The civil service in Nigeria is the highest employer of labour of the public sector. Men and women employed in this sector are required by the Nigerian Civil Service Act to retire either upon the attainment of 60 years of age or thirty-five years of active service whichever comes first. The only exceptions are Judicial Officers and academic staff of Universities who retire at ages 65 and 70 respectively.
Retirees prior to now look forward to their retirement with ecstasy as they join the clique of the hallowed senior citizens having served their country meritoriously. In the last two decades, however, there appears somewhat a reversal in the ecstatic expectation of retirement. Several persons dread approaching their retirement year.
It is believed that this attitude is not unconnected with the diminishing state of the economy as soon to be retirees have forebodings about living month to month without a salary, no matter how meagre.
Another explanation for this feeling is the almost impossibility in the payment of retirement benefits of the retirees several years after retirement especially among state employed civil servants. While some are paid between 5-10 years after retirement, the unlucky ones do not live to see theirs.
The reasons above and perhaps more is believed to be behind age reduction by a large chunk of Nigerian civil servants. For some, it is the easy way out of early unplanned retirement. It is not uncommon to see people troop into Court complexes with the singular aim of deposing to an affidavit of age declaration. Most resort to the use of affidavits even when their birth certificates are available. The aim is to reduce their age and this reduction varies for some, usually between 10- 15 years.
This practice of age reduction has its attendant consequences. Firstly, it reduces productivity. There is agility connected with youthfulness, with age comes somewhat reduction in resourcefulness particularly for jobs where physical strength is required. It prevents assimilation of others into the system, employment opportunities with the sector is hardly available as those who ought to have retired are still in employment. Again, this practice encourages mediocre living, it is an indication of an overwhelming fear of the unknown. It appears to the employee that there is not much to life beyond the civil service, therefore, such a person is unwilling to try out new things but prefer rather to ‘buy time’ in the civil service by age reduction. Age reduction also engenders corruption and moral decadence.
To discourage this scourge, there is a need to re-orientate employees, life does not begin and end with the civil service. Core values of probity and dignity of labour must be upheld and rewarded. Retirement and life after retirement require adequate planning and preparation.
As part of reforms for the civil service, investigations should be made into declared ages of workers and those found defaulting should be relieved of their office.
There is also a need to take a second look at the code of conduct for public officers under the Constitution which prevents civil servants among others from running businesses except farming. Provided a small-scale business does not interfere with working hours of the employer as to bring a conflict of duties, such businesses should be encouraged. It can be argued, however, that this may be abused but one cannot turn a blind eye to the economic realities of the country, as a matter of fact, the code of conduct notwithstanding, some civil servants are constantly seen displaying their wares in their offices or nearby. Therefore, to avoid throwing away the baby with the bathwater, the law should be amended to accommodate the millennial realities.
Most importantly, the government should beam its searchlight on the present pension scheme that provides for contributions from the employer with a Pension Fund Administrator (PFA) and ensure that retirement benefits are paid not more than 12 months after retirement.
When there is visible improvement in the lives of retired civil servants, perhaps, the corrupt practice of age reduction will be less appealing to the workers.
Ginikachi Nkem Onyenukporo practices Law in Enugu.
A YALI Fellow, writer, Editor and Teens Coach & Counsellor. She is passionate about teenagers, good governance and civil society organisation and management.