Harmonising Nigeria’s public service retirement age discrepancies

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President Bola Tinubu

By Mark Longyen, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

Mr David Adebayo and Ms. Ngozi Chinedu were two hardworking Nigerians with divergent career paths.

Adebayo, a senior administrative officer in the public sector, dedicated his life to the civil service.

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By the age of 60 which coincided with his 35 years in service he retired, according to government regulations.

In contrast, Chinedu, a senior marketing executive at a multinational corporation, continued working until the age of 65, benefiting from the stability and perks of her private sector job.

Upon retirement, Adebayo encountered several challenges. His pension, often delayed and not adjusted to inflation, was insufficient for a comfortable post-retirement life.

Losing his employer-sponsored health insurance forced him to rely on the National Health Insurance Scheme, which barely covered his basic healthcare needs.

Not having enough leisure time during his service years, post-retirement financial strain and inadequate healthcare support took a toll on his well-being.

Chinedu’s experience was however markedly different. Working until 65 allowed her to amass a larger pension fund, ensuring financial security on her retirement.

Her private health insurance continued into her retirement years, providing comprehensive coverage.

The extended work period also meant that she enjoyed a better work-life balance and job satisfaction, marked by professional growth and substantial earnings.

In retirement, Adebayo and Chinedu’s lives further diverged.

Adebayo, without a solid post-retirement plan, struggled with social isolation and mental health issues.

Chinedu maintained her professional network and engaged in community activities, finding a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

This narrative reflects the impact of retirement age discrepancies in Nigeria.

It underscores the relentless call by stakeholders on the federal government to accede to the demand for the review and harmonization of the retirement age of all public servants across-the-board.

Many public analysts believe that harmonising Nigeria’s retirement age discrepancies by addressing the variations in retirement ages across all sectors in the country, is long overdue.

According to them, inconsistent policies that culminate in retirement age disparities in the workforce is discriminatory, counter-productive, and a morale killer.

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has, for instance, persistently demanded that the retirement age and length of service in the entire public service be reviewed upward to 65 years of age and 40 years of service, respectively.

Reinforcing this standpoint, NLC President, Joe Ajaero, during the 2023 and 2024 May Day celebrations, reiterated that the organised labour was resolutely committed to its demand for the upward review and harmonization of public servants’ retirement age.

He said that increasing the years of service should be done uniformly across all sectors, instead of being selectively done in favor of  just a few sectors of the public service in the country.

“Only a few establishments, including the core civil service, are now left out.

“We are, therefore, demanding that the age of retirement and length of service in the entire public service, including the core civil service, be reviewed upward to 65 years of age and 40 years of service,” Ajaero said.

Concurring with Ajaero, the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), an NGO that is committed to strengthening democratic governance in Nigeria, also called for the immediate upward review of the retirement age of civil servants.

PLAC argued that this would facilitate an efficient pension administration process for the welfare of core civil servants, be they judicial officers like retired judges or public servants in any sector.

It was against this backdrop that former President Muhammadu Buhari on May 12, 2021, approved the upward review of the retirement age of health sector workers from 60 to 65, and catapulted that of consultants from 65 to 70.

The former President also signed a Law in 2022 increasing the retirement age for primary school teachers to 65, with no fewer than 15 state governments currently implementing it already.

On June 8, 2023, President Bola Tinubu signed a Constitution Alteration Act to amend Section 291 of the Constitution, to ensure uniformity in the retirement age and pension rights of judicial officers of superior courts.

This Act, the Fifth Alteration (No.37) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, eliminates disparity in the retirement age of judicial officers by harmonising it at 70 years.

It also reduces the period of service required to determine a judicial officer’s pension from fifteen to ten years.

Also, the Nigerian Senate recently passed a Bill to increase the retirement age for civil servants working in the National Assembly to 65 years or 40 years of service.

The Bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Bamidele Opeyemi as initiated by the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN), has set tongues wagging across socio-political and ethnic divides.

PASAN has argued that increasing the retirement age would help fill the vacuum caused by retiring experienced officers and better utilize their experience while building the capacity of younger employees.

According to Sunday Sabiyi, PASAN chairman, the Bill is expected to be signed into law by President Bola Tinubu soon, and when signed, national and state assembly workers will retire at the age of 65 years and 40 years of service, respectively.

Similarly, the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN) has been upbeat in its call for an upward review of the retirement age for employees in the core civil service.

Joshua Apebo, ASCSN Secretary-General, while reiterating the association’s position, urged the trade union movement to ensure uniformity in retirement age in the public service.

Apebo argued that since judicial officers, university lecturers, health workers, and primary school teachers now enjoy the new retirement age hike, and with that of the legislature in view, it was only fair that it also benefitted other core civil servants.

Dr Gboyega Daniel, a public affairs analyst, picked holes in the discrepancies in retirement age in Nigeria, and called for immediate policy reforms to harmonise the benchmarks.

Daniel said that these discrepancies create perceptions of inequality, favoritism, and strain the pension system, which affects service morale and productivity, culminating in imbalances and potential sustainability issues.

According to him, varied retirement ages complicate workforce planning and disrupt the systematic transfer of knowledge and experiences.

“The civil service mandates retirement at 60 years or after 35 years of service, while the academia sees professors and other academic staff retiring at 70 years.

“Judges and justices in the judiciary retire at ages ranging from 65 to 70, depending on their positions.

“Ditto for teachers, who have since had their retirement age jacked up by the Buhari administration,” he said.

He, therefore, suggested immediate legislative actions to amend existing laws and implement policy reforms that would establish unified retirement age across all sectors.

Dr Tunde Balogun, a UK-based Nigerian, said the current debate about reviewing the retirement age and length of service was not limited to Nigeria.

“Recently, the UK Government said it was considering raising the retirement age of public servants from the current 60 years to 68 years.

“At the moment, retirement at age 65 years is common in many EU member states. Many countries have already decided to raise the retirement age to 67 years.

“In 2020, for instance, Denmark, USA, Finland, and Canada extended their workers’ retirement age to 65 years, while Iceland, Israel and Norway increased theirs to 67 years,” he said.

Experts say that reviewing the core civil servants’ retirement age to 65 years and 40 years of service as well as harmonising the discrepancies across the board, is a policy that is long overdue.

Although some critics argue that the policy would be inimical to the career progression of their younger colleagues and affect fresh employments, its proponents say the benefits far outweigh its demerits.

According to them, achieving uniformity in retirement age policy can leverage experience and expertise, enhance fairness, efficiency, and sustainability in workforce management and pension systems.

They believe government should demonstrate sincerity of purpose and apply a holistic approach to the issue. (NANFeatures)

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