Pensioners across the country who have completed the Federal Government\'s verification exercise should from today check with their banks for the payment of their arrears, according to the Finance Minister, Mrs Esther Nenadi Usman.
Usman, at a symbolic take-off of the payment exercise in Lagos yesterday, said that the names and account numbers of the affected pensioners had been duly noted during the exercise about three months ago.
Of the 260,000 pensioners in the country, only about 200 picked randomly in Lagos received their cheques yesterday at the Eko Hotel and Suites.
The event was supervised by Usman, who announced that the other pensioners would receive their benefits through their respective banks.
The highest paid pensioner yesterday got N6 million while the lowest received N500,000.
Usman told the pensioners in Lagos: \"We are now in the process of creating an authentic and genuine list of pensioners as well as a record of accurate pensions liability of the different levels of government.\"
She confirmed that about 260,000 pensioners, who constitute over 95 per cent of the existing figure, had been verified.
The minister added that the various pension departments have submitted the details and data of the arrears, which was already being verified and reconciled.
As the arrears become fully reconciled, the amounts due to the senior citizens will be credited to their accounts, she said, explaining that details of those whose accounts had been so credited would be forwarded periodically to the respective pension departments.
She assured that the government had made adequate budgetary provisions for the settlement of pension obligations to verified pensioners on a monthly basis. \"After today\'s (yesterday) kick-off exercise, government will continue to pay your pension entitlements as they fall due every month,\" she told the elders.
Earlier in her keynote address, Mrs. Usman had apologised to the pensioners on behalf of the government for the pain and hardship they were subjected to in the past.
\"The sad picture of our senior citizens lining up outside and around the various pension pay outlets, often without any hope or succour, has become ingrained in the minds of most Nigerians,\" she noted.
Usman pointed out that, the verification exercise was necessary, adding that one of the most prevalent aspects of the fraud, which ended up denying the real pensioners of their entitlements, was the intractable cases of impersonation and forgery.
\"Your problems had been close and dear to every Nigerian because you are found in every family. Many of you suffered while undergoing the verification exercise,\" she said.
Prior to yesterday\'s payment exercise, the pension arrears nation-wide was put at N75 billion.
This amount, however, has been provided for in the on-going payment exercise.
Usman had said last month that the original intention was to issue the pensioners with Federal Government bonds, adding that the idea was dropped on the intervention of President Olusegun Obasanjo, who noted that it would hurt the ageing elder citizens.
Her words: \"When we calculated the pension arrears, it was huge. It was as much as N75 billion. We didn\'t have that kind of money, so we planned to give the pensioners bonds, but the President was particularly unhappy with the arrangement because, he asked: \'A 70 or 80 years old man, if you give him pension arrears in bonds, and you say it is cashable in so, so number of years, how many more years do you think he has to live?\'
\"So, based on that fact, we approached the banks and we have been able to strike a deal with them to take over these bonds and pay the pensioners same sum. The government will now pay back to the banks the value of the bonds. So, the pensioners do not have to lose any money during the transactions or by taking the bonds to banks to be discounted,\" she added.
While on a working visit to Kwara State last month, Obasanjo had announced that the government would release N75 billion to clear the pensioners\' arrears.
He had explained that after the payment of local contractors, the government would extend the same measure to the pensioners.