NPA’s refusal to increase our pensions for over 10 years is wickedness – Pensioners
For over a year now, the NPA pensioners have been in a running battle with the management of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) over their demand for upward review of their pensions.
To vent their grievances, the pensioners have resolved to disrupt port activities and embark on other means of protest to force the hands of the NPA management who they accused of insincerity in its response to their demand.
Before they picket the agency’s headquarters last week Wednesday which eventually forced the Managing Director of the agency, Hadiza Bala Usman, to invite them for dialogue, Pastor Charles Binitie, the spokesman of the agitating pensioners spoke with FUNSO OLOJO on the genesis of their struggle and their resolve to pursue it to a logical conclusion.
What is your grouse against the management of Nigerian Ports Authority(NPA)?
We are asking for our constitutional right. What we are asking for is clearly spelt out in Section 173, sub-section 3 of 1999 constitution which states that every public officer is entitled to a review of pension every five years and if there is a review of salary by Federal civil service, which one is earlier, should be implemented for the pensioners.
But over 10 to 15 years, NPA has not reviewed it pensioners’ benefits.
Within those years, how many times has NPA reviewed the salary if its staff to warrant your demand?
They reviewed their own benefits in January, 2008. They got the approval from the National Salary and Wages Commission in the Presidency.
When we got to know, we approached the management with proposal on how to carry out our own review as pensioners in line with the constitution.
This dragged on to 2015 when we wrote an official letter to the National Salary and Wages Commission which told us that we are qualified to enjoy the same review in our pensions. The commission thereafter directed the NPA management to implement a review of the salary of its pensioners just as the same way and manner they carried out a review of salary of the staff and that the NPA could get in touch with the commission for clarification.
What was the reason given by the NPA to have consistently flouted the order of the Commission?
Up till this moment, they have not given any cogent reason . They have always tried to avoid meeting with us to iron out the issue.
Our previous two meetings with the management where the officials of the Ministry of transportation were in attendance did not yield any meaningful results.
The Ministry got involved in the discussion after we protested to the Minister about the antics of the management of NPA which directed top officials of the ministry to attend those meetings.
But as I said earlier, the meetings were futile as middle- level officials of NPA , who could not take any meaningful decisions, were always sent to represent the top management staff.
To us, that was a deliberate attempt by the management to avoid us and frustrate the process of negotiation.
Have you got back to the National Salary and Wages commission to update it on your frustration?
We have reported back to them and they promised to be part of future negotiation with the NPA.
We have also given condition before any further meeting could take place with the NPA.
We insisted that such meeting should be attended by the officials of the Commission, the Ministry of Transportation and that the Executive Director, Finance and Administration should be the least in rank who should lead the NPA team before we can sit with them for any negotiation.
However, since then, we have not been invited by the management for further discussions.
It was learnt that the aggrieved pensioners have given the NPA management series of ultimatum on this issue.
We gave them 14-day ultimatum, we gave then 7-day ultimatum and then 3-day ultimatum, all to no avail.
In the course of this agitation, the NPA, having failed to secure the support of the Ministry to truncate our demand, rushed to the Federal High court in a bid to muzzle us but the court asked them to listen to our demand.
The NPA pensioners’ welfare association is presently being administered by an administrator appointed by the Federal High court in the person of Deputy Chief Registrar.
This make the NPA to seek the opinion of Deputy Chief Registrar, asking him if the court order can stop us.
But the man told them that what we are asking for has nothing to do with whatever is in court and that they should go and answer us.
After the 3-day ultimatum, you threatened to disrupt port activities but up till now, all is still calm. Does that mean you have backed down on your demand?
No, we are still very much on our demand which is our constitutional right. Why there seems to be a lull is that after the 3-day ultimatum, we called out all our pensioners and updated them on progress of our agitation.
However, some well meaning individuals and security agencies approached us and asked for an opportunity to intervene and talk to the NPA management and see if they could persuade them to have a rethink.
They have done so but we discovered that the NPA management was not ready to accede to our request and that is why we want to push ahead in our agitation.
What do you intend to do if after all these agitations and peace efforts, NPA still refuses to yield to your demand?
