By Umar Salam.
In 2002 when Shuibu Sabo Mamman voluntarily retired from the Nigerian army after more than three decades, he was hoping to spend the rest of his life in peace, having led a life of ‘war and strive’ up to that point.
When he joined the army in 1967 as a non-commissioned officer, it was out of a personal decision to not abandon his country at the point of need, since Nigeria needed men at the time to prosecute the civil war. However, in a rather bizarre twist of fate, the country Mamman stood for in its hours of need has abandoned him and those like him.
When he was discharged in 2002, Mamman, a bombardier (equivalent to corporal) was paid N1,500 and told to go home, and that the country is grateful for his service. Having not done anything with his life aside from standing in defense of the country and facing enemy fire; Mamman thought the ‘gratitude’ meant he would be paid his retirement benefits as and when due to enable him take care of his feeble and tired bones. However, that was not to be.
For thirteen years, Mamman joined his other colleagues in Abuja, some already on wheelchairs, to beg the authorities for their pension, a rightful reward for their long years of service to their fatherland. From Presidents Obasanjo to Yar’Adua to Jonathan; Mamman was not among the few lucky ones who got noticed and subsequently paid.
It was therefore a huge relief for him when another retired general mounted the saddle of power in 2015 and announced that any retired soldier who had spent over 10 years in service would receive his pension. Based on that pledge, the retired soldiers who fulfilled the stated criteria converged on Abuja to submit names and documents. But almost five years since 2015 when the Buhari government made that promise, Mamman and his colleagues continued to live only on that promise and, of course, hope.
The long years of sacrifice
“I joined the army during the civil war to help sustain the unity of the country. When I was recruited, I was initially in Afikpo before I was sent to Enugu for training. Thereafter, I was in the Aba sector of the war, fighting in places like Ngusu and Ohafia (both in present day Abia State)
“After the war, I volunteered for artillery training in 1973 and was sent to Port Harcourt. At the time, my salary was 19 pounds. I was in the army artillery until 2001 when the Bakassi issue between Nigeria and Cameroun started. So I was part of the soldiers taken to Calabar and subsequently Bakassi in readiness for a possible war between Nigeria and Cameroun. But when the issue was eventually resolved, we were asked to return. And two weeks after that, I was again sent to Chad through Enugu airport. We spent three months in Chad. It was when I returned in 2002 that I voluntary quit the army.”
The neglected old soldier
With two graduate but unemployed daughters whom he struggled to send to school while still in service, and with the failure of government to pay his pension; the sort of hard life Mamman has been forced to live can better be imagined.
A friendly and jovial man, Mamman greets everyone who passes the front of the airtel mast he was recruited to guard. Before securing the job four years ago, Mamman said he depended largely on the generosity of neighbors and distant relatives to survive.
While lamenting to this reporter how the meagre income he makes from guiding the mast has not solved his problems, Mamman claims that he still beg for money atimes to pay transport to Abuja to pursue the payment of his pension.
A soldier’s fallen house
Before he left the army, Mamman had started building a house in his village, and it was his plan to complete it as soon as he receives his pension.
However, seventeen years after exiting the army and with his pension not paid; the house he erected has fallen and now reduced to nearly invincible foundation. A widow now farms on the land that once hosted Mamman’s uncompleted house.
Not just the army
The issue of unpaid pensions for retirees is not a problem peculiar to the army. From the core civil service to the police and other public sector workers, the issue of unpaid pension and gratuities is a nagging problem that has sent many retirees to early grave while many others live a ‘near-death’ life.
At the bottom of this inhuman practice is a well entrenched corruption. Many top government officials are allegedly involved in shady pension deals that have denied many the reward for their long years of service.
At the moment, a former Chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT) under the Goodluck Jonathan presidency, Mr. Abdulrasheed Maina, is still under investigation for his alleged involvement in the mismanagement of over N2 billion pension biometric scam in the office of the Head of Service.
Until recently when he was apprehended by the country’s anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Maina had successfully evaded arrest for a long time while hidden away in Dubai, United Arab Emirate.
Problem will make corruption worse – Suleiman
Mr. Bala Suleiman who runs an NGO that caters to the welfare of old people said many of the beneficiaries of his interventions, especially in most Southern States, are people who have worked all through their life but who now can’t take care of themselves.
“When we did a survey in LifeGoal (his NGO), we discovered that over 78 percent of those we cater for were previous government workers who had no choice but to come to us due to frustration. Many of them were retired as far back as 23 years ago with no pension or gratuity.
“How then do you curtail corruption when those who are still in service can see what is happening to those that have retired. If President Buhari is serious about corruption, then he must ensure that pensioners are taking care of. That’s the only way present workers will feel that their future is secure and that they won’t suffer after retirement.”