After working for the Kano State government for 35 years or attaining the age of 60, civil servants retire from service and are entitled to Pension and Gratuity. In Kano state, a large chunk of retirees are denied their benefits, years after retirement.
In this investigation, Stephen Enoch revealed the miseries these pensioners have been subjected to over the years.
Malam Aminu Usman, a 62-year-old pensioner worked for the Kano State Government for 20 years under the Ministry of Education as a teacher, during the period of his stewardship to the State, all was rosy.
Narrating his story, Mallam Aminu said his family members used to boast of how capable their father was in terms of providing for daily household needs including school fees and upkeep which made him earn the title, “Mai Gida” (literally meaning Owner of the House or Man of the House, in Hausa).
He retired in November 2018 as a Classroom teacher at grade 12, with a salary scale of N73,000. Before retiring from civil service, Malam Aminu had plans to acquire a plot of land in Gaida Kumbotso Local Government Area (LGA), which is his hometown and where he presently lives.
Mallam Aminu’s intention was to lease the land and generate monthly income to sustain himself and his wife and six children in his retirement. Also, he had plans of renovating his 2-bedroom flat which is in bad shape. His other plan was to own a shop to sell fabrics and sew clothes at Gaida.
According to him, all his plans were hinged on his gratuity to achieve his hopes for “life after working for the government”. Somehow, these expectations tired around government retirement benefits were shattered into pieces.
Observing him while he narrates his story, Mallam Aminu seems to be in a hopeless situation looking out for a saviour.
He looks poverty-stricken, as his house depicts the exact situation he was going through.
“As you can see, I am living in abject poverty and life is very hard to live because of the numerous responsibilities I have to settle, with meager funds. The hardship I have faced since 2018 when I retired keeps worsening and the poverty I am living in, is indescribable. This is because I have not received my gratuity of N1.41 million from the Kano government, although I tried countless times, all to no avail.
“I can no longer cater to my family’s needs as I used to in the past, we feed from hand to mouth. If not for the friends and family members I have, I do not know how miserable my life would have been.
“Sometimes when my friends come to visit and see my condition, they assist me with money or provide what I need at the moment of their visit.
Mallam Aminu narrates his other means of survival.
“I use my old sewing machine to mend some clothes for people in the neighborhood and get paid, at least half a loaf is better than none.”
In line with the provisions of Section 173 of the 1999 Constitution (as Amended), the Pension Reform Act (PRA) of 2014 makes provision for the increase of pension every five years or each time there is an increase in the salaries of active workers. This, however, wasn’t the case with Mallam Aminu because rather than an increase, he witnessed various deductions in his Pension.
Mallam Aminu said: “Apart from the non-payment of my retirement benefits, the government cut my pension for 38 months without refund. My pension is supposed to be 45,000 and within that period, large sums of money were cut from my pension ranging from N10,000, N12,000, and N15,000 and it always breaks my heart because I am being cheated and robbed in daylight by the government.
“It was only in June that my full pension was paid and I thank the new administration for that. I hope they will sustain this feat,” he disclosed.
A recent report from the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics states that in June 2023, the Headline inflation rate rose to 22.79% relative to the May 2023 headline inflation rate which was 22.41%.
On a year-on-year basis, the Headline inflation rate was 4.19% points higher compared to the rate recorded in June 2022, which was 18.60%. This shows that the Headline inflation rate (year-on-year basis) increased in June 2023 when compared to the same month in the preceding year.
This indicates that Mallam Aminu’s expenses had risen over time and with the monthly deductions in his pension, it further explains how incapacitated he was financially.
Mallam Aminu regrets working for the government
“I regret ever working for the Kano state government, it pains me anytime I remember my service years.”
Recently, Malam Aminu decided to sell his Jincheng Motorcycle for N18,000 to survive the hardship and rising cost of living. He told this reporter that the motorcycle could have been a source of income for him, but had to sell it to get food for the family.
In the Kano automobile market at Fagge, close to the WAPA roundabout, a fairly used Jincheng motorcycle ranges between N85, 000 to150,000 but he was pushed to part with his own at N18,000, which is less than his pension or the national minimum wage.
