By Frank Ikpefan, Abuja
Organised Labour on Thursday rejected a fresh bid by governors to borrow from the N17 trillion pension funds.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) kicked against a similar proposal by Works and Housing Minister Babatunde Fashola to deploy workers’ retirement benefits being managed by Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs) in the development of infrastructure.
The NLC vowed to mobilise workers nationwide to protest any move to borrow from the money, saying it was the retirement benefit of workers.
NLC President Ayuba Wabba spoke on the rejection at the 47th National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of the Medical and Health Workers’ Union of Nigeria (MHWUN) in Abuja.
The Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) had endorsed two proposals to borrow N17 trillion from two sources for infrastructural development.
They took the decision after receiving a briefing from Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai, who is the Chairman of the National Economic Council Ad Hoc Committee on Leveraging Portion of Accumulated Pension Funds for Investment in the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority.
El-Rufai told the Forum on proposed National Infrastructure Investment Fund that N2 trillion at nine per cent interest could be accessed through the NSIA.
In his keynote remarks at the Nigerian pension industry retreat, Fashola said the growing nature of pension funds in Africa had not translated into a better quality of life for the contributors.
According to him, the accumulated pension funds could be invested in the provision of infrastructure.
He said pension reforms were beginning to gain foothold across African countries, adding that there is no corresponding impact on the continent, despite growing pension funds and rising number of contributors.
Fashola said: “The impact on the quality of life on the continent is not yet anywhere near minimum globally acceptable standards.
“No country to country rail service across most parts of these countries; the highways that connect most of the countries are in a very poor shape.
“These are roads that can easily be built and tolled to earn income to secure the return of pension funds invested in building them.’’
The minister said that pension funds could be invested in the construction of roads and building of rail, among other critical infrastructure.
Wabba, however, warned that the pension fund, which was the savings of workers ahead of their retirement from active service, must not be tampered with.
According to him, the governors have no constitutional authority over the money which was largely made up of contributory funds from federal and private sector workers.
He noted that over 18 states were still delaying the implementation of the N30, 000 national minimum wage for workers, lamenting that the governors wanted to borrow from the workers’ pension savings.
Wabba said: “Pension money is not for borrowing. Pension money is the retirement savings of workers. It cannot be borrowed. It’s like money in your savings account that nobody can borrow the money
“You must go through the bank and in this case, you must go through the PFAs and their guidelines; even the guidelines they want to play down, but to the glory of God, the board of PenCom has been constituted.
“I stand here to represent all of you. We are not going to agree; less than five per cent of the states are keying into the contributory pension. Yet they want to borrow the money. Bulk of the money is from Federal Government workers and private sector workers. So how do you want to borrow from where you have not sown?
“It’s not free money and let me sound a bit of warning. Any day that we hear the pension fund, our money has been borrowed, I will declare a protest and everybody is going to be on the streets to protect our hard earned money.
He added: “The money belongs to workers. We contribute that money so that when we retire we can have something for retirement. So they have no say whatsoever, both the principal and the capital belongs to us.
Let me assure all of you workers from across the length and breadth of this country, to say that our money will be safe. We will do everything possible to ensure that nobody comes to dip his hands into the money. We are not going to allow our standards to be lowered than what obtains in other climes.”
MHWUN National President Biobelemoye Josiah condemned the Federal Government’s involvement in scuttling strikes through the use of some non-governmental organisations, stressing that workers have legal rights to embark on industrial actions to drive home their demands.
He said: “In a plethora of cases, the courts have affirmed the right of the workers to embark on strike; that strike is a legitimate weapon available to the trade union to ventilate their grievances especially when the provision is S.41 of the Trade Dispute Act bordering on number of days has been compiled with.”