A new investigation by BBC Africa Eye into pensions in Nigeria has uncovered an unfair and corrupt system which leaves some elderly people sick and penniless, with government workers soliciting extra payments before paying out pensions, people arbitrarily being declared ‘dead’ and having to prove they are alive before their pension is reinstated, and politicians being offered outrageous retirement packages.
The five-month investigation began when Africa elEye was approached by Obaji Akpet — a reporter/producer from Cross River state (southern Nigeria) — who said his mother, a nurse, did not start getting her pension payments when she retired and that she was being asked to pay cash directly to an official working in the pension department before they would pay out her pension.
Via a hidden camera, Obaji filmed a civil servant accepting money for herself, and suggesting senior managers in the department also needed to be paid before the pension paperwork would go through. Despite these payments being made, Obaji’s mother’s pension didn’t arrive until for five months later — a delay that caused her extreme financial problems and left her feeling like she was “in hell fire” and “no more a human being.”
Africa Eye also uncovered a list of over a thousand people in Cross River state whose pensions had been stopped because the state had decided they were no longer alive. Many on the list spent months trying to prove they were alive, often travelling long distances to the state capital, Calabar. And this doesn’t just happen in Cross River state, but is replicated in states throughout the country.
Africa Eye hears first-hand testimonies about the extreme hardship caused by being arbitrarily declared ‘dead’, and trying to survive without a pension. One man told the investigation he had travelled to the capital five times to prove he was alive, and sometimes stayed there for up to two weeks, with no resources. He says: “At times, we sleep outside while the rain is falling, that is why I’m sick until now and my body is not like before.”
Others said once they arrived at the pensions office, they were subjected to treatment they describe as ‘dehumanising’.
Ekpenyong Ewa was declared dead and when her pension was stopped, after months of writing letters, visiting the offices and begging for it to be sorted out, she took an active part in a public sit-in outside the auditor-general’s office. She tells Africa Eye she was then intimidated into making an apology, which was filmed and put on the internet to further humiliate her.
‘Ghost Pensioners’, a term used to describe people who don’t exist but are somehow ‘receiving’ pension payments, are a real problem in Nigeria and according to Jerry Uwah, a finance journalist, sometimes, there are more fake pensioners than real ones on the pension books of a state.