By Yusuf Ishaku Goje
Why have we chosen to stand democracy on its head in Nigeria? Why is the country operating a government that gives preferential treatment to the elites in the midst of wantom poverty? This totally negates the sacred ideals and principles that democracy represents – which should be a government of the people, by the people and for the people. It seems public trust has lost its true meaning and value in Nigeria, due largely to primitive accumulation by a few of the political elites.
These concerns and more continue to beg for answers as the gulf of class inequality keeps widening, with the rich getting richer and the poor, poorer. It is an irony for State governments, who are in desperate need of funds for development, to spend large chunk of its scarce revenue to sponsor the profligate lifestyle of ex-Governors. More worrisome is that many of the States are barely able to pay monthly salaries not to talk of providing social services or critical infrastructure.
Nearing the end of their tenures, most of the ex-Governors through the State’s Houses of Assembly enact self-serving pension laws despite the privileges worth millions if not billions they enjoyed while in office. Afterwards, they use their positions to win senatorial seat or lobby for ministerial appointment, where they again receive salaries and allowances. This arrangement is mostly consolidated by the imposition of their trusted lackeys as successors to protect such narrow interests.
Presently, it is on record that about 22 states have legislations that allow ex-Governors to enjoy pension for life. The states include – Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Borno, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kogi, Kwara, Imo, Lagos, Niger, Osun, Oyo, Rivers, Yobe and Zamfara. Between 2015 and 2019, 21 Senators and 5 Ministers were reported to be collecting pensions and allowances as ex-Governors and deputy Governors. At the same time receiving salaries and allowances from the new positions they occupied.
So also, in the current dispensation, no fewer than 15 Senators and 8 Ministers are ex-Governors benefiting from double remuneration. However, the point must be made that by virtue of the National Assembly Commission Act, Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Commission Act and the various State Pension Laws; the identified ex-Governors have not broken any law. This means an amendment or repeal of the Acts and laws is needed to stop the double remuneration enjoyed by ex-governors presently holding public offices.
Nonetheless, they are morally bound to follow the foot step of the former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, who had stopped his pension and allowances as ex-Governor of Kwara state. Also, an ex-Governor of Lagos State and the current Minister of Works, Babatunde Fashola, in rejecting it said, he was ‘morally conflicted’ with the idea of the State Pension Law and had declined to benefit from the privilege.
The revelation made by Senator Shehu Sani during his tenure at the National Assembly on how much our legislators earn is instructive, as it shows the benefitting ex-Governors are already adequately remunerated. There is no need to continue being liabilities by receiving pensions and allowances thereby starving the states of much needed funds for development. To demonstrate how ex-Governors have continued to feed fat in the midst of ravaging poverty, two State pension laws will be cited below.
The Lagos State Pension Law, 2007, provides life salary of 100% of the salary of the incumbent for ex-Governors who were not impeached; two houses worth not less than N300m each. Another house in Abuja for those who served complete two terms; 300% as furniture allowance every two years; house and vehicle maintenance 10% and 30% respectively; and utility bills at 20%. Furthermore, their annual pension is put at N30million; entertainment 10%, six domestic staff paid by government. All round medical coverage for them and their families, security and 6 vehicles of not less than N20m replaceable every three years and utility cars at N5million.
Likewise, in Zamfara state, the repealed Grant of Pension to Governor or Deputy Governor Amendment Law, 2006 provided for life pension to ex-Governors at 100% of the salary of the incumbent. It further provides for two vehicles at N20m each, domestic staff and medical as well as vacation at home or abroad. Recall that an ex-Governor of Zamfara State had been in the Senate, from 2007 to 2019, benefiting from the Law by receiving pension from the state coupled with salaries and allowances as a Senator.
Commendably, the Zamfara State House of Assembly had abolished the law enacted for the payment of pension and other allowances for ex-Governors and their deputies – which previously cost the state over N700million annually. Similarly, Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, during the presentation of the 2021 draft budget to the State House of Assembly also proposed a bill to stop the parasitic pension given to ex-Governors.
This State pension laws contradicts the spirit of 1999 constitution (as amended) particularly Section 14 (2b), which states: “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”. It further directs in Section 16 (1b) as thus, “Control the national economy in such manner as to secure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen on the basis of social justice and equality of status and opportunity”.
Consequently, all stakeholders must engage in advocacy by engaging the State Houses of Assemblies to demand for the amendment or annulment of all pension laws for ex-Governors and their deputies. The focus should particularly be on ex-Governors who are now Senators and Ministers pocketing our scarce resources by earning double payment as salaries, pensions and allowances. With an infrastructure deficit of about three trillion dollars, according to the World Bank, and being the World capital of poverty, we cannot continue to afford these wastages – that is if we are truly serious about achieving political stability, economic recovery and sustainable development.