At the end of the process, it actually resembled an anti-climax. I arrived in Ilorin on Wednesday, May 3rd, 2023, for a couple of reasons. The first was the funeral ceremony of a very dear and elderly cousin. The second was to finally conclude the processes that would make me begin to draw my monthly pension.
I had been mulling the fact that I had never completed the processes in the past, and consequently, never drew a pension for all the years that I had put into the service of Kwara State, and our country.
The main reason was that I was always loathe to the humiliation that pensioners were always pulled through. There were regular calls for them to present themselves; there were parades in the sun and under the rain; there were months of unpaid pensions.
In short, there was intrinsic to being a pensioner, a deep-seated process of dehumanizing treatment that I was not willing to put myself through. So, I didn’t go through the processes and, therefore, have never collected my monthly entitlements over the years.
I once hosted an uncle, and four other elders in my residence in Abuja, a few years ago. They had been requested to present themselves for some pensions screening that took a whole week. They were lucky that they had a place to stay. Many of their colleagues stayed out in the open for the whole week!
I resigned from my appointment as a Controller of Presentation, at Radio Kwara, in 1994. I moved on to an even more engaging life of work in international broadcasting, reporting for the BBC World Service and Radio France International, from Kano.
A few years down the line, I return to Kwara State as pioneer, General Manager of the Kwara State Television Service. I did that for five years, resigned, and moved on to become pioneer editor of Daily Trust newspaper.
The years that I worked at KWTV masked the need to even remember my pension, because I was too busy doing the work and when I left, the world out there was very expansive, crowded, and more engaging. The last thought on my mind was some unclaimed pensions back in Kwara State.
How the idea of concluding the processes came about, I honestly cannot even recall. But I somehow arrived at that juncture when I felt that the monthly pension was actually what I labored for over decades, and I should just go for it!
I made inquiries at Radio Kwara, where I worked all those years ago. I found out that I still had tremendous goodwill, especially with the officers who would help to untangle all the knots around the process. I recall that I had made the same inquiry in the past, and it didn’t go far. But this time, it went like clockwork.
I needed to produce certain papers, submit pictures, fill the requisite spaces on documents, present in person in the different offices, where an ID card would be issued, and biometrics submitted. These we completed in two days, and by Friday, May 5th, I got a pensioner’s ID card and completed the biometrics.
What struck me, in the two days, that I went between the relevant offices was the to-ing and fro-ing of pensioners. They were old; obviously tired, and truly in need of the funds that they were constantly pursuing from office to office.
The staff in those offices, on the basis of what I experienced, obviously have a dedication to what they do. But the environment of work was so frighteningly dreary, that I wondered how anything got done in what was a most uninspiring setting.
Those are spaces, that I knew so well, decades past. They were the old offices of the Nigerian Herald newspapers, in their halcyon days, as some of the most influential newspapers in Nigeria. I’m talking about the decades of the 1970s and 1980s. They seemed to be magical decades, as creativity and eccentricity of a typical newspaper house, were on full display.
Many parts of the old building are not functional. The roofs had caved in some parts, the walls could use new coats of paint in others, while the compound hosted broken down equipment of all descriptions.
All these just spoke to the ambience within which work gets done today, in many of our public establishments; especially in the states. A lot was invested into the world of work in the past. Certainly, things have changed today, and the magic now is that anything meaningful gets done at all.
But I’ve digressed. In my mind, I turned around the thought of the years that I worked in Kwara State, and if I wasn’t lucky to have had other opportunities to exercise my intellect and to face newer challenges, I probably would have just been like any of the old people that I encountered in the two days that I visited the pension offices in Ilorin.
Well, on Friday morning, I returned, and it was confirmed that my pension ID card was ready, and just after Juma’a, it was handed over to me. On the front side was my picture, while the flip side carried that of my next-of-kin. The reality of the new situation now hit my consciousness. It is official, I am now a pensioner!
I worked at Radio Nigeria from February 1st, 1977 till the reorganization of Nigerian broadcasting, by the military regime of General Obasanjo, in March, 1978. We had a choice to remain members of staff of the FRCN, or become pioneers at Radio Kwara. I chose the latter. It was within the certainties of the latter, that I rose to the position of Controller of Presentation. And it was from that position that I retired, in 1994.
I was very curious to know how much I would earn, as a pensioner. And in what was obviously overflow of assumption, I had played with certain amounts in my head. But the reality was far more depressing than I had thought. I will earn the overwhelmingly mind-numbing sum of N18, 736. 66 every month. Yes, eighteen thousand, seven hundred and thirty-six Naira and sixty-six Kobo! That’s how much the years of my service are now worth, in the many years, since I retired.
My God! My mind went back to the pensioners that I encountered in the two days that I went back and forth in the Kwara State Pensions offices. How on earth are they coping? What can anyone really do with these sums truly?
I retired on Salary Grade Level 13, Step 6, in 1994. But I’m now entitled to a monthly pension that’s less than the National Minimum Wage! But how can that be? How are these sums calculated? What exactly is the worth of the life of a pensioner after he or she has been sucked out of all vitality in the years of active labour?
When I was recruited to begin work as a Studio Manager (Trainee), in February 1977, my monthly salary was N97 per month. We received a raise of N3.00 three months later, and that took my salary to N100 per month. I think what I earned 46 years ago, on GL 04, has far more value than the N18, 736.66 that I will, henceforth, be paid as a pensioner of the Kwata State Government. It’s like walking back, instead of moving ahead.
But I’m very curious about the new status of becoming a pensioner. If the regime of humiliation subsists and pensioners have to parade themselves; or we would be called for verifications that would keep us under the elements, I honestly don’t think they would be worth my while. I will most willingly forfeit the money.
But that’s thinking too far ahead. I’ve concluded the processes; and it is indeed, official. I am now a pensioner! I probably should begin to think of paying monthly check-off dues, to the Nigerian Union of Pensioners, from the paltry sum that I will begin earning from the end of May! I am still an ardent believer in the Nigerian trade union movement.
Dr. Is’haq Modibbo Kawu, PhD, FNGE, is a Broadcaster, Journalist, and a Political Scientist.