to prefer the choice of Wike as Governor for Rivers State.
This was the reason why these aggrieved pensioners, demonstrated their preference for Wike’s governorship candidature and politically supported his campaign for votes, by embarking on the elongated civil demonstrations of 28th January, 2015 that lasted through the campaigns and eventual election to his subsequent inauguration as governor of Rivers State on 29th May, 2015.
Indeed, pensioners are therefore of the view and believe that Nyesom Wike will be responsive to accord administrative handling of pension affairs a priority in governance.
Tonye Fuayefika, a public affairs analyst writes from Port Harcourt.

 

Tonye Fuayefika

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Opinion

Consequences Of High Bride Price

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Bride price is payment made by a groom or his kin to the family of the bride in order to ratify a marriage.  It is paid by the family of the groom to their future in-laws at the start of the marriage usually in cash and materials.
Bride price in Nigeria varies from one ethnic group to another.  What obtains as bride price in Rivers State may be different from Kogi State in terms of cash and materials required by the bride’s family. Although there are a few similarities in the list of items to be provided by the groom in Nigeria. 
It also varies from family to family. Some families collect as low as N5,000 while others collect as high as N1,000,000.
There are criticisms that this African tradition of paying bride price to the bride’s family before marriage degrades a woman by putting a required monetary value on a wife.But those who support the tradition uphold it as a cherished cultural and religious symbol of marriage.
Some families see bride price as symbolic, hence they ask for less. I have seen a situation where the mother of the bride collected N30,000 and later gave it back to the couple, asking them to put it in their bank account so that it will serve as a “starter pack”. This shows that she wasn’t really giving her out for money.
In our local setting, a marriage is recognised only when bride price and gift items have been presented to the bride’s family.  It is important because it validates marriage to give a woman respectable status in the society as a wife.
The importance of bride price can never be over-emphasised. It is one of the highest honours confirming a bride’s value and womanhood, giving a husband the full rights to the economic and reproductive powers of his wife. It is an honour bestowed on the parents that their daughter is getting married.
I see nothing wrong in payment of bride price but in recent time, the issue of high bride price seems to be competitive among families whose daughters are ripe for marriage.It is alarming and heart-breaking how newly-wedded couples end up paying debts years after marriage. When demanding for high bride price, some parents do not realise the fact that the yet-to-be couple will plan for church and court (Registry). The Registry requires little token. Although, the clergy will not ask, but the couple need to settle one or two things in church. 
More worrisome is the fact that some parents demand a live cow from an in-law as if the lady is to be exchanged. I know of a culture where cow must be provided to her kinsmen by the surviving husband or children before a late woman must be buried. The claim is that the man didn’t complete the marriage rites before the death if the woman. This is just to extort money from the late woman’s children.
A young man was mandated to pay about N2million to the wife’s kins after losing her during child birth, simply because he never completed marriage rites. What about the welfare of the surviving child?
A situation where a basin of fish that costs over N200,000 must be presented in the name of bride price for a traditional marriage to be contracted gave me concern. 
A father also demanded about N1million as dowry for his daughter. For Christ’s sake, no amount of money collected as bride price can pay all the expenses from birth to University level of a lady as this is the dream of greater percentage of our parents nowadays. No amount of money can buy a woman. “Her value is inestimable”.
High bride price can cause disharmony between husband and his in-laws. A young man was lamenting that after his marriage, his in-laws can never be allowed into his family. This is as a result of whatever high bride price they would have charged.
High bride price can cause a man to exhibit violent behaviours when he remembers how much he paid. He gets angry at every little thing the wife does which can lead to domestic violence. The implication is that the woman will suffer in silence with the fear that the man may demand for the high bride price if she leaves the marriage.
Income from her job or personal business is seen by the man as his. She is being denied freedom on using her income and often leads to a situation where the husband must be consulted before any monetary transaction in the family. This leads to hostile marital environment and can destabilise the marriage.
Man dominates the woman in terms of decision-making. The woman has little say or nothing when issues come up in the home. He can say: “Don’t talk, I paid heavily”.
One of the consequences of high bride price is that if perhaps divorce occurs, the bride and the family, according to customary norms, have to return the dowry. If the dowry were very expensive to the tune of N1million, they may not be able to pay back.
High bride price encourages gender inequality. It reduces the power and prestige of the woman with the perception that she was paid for.
High bride price leads to poverty. A couple may have been forced to incur debts in the course of marriage. These are young men and women who are starting life perhaps after graduation and have not made enough savings. Paying back debts incurred during weddings for two to three years should be discouraged.
For many young men, withdrawal syndrome sets in when they remember that they have to provide as much as N1million to marry a wife. You see someone going to marry at the age 50 because he didn’t have enough.  Even the ladies are also affected here. Some men get scared of going into such families or ethnic groups for marriage.  When will they train their children? 
No matter the status of the groom, minimal amount should be fixed for dowry to avoid certain consequences in future. Family of the bride should take cognizance of the fact that their daughter deserves some comfort in her new home.
It is high time the traditional institutions worked through their subjects in the various communities to create awareness on the dangers of high bride price in our society. 
Community heads who are saddled with the responsibility of marriage functions and rites should be advised to cut down some of the items and reduce the costs of available ones.
I call on local government councils to work with traditional rulers, community and family heads as well as women leaders to come out with minimum and maximum amount of money and other items needed as bride price and dowry. 
It should be domesticated in the by-laws of the local councils across Nigeria.

