We celebrate Laja Shoniran, an accomplished author, management consultant and foremost retirement expert who has dedicated over two decades helping individuals reinvent their careers and life after service. Laja Shoniran has a passion for empowering people to live intentionally.
Shoniran talks with Publisher, BLACKWASH, Oludare Sorunke, about his new book, Retirement Reinvented, shares insights into the struggles and triumphs of retirees, how to plan for life after service and experience fulfillment in retirement.
Tell us about the retirement landscape in Nigeria
“If it’s not in your mind, it may never be in your hands”.
Retirement affects everyone, young or old, male or female in all aspects and stages of life. Everyone will retire someday, if we live long enough. If you’re not retired, you must have someone close to you who is or about to. Their well being directly or indirectly affects you physically, financially, psychologically and socially.
I often liken retirement to a big ship that hauls thousands of tones of goods from one part of the world to another. There are different components and compartments that make up the ship. But the ship operates from a basic and simple understanding of the law of floatation – a floating object displaces a weight of liquid equal to its own weight. For some of us that grew up in the seventies, rainy season was always a delight. Apart from the opportunity to play in the rain, we also had the privilege of creating water boats with paper and would compete to see whose boat would outrun the other in the steady flow of rain water. The basis of our joy and excitement while creating our paper boats was our simple understanding of floatation.
Retirement has many components and compartments. It has different applications and processes in different regions and parts of the world. Sometimes, the rules within countries may differ, depending on whether you work in the private or public sector or you are self employed. However, the floatation and basics of every effective retirement planning is the culture of savings and investment. This is where the issues are. Without intentionally cultivating the habit of saving, retirement planning and experiencing fulfillment in retirement may be a mirage for many people.
Now, talking about the retirement landscape in Nigeria. There is still a lot to do to enhance the welfare of the elderly. It is important to note that though, we are not where we should be, we have moved far from where we used to be in the days of Defined Benefit Pension Scheme (DBPS). Those were days when stories of retirees collapsing and dying while on endless queues to collect their monthly payments was common. Even today, retirees are not able to access medical care because they are being owed backlog of payments. Though, there are still a lot of carry overs from the underfunded Defined Benefit Pension Scheme, which was operational till 2007, the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) has given retirees and their beneficiaries a beacon of hope.
As at March 2023, the value of Pension Asset under the Contributory Pension Scheme in Nigeria stood at N15.58 trillion with about 10 million contributors. That figure is a far cry from the 69.6 million Nigerian workforce, according to National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). This means that about 59.6 million workers are without pension. With more awareness, a lot of companies have embraced the scheme, now we are beginning to see an uptake of micro-pension for self employed business owners which will further increase the coverage and providing future retirees access to their contributions at the twilight of their lives.
Retirees all over the world are faced with constant devaluation of their currencies through inflation and and economic uncertainties. Many have had their lifetime savings depleted because of inflation. The situation has become more precarious, because pension payments are fixed income left to the wimps and caprices of inflation. Imagine a pensioner whose monthly pay out is N100,000 ($135). A few years ago, this amount would be more than enough to cater for his needs but today, the real value or purchasing power has reduced drastically and there’s no commensurate increase in the take home of the pensioner. This is one of the reasons why I am an advocate of active retirement.
You just mentioned active retirement. What exactly is active retirement?
Active retirement is a concept of actively engaging physically, mentally, spiritually and psychologically in retirement as opposed to the traditional norm of retirement being a period of inactivity. Retirement is another phase of life filled with all manners of opportunities; freedom to pursue your dreams, go for adventures, and time to give back to the community.
Someone said “Retirement is not the end, but the beginning of a new Highway” My point here is that active retirement is more than just activities that seniors engage in during retirement. It means being engaged in meaningful activities that enhance a retiree’s life, particularly as it relates to service to others and helping to make the world a better place for all. It has often been said that the best way to find true and lasting happiness is to serve other people. Active retirement is giving life another shot either through volunteering, mentoring young people, supporting a cause, starting a business, engaging in hobbies, going for that higher degree, writing that book you’ve put off for years, or travelling the world to know about other people and cultures.
How do workers plan for retirement with Nigeria’s minimum wage of N30,000 (less than $30) against that of other African countries?
