It was gathered that the Federal Government admitted, on Thursday, that it had been unable to offset mounting pension liabilities because of funding challenges.
The development has left the government with huge arrears of unpaid pensions on all platforms, including the Contributory Pension Scheme.
The Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, and the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, confirmed the government’s predicament when they appeared before the House of Representatives in Abuja to brief members on measures to address the plight of pensioners.
The House had, on Thursday, last week, summoned Udoma and Adeosun after the members of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners sought the intervention of the Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, to ask the government to pay pension arrears in excess of N459bn.
Udoma, who was the first to speak, said though the government gave pension payment top priority, it was constrained by funding challenges.
He explained how the government battled with a recurring problem of the huge gap between pension requirements and the actual funds appropriated for pension payment.
The minister said while N93bn was required to offset liabilities in 2014, only N30bn was provided in the budget.
In 2015, the requirement was N98bn, but Udoma stated that only N60bn was appropriated.
He added that the story was not different in 2016 when N91bn was required to offset pension liabilities, but only N60bn was provided in the budget.
The minister informed members that President Muhammadu Buhari was worried over the plight of pensioners and had set up a committee with a mandate to reconcile all the figures and report back to him for necessary action.
He added, “The committee is headed by the finance minister; it is to reconcile all the numbers to see how additional adjustments can be made to the 2017 budget.
“We don’t have the money and the truth is that we have to look for some creative ways to raise money after the reconciliation has been done.”
Adeosun, who merely repeated Udoma’s presentation when she spoke, tried to exonerate the Buhari administration from blame.
“The fact is a whole lot of this is inherited.
“We will like to say that you give us time to sort out this issue. It has consistently been the issue of under-appropriation,” she added.
Adeosun recalled how the government released N42bn on Wednesday to clear the 2014 arrears of pensioners under the Contributory Pension Scheme.
Ironically, the NUP, in a statement on Thursday, refuted the minister’s claim.
The statement, which was signed by the National President, Dr. Abel Afolayan, noted, “The NUP feels the compelling need to put the facts straight as the Federal Government’s indebtedness to the CPS is well over N280bn.
“Therefore, the release of N54bn cannot be said to have cleared FG’s backlog of pension liability.”
Adeosun also addressed the trauma faced by pensioners during verification, explaining that officials of the Sharon Ikeazor-led Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate now visited pensioners in their homes to take their data.
Speaking after the ministers rounded off their speeches, Dogara said he actually met with Buhari following the encounter with the retirees for both sides to seek solutions to their plight.
Dogara said, “Mr. President gave his word and he directed the finance minister to raise a committee.
“The House will not accept any excuse that leaves pension funds hanging.
“Wherever we got money from to bail out the states when they could not pay salaries, that is where we will go to get money to pay our pensioners.”
There was a mild drama when Afolayan was invited by Dogara to give his impression of the promise by the government to pay the arrears.
Afoloyan praised Buhari for being a “good man and for listening to us,” but stressed that the President and the members of the House should keep their words as whatever step they took could count during the 2019 elections.
“2019 is coming. We have thousands of votes. Some of us have four wives and three wives, but I have one wife. We should start seeing the payment by next month,” he said.
Afolayan’s reference to 2019 polls generated laughter on the floor as the octogenarian ended his speech, shaking hands with lawmakers before returning to his seat.