By: Eunice Choko-Kayode

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Opinion

Away With Open Grazing

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It was reported recently that the Federal Government had mapped out 30 grazing reserves for the implementation of a National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) under its Green Initiative project.
According to the report, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Agriculture, Dr Andrew Kwasari, disclosed this while addressing journalists on the move by the government to resolve the persistent conflict between herders and farmers over land, water and pastures.
“The 19 Northern States have grazing reserves. So far, we have mapped out over 30 grazing reserves and on paper, we have over 400 grazing reserves.
“So, the northern governors have to be committed to working with the Federal Government, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, supervision of the NEC, to make sure that wherever those grazing reserves are found that we are able to convert them into lush green models specifically for pastoralists, and pastoralists will not migrate anymore…” Kwasari said.
He further disclosed that traditional rulers like the Gbom-Gbom Jos had been consulted and they suggested that the low hanging fruit for federal and state governments was to ensure that pastoralists were settled in gazette grazing reserves.
The presidential aide also said that this would take away any notion of land grabbing or taking of land from communities and giving to herders as was feared with the government’s stillborn Rural Grazing Areas (RUGA) programme.
It would be recalled that the NLTP was launched by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in the Gongoshi Grazing Reserve, Mayo-Belwa LGA of Adamawa State, in September 2019. The plan was to run from 2019 to 2028 as part of the federal government’s Green Initiative in collaboration with states, farmers, pastoralists and private sector investors under the auspices of the National Economic Council (NEC).
NLTP has a budget of N100 billion for the breeding of cattle and other types of livestock. Of this amount, the federal government would contribute 80% as grant only, while the participating states were expected to raise the remaining 20%, donate land, draw up the project implementation structure, and provide workers.
Besides Adamawa, the programme has also taken off in six other pilot states; namely Benue, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Plateau, Taraba and Zamfara. Others which were reported to have voluntarily joined the initiative include Anambra, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti and Ondo States.
Given the foregoing, any peace-loving Nigerian would be tempted to assume that a viable solution has finally been figured out for the perennial herders-farmers crisis in the country. But President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent charge to his Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), to identify the country’s gazetted grazing routes leaves one wondering if, indeed, he was acting from the same script as Osinbajo and Kwasari.
If there ever was any doubt as to the Presidency’s rejection of the collective decision of the southern governors to outlaw open grazing in their respective states, such was cleared by the President himself in his recent exclusive interview on Arise TV.
“What I did was ask him (Malami) to go and dig the gazette of the First Republic when people were obeying laws. There were cattle routes and grazing areas…
“I asked for the gazette to make sure that those who encroached on these cattle routes and grazing areas will be dispossessed in law and try to bring some order back into cattle grazing,” Buhari emphasised.
Honestly, I had wished that the President’s directive to the nation’s chief law officer was aimed at recovering only grazing reserves for the NLTP scheme as Kwasari did announce. But his inclusion of cattle routes suggests that Buhari is still not considering letting go of the now outdated nomadic grazing practice in Nigeria.
And just as the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) wasted no time in rallying behind the man, so also was his position quick in drawing flaks from socio-cultural bodies like Afenifere, Ohaneze Ndigbo and the Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) all of which insisted that the power to allocate land rested with the state governors and not the President.
Of particular interest was the reaction of Afenifere’s publicity secretary, Jare Ajayi: “Who designated specific routes as exclusively belonging to those who would be grazing cows? If you are doing this kind of thing in their own area, it is understandable (because) that is in their own area.
“I have not read anywhere that our forefathers sat down and agreed that these particular routes, maybe from Ogbomosho to Saki or Badagry, are for grazing…”
Again, some analysts have expressed the fear that if Buhari insisted on pursuing the recovery of grazing routes, prominent buildings in many parts of the country, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), would be pulled down.
I still don’t get why Mr. President is seriously reaching for the list of cattle routes in First Republic Nigeria even when the 1979 Land Use Act entrusted governors with the control of their states’ lands years after the now sought-after gazette was published. With such power, can’t a state chief executive reapportion any previously gazetted grazing route or reserve located in his domain?
Buhari should please focus on promoting sedentary animal husbandry through the NLTP scheme in order to reduce the existing tension in the land. A good leader should be able to ensure peace in his domain even if he has to bend over backward to achieve it.