People ask me this question most of the time. We cause confusion when we begin to compare Nigeria’s minimum wage with other countries. Recently, I had a discussion with a senior friend who retired in the United States of America (U.S.A) before relocating to Nigeria. He confided in me that his pension was regularly paid into his account. But when I asked why he didn’t go back to the U.S.A to stay, he responded that his pension could only guarantee him food and a space on the street like other homeless retirees. So, there is no basis for comparing N30,000 in Nigeria with $1,000 in the U.S.A, as both environments are different, with varying costs of living.
You see, what you earn is just a fraction of what determines how well you prepare for life and retirement. We carried out a survey around our office some few years ago. The results showed the obvious- the people who earned around minimum wages were the ones that owned the houses where those who earned more than minimum wage lived. The artisans, petty traders, small business owners are the ones who will go into the interior, those places you and I will call bush and build houses. When a factory is built there tomorrow and the so called big ‘ogas’ (executives) are looking for accommodation, they will rent / lease/ buy properties owned by the artisans. If building a house is fundamental to having a good retirement, then, many of the so called minimum wage earners are better prepared.
How can people earning minimum wage plan for retirement? I would say by saving part of their earnings. Someone said that compound interest is the seventh wonder of the world, but I will say that cultivating a savings culture irrespective of what you earn is key to ensuring a better tomorrow. Also, being part of the Contributory Pension Scheme is an advantage, as the portion contributed by the employer would go a long way in building the retirement savings. They can also save extra income or unexpected funds, gifts, etc, into their Retirement Saving Accounts. The point is, everyone can save no matter their level of income. No matter how hungry a farmer is, he would not eat up his seed even in time of famine because he knows his survival depends solely on his seed. The moment we begin to see part of our income as a seed for the future, it becomes easier to save.
People view retirement with fear and anxiety. It is another phase of life pregnant with uncertainties. What is your take?
Well, it is natural for us to approach change with some level of anxiety. Especially, considering the fact that you’re about to transit from a routine and workplace you’ve known for upward of three decades. That is how we are naturally wired. The first day you sleep in a new house is not likely to be the day you’ll have the best of sleep irrespective of how nice the new house is. The first day at school, at work, as a married couple all come with trepidation. That’s how the human brain works.
Retirement is not different. Human beings will always resist change, but change must come. So the first step to mitigating the fear of retirement is acceptance. Accept that a phase of your life is about to end and another is about to begin. This acceptance must consciously come from your mind. This can be made easy by reading books and other literature on retirement, or attending retirement seminars or training. Embrace it as a new phase that must be enjoyed, no matter what happens.
Remember the freedom that beckons and the opportunities to do the things you’ve always loved to do. Then create a plan for how you will spend the first few days, weeks and months. Don’t rush yourself; take it one day at a time. If however you cannot adjust to the new life, you may need to talk to a retirement coach or counselor. Alternatively, you can talk to your older colleagues who are doing well in retirement.
Are you a retiree?
No, I’m not a retiree but about to reach the statutory age of retirement. As an advocate of active retirement, I intend to embrace active retirement wholeheartedly. I started on this journey 18 years ago through an encounter I had with the plight of some retirees. I was about 40 years old then. On that fateful day, I went to see a client in Ikoyi, a highbrow area in Lagos, Nigeria. On our way, I noticed some very elderly people, queuing at one of the government offices. Some were sitting on bare floor, while others, drenched in their sweat, struggled to stand erect or find something to lean on, due to the scorching heat of the sun. They were not provided with chairs or shelter. Upon enquiry, I was told that they were there to collect their pensions. What I saw that day really broke my heart. I could not imagine elderly people being subjected to that kind of indignity after spending their active lives in service of the country. A few days after that incident, I heard that some of those retirees had collapsed and died while waiting for their pensions. I was deeply troubled because I couldn’t stop thinking that those elderly people I saw had died.
Even in my distress, I heard a voice saying;“don’t pity them, they got what they deserve”. As a christian I thought it was the devil suggesting that until I got a rider; “if you don’t plan your retirement, you’ll end up like them”. That encounter was one of the defining moments of my life, as I began to research about retirement. In 2004, I had the opportunity to propose a training program to some staff of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) who were about to leave service. I proposed a workshop on retirement /entrepreneurship. More than 120 participants attended the training which lasted 3 weeks. Since then, we have reached thousands of people directly and indirectly with the message of planning for retirement.