By God grace, we shall picket NPA headquarters tomorrow(The aggrieved pensioners eventually make good their threat when, on Wednesday March 15th, they disrupted work at the NPA headquarters which forced the Managing Director, Hadiza Bala Usman to invite them for dialogue and promised them to look into their matter in the next three weeks).
If they refuse to listen to us, by Monday, March 20th, we close down the ports and all the areas of economic interests for the NPA.
How many members do you have?
Now we have a conservative membership of about 9,000 pensioners. Our figure used to be about 11,000. Most of members have died. We are losing our members because NPA did not answer us.
It was also alleged that one thousand naira was deducted from the last payment to your members. Was it inadvertently done or deliberately?
Yes, one thousand naira was deducted from the last month payment of the pensioners, about 9, 000 of us which translates to N9,000,000million.
However, we are yet to find out if it was done inadvertently or otherwise but we are still investigating the cause of that deduction because it was illegal and uncalled for.
Despite the constitutional provision backing your demand and the secured financial standing of NPA, why did you think the agency still refuse to accede to your demand?
It was sheer wickedness on the part of NPA management to have consistently refused to listen to our demand. They believe it was only them that are entitled to better living condition while other can suffer.
It is man inhumanity to man.
NPA has the resources to accommodate the pensions of twice the numbers of its pensioners with the new review.
If they have any challenge, they should call and dialogue with us but if they could increase their own salary, they should be able to increase our pensions and pay us.
Since you started this struggle in 2008, why did you have to wait till this time, properly when you know the new management is headed by a woman who you thought you could bamboozle into paying you?
What happened was that since 2008, the NPA pensioners’ Welfare Association, that is the in-house pensioners association, had gone to court and had created two separate factions.
All efforts to make them reconcile proved abortive while the pensioners were dying daily due to lack of one body to fight for their welfare.
That was what brought about the emergence of Association of Concerned Pensioners of NPA to protect the welfare of our members.
All we are now asking for is our rights and benefits.
The new body emerged in 2015 to fight for the rights and benefits of pensioners. That explained the seeming delay in coming out to press for our demands.
Before the coming of the present MD, we also have been having a running battle with the previous management led by Habib Abdulahi who also avoided us till he left.
Our agitation started during the last administration and continue till date. It is not as if we started with the new MD.
Don’t you think that the present economic downturn may have affected the revenue base of the NPA which was why they did not want to yield to your demand?
Even at that, that was not enough reason for them to ignore us. They could just have called us, explain to us the position of things and we then negotiate rather than out-rightly ignoring us.
We are all human beings, we are ready to listen to whatever explanation they have and make concessions and arrive at mutually agreed conclusion.
But it is annoying to tell us that you don’t have money, yet this January you paid all the staff one year allowance up front.
The least paid NPA worker now get about N250,000.
Can you imagine that Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, the first indigenous NPA MD earns less than N100,000 as pensioner.
This is because the NPA refused to review the pensions as provided for in the constitution. If they have reviewed, the situation would have been different.
We appeal to the management to listen to us. It is our legitimate right, constitutionally guaranteed. Some of us retired as Assistant General Managers. We are not all labourers but retired as management staff.
We know what it takes. All they need to do is to call for a round table discussion where the officials of the Ministry and the Salary and Wages commission will be in attendance and then we come to a compromise and the matter will be settled.
National Assembly face-off with Ali exposes Customs CG’s dictatorial tendencies
The current stand- off between the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly and the Comptroller- General of Nigeria Customs Service, Col (rtd) Hameed Ali, has given an insight into the character and personality of the Customs CG.
For a couple of weeks now, Nigerians have been treated to a macabre display of supremacy contest between the Customs CG and the distinguished Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
In what appears to be an immediate cause of the impasse, the Senators have frowned at the decision of Ali-led Customs to way-lay on the roads and impound vehicles which failed to pay Customs duty.
The Customs authority has given between March 13th and April 12th, 2017 for the owners of such vehicles to regularize their papers.
It was in the course of debating this policy that the Senators also felt aggrieved by the seeming arrogance of the CG not to don the uniform of the Service.
As a result, the Senators mandated Ali to appear at the red chamber in his uniform.
Even though the Customs CG eventually capitulated on the duty verification exercise by putting it on hold, he however consistently refused to heed the Senators directive to wear Customs Uniform.