According to Malam Aminu, all his predicaments and frustrations made him regret ever working for the Kano government because he never thought he would live such a wretched life. “After all my years of working with the government, what do I have to show for it?
“I recently joined a tailoring school, while there, he does a menial job and he is being paid N7,000 monthly.
“My three children have been out of school at different times because I am not able to pay for their school fees.
“One of my sons in Aminu Kano College of Islamic Studies has vowed never to work for the government and he has left home in search of menial jobs to cater to himself because of my predicaments.
“How can I call myself the Mai Gida when I cannot provide basic necessities of life for my family?
Malam Aminu recalled a time when his wife was in labour.
“I did not have money to pay for her medical bills. I almost ran mad, out of frustration, as a result of severe penury.
“For 11 days, I was always suffering the pains of lean finance because I had to provide all her necessary requirements in the hospital like food, and drinks, and pay medical bills consistently.
“I had to request a loan to offset the bills and Walahi, I regret not having a side job while I was working with the government. Allah, I regret working for the government. Many of my friends who did not work for the government are now doing well, if not rich, but look at me,” Mallam Aminu lamented.
Mallam Aminu’s son wants to be a soldier
Malam Aminu, Abdulsamad Aminu is 8 years old. He has consistently been out of school at various times because his father seldom fails to meet up with deadlines for the payment of his school fees.
This has affected his learning process. He is behind his classmates because of his frequent in and out of school. This has made his grades to be below-average.
Abdulsamad said: “I am not happy that I have to stay at home sometimes because my father is not able to pay my school fees. Sometimes when my school fees have not been paid, and I see my friends going to school I quickly hide, so that they will not see me.
“When I grow up, I want to be a soldier in the Nigerian Army so that I will fight those who have refused to pay my father’s gratuity.”
The psychological impact on the future of Abdulsamad has been triggered by his father’s suffering, thus, he has a mindset of anger and vengeance towards the non-payment of his father’s retirement benefit.
Giving “Alherin office” (Kickback in Hausa) to Get Paid Gratuity
Musa Abdullahi voluntarily resigned from the Kano State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) in 2015 after serving for 14 years and 8 months.
He did not want his benefits to be delayed and continue to build false hopes like Mallam Aminu, so he opted for an accelerated process where he had to pay what he called “Alherin Office” (translated as “Favour of the Office” but it means bribe or kick back).
He told this reporter that officials at the Kano State Pension Office always advise retirees to refrain from paying bribes to anyone in order to get their gratuity but this is not the case as oftentimes, retirees pay bribes in order to get their benefit.
“As a retiree, if you don’t pay agents to process your retirement benefit, you might never get paid, or it may take years before you get paid,” he disclosed.
How the Agents Work
According to Abdullahi, the agents work discreetly at the LGA level and are referred to, by other retirees who successfully facilitate their retirement benefit through them.
Abdullahi revealed that in his case, most of the agents who collect bribes to process retirees’ benefits were retirees from the Local Education Authorities (LEAs) who had previously served as desk officers who understand how the system works. They can fast-track payment for other retirees.
He disclosed that: “They have turned it into a business because they know the process. They are not officials of the pension board but they have mutual understanding with some officials at the board.
“Most of these agents will not talk to you until you have money at hand to pay them. If you are lucky, you can get a fair deal.
“As a retiree, if you cannot make required payments to these agents, your payment will be delayed.
“For people who don’t have money to pay to get their files processed on time, there are some agents who are ready to buy their voucher at a lower price, and then process the payment of the gratuity from the pension office.”
“This means that per peradventure a retiree’s benefit which is calculated as N5 million, these agents could buy it for about 4.5 million Naira, meaning that the remaining N500,000 is the commission (bribe) they get for processing the retiree’s benefit.
“In getting my benefit, I didn’t spend up to three months but some retirees have spent up to 8 years without getting their benefit.
“I had a schoolmate at the pension board who aided in facilitating the payment of my benefit after paying a bribe.
“I first paid N30, 000 which I was told would be given to the computer operators to fast track the payment of my benefit and afterward.
