Last week’s protest by ex-soldiers at the Federal Ministry of Finance in Abuja and reported abandonment or desertion from duty, as well as resignations for sundry reasons, could be an indication that Nigeria might be quietly creeping back to its worst military pension administration, which culminated in a major crisis between 2000 and 2004 before it was sanitised by the former President Olusegun Obasanjo administration.
This was courtesy of the Pension Reform Act, which set up the National Pension Commission (PenCom) to manage both public and private sector workers’ pensions. This is to avoid the ugly reoccurrence where particularly stranded and retired soldiers strewn all over major capital cities begging for survival, while waiting to be verified and attended to.
In Abuja particularly, some of the former soldiers became a serious nuisance, robbing and attacking innocent people of their valuables, including kidnapping. This continued until after the sanitisation, which now vests the pension administration of all soldiers and officers under the Military Pension Board.
For those in service, the northeast has become a nightmare, having to fight better-armed and equipped terrorists with inadequate or less-sophisticated weapons.
But the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Mr. Aliyu Ahmed, in a chat with The Guardian, expressed shock at the pensioners protest at the ministry vicinity, saying it no longer has any responsibility over the former soldiers.
“That protest by the ex-service men here at our vicinity was rather unfortunate, because we no longer handle their pension matters; it is the Military Pension Board that does now.
“So when they were here, I told them their protest here was misdirected and that they should go to the right agency, which is the Military Pensions Board. They actually apologised to me and left our premises,” Ahmed clarified.
One of the retirees, now a journalist with a national daily, Ahmed Bature, described the action of the former soldiers as a just action, but was silent on why they took the protest to a wrong establishment.
“The plan by members of ex-service men and Families Welfare Association for a Peaceful Protest on January 13 underscores the bitterness, concern and grievance within the veterans’ community and abandonment of their welfare by the powers-that-be.
“I fully support the protest mainly because it is about issues I have raised myself. I also fully support fixing the date outside Remembrance Day. The protest is a prelude to more persistent and coordinated protests to follow, starting from next month,” Bature revealed.
On January 13, leader of the ex- service men, Mr. Anthony Agbas, listed payment of Minimum Wage Consequential Adjustment and its arrears with effect from April 2019; payment of Security Debarment Allowance (SDA) to all retirees and not only to those who retired from November 2017, as is currently being implemented, as some of their grievances.
“The money is not unreasonable for each retiree and certainly not too big for the Federal Government to underwrite; immediate stoppage and reversal of deductions made on the pay of some medically-discharged veterans; implementation of the New Armed Forces Salary Structure this year, with its accrued arrears, as well as realistic National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) to assist and alleviate burdens and pains of medically boarded veterans in particular and veterans in general are reasons for the protest.”