He has thereafter engaged them in an exchange of words, insisting that he has not broken any law by not wearing Customs Uniform.
Last week Wednesday, he was sent out of the red chambers and asked to come back this week Wednesday, properly dressed in Customs uniform.
Stakeholders are divided on the validity of CG refusal to wear uniform and the legitimate demand of the senators.
While some considered the matter as too mundane to engage the attention of the law makers, others regarded it as a necessary step taken by the Senators to inculcate discipline in the public officers.
Despite the defence of Ali for not wearing Customs Uniform because’’ I was not appointed to wear Customs Uniform but to reform and restructure the agency, Bello Haliru, the first Customs CG to be appointed from outside declared that wearing uniform is part of the Service’s regulation.
Haliru, appointed Customs CG by former military president, Ibrahim Babangida in 1988 said ‘’ the moment I was appointed, I became a career Customs Officer. I knew I must comply with all the rules and regulations of the organization I am leading and that included wearing a uniform’’, he told Premium Times in an interview.
Stakeholders however stated that the current impasse between the two gladiators was a climax of what they described as an Emperor status assumed by the CG since he was appointed.
They quickly referred to the litany of unilateral decisions he took in flagrant disregard of the extant laws and without recourse to the Customs board and the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun.
Since his controversial appointment on 27th, 2015,the former Military Administrator of Kaduna state ruled the Nigeria Customs as a military dictator.
He fired all the five Deputy Comptrollers- General, scores of Assistant Comptrollers- General and other middle and lower cadre officers.
He also engaged in indiscriminate promotion and massive deployment of officers without recourse to the Board and the Minister of Finance who is his immediate boss.
A source in the ministry of Finance said that appointment and dismissal of DCG and ACG is a prerogative of the Customs Board and that the Customs CG cannot unilaterally retire or promote any officer to the rank of ACG (Assistant Comptroller General) as it is the board that must ratify such actions.
The Customs board is charged with the prerogative to promote, transfer and confirm appointments and dismiss persons and exercise other disciplinary actions over persons so appointed. The CEMA stipulates that the board shall be subject to the control of the Minister of Finance in the exercise of powers and duties.
In addition, the CG unilaterally lifted ban on rice import through the borders as well as other obnoxious policies such as chasing allege smuggled rice in the market which has now created tension between the Customs officers and some rice sellers.
Informed stakeholders claimed that two major factors are responsible for the seeming arrogance and dictatorial attitude of the Customs CG.
Firstly, they pointed to his background as a former military officer who has not yet imbibed the democratic values and ethos.
It could be recalled that Ali served as Military Administrator of Kaduna State from August 1996 to August 1998 during the military regime of General Sani Abacha.
As a governor in October 1997, he sacked about 30,000 striking civil servants in Kaduna State and detained 18 local government chairmen.
] A journalist who reported the sacking was allegedly arrested, severely beaten, then taken to the Government House and further tortured.
This autocratic background, the stakeholders contented, may likely explain the penchant the CG has in running the Customs unilaterally without recourse to the constituted authority.
They also explained that the alleged closeness of Ali to President Buhari and the reported free hand allegedly given him by Mr President to run the Customs make him to assume a toga of arrogance that has now put in on a firing line of the angry Senators.
Another respondent situated the draconian policies being pursued by the CG that have now set him on collision course with the people and their representatives in his frenetic desire to shore up the dwindling revenue performance of the Customs.
Since he assumed office as the Customs CG, the revenue performance of the agency has been on a downward trend.
The 2016 revenue dropped to N898.673bn as against the N903billion revenue recorded in 2015.
The prospects of meeting the one trillion naira target of 2017 are also gloomy with the low imports and the growing number of products placed on prohibition list.
‘’He is therefore desperate to deliver the mandate of Mr President who asked him to boost the revenue drive of the Customs, hence his resort to several anti-people policies’’, an Apapa- based Customs broker who craved for anonymity for fear of reprisal attack, declared.
However, it is yet to be seen if Hameed Ali will soften his hard line posture, shed his toga of arrogance and embrace democratic values in view of the threat of Mr President that he would not hesitate to sacrifice any of his appointees who engages in a needless confrontation with the National Assembly.