APC News Online: Can you tell the world the state of this board before you took over as director and what your present accomplishments are?
Dr Nden: Ok, thank you for this question. The FCT Area Council Staff Pension Board was established in 1994 to administer pension matters of the Area Council staff and Local Education Authority (LEAs) teachers. Ours is a board responsible for payment of retirement benefits to retired officers of the Area Councils and LEAs.
Among other duties, we’re responsible for Group Life Assurance policy of the existing staff; rendition of monthly pension remittances; reporting to PENCOM (National Pension Commission) on all matters relating to pension administration; rendering reports to our stakeholders including the Chairmen of the Area Councils, FCT Administration (FCTA), particularly to the Minister of FCT, and, of course, the board reports to the Minister of State, FCT, Dr Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu.
Among other things too, we undertake actuarial valuation of accrued right benefit for officers who were in service as at 2004 and we ensure prompt payment of those benefits.
Also, we pay monthly pension to 1,144 officers of the Area Councils that retired before 2004. And we also do retirement planning and sensitization of staff.
Our major stakeholders under this board include the Federal Government (FG) that contributes 5% of pension funds to us; the FCTA contributes 2.5% of total emolument of Area Council salaries and that of teachers; and then the Area Council Chairmen under the Area Councils contribute a huge sum of 15% of the total emolument of Area Council staff and LEA teachers. So, this is the background that we have here working in the board.
However, in 2016, the Minister of FCT, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello, found it necessary to appoint me to be the director of this board and I assumed duty on 1 September, 2016.
At the time we assumed duty with a clear mandate to clean up the board, we met a staggering liability of officers of the Area Councils and the LEAs. At the time I took over, we had 452 officers of the Area Councils and LEAs who were owed a liability of N3.8billion as unpaid accrued right benefit. And we had a non-working Group Life Assurance policy at that time, no training, no computers, no office furniture and equipment and, of course, no functional IT (Information Technology) policy.
So, we set out to work and with sustained improvement, sustained strategic management and ordering of our stakeholders, we were able to come up with implementable work plan to increase the pension funds from where it was to where we are presently.
The N3.8billion we owed the 452 officers who formed themselves into a union called ‘Retired Officers of the Area Councils’ Unpaid Benefits’, we had to pacify them and then get their stakeholders, mostly the Area Council Chairmen and the FCTA, to increase their contributions almost four times from wherever we were because we discovered that, if we that same funding, it would have taken us six-and-half years to be able to pay them alone without anybody coming into the scheme. And so that’s what we had.
Over the years, we’ve implemented programmes and policies that helped us to where we are today.
First and foremost, with improved funding, from 2018 we were able to clear the liabilities of N3.8billion and we started paying accrued rights benefit regularly from 2020 and, as of today, we are poised to pay accrued right benefit in advance.
It may interest you to know that just yesterday (9 November, 2022), we received approval of N170million from the Honorable Minister of State to pay 50 retired officers, who retired just October, 2022! And so we’re on course.
Although we’re not yet there, we wanted a situation where we would be paying our officers in advance—and that is the policy that we put out for this year.
On the other note, we have been able to pay monthly an average of N26million to 1044 retirees under the old scheme; constantly from 2016 to date. And it’ll interest you to know that we have paid N1.894million to those who retired and are taking monthly pension from us—from 2016 to date.
Then, for those who were owed and those who we continue to pay from 2016, we have paid a total of N8.034billion to 1,942 of them—from 2016 to date.
Coming up to the Group Life Assurance policy, we’ve continued to take the policy in line with the Pension Reform Act which mandates us to take 300% of each employee’s total emolument as an insurance in case of death. And we have so taken out the policy and officers of the Area Councils who have died in service, 839 of them from 2016 to date, have been so paid by the insurance companies.
Also, those who died, same number, have been paid N839million as death benefits, apart from the Group Life Assurance policy.
