John Adams, Minna

The Niger State Government has said that it has expended well over N20 billion on the payment of pensions and retirement benefits to retirees in the state in the last four years.

This, the government said, includes death benefits, as well as contract gratuities, left unpaid for several years.

The Director-General of the state pension board, Alhaji Tinau Mohammed, in a statement in Minna on Friday pointed out that the present administration has remained committed to payment of retirees benefits since its inception.

In the same vein, the government disclosed that those reverted back to the old pension scheme from the Contributory Pension Scheme by the new pension laws in the state were refunded back their 7.5 per cent contribution and their benefits paid.

“This particular action is adjudged as the most unprecedented gesture by any government in the history of pension administration in any state across the federation,” he said.

The government was reacting to a recent petition by a group of concerned citizens in the state who petitioned the state governor, Abubakar Sani Bello, asking him to, as a matter of urgency, investigate what the group called “large scale financial scam” in the state pension board.

The group in its petition letter expressed worries that despite the billions of Naira released to the board for regular payment of retirees pension and gratuity, the plight of the pensioners could better be imagined than experienced.

The group, in the strong two-page petition, addressed to the Governor on December 11, 2019, and signed by its Chairman, Alhaji Awaisu Guwahati Kuta and Secretary Adamu Lambata, and made available to our correspondent in Minna, urged the Governor to immediately ordered a full investigation into the state pension board.

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According to the group, “we have taken this decision to intimate you because we are aware of your concerned for the plight of our retirees and the act of sabotage by the implementing agency.

“We wish to advise that you immediately ordered full investigations into the activities of Niger State pension board for the past four years.”

The group reminded the Governor that the non-payment of gratuities and pension arrears have created a bad image for the administration despite its good intentions towards the pensioners in the state.

“There is no doubt that you have approved and released large sums of money running into billions for payment of gratuity and pension arrears and the refunds of the 7.5 per cent contribution for the past four years,” the petition stated.

“This you magnanimously did to ease the sufferings of our retirees who have served this state for 35 years. We are very worried that some of these senior citizens are today still languishing in abject poverty because of non-payment of their entitlement,” the group further alleged.

The Director-General, however, debunking claims in the petition, maintained that “for Purpose of clarity the allegations contained in the report were nothing but empty from the figment of the imagination of the sponsors of the petition.

“It is on record that no administration since inception of Niger State has invested so heavily in pension administration as done from 2016 to date by the administration of His Excellency Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello, the Governor of Niger State.

“We had made it an article of transparency and openness to publish regularly a list of beneficiaries as we make payment for the public to be aware. This is also an indication that the administration has brought sanity and standardized pension administration in the state,” Mohammed said.