By: Ibelema Jumbo

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Opinion

Short, Sharp, Shock-Treatment

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There was a recent allusion from the Nigerian President, or the Presidency, about the possibility of some impending shock, meant to restore sanity in the country. It came as a warning to those who were alleged to be intent on destroying or destabilising Nigeria via insurgency, agitation and causing mayhem. Therefore, it has become needful to alert Nigerians about Nature’s Standing Order of Short, sharp, shock treatment (SSST), as a mechanism of restoring order when humans allow disorder to grow too high. In truth, there is such mechanism in the scheme of things.
Those who are familiar with Jewish cosmogony via the Kabbalah, would know that there is a flow of Divine influx, also known as Zazahot or lighting flash, which is an up-building and a restorative system. The 5th anchorage of that Divine Circuit system known as Geburah or Judgement has the duty or responsibility of restoring order and bringing about a balance, when disorder and imbalance become overwhelming in creation or a section thereof. Disorder and imbalances usually come from humans.
Being endowed with a free will and the freedom to make personal decisions and choices, which are often mis-used, humans bring about disorders and imbalances which distort the beauty and harmony of creation. Accumulation of massive impurities would necessitate a cleansing process to reduce the results of human engagements in acts of impunity, shamelessness and irresponsibility. Before catastrophies come there are usually warnings.
In the case of Nigeria, the warning signals have been persistent and loud enough even for obtuse persons to be aroused to a state of alertness. Nature has a process of educating human beings through bitter personal and collective experiences. No one can say that such warning signals and bitter experiences have not been there for quite some time. As a process of ensuring justice, there are watchers and weavers whose activities in the 100m of destiny entail monitoring the deeds of everyone with utmost accuracy. There are also provisions for deep reflections and possible redressing of imbalances.
Nigeria has been brought to its current sad state of affairs through many follies and deliberate acts of mischief. From Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s book Reforming The Unreformable, we are told that more than 5,000 board seats existed as sinecure, with political leaders having enormous patronage powers. We are told that a bad public service is certain to produce bad governance, even if the right accountability and other mechanisms are in place. Thus, there is a spiral of malfeasance.
From public service system, to tertiary education, we are told that “a systemic rot has befallen Nigeria”, apart from “inflating the budget by doubling or tripling the allocations…” Even with the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) bill which was approved in May 2007, there was no transparency or accountability in Nigeria’s oil and gas sector. In both physical and process audit there are deficiencies in management and utility.
Okonjo-Iweala advised that “special care be taken to ensure that oil revenues are spent wisely to build up durable long-term assets whose benefits can be shared with future generations”. Nigeria’s great dependence on oil and gas whose vulnerability to global volatility of commodity market are important factors in the country’s need to reshape its economic structure and growth based on diversification. With regards to corruption, Okonjo-Iweala said that “cynicism about the fight against is greatest when allegations of corrupt acts on the part of the elite are not investigated with any vigour even when investigated …”
If human verdict is reflected in the dismal and sad score card available in the public domain, then the verdict of the watchers and weavers of human destinies must also be far worse. There are indications globally that visibly gathering dark storms would surely result in some catastrophes whose true nature no one can tell accurately. For Nigeria as an individual nation in the global family, it is obvious that the shock alluded to by the President is an omen of things to come.
However, no one is in a position to predict exactly the nature and intensity of the shock the president had in mind. Reacting to the President’s statement, a number of Nigerians expressed sadness that it was a warning to agitators who allegedly are trying to destabilise and disunite Nigeria. But the situation obviously goes beyond current activities of political agitators and bandits.
Normally it takes a long time for storms to amass such power that would result in a destructive shock. Therefore, it would be myopic and wrong to judge the Nigerian situation from a one-sided perspective. Across the globe, Nigeria features as one of the delicate zones where some shocks are most likely to arise. Already harbingers of warning signals include activities of Boko Haran and other agitators for Islamic states and sharia laws, spate of kidnappings and demand for ransom, etc. The commando-rescue-style of an American farmer held hostage in Northern Nigeria placed Nigeria as a vulnerable nation.
Prelude to any coming shock usually includes complacence arising from gluttony over loots. The fact that a few highly-placed Nigerians tried to exonerate late General Sani Abacha of accusations of looting, despite exposures of such deeds, is another evidence of a nation which needs a shock to regain sanity. It takes the collaboration of humans through various activities, to serve as agents in the fulfillment of the mechanism of destiny. Such human agents rarely know that they are serving the course of Nemesis.
Unlike the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970) with its attendant miseries and woes, SSST comes as mechanism of Divine intervention, to ensure that those who deserve to die, die the death they deserve. It is fast and thorough, with long-lasting effect. It is a weapon of sective elimination.

Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.

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