My new book, Retirement Reinvented, was launched recently to serve as a guidebook based on my 18 years of experience in retirement training, coaching and counselling.
How can people find fulfillment in retirement?
Fulfillment is the state and feeling of satisfaction that you get from doing or achieving something meaningful. This feeling differs from one person to another. Finding or achieving fulfillment in retirement depends largely on the person in question. Often times during coaching or counseling, people list fulfillment as one of their retirement goals. When asked what they meant by fulfillment, they would say ‘spending time pursuing my passion, learning something new, studying for my doctorate, spending time with family, going on holy pilgrimage, starting a business, going for an adventure, travelling the world, starting a non governmental organisation (NGO), becoming more committed in their faith, helping their communities, volunteering to teach in a community school, learning a new musical instrument, etc.
Till their last breath, the patriarchs in the Bible did not retire. Entertainers rarely retire. Presidents of many countries are in their 60s-70s and in most cases, they perform better than the younger ones. Why do you think people should retire?
It is very interesting to note that there was only one mention of retirement in the Holy Bible and even in that instance, the so called retirees were to assist their brothers at the gate. Our research also shows that in almost all other major religions of the world, retirement was never a time to sit idle, but rather a time to be more committed to serving the community, whether politically or spiritually. So retirement was never a spiritual injunction, but a social construct that came into existence during the Roman Empire, meant to keep the loyalty of old soldiers, but later popularized in the early twentieth century as a social safety net for the elderly.
In many African and other traditional societies, people retire. You farm till you cannot go to the farm anymore, and if you’re lucky, you join the league of elders in the community to adjudicate in communal matters. This probably explains why most Africans don’t see the importance of planning for retirement. A survey carried out some years ago shows that most employees are not prepared for retirement. We no longer live in rural communities and majority has adopted the urban lifestyle, hence the need to plan for what to do when retirement happens. We advocate active retirement as a concept to ensure continuous physical, mental, social and spiritual engagements.
Having people in their sixties and seventies in positions of power to me is just a way of transposing our traditional way of life into the current political arrangement. Except in very few cases, people who rule in our traditional polity are elders, in fact, they are called council of elders. Now, to say whether these older leaders are better leaders than the younger ones is a discussion for another time.
What activities should people engage in during retirement?
Engagements in retirement can come in many different forms. What every retiree that intends to enjoy a fulfilling retirement should keep in mind is SERVICE to others. This service must be something the retiree enjoys doing and gives him a sense of fulfillment and purpose. It is also important to look at areas where acquired skills and knowledge can be useful to both the retiree and his community.
Volunteering to teach in schools is a very exciting way to be active in retirement. It keeps you physically, mentally and socially alive. Studies have shown that retirees who engage in teaching or mentoring younger ones report a heightened sense of youthfulness and alertness. Some say it makes them feel alive again.
There are other activities like writing, arts and craft, playing musical instruments, gardening, photography, journal writing, dancing, travelling, going on adventures, learning a new language, discovering and pursuing your hobbies and interests. I always like to add that having a good knowledge of the internet is also a key activity to be engaged in during retirement. Being able to be up to date in this digital era is key to enjoying a fulfilling retirement.
Do retirees need training and coaching?
This is like asking if a child needs training to know how to read and write. Absolutely! Retirement is a different stage of life and every phase of life has its own knowledge and skills requirements. Many retirees experience misery and regret, not because they wasted their resources, or were lazy but because they lack the requisite knowledge required for this phase of life.
I will advice every intending retiree to buy and read books on retirement. There is nothing new under the sun. There’s no situation you will go through that someone has not gone through before. By reading, you learn from other people’s experiences. The other thing is to ensure you attend retirement trainings, seminars or workshops. Ignorance at this stage of life is catastrophic as it affects all aspects of the retiree’s life. Now is the time to embrace continuous learning. Every retiree needs knowledge, skills and the right mental positioning to enjoy this critical stage in life.
Often times, government pensioners experience neglect and complain about irregularities in their payments. These older citizens spent most of their active lives serving the country. Do you share their pain?
