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Covid-19: Pensioners grateful to FCTA for regular payment
Dr. Nden, Director, Area Council Staff Pension Board
June, 2020

In many states across the country, pensioners had a real hard time of it during the tougher days of Covid-19 lockdown. Their pensions ceased to come as different governments faced what was considered more urgent matters of life and death for the citizenry.

But in Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the situation was completely different as the FCT Administration (FCTA), led by FCT Minister, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello, and FCT Minister of State, Dr. Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu, continued to spread smiles on pensioners' faces by paying them regularly as usual. Director, FCT Area Council Staff Pension Board (ACSPB), Dr. Nanzing Nden, spoke to Felix Durumbah of Abuja Digest Weekly on this and several feats notched up by the board even during the lockdown.

Abuja Digest Weekly: We gathered that there are new developments in Area Council pension administration in FCT. Can you avail members of the public of these?

Nden: Thank you. I want to say that there are some developments as regards FCT pension administration, especially FCT Area Council Staff Pension Board. First is the approval of the Honourable Minister of State, Dr. Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu, of the sum of N474 million in favour of 85 retiring and deceased officers of the Area Councils and Local Education Authorities (LEAs) in respect of the payment of Accrued Rights Benefit. You recall that the last time when we paid the sum of N1.2 billion, I told you that we're on to a process where we'll be paying retirees in advance. But due to issues pertaining to Covid-19, we had to suspend payments in March. And now, the Honourable Minister has granted us approval to pay officers who retired up to the onset of Covid-19.

So, we expect to roll out these payments through the Treasury Department; and immediately after paying these, we'll then consider those retirees who retired during the Covid-19 period up till date. It is our belief that with concerted efforts and, of course, the Minister's support, we should be able to commence payment of retirees in advance from September to 2020. The second thing is that the Honourable Minister of State also is about to approve the renewal of our Group Life Insurance policy for 2020/2021 for staff of Area Councils and LEAs. This approval represents a renewal of the present scheme which is terminating in June. The Minister asked us to quickly renew because of the advent of Covid-19 which was about to impact on staff and, of course, the general public in FCT. So, we want to take our responsibility as pension administrators to ensure that all staff are actually insured in case of eventuality.

Also, we've been able to complete our document management system which has to do with e-filing, e-management of our files, repository for our files and establishment of a standard document management centre, as we call it. The consultant has completed the project and we expect that this project will be commissioned soon. The pension

management system project has also been completed. It includes equipping the board with IT facilities and work equipment. It also includes the creation and establishment of a dynamic website for interface with the board. The website is dynamic because it affords the board opportunity to, in the future, verify our pensioners online real-time. The other component of the pension management system is the back-up solar system for lighting our computers and ICT Centre.

There is also the establishment of security for our data, which is being managed at the moment by a consultant. But with the data management system which the National Information Technology Centre has established, we intend to take over the management of the back-up centre. So, the IT Centre is completed and we await the date the Honourable Minister will give us for the commissioning.Other issues are the procurement of utility vehicles which have greatly enhanced our operations. We're comfortable with the vehicles that FCT Administration has procured for us.

Lastly, before the advent of Covid-19 we had completed our verification of pensioners, and it went well. The reports are being collated now for presentation to management. Also, one of the consultancies for actuarial valuation has been completed and it will be presented by the actuary. This consultancy is to improve the pay-out to our retiring officers in the Area Councils and LEAs.

All these are some of the highpoints of issues that have come up during this period. But suffice it to say that during this period too, from January to date, the FCTA also approved the payment of N64 million in respect of death benefits to 31 deceased officers of Area Councils in addition to utilizing the sum of N150 million for the payment of monthly pension allowance to 1,242 retired officers under the Defined Benefits Scheme (DBS). As a matter of fact, we're also moving well with our SERVICOM Unit which we established last year.

The National SERVICOM Office has now approved the board's SERVICOM charter. This represents the first agency in FCTA to reach that milestone and, baring any activity, the Honourable Minister is supposed to launch our charter, possibly after the lockdown has been fully lifted. These are the issues that have come up In pension administration in FCT.

Abuja Digest Weekly: Were your functions affected or impaired in any manner from the beginning of the lockdown, say, in terms of pension payment, given it impacted several areas of life globally?
Nden: As a matter of fact, the Covid-19 has been an unfortunate development which has affected all operations around the world. But even during the lockdown, we were on essential service and we were here in the office to attend to the needs of our senior citizens. We couldn't have gone to sleep because the senior citizens won't allow you to sleep for one day if their allowances are not paid. So, we were granted permission to come to the office to attend to the needs of our pensioners. We are happy to note that the lockdown did not in any way affect our operations because we paid our retiring officers monthly pension for each of the months during the lockdown period. So, our operations were not in any way impaired.

The only thing was that during the lockdown, we did not receive communication from the Area Councils in respect of dead and retiring officers' files, but now that the lockdown has been relaxed, we've been receiving a lot of files and communication in respect of the listed items.

Abuja Digest Weekly: Your annual stakeholders' retreat—an important date on pension administration operations calendar---often holds about now, but with the lockdown still on, what are your plans?
Nden: Yes, we're working on it. We still have time; our stakeholders' retreat is normally in the last quarter of the year,

possibly October/November. So, we pray that before that period, God will have intervened in our situation and more milestones will have been achieved in treatment of Covid-19.
Abuja Digest Weekly: In many states, pensioners were not paid during the lockdown. Here, what sort of reactions have you been getting from them, bearing in mind that FCTA kept paying their pensions?
Nden: The pensioners have been happy. They have been calling to show their appreciation. And I want to announce to you that we have not received news of the loss of any of our pensioners due to the Covid-19, which is a very good development anyway. And we also want to use the opportunity to advise our senior citizens to remain safe. During the early lockdown period, we sent messages through our social media sites to them counseling them on healthy living, abiding by regulations and ensuring that they are safe. We understand that senior citizens are most prone to being affected by the virus, so we always advised them to remain in one place and be proactive in whatever measures they were taking to mitigate the effects of the virus.

But we are happy that now that we have opened operations we intend to follow up on some of them that are bed-ridden who we discovered during the verification exercise. We'll follow up and see if there are any palliatives that we can give to them. We also want to thank the Honourable Minister of State for giving palliatives to some of our junior staff which we received with joy. We expect that the same gesture will be extended to us to give to our senior citizens, who we call our clients.

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