“I paid another N50, 000 in order to get my benefit and after a few weeks, I got paid. The total money I paid to get my retirement benefit in time was N80,000
“If I had not paid that bribe, I am sure my retirement benefit would not have been paid by now.
A discreet investigation revealed that these agents can facilitate the movement of one’s payment file from one office to another.
Death While Waiting for Benefits
Ado Ahmed worked for the Kano state government under the State Ministry of Works for over 30 years before retiring from civil service.
Like Mallam Aminu, Ahmed did not live to tell the story. He died while waiting for his benefits.
60-year-old Yushau Nuhu was Ahmed’s friend for more than 45 years.
He narrated what happened.
“Ahmed lived a good life. He retired from civil service 8 years ago. While in retirement, was persistently not well.
“He had an illness (not disclosed) that was not diagnosed owing to lack of money to seek proper medical attention in a hospital.
“Ahmed was so poor that he could not provide for himself while he was alive.
His pension was always cut by large percentages and his gratuity was not paid as well. Pressure set from his three wives and 13 children; this led to frustration and he kept falling ill.
“I used to give him a helping hand but that was just a drop in the ocean of his financial needs.
“The illness so severe and he was so weak and broke that he could not afford money for an ordinary check in the hospital to know the status of his health.
“The lack of money prompted him to seek alternative means to get well, so, he tried different locally made herbs but they were not effective in making him well.”
Collecting a Loan and Defaulting Payment
Nuhu disclosed to this reporter that Ahmed piled up several loans from their Majalisa (Circle of friends) up to N80,000 to cater to his personal and family needs. He had spent the money before he took ill, so, he did not pay back the loan.
“At the verge of his death, Ahmed applied for the Federal Government’s Anchor Borrowers’ Program, a move he made to get a share of his National Cake to pay up his piles of loans.
“The application was successful but the month he was supposed to receive the loan, he took ill with a strong force and my friend died of that ailment in his late seventies.
“It was such a painful death to me and his family. After all the years of suffering, he still died in debt.
“Till today, his family is still suffering and is in a worse condition than before. Ahmed’s family tried all available options to get his gratuity so as to relieve the family of the high cost of living but all efforts were in vain.
“If Ahmed was still alive, we would have been under this tree, discussing and having fun but he is no more. May Allah judge those people who withheld the gratuity of my friend and caused him a sorrowful death.
According to statistics on life expectancy in Nigeria by Statista, in 2022 life expectancy at birth in the country was about 61.33 years. More precisely, this figure equaled 60 years for males and 63 years for females. Life expectancy at birth in Nigeria is among the lowest in Africa as well as in the world.
This means that Ado Ahmed surpassed the life expectancy in the country, as he died at almost 70 years old.
In Kano State, former governors, and their deputies are eligible for 100 percent of the incumbent’s basic salary, a six-bedroomed house, as well as free medical treatment for them and members of their families.
While the governors who failed to address the pension and gratuity scourge have unfettered access to healthcare, Mallam Aminu had to loan money from his old-time friend to pay for his wife’s health bills.
Ahmed, on the other hand, could not afford basic medical checkups to determine what kind of prolonged and recurring illness he was suffering from. He died.
Supposing Mallam Aminu and Ahmed paid the “Alherin Office” (Bribe) just like Abdullahi did to process their benefits from the government, they most probably would have gotten their benefits and wouldn’t have to pass through a series of hopelessness.
Successive Governments Failed to Grant Kano Pensioners Plea
In 2022, Former Governor, Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje accused the administrations of Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso and Ibrahim Shekarau of huge sum pension debts in the state. At that time, the pension debt in Kano stood at N30.9bn.
However, in 2023, the pension debt in the state stands at N44bn, showing that Ganduje’s administration failed to address the scourge of pension debts in Kano.
In May 2023, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) said that it had secured the final forfeiture of 324 properties recovered for the Kano State Pension Fund Trustees.
The Spokesman for the EFCC, Wilson Uwujaren, said that Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja gave the order of final forfeiture while ruling on a motion by the anti-graft agency seeking the final forfeiture of the properties that are “reasonably suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities of Kano State Pension Fund Trustees.
