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Pensions: Policemen call for a better tomorrow

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The concerns expressed by Peter Yaro Thliza, an Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), in one of the ongoing workshops on welfare of soon-to-be-retired policemen, in a way captures the fears of policemen in Nigeria. Thliza will retire early 2021.

In an ideal situation, visualizing life in retirement should elicit joy in the minds of someone like Thliza, who has served in such a delicate field. But he seems to look forward to the future with trepidation.

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At the conference hall of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), Imo State Command, Owerri, where he attended one of the sensitisation workshops organised by NPF Pensions Limited recently, Thliza raised three posers – all of which summarizes the fate of any policeman in Nigeria after retirement.

To assuage this anxiety, the management of NPF Pensions Limited, led by the Managing Director, Hamza Sule Wuro Bokki, and the Commissioner of Police in charge of Pensions (CP Pensions), DCP Ibrahim Tarfa, are touring the six zones on a pre-retirement seminar for police officers retiring between January 1 and December 31, 2020. Included in the package is a sensitisation workshop for those still in service.

The seminar speaks essentially to Thliza’s fears; the central theme being that retirement is real but is by no means a death sentence.

”Start preparing early in your career for retirement, make savings; try your hands on some of the things you would like to engage in after service, make the necessary errors, it will be part of the learning curve, so that when you retire, you will not be out on a limb,” Bokki admonished in Lagos.

That message is the central theme of the “gospel of hope” that NPF Pensions Ltd is preaching to its clients – policemen.

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Bokki, who has been on the driver’s seat since it was established six years ago, explains that the idea was to have a PFA exclusively responsible for pension assets of all police personnel, according to the Pension Reform Act (PRA 2014).

He explains that NPF Pensions “was a child of necessity.” It would be recalled that before 2014, policemen were scattered in all the other 20 PFAs and even when the police authorities requested exemption, the government objected, insisting that the police institution was so big that it was not in the best interest of the country to let policemen out of the pension loop.

So, NPF Pensions was a compromise whereby instead of letting the police exit the pension scheme, the National Pensions Commission (PenCom) in 2014 licensed a PFA exclusively dedicated to serve the police.

Prior to its establishment, a large number of policemen on the CPS were neither receiving statements on their Retirement Savings Accounts (RSA) nor had any communication with the PFAs, and, therefore, didn’t know what was happening to their accounts.

So, the first task of the new PFA was to get in touch with their clients by locating policemen wherever they were in Nigeria. Offices were set up in all the 56 police formations and commands across the country.

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Working also through the police pension offices and six regional offices with pension desk officers, NPF Pensions Ltd took its services directly to the officers wherever they are located.

The annual pre-retirement seminar is in furtherance of this goal, an icing on the PFA’s administrative cake.

The 2020 edition kicked off in Lagos (South West) on February 3, and later moved to Port Harcourt for the South-South zone. On February 18 and 19, the sensitisation train moved to Kano (North West) and berthed in Owerri (South East) on February 20 and 21.

Early next month, it will be the turn of the officers and men in the North East and North Central to hear from their PFA.

The idea, Bokki explains, is to prepare police officers due for retirement in 2020.

Lingering concerns

But despite all these efforts, Thiliza’s apprehension confirms that some concerns linger.

Some policemen are doubtful of the parameters used in calculating their retirement benefits even as some doubt whether the scheme guarantees the payment of pension for life.

Others are worried that “in a country of runaway inflation, there is no guaranteed upward review of the monthly pension to reflect the realities of the time.”

Some also complain that there is “no adequate provision for the welfare of widows and children of police officers who die in active service.

There is also delay in the remittances of monthly pension contributions leading to loss of accruable interest. But the most serious concern seems to be delay in the remittance of retirees’ accrued rights and monthly pensions after retirement.

Boro however explains that payment of pension is for life and not 10 years as some insinuate. Again, pension is reviewed every three years and is therefore not static as has been claimed, he said.

“For instance, while it is true that there is delay in the payment of pension benefits – the last payment was for December 2018, which means that nobody who retired since January 2019 has been paid – the fact remains that it is not the fault of NPF Pensions Limited. It is a consequence of the inability of the government to release the accrued benefits of the retirees since January 2019.

“The contributory pension scheme presently comprises 7.5 per cent deducted from the salary of a public servant and the counterpart 7.5 per cent contributed by the employer which, in this case is the government (although going by the dictates of the 2014 amendment, government ought to contribute 10 per cent while the employees contribute 8 per cent); and the accrued rights derived from the service such an officer rendered from before the commencement of the CPS.

“So, while the deductions and contributions are paid monthly into the RSA and officers get their statement of account every quarter, the accrued rights are only paid by the government when an officer serves notice of retirement.

“The three are consolidated on retirement and unless the accrued rights are released by the government, the PFAs cannot pay retirees the portion that is with them. That is the crux of the matter.

Way forward

In response to the Inspector General of Police’s welfare focus, the NPF Pensions board in 2017 approved a N400 million annual Retiree Resettlement Support Scheme (RRSS) to cater for retirees while awaiting their pension.

It was scaled up to N450 million in 2018 and paid retirees gratis according to their ranks and RSA balances to alleviate hardship faced while awaiting the remittance of accrued rights by the government. This is part of the board’s way of wriggling out of the challenges.

Bokki explained at the seminar in Lagos that “it is a corporate social responsibility scheme that NPF Pensions has instituted. It is coming from our own internal funds. From the income we make, we expense N450 million and give it free to police officers.

He said “so far, NPF Pensions has received N230.90 billion as transfers for 255,504 contributors. But a breakdown of its assets shows that as at December 2019, it has N512.124 billion out of which it generated N161.193 billion profit.

For accrued rights, it has received N58.202 billion and paid N40.755 billion to 14, 617 retirees.

A total N1.179 billion has also been dispensed as support to 9,463 retirees while N2.715 billion was paid to 822 next-of-kin of dead officers while about N400 million is paid monthly as programmed withdrawal to retired clients, he said.

After the presentations, the officers were allowed to ask questions. Going by the reactions in the four zones already visited, he said, most policemen now know better and Bokki told newsmen that the officers are happy with their PFA.

Complaints of neglect, poor pay

Although Thliza, who gave the vote of thanks in Qwerri, said he was better informed after the workshop, most of the officers moaned over neglect and poor salaries.

“Our service is like 35 years of imprisonment with hard labour. The job is too hard, yet we are most neglected and poorly remunerated,” some of them said even as they called for equitable pension package commensurate with what their colleagues in other ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government get.

Responding, Bokki said both the PFA and police authorities are aware of the complaints.

“The pension paid to police officers is low compared to other services,” he said, and explained: “Historically, their salaries are low and since pension is a function of contribution, it has to be paltry because the salaries from which the contributions are taken are low.”

To address the problem, the PFA is urging the government to pay police retirees a separate gratuity for services rendered so that they can be brought at par with their colleagues and peers in the public service.

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