Any hope for the Nigerian retirees?

A book review by Ephraims Sheyin, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

By most accounts, retirees in Nigeria go through a tough time as their retirement benefits are either not forthcoming or irregular.

The grim picture of their plight is the same across the country. It is either they are on the streets protesting the non-payment of their pension for long periods, sometimes running into years, or they are slumping, or even dying, on unending verification queues.

Very often, these protests and queues are beamed live and viewers regaled with angry retirees’ tales of how they have been neglected, thrown out of rented apartments and their children driven out of schools over unpaid fees. Some even curse the years they committed to serving their fatherland.

The plight of the retirees appears to have even been worsened by the current contributory pension scheme which has replaced the defined benefit system where organisations took care of employees for life.

Under the new order, the retiree is expected to be paid a particular percentage of what he and his employer contributed into his pension account while in service, with the rest spread across 15 years. What happens after the 15th year is still a puzzle.

But Mr Zachariah Suleiman, a staff of the NNPC, in a book titled: “Preparing For A Happy And Comfortable Life In Retirement’’, has posited that retirement should not be a death sentence and declared that a retiree’s life would not be bleak, blank and black if he started planning for it from the first day at work.

In the 150-page book divided into nine chapters, Suleiman advises workers to be “proactive and start planning for the end from the beginning’’, pointing out that the galling situation facing the Nigerian retiree is as a result of poor planning and “deliberate refusal’’ to make sacrifices for life after service.

It defines retirement as “the act of stopping a particular type of work”.

It explains further: “To retire is to stop someone from a job in which he receives paid compensation. To retire from one’s job is to stop doing your job especially because you have reached a particular age or stipulated time of service.

“Retirement, therefore, is the act of leaving a job because you have reached or completed a stipulated time of service or voluntarily decided to disengage from service. It could also be compulsory when an organisation demands the stoppage of work.”

Written in very simple, lucid, concise and frank language, the book relays the direct experiences of retired workers, with emphasis on their regrets, to poignantly drive home a crucial message to those just starting work or who have been in the service – plan for a happy and comfortable life in retirement well ahead of that last day at work to avoid frustration, misery and similar regrets.

In a counseling tone that sounds speech-like and conversational, the author tries to address posers like “How does one plan for retirement? When should that start? How does one handle salaries and retirement benefits? Which business areas should interest retirees? Is retirement a death sentence? Is there any hope for the Nigerian retiree?’’, and many more.

Citing himself as an example, the author regretted that young workers usually view retirement as “`too far’’ to be worried about only to realise their folly after that “very distant future’’ arrives much earlier than they expected.

He says that to have a happy and comfortable retirement life, one must make the right choices and be courageous, determined and have a resilient mindset that will focus on the things of the future.

“The basic target is to have something to fall back on in old age or at that period of retirement when you no longer have the strength to work,’’ he says.

The book identifies periodic saving of one’s income as the first step toward a happy retirement.

It notes that amounts paid are often meagre and in most cases less than what was required for upkeep not to talk of saving a part of it, but says that it is not the quantum of money received that matters.

“What matters is self discipline, self control and a strong spirit; if you do not discipline yourself with the little you receive, even if you receive a huge amount of money, it will be difficult to invest.

“It isn’t how much you make that counts; it is how much you keep and invest in assets with positive cash flow that counts.

“The truth is, it is not easy to save when the amount you receive is small, but a worker must develop a saving habit and start with a small amount which will increase as he gets used to it.’’

Another step, it says, is to buy assets that have positive cash flow, rather than liabilities or personal effects that have no real value.

“Once money gets into your system, never let it come out to purchase liabilities. Think of this money as your employee. Money in your system should be money that should work hard for you as you have already worked hard to get it in.

“You have to always search for ways to put your money into work by converting it into assets that generate more money.’’

Listing possible areas of investment to include real estates, stocks, mutual funds and commodities, the book advises workers to search out such investments and get educated on them long before the arrival of money.

It particularly warns workers against thinking that their financial security on retirement was the responsibility of their company or government, saying that those thinking that way would be sorely disappointed.

“There is the need to prepare for the disappointment that is coming. When you prepare for a disappointment, you will turn disappointment into an appointment,’’ it says.

The book also advises workers to quickly identify their areas of interest and passion which they intend to follow at retirement, and take time to learn all the skills that are required in that area so that the transition to the new undertaking after retirement would be easy.

“Make efforts to understand the needed survival skills in your chosen area of interest. If you intend to be a consultant, make efforts to learn the skills of consultancy while you are still working. Do not wait until you are retired before you start searching and investigating the needed requirement of being a consultant,’’ it says.

The book also advises workers to always seek additional means of income besides their monthly wages. It suggests that part of salaries should be invested into funding the additional income stream to bring in more income into the house and spare even more savings into additional investments.