Kabiru Inuwa, the Chairperson, Kano Council of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) confirms Mallam Aminu’s complaint about the monthly deductions in his pensions.
He stated that since November 2020, Pensioners in Kano have been subjected to monthly deductions from their pensions.
“It was only in June that the new administration paid full pensions, which is commendable.
“I can recall in 2022, the congress had to stage a protest to the government house about the non-payment of the retirees’ gratuities and the government promised to remit more funds to the pension house for the payment of pensioner’s gratuity.
“After engagements with the Kano pension office, we were informed that the pattern of gratuity payment is on a yearly basis and for this year, payment is on for 2016 retirees, which means retirees from 2017-2023 will have to wait for their turn because of the 7 years backlog,” he disclosed.
What this means is that Mallam Aminu and Nura’s deceased friend Ado Ahmed, are still in the queue for the payment of their benefits.
“This is a serious burden on the Labour Congress and unfortunately, the money remitted to the Pension House is not even enough to pay the pension because some departments are not remitting the appropriate funds. If those funds were being remitted according to the pension law of the state, we wouldn’t have found ourselves in this situation.
“The incumbent government has started on a good note, and we will still engage them so that we can devise a means for the prompt payment of gratuities in Kano state.
“From November 2020 to May 2023, the sum of over N5.6 billion was deducted from the pensions of retirees which is a huge amount, which is unfair.
“I call on the current administration to save the pensioners because they are really suffering beyond our thought,” Inuwa explained.
Ado Ahmed is dead as narrated by his friend, Yushau Nuhu.
Ahmed’s three wives and thirteen children are still living in their half-completed family house in Sumaila town is not connected to electricity and water supply as the children trek a distance to fetch water. The house is in a section close to the local government secretariat.
The family depends on the proceeds from the late husband’s farm to feed, cloth, send the children to school, and cater to other domestic needs.
On his part, Mallam Yushau Nuhu supports the family when they are in dire need of financial support (He did not state much such assistance cost him as he described it as sadakatul jariya, a form of charity for the hereafter).
Close observation showed that the family of the late Ado Ahmed is living a life of misery.
Presently, Mallam Aminu is lying ill at his Gaida Service home in Kumbotso LGA with pneumonia.
His wife and six children looked disturbed over the situation of his health.
“As you can see, I don’t have the strength or money to take care of my illness; they say it is pneumonia and I cannot afford the proper treatment.
“I barely eat and talk more about spending money on my health.
“My three children who are in school are my major concern. The school will soon resume and I don’t have money to buy their books or even their school fees.
“My wife is the only person helping us with money she gets from her menial jobs, that too is not often,” he narrated with a shaky voice.
Pension’s Fund Trustees Failed to Respond to FoI Request.
On July 27 2023, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request was sent to the Kano Pensions Fund Trustees, addressed to the Executive Chairman.
The FOI specifically requested for;
- Retirees have alleged corruption in processing and securing their retirement benefits because of the activities of Agents who collect bribes to fast-track the payment process for retirees at the Local Government Level.
It is also alleged that certain officials at the Pension Fund Trustee encourage this practice.
- Also, furnish us with the number of unpaid pensioners and the rationale why retiree’s pensions were cut by different percentages in the past 38 months without refund.
On 28 July 2023, the Under Secretary/AGS “A” Umar Baba Zubairu responded, stating that an appointment has been fixed with the reporter for 12 Noon on 31 July 2023 with the Permanent Secretary of the Kano State Pension Fund Trustees. An official letter in the form of a response to the FOI was written in that regard.
The reporter honored the appointment by 11:30 a.m. on the 3rd of August. By 12:07 the Permanent Secretary of the board requested that a fresh set of questions be directed to him, attached with the FOI; it was done.
As of the time of writing this report, several calls and text messages were sent to the Director of Public Relations of the Pension Fund Trustees with no responses to the FOI.
Like the wife of the Late Ado Ahmed, the wife of Aminu Usman too is expecting manna from heaven or government-appropriate action at the right time to turn things around in the lives of their families.
This publication is produced with support from the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under the Collaborative Media Engagement for Development Inclusivity and Accountability Project (CMEDIA) funded by the MacArthur Foundation.