And then we ensured that within the period under review, we have implemented the Pension Management System. The system seeks to give us the IT policy within which to operate in line with PENCOM regulation which says each staff should have one PC (personal computer) to work with. And so if you go round our offices, you’ll see that on each table we have a computer for each staff to operate. That is the policy of PENCOM.
Also, we have implemented the website scheme that seeks to operate to give us a robust system where we can, at any point in time, enroll our pensioners without need for them to be at the board at any point in them.
And then we have also implemented the Defined Benefit Scheme (DBS) which enables us to have electronic enrolment of our records. So all files coming in, in respect of pensioners, are archived electronically and then stored for official use. So, when we complete all of the scheme, all the hard files will be taken to the archives; we don’t need to have hard records with us.
We’ve also implemented the Workflow System that allows us to work electronically. That also helps our payment system with the link with CBN (Central Bank of Nigeria) so that we can make our payments real-time online at any point in time.
We’ve also implemented the Actuarial Valuation System to help us with the accrued rights benefit payment. So with the actuarial valuation system, we get all the payments due each retiree at the appointed time without recourse to errors.
And then we have also implemented what we call Structured Training for our officers. And under the board here, all our officers have attended one form of training or the other outside this jurisdiction—in Lagos or any other place. The idea is to expose them to the rigors of life. Each officer, however small in the board, has gone inside an aircraft to experience what it means to be so that such will boost productivity and improve their confidence.
We have also implemented the IT Policy Connectivity with the Area Councils’ offices where we have established the office for each Area Council or LEA pension desk office. This one is ongoing and we’ve established in five Area Councils as a pilot scheme.
In 2023, we intend to continue with the implementation and to ensure that we have a link with the Area Councils’ offices. The provision in the Area Councils will include furniture, solar off-grid light and then internet connectivity.
The next stage of project that we intend to implement under the pension management system is to link the board with the database of PENCOM so that compliance reporting, which is remittance, will be done online real-time each time.
So, these are some of the things that we’ve been able to do. This includes the fact that FCTA has been supportive in paying constantly our staff emoluments; giving us vehicles for our operations; ensuring that we have functional offices; as you can see, in our office here, we have a kitchenette, a conference room, an office environment where our staff are functional. I beg to say that ours is the only agency that has two functional generators, 150KVA each, bought by the FCTA because they want us to remain on-stream as we’re IT-driven and so we cannot afford not to have electricity in our offices any day.
So, these are some of the policies that this government has initiated through us and then we have implemented them as implementers of the programme of the administration.
APC News Online: Your retirees claim that they are paid as at when due. Can you say more on this?
Dr Nden: Yes. Like I said, ours is not an issue of funding because with the prudent management of resources, we have always had funds in our account to implement pension issues. We don’t receive a file of approval from the Minister and say ‘’we don’t have the money to do it.’’ We always have the funds.
As it is today, each 20th of the month, we pay our DBS pensioners. And then our Contributory Pension System (CPS) pensioners are paid on the 16th. So, we have keyed this policy in place and ensured that we keep to it.
The Minister is our approving authority. They already know what we want. Once the file gets to the Minister at any point, they give it a priority. They know ‘’this one is for senior citizens’’ and they have said they don’t want any delay.
And that’s one of the reasons why within the five, six years of this administration, we make bold to say that no pensioner has written a complaint against us or gone to the Minister to say we have not given them their due.
It speaks to the fact that we also implement what we know is their right without them even asking and one of those is the recent approval which we implemented in September, of N174million that the Minister approved for us to pay consequential adjustment in the first instance, for 950 pensioners; thereafter, the other batch that we implemented was N34million, bringing a total of over N200million that we paid as consequential adjustment.
This money is the money paid to them as arrears in respect of the payment of the last National Minimum Wage that benchmarked N30, 000 as least payable wage nationwide.
You know that the 1999 Constitution (as amended) says every five years we’re supposed to vary pensions or any time that wage is increased; so, as a result of the last wage increase, the National Incomes and Wages Commission issued a circular for us to adjust their pension—and we so adjusted and over N200million of the pension amount was paid to pensioners. We’re very happy about it.
Also, we received complaints from some old pensioners—those that retired a long time ago—that part of their remittances were not included in their Retirement Savings Account (RSA). The Minister ordered us to verify them to see whether their complaints were true and we so verified them.
As a result of that, the Minister approved N95million to be paid to that group of pensioners who had the shortfall —and they’re happy about it.
So, we don’t owe pensioners. We ensure that whatever is due them, we give it to them because that is what even the Holy Book says that we should give a laborer his or her due.
APC News Online: It’s learnt that other states come to the board to take tutorials on how you administer pension issues? In your view, why is this so?
Dr Nden: I think maybe this is because we present ourselves every quarter at what we call the National Pension Commission heads of bureaus meeting. This is to exchange ideas on how we operate our pension schemes. And we make bold to say that ours in FCT is the number one. We don’t have any doubt about that because we know where we are.
I have made a couple of presentations at such meetings on ‘Strategies on Managing a Successful Retirement System’. So, I made certain presentations and they saw that what we’ve been doing are things that are achievable.
And, to say the least, PENCOM rates us based on their inspection reports and the complaints they receive. And they saw that we have been working according to their scheme of operations. So, when any bureau has problems, PENCOM sends them to us to come and understudy what we’re doing.
And I want to say without mincing words that we’ve received delegations from Benue state, Edo, Ondo state, and, of course, Kwara state who visited us, some for a period of one week, some for a couple of days, to understudy what we’re doing based on the recommendation of PENCOM. And we have obliged them.
We’ve been able to give them tips on how we implement pension here and we’re successful in it. But it doesn’t go without anything, that anything you’re doing you must involve strategic management in doing the work, you must involve purposeful thinking in the operations.
APC News Online: What else do members of the public need to know on your operations?
Dr Nden: Well, the most important thing is for those operating the pension scheme, I want to first call on those Governors who have not started implementing the CPS, to key into this scheme. It’s very important that we have a contributory scheme working in each state.
The second thing is that those implementing the scheme should implement it purposefully. They should use the right officers and people who are knowledgeable in the scheme to set up.
For officers who are operating the pension scheme all over, they should understand that this work is God-given and that you’re working with people at the lower edge of society, they’ve given their useful lives for them. So, if you give them hard time, God Almighty will also reward you with hard time. But if you give them soft time, they will be praying for you. We have pensioners who come in here to pray for us. That’s all we want. Some of them harvest their crops and say they want to come and say thank you, and we say to them ‘you need these more than us.’ But they feel it is a way of saying thank you to us.
The other thing is for the general public to note that for us at the pension board here, we have a lot of people that have retired and gone to their villages, some as far back as 2005-2015. There are about 135 of them that we’re not able to locate or see because we cannot reach them because at that time there was no purposeful information management, so we don’t have information about them.
If there are people that know anyone that retired within that period, in the Area Councils or LEAs, they should come to us so that we can process their benefits.
The other group is over 100, those whose benefits we have paid but they have not come to collect their letters to go and process their claims. We don’t know what has happened, we pay, we don’t wait for people to come to us for payment, so it’s possible they’re thinking that their money has not been paid.
So, we’re telling them that anyone that has retired up to October this year, that their benefits have been paid and they should come and collect their letters and collect their benefits.
Lastly, for those operating within the LEAs, UBEB (Universal Basic Education Board) and Area Council Services Commission, we want all officers operating in the Area Councils to adopt the Boys’ Scout motto; ensure that six months to the time that you retire, send in your letter of request for retirement and once the approval is given, we want your files to be sent to us ahead of time —three months to your retirement —so that we can process and pay your benefits before the time. But that’s not what’s happening because some people feel that maybe those that we’re talking about that retired long time ago have no faith in the system, but we want to tell the general public that we’re doing it. We’re not just talking it; we’re doing what is right. So they should come and collect their benefits and they’ll not be disappointed.
This administration has made it possible for everyone to enjoy his or her benefits.