Yes please, I share their pain. I want to appeal to government to ensure that these seniors who have served the country meritoriously are given their benefits at record time. On the other hand, I want to advice that employees should not depend solely on statutory contributions to pension funds but ensure that they also put aside in their Individual Retirement Savings Accounts (IRSA) funds like bonuses, unexpected windfalls, cash gifts, etc.
Also, employees nearing retirement should start early to process their gratuities and other retirement related payments to forestall situations where two or more years into retirement, they cannot access their gratuities. I engaged many retirees who experienced delay in payments of their benefits. Initially, it was believed that the Pension Funds Administrators (PFAs) were the ones holding back payments, but we later found out that delays were usually caused by incomplete documentation. Most retirees are aware when the time for active service is coming to an end, so they should start the processing early enough to ensure prompt payment of their benefits.
What is retirement planning?
Retirement planning relates to all activities and processes you put in place to ensure you live a worthwhile retirement. It involves determining your retirement income, setting retirement goals and all that is needed to achieve these goals. You need to identify your income sources, create a retirement budget, plan what you’ll do with your time, ensure continuous savings, managing your assets and mitigating your risks.
Most people see the elderly as a burden. In Nigeria there’s no safety net for the aged. Many states do not have old people’s homes. What is the cause and what can governments do to provide succor for the aged?
It is sometimes difficult to know why governments fail to provide basic amenities for the people. However, one can say that our traditional social structure of communal living and extended family system has ensured that older members of the society are taken care off by their immediate families, especially the younger ones in the community.
However, as our society is fast becoming urbanized, the family unit is being fragmented, resulting in the collapse of the extended family system. Families are now growing smaller, and people expect that government should be responsible for the welfare of the aged. Even in our traditional setting, traditional rulers do not take care of the aged. It is unfortunate that successive governments have failed to build old people’s homes. The few ones built are poorly managed.
In your book, you mentioned that retirees must have their eyes on 3 aspects of retirement, namely financial, social and health. Please explain.
Every retiree must ensure that they are financially prepared for retirement. It is a new phase of life filled with opportunities and uncertainties. Part of being financially prepared is your retirement savings account with your Pension Fund Administrator. Knowing what you have there and other investments (cash or kind) is important. Essence is to ensure that you have enough in savings and investments that would last the rest of your lifetime. Being financially literate is very important to enjoying a purposeful retirement. Learning to manage your finances and making your money work for you require skills. A financial expert can help you maximize your finances in line with your retirement goals.
The social aspect of retirement is even more critical because we are what biologists call social animals. We thrive better when we interact with others. We all need to associate with people of like minds. This is where volunteering, pursuing your interests and passion come in. Being engaged with alumni, professional associations and other social groups is also key to maintaining social cohesion. Isolation and separation from social groups has been identified as one of the causes of depression and feeling of uselessness in retirement. While having money is very important, having a vibrant social network is far more important in retirement because it creates a safety net.
Health, they say is wealth. What you would be in retirement is a culmination of what you have done over time while in employment. Being health conscious starts from how you treat your body. Do you sleep well, eat well? Do you exercise or engage your mind? Have you cut off those harmful habits that are inimical to your health?
Why is it good to prepare a Will?
A Will is a legal document that indicates how a property is administered, managed, distributed, shared and even wound up after the testator has passed on. This document can be amended or revoked in the testator’s lifetime. It is good to write a Will to ensure that assets and property are distributed accordingly. Having a Will saves time, money and prevents litigation among beneficiaries. Without a Will, the court will have to name an Administrator to manage the estate of the diseased. This process can be time-consuming, expensive, and even contentious among beneficiaries.
How can we get your book and what formats are available?
Retirement Reinvented is a guidebook and compendium of over 18 years experience in life after work, research, training, coaching and counseling retirees. It advocates active retirement which is a paradigm shift from traditional retirement of decline and idleness. Retirement is another phase of life filled with numerous opportunities that should never be wasted.
Retirement Reinvented is available on Amazon as e-book and paperback. It is available at major book stores in Lagos, Nigeria. To order your copy, please call or WhatsApp 08023005235 or 09055869323 or visit www.mymoney-ng.com.