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Lagos and pensioners’ welfare

By Akintola Benson Oke

HUMAN capital development is undoubtedly germane to the accomplishment of evocative and sustainable economic growth and development in any society. The veracity of this affirmation has been widely acknowledged in various studies. In the absence of substantial investment in the development of human capital in any country, sustained economic growth and development would only be a mere wish, never a reality. Therefore, the place of human capital development in economic growth cannot be overemphasized.
According to a 1995 World Bank report, of all the generally agreed contributory factors for the notable performance of the economies of most developed countries is an impressive commitment to human capital formation. According to Okojie and Ejere, the concept of human capital refers to the abilities and skills of human resources of a country, while human capital development refers to the process of acquiring and increasing the number of persons who have the skills, education and experience that are critical for economic growth and development of a country’s economy.
It is in realization of this fact that government and policy makers make concerted and sincere efforts in building and developing human capacity through adequate educational funding across all levels. This, no doubt, is a foremost way of attaining sustainable economic growth and development in any society.  One way of doing this is through unflinching commitment to the welfare of the workforce in any given society.  According to the famous Roman philosopher and orator, Marcus Cicero, “the welfare of the people is the ultimate law.” The truism of this assertion can hardly be denied as employers who deny such do so at the risk of ruining their organisations and enterprises. However, what happens to a worker while still in active engagement is as essential as what becomes of him/her in retirement.
Sadly, in this clime, the arduous tasks that retirees undergo before collecting their hard-earned benefits usually send jitters down the spines of those still in active service. Invariably, the period of retirement, purportedly meant for resting and relaxation, becomes a time of stress and anguish for the retirees. Often, some of them lose their lives in unavoidable circumstances.  By far, the most outrageous ill-treatment these old people get is the mismanagement of the pension funds. Not quite long ago, some officials in the federal civil service were arraigned for diverting pension funds for their personal use.
It is, therefore, with a view to ensuring that pensioners in the State do not unduly suffer before receiving their retirement benefits, that the Lagos State Government has been holding series of training programmes that are designed to equip civil servants with the information required to fully appreciate and take advantage of the Contributory Pension Scheme that is currently operational across the country. As it is well known, the domesticated law made Defined Pension Contribution to be compulsory for all employees in the Public Sector and organizations with 15 or more employees in the Private Sector. Organizations with less than three persons and self employed persons are covered under this new law. The primary objectives of the new arrangement are among others: To establish uniform set of rules, regulations and standards for administration and payment of retirement benefits in the public service of the Federation, FCT and the private sector, to provide for the smooth operations of the Contributory Pension Scheme, to ensure that a retiree receives his retirement benefits as and when due and to encourage savings culture towards old age. Additionally, the law made provisions on the following: The rates of contributions, Compulsory Group Life Insurance policy, Death and Missing persons, mode of operation of the Retirement Savings Account, withdrawal from the Retirement Savings Account and Investment of Pension Funds.
It is, thus, in a bid to further acquaint both retirees and active workers with the details of the new current pension scheme that the State Government embarked on a fresh training series with relevant themes. Of the themes in the series, two actually stand out. These are the “I’m Alive” and “Pensioners’ Welfare” series. ‘I’m Alive’ is directed at enrolling the bio-data and fingerprints of pensioners under the old scheme of Pay As You Go in order to ascertain those who are alive and, therefore, entitled to receive payments under that scheme.
The ultimate goal is to ensure that resources are prudently managed. It is also a statement in support of integrating technology into governance and it has brought extensive improvement in service delivery at the Civil Service Pensions Office (CSPO) such that, in most cases, pensioners now need to bring only their Lagos State Resident Identity Cards to the verification centres in order to revalidate their records. This is made possible because of the connectivity and synergies of government activities among different agencies.
Also, the Biometric Verification Exercise that constitutes a core of the “I’m Alive” initiative has contributed greatly to effective pensions administration in the State and has helped to ensure the prompt payment of monthly pensions for pensioners under the old scheme.  Not only this, it has ensured that electronic transfers of monthly pensions are made to the right pensioners under the old scheme.
Furthermore, the initiative provides for adequate arrangements to visit and capture pensioners with health and other related challenges that will prevent them from making it to designated centres. The essence is to ensure that every living pensioner is not left out of the scheme as non-participation will definitely jeopardize payment of monthly pensions to such pensioners under the old scheme. The second initiative is the distribution of welfare items to pensioners. This initiative is informed by the commitment of the Lagos State Government to celebrate and appreciate the invaluable contributions made by public servants to the status of Lagos as a model State and as Nigeria’s Centre of Excellence. Additionally, the gesture is aimed at bringing succour and making life more comfortable for pensioners.
The third leg of the training programme is to revolve around advanced pensioners’ welfare which is basically designed to prepare civil servants for eventual retirement through a proper understanding of the current contributory pension scheme. Naturally, understanding leads to informed decision which invariably ensures smooth-sailing ventures.
Oke is Lagos State Commissioner for Establishments, Training and Pensions,  Lagos.

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