“Many workers depend on a single stream of income over the years; the consequence is that whenever there appears to be any threat to this single source of livelihood or stream of income, life tends to stand still because we do not have an alternative that we can fall back on, in case of any set back.

“There is therefore a need to look beyond our immediate and single stream of income so that we can avoid the shocks usually associated with the unexpected termination of our single source of income.’’

On possible extra income streams, the book advises workers to identify the passions they hoped to pursue at the end of their working careers and start practising them on a small scale or part time basis either after work, during weekends or holidays.

It also suggests petty businesses that could be started on a small scale and nurtured to bigger ventures as proceeds are reinvested into expanding it.

The book also counseled workers on ways to handle extra cash that comes to them at the work place outside their monthly wages. It lists such extra cash to include leave grants, thirteenth month salary, housing grant and other entitlements.

“Such monies are unexpected and one could do without them because of the existing income.

“Such money should be invested, but many workers waste such extra income in unproductive activities including adding more wives, girl friends or cars instead of attaching value to it and deploying it into useful ventures that will bring in profit.

“What happens with most of us is that the moment we realise additional money is coming, what comes to mind is how we should change our status. This is bad.’’

The book also cautions workers against loans and debts that could make them slaves to those they borrowed from.

It however, encouraged workers to accept a good debt that could pay itself and even bring more money into their pockets, while avoiding bad ones that would drain their money.

It claimed that Africa’s wealthiest man, Aliko Dangote, sourced his start-up capital from a debt he collected from his uncle years ago, adding that many other rich men got wealthy by collecting debts which they multiplied.

The book also advised workers to strive to live below their earnings, urging them to spend far less than they have.

“The rich and successful have discovered that life does not mean behaving to please those around them but being true to themselves. What others say about them does not mean anything to them.

“The moment you develop the attitude of living well below your means, you create a surplus and this surplus enables you to plan the way to properly invest in ventures that would eventually change your entire life.’’

It also advises workers and retirees to be wary of where to invest money and avoid turning their money to total strangers.

“When you hand over your money to total strangers, your money will work for the strangers first before it will work for you.

“If you want to be happy, comfortable and rich in retirement, you have to be financially literate by opening your eyes, ears, and your mind to all information around you in order to put your money into the right ventures so as to avoid frauds.’’

With wonder banks and “money doubling’’ outfits duping gullible Nigerians of their retirement benefits and savings, such advice could not have come at a better time.

The book also advises workers to psychologically prepare for retirement by reminding themselves, everyday, that the job will end one day.

“The worker must tell himself everyday that everything that has a beginning must have an end; that there is a day to begin and a day to end, just like there is a day to be born and a day to die.

“Just like there is life and death, there is retirement in the work place. Those who begin with the end in mind live the highest quality of life after retirement.’’

It posits further that workers, who keep the last day in mind, are more likely to write down their goals, create a plan and focus on the idea.

The book also advises workers on the need to develop the discipline of drawing up a budget.

“A budget will guide you to control and apportion the money according to the different ways that make you realise your ambition of becoming a successful person.

“With a budget, a worker will determine how much is spent on food, telephone calls, clothes, fuel and other liabilities that eat up earnings without adding value to the present situation. Reflecting on such costs could help one to cut them,’’ it says.

It also dwelt on ways to manage money during retirement, and particularly reminded retirees that money goes to those who know how to manage it prudently.

“The fact is that money likes staying and multiplying in the hands of those who can send it on duty to work for them. It runs away from those who are not aware of the way to engage it into different active duties,’’ it explains.

But even more importantly, the book counsels retirees to invest more on their own businesses rather than businesses owned by others.

“The greatest avenue and means of investing money toward a happy life in retirement is business ownership. Business ownership is the ultimate way of making money and becoming financially independent to guarantee comfort while in retirement.

“A well run business could generate staggering profits and outperform any other means of gaining wealth. When you work for yourself, the commitment and burning desire to succeed would propel you to achieve results that would surprise you as the owner of the business.

“The key to wealth is through ownership, not through a salary,’’ it declares.

The book also advises workers against the temptation to embezzle public funds just to be comfortable when out of service.

“The worker must avoid a situation where retirement period, which is a time to rest, will be spent in the gallows. Nothing can be worse than that,’’ it warns.

But in spite of its rich content, critics see the book as too idealistic and argue that the author’s views are mainly determined by the fact that he was privileged to work with the NNPC, one of the best paying organisations in the country.

Positive minds, however, may likely appreciate it as a well researched effort that captures live experiences, and recommend the book as a MUST-READ for new, serving and retired workers striving to manage limited resources amidst competing everyday demands vis-a-vis the need to plan for the inevitable rainy day.

With more people retiring to abject poverty, penury and regrets, the book will indeed serve as a good eye opener to those about to enter, or already in service, on how to avoid pitfalls that had thrown their elders into streets as beggars, lunatics and living corpses. (NAN Features)

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