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Buhari should walk his talk on police welfare

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Buhari should walk his talk on police welfare

By Ikechukwu Amaechi

Almost a month after #EndSARS protests rocked the country, Nigerians are still in a quandary about what to do next because the issues that led to the crisis remain unaddressed.

The government that earned itself a breather by brutally quelling the protests is more interested in passing the buck. Which explains why though the crackdown may have taken the wind off the sails of the protesters, it also marked the moment the floor of support fell out from under the government.

Whatever remained of the goodwill President Muhammadu Buhari enjoyed among the youths was eroded by the singular act of soldiers shooting at unarmed youths who were sitting down, waving the Nigerian flag and singing the National Anthem at the Lekki tollgate plaza in Lagos and his subsequent reaction.

That equally goes for the police who have for too long been the people’s bête noire.

Yet, without the police, security of lives and property will be grossly compromised. So, what to do? Reform the institution and re-orientate its personnel. Nigerians unanimously agree that is the way to go.

Appreciating that the police hold the wrong end of the welfare stick in the security circle, Buhari has vowed to improve their welfare.

Nigerian policemen have the misfortune of being paid very low wages. That is the biggest impediment against attracting skilled manpower into the force. As the common English idiom goes, “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.”

Worse still, not only are police officers poorly remunerated while in active service, in retirement, they don’t fare any better because of the historically low wages.

So, any policy aimed at addressing police welfare must be fundamental and not superfluous. It must assuage the agitation for equitable pension package commensurate with what colleagues in other ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) get.

There are low hanging fruits that any serious government can go after.

The average policeman is mortally afraid of the unknown: life after retirement. This fear informs most, if not all, of their most egregious conduct while in active service.

So, any attempt to address the welfare of the police must take a peep at the future. How can policemen be assured of a decent life after 35 years of service to fatherland? Most times the urge to blackmail, extort and rob, literally, the populace is an act of desperation.

Granted, there will always be bad apples in any institution, who, no matter what, will allow their greed overcome their sense of decency and fidelity to public good. But if policemen are assured of improved welfare in and out of service, it becomes a great disincentive for odious conduct.

And here, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) Pensions Limited – the Pension Fund Administrator (PFA) licensed by the National Pension Commission (PenCom) in accordance with the Pension Reform Act (PRA 2014) to exclusively manage the pension assets of all police personnel – has done a yeoman’s job in the last six years.

Buhari acknowledged this fact on October 20, 2020 when he virtually commissioned the magnificent NPF Pensions House in Abuja, the first purpose-built corporate headquarters of any PFA in Nigeria.

Said he: “To the NPF Pensions Limited, I wish to applaud your company for instituting a Retirees Resettlement Support Scheme through which you provide some form of financial support to retired police officers to enable them to resettle fully in retirement after meritoriously serving the nation.

“Taking your services to the doorstep of police officers by maintaining an office in each police command and formation is also very laudable … I urge you to continue your untiring efforts in collaborating with the police authorities towards improving the welfare of both serving and retired personnel of the Nigeria Police Force.”

The Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, toed the same line. “NPF Pensions Limited has become one of the most successful companies to be established in the Nigeria Police Force,” by placing, within six years of existence, the footprint of the police in the pension industry, he said.

To be fair, assenting to the Bill establishing the Police Trust Fund as well as the Nigerian Police Act 2020, both of which address welfare issues in the police, are testimonies to Buhari’s commitment to reforming the police for optimal service delivery through an enhanced welfare system.

But the NPF Pensions has, nevertheless, come up with various policy proposals to improve the welfare of serving and retired officers, which the government has not given commensurate attention. This is the time to do so. Those suggestions are the low hanging fruits Buhari must harvest now. The PFA has made a case for the upward review of the accrued rights of police retirees to address low lump sum and low monthly pension.

It has also requested the recognition and treatment of police officers from the rank of assistant inspector-general of police (AIG) and above as public office holders who should retire with full benefits just like permanent secretaries, pursuant to Section 7 of the Pension Reform Act.

The NPF also sought Buhari’s approval of special gratuity for police retirees at the rate of 300 per cent of annual gross salary upon retirement so that the balances in their Retirement Savings Accounts (RSAs) will be channeled towards monthly pension payments and to bring them at par with their peers in the public service.

The request was anchored on Section 4 (4) of the Pension Reform Act which provides that an employer, notwithstanding the provisions of the Act, may agree on the payment of additional benefits to the employee upon retirement.

And the PFA has advocated for a separate budgeting and remittance of accrued rights for police officers, arguing that grouping the police with other MDAs makes the process cumbersome. This is actually the big elephant in Nigeria’s pension room.

Many retired officers can’t understand why they have to wait for months to access their retirement benefits and most times they blame, wrongly, their PFA for their ordeal.

But the delay results from the inability of the government to release the accrued rights as and when due.

The contributory pension scheme comprises 7.5 per cent deducted from the salary of a public servant and the counterpart 7.5 per cent contributed by the employer – the government – and the accrued rights derived from the services such an officer rendered to the government. Abuja’s inability to pay the accrued rights promptly is due to poor finances. Before the CPS was introduced in 2004, the accumulated pension liability was over N2 trillion for the public sector alone.

Though NPF Pensions is bridging this gap with the N500 billion RRSS fund, a corporate social responsibility scheme, which no other PFA is doing, and which Buhari commended in his October 20 speech, police retirees, nevertheless, expect their benefits to be promptly paid after retirement. Grateful to their PFA for the RRSS largesse, they demand as of right their retirement benefits. Unbundling the accrued rights remittance process as requested by NPF Pensions will solve this problem.

To ensure that every worker is meaningfully rewarded at retirement, the Pension Reform Act 2014 reviewed upwards the minimum rate of pension contribution from 15 per cent to 18 per cent of monthly emolument, where 8 per cent will be contributed by employee and 10 per cent by the employer. Unfortunately, six years after, this has not been implemented.

NPF Pensions strongly believes that the implementation of the 10 per cent employer contribution for the police will significantly enhance an officer’s RSA balance on retirement and is, therefore, pushing hard for its implementation.

On police welfare, NPF Pensions has workable solutions. All Buhari needs do is walk his talk by approving the policy proposals. Most of them are already on his table.

Will that give Nigeria a police force populated by angels? Not at all. Angels live in heaven. But it will significantly point the personnel to the direction of a different work ethics and policing worldview.

In repositioning the police, both the president and the police apparatchik have an ally in the NPF Pensions. If they listen, they may well find out that most problems bedeviling the police have solutions already proffered by the PFA.

That is why everything must be done to preserve its one-client status. Doing otherwise through the transfer window will run against the spirit of the PRA 2014. It will also be counterproductive.

VANGUARD

 

 



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