CDWR holds Press Conference on the Plight of pensioners in Nigeria
January 15, 2008, saw the Campaign for Democratic and Workers Rights (CDWR) hold a press conference, at the International Press Centre (IPC) Ogba, Lagos, on the plight of pensioners.
The statement, published below, was presented by comrade Rufus Olusesan, the chairperson of CDWR. Reading through the text, he gave a graphic description of how pensioners who had put into selfless service the most active part of their adult life, at the age of retirement, are made to pass through a living hell before they are able to get their deserved benefits.
He queried the rationale behind why political officials are being paid stupendous salaries and allowances while workers and pensioners are being owed back log of poor salaries and pensions that are at most times, barely able to cater for their immediate needs.
It was made expressly clear that, if not joining hand to struggle with pensioners for improved welfare, the same treatment being meted out currently to the old will befall workers of today in their retirement age.
The CDWR used the occasion to raise the need for organized labour to rise to the occasion and call for a day of action on the plight of pensioners, with a view to compel government and other employers of labour to be alive to their responsibilities.
Answers were provided to the questions asked by two media reporters by comrade Rufus.
The programme was further enriched by the contributions made by comrade Victor Osakwe, secretary CDWR and comrade Demola Yaya who is also a member of the CDWR.
In attendance were 19 journalists from both print and electronic media organizations, plus members of the CDWR. Some pensioners supporting the CDWR’s call were unable to attend because of financial constraints as their meagre pension is not being paid as at when due. The press conference was extensively reported on two leading television stations, AIT and MBI, AIT making it the lead story in their major news bulletin.
The press conference is the first in a series of events that will be organized by the CDWR in the struggle to positively intervene the plight of pensioners.
PAY A LIVING PENSION NOW!
The motto of Nigerian pensioners reads, “Rest is sweet after retirement”. Yes, this is a statement of fact, but for retired workers, their daily harrowing experience has proved the motto to be a mere wishful thinking. Rest could not have been sweet for aging pensioners spending hours, almost daily, in queues for paltry pension they may not, in most cases, even get. So also for the medically challenged ex-military personnel who have taken abode in piggery-like shanties around the Pension Board office in Abuja.
Over the years, pensioners have been made to pass through routine shabby treatments. While in queues, some of them slump and die due to hunger, fatigue, treatable illnesses, etc. For instance, at least 22 died untimely last year among the pensioners of the defunct Nigeria Airways. Many pensioners could only eke a living from un-payable debts which whatever they collect cannot offset. The pension is not only irregular but also inadequate. In most cases, pensioners are owed for several months. For instance, the pensioners of NICON are owed as much as 19 months. It is pathetic that the meagre sum pensioners are paid is what is available to pay house rent, children’s school fees, feed their family and attend to a host of basic needs.
The Campaign for Democratic and Workers Rights (CDWR) demands living pension for retired workers and its prompt payment. The pension should be subject to upward review to match the rate of inflation. The past government functionaries, who have already looted the treasury and stolen enough for themselves and their children to continue to live in opulence, are still paid 100% of their over- bloated salaries and allowances as pension besides severance allowances and other life-long welfare packages.
It is the less privileged workers who are made to suffer after retirement. The bosses in private concerns and top brass in public services get their entitlement without tears. In line with the characteristic anti-poor policies of successive governments, some ex-military personnel who have been disengaged from service on account of poor health since 1970s and 80s, for instance, have not been paid a dime as pension. They were not even considered entitled to pension until recently after series of protests. Yet, they are not considered as a priority. David Mark, ex-military governor and current Senate President, who has continued to enjoy the goodies of old offices and privileges of the present, was paid his withheld pension and gratuity on Monday January 14 while the impoverished medically unfit ex-soldiers who had long retired before him only got another promise of getting their first pension as from next month.
Worse, the government’s harsh neo-liberal economic policies have compounded the woes of the pensioners, who had toiled and laboured in the most productive years of their adult life to build the society in the past period.
Distinguished media practitioners, we have not stated new things on the horrible plight of pensioners. Many individuals and organizations, including government functionaries, have already deplored, genuinely or pretentiously, the horrid treatment of pensioners. Thus, for the CDWR, the plight of pensioners demands more concrete action than mere verbal denunciation.
On our part, we of the CDWR have resolved to come up with a series of programmes and activities designed to positively advance the cause of the pensioners. We intend to identify with daily demands of the pensioners and struggle along with them. We recognize the proven strength and power of organized labour, if well deployed, to successfully lead the struggle of the pensioners.
The CDWR therefore calls on the NLC, TUC and pro-masses organizations to not just issue statements, but get more actively involved in the struggles of pensioners. They should raise specific demands, backed with concrete actions with the aim of compelling government and other employers of labour to perform their responsibilities so as to improve the welfare of pensioners and workers. Accordingly, labour should declare a day of action to press home the demand for improvement in living conditions of the pensioners.
To achieve any meaningful gains, consistent struggles should be waged against the anti-poor policies of the government. The liquidation and outright sales of government parastatals, corporations and a host of other public properties at give away prices to undertakers in the name of privatization have meant, among other consequences, the sack of several thousands of workers. As if that is not enough, these sacked workers were made to further pass through a living hell before they can receive their entitlements.
As part of the struggle to restore hope of better life for millions of workers and pensioners; the CDWR demands that all public corporations and parastatals that were built with our collective resources over time such as; Nigeria Airways, Nigeria Railway Corporation, NITEL, Nigeria Ports Authority, etc, that were privatized by Obasanjo-led government must be reclaimed and nationalized and put under democratic management of working people themselves. These corporations if nationalized have the capacity to employ hundreds of thousands of workers as well as generate huge financial resources if well managed.
The CDWR says: