The passage of the comprehensive national Pension Act in 2004 was heralded by many as a watershed in the nation’s pension administration.

Pension Fund for infrastructure Development; A recipe for crisis

The passage of the comprehensive national Pension Act in 2004 was heralded by many as a watershed in the nation’s pension administration.

One of the critical objectives of that act was to unify Pension administration in the country and bring together the various private sector pension schemes and the public sector ones so that a steady pool of resources would be made available at all times to address the retirement benefits of Nigerian workers releasing in the process its resources for greater efficiency which ultimately will catalyse the financial sector. It also has the intention of securing the funds for a more guaranteed future for Nigerian workers on retirement from both private and public sectors. 

All over the world, pension funds are treated with utmost level of transparency and integrity as steps are taken by all stakeholders, especially the State, to ensure the continuous integrity and protection of the fund. It is therefore shielded from the vagaries of the market and the political arena. Its deployment is rather towards activities that would not compromise its value both qualitatively and quantitatively. 

This is borne on the premise that anything that compromises its value puts into jeopardy the lives of many Nigerians that retire daily from active work life and have placed enormous hope on the proceeds collectable from the fund which they have toiled day and night to contribute to since their active working days. The capacity of the fund to deliver on workers expectations at all times and in all situations must be assured and held sacrosanct by all especially policy makers.

 

It is on this foundation that the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) views with utmost anxiety the proposal by the Honourable Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, that the pension fund should be used for infrastructural development. This proposal is not only unfortunate but also consitutes a threat to the future of Nigeria workers.

 

We have not seen the details of that proposal and we hope that the Honourable Minister was just flying a kite or is it testing the waters and is therefore not serious about pursuing it. Nevertheless, we make haste to say that this is a very dangerous proposal that exposes and threatens the security and future of Nigerian workers. It should thus be avoided immediately before it gains ground within the corridors of power. It is a kite the Congress and the generality of Nigerian workers will not want to see fly in this circumstance.

 

Nigerian workers are worried when we remember that it was in the midst of the mess that the Public sector had made of the Public sector Pension Fund scheme that the unified Pension fund scheme was established. The thought of using our pension fund for investment in public sector infrastructure development is highly frightening given the well-known penchant for mismanagement inherent in Public sector institutions in Nigeria.

 

The future of Nigerian workers cannot be guaranteed under a scheme controlled entirely by crass, profligate and often insensitive politicians famous for their careless handling of public funds. We find it difficult to muster any confidence from anywhere to entrust our livelihood in the hands of a group that has historically and systematically decimated our collective resources over the years pauperising us at the slightest opportunity without any conscience.

 

Moreover, we want to state that the honourable Minister in all intents and purposes is not a stakeholder in the Pension Fund and will not care what becomes of it in any situation. We know that he is not a contributor to the Pension fund. It is thus given that he has only seen a pool of funds and sees it as something that could be annexed for the usual things Nigerian politicians do with our funds.

 

Our pension fund is managed by the PFAs under the advisory of PENCOM. We are therefore at a loss how the Honourable Minister wants to actualise this stated objective. What will be the mechanism for accessing this fund for infrastructure development without infringing the different laws put in place to manage the fund? Is he suggesting that the fraction set aside for PFAs to invest in public infrastructure development is small and should be a larger chunk?

 

Let it be noted that workers in Nigeria have become the weeping boys and girls of every government policies and actions. Whenever there is a down-turn in the economy; wicked and heartless politicians have always turned to workers in search of what they could get from our hard-earned tokens. They have cut-down the little perks available to workers without any resistance while refusing to give up on their comforts but have instead increased the size of the budget to service their personal needs; they are currently indebted to workers in some instances and States, up to 15 months arrears and that is not sufficient; they are not paying the now expired minimum wage as prescribed by the law; yet, they are not satisfied; they are sacking Nigerian workers with reckless abandon just like the 3,000 workers in Imo State last week yet, they are not done.

 

Congress believes that this proposal is another stone being prepared to be cast at Nigerian workers by Nigerian politicians in their effort at furthering our emasculation. Recently, the State increased the Price of Kerosene to N87 and we are yet to respond and it is beginning to have a feeling of monopoly to impunity. It is an unreasonable proposal and is founded on the erroneous belief that we cannot defend ourselves. We can! We will if these onslaughts continue without due consideration.

 

The imperativeness of reminding our political leaders that Nigerian workers were not responsible for mismanaging the nation’s economy but the politicians becomes real given their present intentions. We cannot therefore be made sacrificial lambs when anything goes wrong with the economy which our politicians have so hopelessly wrecked and continued to rape without any regard.

 

Consequently, we urge the Honourable Minister and any other person thinking of cornering “workers’ money” through the Pension Fund to look elsewhere. It is ill-advised and will threaten our future. Nigerian workers work for their retirement benefits as they do not enjoy while at work. It is therefore immoral and careless to subject such fund which is the life-blood of Nigerian workers to the itchy-fingers of Nigerian politicians no matter how well intentioned especially when we know that “the way to Hell is littered with good intentions”.

 

The Honourable Minister is therefore advised to leave the pension fund alone. If our politicians could mismanage the huge accruals to our treasuries from the Oil and Gas sector over the years, is it the Pension fund that will be left unscathed?

 

In any case, since we are the owners of the fund, we insist that whatsoever benefits that purportedly will accrue to us as a result, we do not want to be part of it. We also insist that before anything could be done regarding our Pension fund, we should be the first to know as the custodians of the interests and desires of Nigerian workers. If Babatunde Raji Fashola intentionally wants to light the fire of debate on this, let him know that this is where we stand and should immediately bury the idea.

 

Once again, we suggest that the MDAs and the Government use its well – known dexterity and creativity to look for funds elsewhere and take their lustful gaze away from workers’ pension funds. It is not available for sharing by unconscionable Politicians the same way they have shared different public allocations in the past – The Gulf Oil windfall, the Abacha Loot, Haliburton, Siemens, Malabu, privatisation scandals, Dasukiarmsgate, etc or is it the Websites and the Boreholes? This fund is definitely not available for these shenanigans to squander.

 

We do not have confidence in the sincerity of our politicians to deliver on the area of safety of our life-savings when it is entrusted into their hands. They have already gorged themselves full with Public wealth and nothing will stop them from doing the same with the Pension fund if we are not watchful.  If they can make this nation fiscally insufficient despite decades of humongous windfalls, our future may also be subjected to the same situation if we allow them to make use of it to finance politically induced infrastructure development projects.

 

Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) vows to resist any action or policy designed to turn the nation’s Pension fund into one of the sources of fund available for the use of the federal Government of Nigeria. We will not tolerate this seeming “lusting after” the purse of the pension fund. We will not take kindly attempts by any politician to expose our life-savings to the vicissitudes of the politics we play in Nigeria today. The Pension fund is a “No – Go – Area”

 

As it is now, the funds are managed by the PFAs under the active supervision of the PENCOM so, the tranche of funds is not like an unutilised pool waiting for somebody somewhere to come and tap into.  We know that the fund is structured in such a way that a larger percentage is made available to the PFAs while a smaller pool is kept to serve as a buffer stock or rain-check by the PENCOM.

 

We then ask whether BRF is proposing a restructuring of the way the funds are allocated either so that the PFAs will be forced to invest in Government issued bonds dedicated for infrastructure development or he is proposing that the buffer tranche be made available to the Government to provide the “promised” infrastructure development.

 

Congress views either scenario as dangerous for Nigerian workers as it compromises the integrity of the fund and negates the original intention of establishing the fund as a well-known global Social Protection framework. The pension fund is structured the way it is to avoid actions that could undermine its consistency such as this proposal.

 

Finally, we know that there are many financing options available to this Government to fund its various activities. We urge it to seek them out and forget about the Pension Fund. We have always remembered the greed with which successive Governments have announced the degree of expansion in the size of the Pension fund. When it was N2trn, they were watching, when they announced it was N3trn, the look on their faces changed; when they said it was over N4trn, they began to salivate and now that it has grown to about N6trn; it has become a frenzied and delirious attempt to annex it. Unfortunately, we recognise all of these in the look on the face and body language of those in government which has also become heavily expressed and resonated in the sound-bite of Fashola; the Honourable Minister of Power, Works and Housing’s proposal. We say a resounding NO to the use of Pension Fund for Infrastructural Development. 

 

Joe Ajaero, President of Nigeria Labour Congress and the Secretary General of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), writes from Lagos 

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