Welfare of Public Servants, Pensioners Vis-à-vis Campaign Promises: The Place of Ethics Amongst Nigeria’s Ruling Class; By Ivo Takor

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ELECTIONEERING has commenced in earnest, with political office seekers going around the country and outside the country making campaign promises. So far, I have not heard or read any campaign promise from any of the presidential or governorship candidates, with regards to the welfare of public servants and pensioners, be it at the federal or state levels.

An election promise or campaign promise is a pledge or an assurance made or given to the public by a candidate or political party that is trying to win an election. Another word for campaign promise is manifesto. Politicians seeking office make promises. This is presumably done in the belief that such promises will alter voters’ beliefs about the policies they will implement if elected.

Across the Western world, political parties are highly likely to fulfil their election promises. The flip side of the coin is that these promises may later come back to haunt an office holder seeking re-election so candidates must temper their promises in anticipation of future election.

I concede that I haven’t read manifestos of political parties or those of their candidates. All I know about promises of political office seekers especially those seeking elections into the offices of the president and governor of a state is what I have been reading in print and hearing through electronic media as being what they have said at political rallies, town hall meetings as well as interviews they granted. So far, there have not been election promises with regards to the welfare of public servants and pensioners.

A good question that may be asked if all these statutory provisions prescribed under the constitution and extant labour laws are legally binding on any one who occupies the office of the president or the governor of a state is: why do applicants to these offices have to make the welfare of employees and pensioners a campaign promise? The issue of non-enactment of pension laws by some state governments since 2004 and the non-compliance with states pension laws by majority of state governments that have enacted pension laws have been issues of several write ups in this column.

One may ask, why it is important for those seeking to occupy the aforementioned political offices to make special campaign promises to these segments of the country’s workforce. The simple answer is that the public service is the machinery through which governments at federal, state and local levels articulate and implement their policies and programmes. During the period when the nation witnessed political crisis and the incursion of the military into political governance of the country, it was the public service that kept the country afloat.

Employees’ welfare means anything done for the comfort and improvement of the employees (intelligently and socially), over and above the wages or salaries paid. It means the efforts to make life worth living for workers. It includes various services, facilities and amenities provided to employees for their betterment. These facilities may be provided voluntarily by progressive employers or statutory provisions (prescribed under labour laws) may compel them to provide these amenities.

The objectives of employee welfare are to improve the life of the working class, to bring about holistic development of the worker’s personality and so on. Employee welfare is in the interest of employees, employer and the society as a whole. It enables workers to perform their work in healthy and favourable environment. Hence, it improves efficiency of workers and keeps them contented, thereby contributing to high employee morale. It also develops a sense of responsibility and dignity amongst the workers and thus makes them good citizens of a nation.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), employee welfare should be understood as such service, facilities and amenities, which may be established in or in the vicinity of undertakings to enable the persons employed in them to perform their work in healthy and peaceful surroundings and to avail of facilities which improve their health and bring high morale.

In simple terms, employee welfare include housing, medical and educational facilities, nutrition, facilities for rest and recreation, cooperative societies, day nurseries and crèches, provision for sanitary, accommodation, holidays with pay, social insurance scheme as well as pension.

Appointments in the public services of the federation, states and local governments are covered by statutory flavour (by law). Nigeria Labour Act, makes provisions for the payment and protection of employees’ wages. The employer is under a legal obligation to pay wages as stipulated in the contract of employment.

Section 7 (1) of the Labour Act CAP 198 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, dealing with contract of appointment, mandatorily requires an employer to, not later than three months after the beginning of a worker’s period of employment, give the worker a written statement, which among other things include informing an employee the exact amount he or she is entitled to as wages, the method of its calculation and the manner and periodicity of payment of wages.

The sad reality in the country today is that majority of states are owing their workers unpaid salaries some for upward of twenty (20) months. In some states, workers are paid amputated salaries, against their legal entitlements. Majority of state governments have not implemented the national minimum wage yet governors of these states and political appointees as well as members of states’ Houses of Assembly draw their salaries and allowances regularly.

These governors move about in chartered jets and convoys of luxury vehicles. They and members of their families are enjoying everything free in government houses. These definitely are not the governors who will bother about the welfare of employees of the states they are Lords over.

Provisions have been made in the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the Pension Reform Act 2014 and pension laws of some of the states for the welfare of pensioners. In the case of employees of the public service of the federation, the constitution, in Section 173 (1), provides that “subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the right of a person in the public service of the Federation to receive pension or gratuity shall be regulated by law”.

Subsection (2) provides that “any benefits to which a person is entitled in accordance with or under such law as is referred to in subsection (1) of this section shall not be withheld or altered to his disadvantage except to such extent as is permissible under any law including Code of Conduct”. Subsection 3 further provides that “pensions shall be reviewed every five years or together with any federal civil service salary reviews, whichever is earlier”. Similar provisions have been made in Section 210 of the Constitution for employees of public services of states.

A good question that may be asked if all these statutory provisions prescribed under the constitution and extant labour laws are legally binding on any one who occupies the office of the president or the governor of a state is: why do applicants to these offices have to make the welfare of employees and pensioners a campaign promise? The issue of non-enactment of pension laws by some state governments since 2004 and the non-compliance with states pension laws by majority of state governments that have enacted pension laws have been issues of several write ups in this column.

Every public servant looks forward to the day he or she will retire into the proverbial rest is sweet after work. When this happens, he or she expects to be drawing pension.

Information provided by the National Pension Commission (PenCom) in its second quarter 2022 report states that as at June 2022, twenty-five (25) states have enacted laws on Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS). They are Lagos, FCT, Benue, Kebbi, Niger, Rivers, Ogun, Bayelsa, Kogi, Anambra, Abia, Taraba, Imo, Sokoto, Adamawa, Ebonyi, Nasarawa, Enugu and Oyo. Five (5) states have enacted laws on Contributory Defined Benefits Scheme (CDBS). They are Jigawa, Kano, Yobe, Gombe and Zamfara. This leaves eight (8) states, namely Kwara, Plateau, Cross River, Borno, Awka Ibom, Bauchi, Katsina and Yobe without any pension law for the states’ public servants since pension reform was carried out in the country in 2004.

The PenCom report under reference indicates that out of the twenty-five (25) states that have enacted laws on the CPS, only four (4) states and the FCT are paying pension based on their states enacted pension laws. The states are Lagos, Osun, Kaduna, Delta and FCT. The same report states that out of the five states that enacted laws on CDBS, only Jigawa and Kano are paying pension based on their enacted laws.

For any president or governor to make any meaningful achievements by implementing the promises he or she has made to the electorate during his or her tenure in office, such a person needs an effective public service. To achieve our national development agenda, we need a focused and vibrant public service.

Public servants at both the federal and state levels need to be provided with the enabling environment to play this pivotal role placed on them by the constitution and other extant laws effectively. The president and governors are the employers of federal and states’ public servants respectively just as these public servants are employees of the federation and state governments. Every employee has a statutory period of retirement, and become pensioners. The welfare of employees and pensioners of the federal and states’ public service should therefore be a prominent agenda in the manifesto of any candidate aspiring to either the office of the president and governor.

The reason public servants are not being paid their salaries and pension as and when due is because majority of the members of the Nigerian ruling class are unfortunately ethically bankrupt. Appadora says that ethics is a branch of study which investigates the laws of morality and formulates rules of conduct. It deals with the rightness and wrongness of man’s conduct and the ideals towards which man is working. What is the basis of moral obligation? What do we mean by right actions? How are we to distinguish a right action from a wrong one? These are some of the questions with which ethics concern itself.

If as Lord Action said, the great question of politics is to discover not what governments prescribe, but what they ought to prescribe, the connection between ethics and politics is clear, for on every political issue the question may be raised whether it is right or wrong.

During this electioneering period, labour leaders who have legal, moral and ethical obligations to fight for the welfare of workers and pensioners, and their allies in the civil society should wake up and get presidential and governorship candidates of all the political parties to tell them, workers, pensioners and other citizens of this country, what is in their manifestos, that will redeem workers and pensioners from destitution and old age poverty. Their plans must be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely (SMART) and not just political campaign lies.

Let us therefore ask the question if it is right or wrong for employees of states public services to work and stay for months without being paid salaries, while governors and other political office holders in the states take their emoluments and bogus allowances regularly? Again, is it right or wrong for public service employees who have rendered meritorious services to the state and retired, will continue to live in penury and destitution and abject poverty simply because they are being owed pensions for years while governors and their deputies who served for only four or eight years are being paid bogus amounts along with other pecuniary benefits in the name of pension for political office holders? If we agree with Fox that what is morally wrong can never be politically right, we may then say that politics is conditioned by ethics.

The end of the State has been formulated by the greatest political thinkers in terms of moral values. Aristotle, for instance, said that while the State comes into existence for the sake of life, it continues to exist for the sake of good life. The rights of individuals which deserve recognition of the State can be defined only in a moral context. If the State does not recognise these rights, has the individual the right of non-cooperation and resistance? The question cannot be answered on a purely political plane. Is it right for a political office holder, who is under a constitutional obligation to carry out a duty to fail to do so and get away with it? Are there sanctions? Who is responsible for enforcement of the sanctions.

Until someone or a group of people who have the legal right to do so like trade unions, decide to challenge the actions of these governors in court and obtain judicial redress, some of these governors will continue to rule like emperors because they lack conscience and are ethically and morally bankrupt.

During this electioneering period, labour leaders who have legal, moral and ethical obligations to fight for the welfare of workers and pensioners, and their allies in the civil society should wake up and get presidential and governorship candidates of all the political parties to tell them, workers, pensioners and other citizens of this country, what is in their manifestos, that will redeem workers and pensioners from destitution and old age poverty. Their plans must be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely (SMART) and not just political campaign lies.

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