The move by the Kwara State House of Assembly to stop payment of pensions to former governors and their deputies while they hold another public office, is commendable and should be emulated by other states, Davidson Iriekpen writes
The Kwara State House of Assembly last week became the first state to set in motion the process of reviewing the payment of pension to former governors and deputy governors during any period they hold a new political or public office.
The state's lawmakers last week passed a bill which seeks to review the existing law which guarantees payment of pensions to former governors and their deputies.
The amendment will allow such payments to be suspended while the erstwhile governors and their deputies hold new political or public offices.
The passage of the amendment bill which was forwarded to the assembly by Governor AbdulFatah Ahmed, followed public outcry that former governors’ pensions were bleeding the states and the argument that it was unreasonable to pay pensions to ex-governors and their deputies who are still holding public offices and taking salaries and entitlements therefrom.
The passage of the amendment bill followed the consideration of the report of the assembly's committee on establishment and public service on the public hearing on the legislative framework at the committee of the whole house.
Stakeholders at the public hearing had unanimously voted that payment of pension for former governors and deputy governors be halted if such persons are still holding political or public offices. Section 6A (3) of the amendment bill says, "Where pension and other benefits are suspended under subsection (1) in respect of any person, such pension and other benefits shall be resumed from the date the person ceases to hold any political or public office."
Recall that in 2010 Kwara State under Abubakar Bukola Saraki now Senate President, enacted a law which gives a former governor of the state two cars and a security car, replaceable every three years, a “well-furnished 5-bedroom duplex,” furniture allowance of 300 per cent of his salary; five personal staff, three DSS, free medical care for the governor and the deputy, 30 per cent of salary for car maintenance, 20 per cent for utility, 10 per cent for entertainment, 10 per cent for house maintenance.
The state is among the nation’s 36 states of the federation where houses of assembly have enacted laws which give generous pension entitlements to former governors that in many cases provide 100 per cent pay for the incumbent governors buildings, generous medical allowances for them and their family members and annual holiday provisions, all of which are to last for life. Provisions in the pension allowances are also made for staff, security and vehicles that are renewable every three or four years.As at last count, there were 20 former governors and deputies in the Senate and President Muhammadu Buhari's cabinet. The former governors now senators are: Bukola Saraki (Kwara), Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso (Kano), Kabiru Gaya (Kano), Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom), Theodore Orji (Abia), Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa), Sam Egwu (Ebonyi), Shaaba Lafiagi (Kwara), Joshua Dariye (Plateau) and Jonah Jang (Plateau). Others are Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko (Sokoto), Ahmed Sani Yarima (Zamfara), Danjuma Goje (Gombe), Bukar Abba Ibrahim (Yobe), Adamu Aliero (Kebbi) and George Akume (Benue).
Former deputy governors in the Senate are Ms Biodun Olujimi (Ekiti) and Enyinaya Harcourt Abaribe (Abia), while the former governors now ministers include Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers), Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti), Chris Ngige (Anambra) and Babatunde Fashola (Lagos).
In view of the current financial challenges being faced by the states across the country where a majority of them cannot pay workers’ salaries or embark on infrastructural projects, analysts have wondered the continued desirability of the pension laws enacted by state assemblies where billions of naira are paid to maintain former governors. This has thrown up a debate on whether the outrageous amount state governments are spending on pension payments to former governors is justifiable under the current realities. The debate was accentuated by the fact that a majority of these former governors are currently either senators or ministers who are also drawing salaries from public purse.
While the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) had approved payment of 300 per cent basic salary as severance allowances for political office holders on leaving office, the various state houses of assembly, all in the name of running a federal system of government, have gone ahead to approve a wide range of entitlements for ex-governors and their deputies.
The Lagos Pension Law approved by former governor Bola Tinubu in 2007, states that a former governor will enjoy the following benefits for life: Two houses, one in Lagos and another in Abuja. (Property experts estimates such a house in Lagos to cost N500 million and Abuja N700 million.), six brand new cars replaceable every three years; furniture allowance of 300 per cent of annual salary to be paid every two years, and a close to N2.5 million as pension (about N30 million pension annually). He will also enjoy security detail, free medicals including for his immediate families. Other benefits are 10 per cent house maintenance, 30 per cent car maintenance, 10 per cent entertainment, 20 per cent utility, and several domestic staff.
In Rivers, the law provides 100 per cent of annual basic salaries for ex-governor and deputy, one residential house for former governor "anywhere of his choice in Nigeria"; one residential house anywhere in Rivers for the deputy, three cars for the ex-governor every four years; two cars for the deputy every four years. His furniture is 300 per cent of annual basic salary every four years en bloc. House maintenance is 10 per cent of annual basic salary.
In Akwa Ibom, the law provides for N200 million annual pay to ex governors, deputies. He enjoys a pension for life at a rate equivalent to the salary of the incumbent governor/deputy governor respectively. A new official car and a utility vehicle every four years; one personal aide and provision of adequate security; a cook, chauffeurs and security guards for the governor at a sum not exceeding N5 million per month and N2.5 million for the deputy governor. There is also a free medical service for a governor and his spouse at an amount not exceeding N100 million for the governor per annum and N50 million for the deputy governor. Also, there is a five-bedroom mansion in Abuja and Akwa Ibom and allowance of 300 per cent of annual basic salary for the deputy governor. He takes a furniture allowance of 300 per cent of annual basic salary every four years in addition to severance gratuity.
The Kano State Pension Rights of Governor and Deputy Governor Law 2007 provides for 100 per cent of annual basic salaries for former governors and their deputies. Furnished and equipped office, as well as a six-bedroom house and four-bedroom for deputy, plus an office.
The former governor is also entitled to free medical treatment along with his immediate families within and outside Nigeria where necessary. It is same for deputy. Two drivers are also for former governor and a driver for his deputy; and personal staff below the rank of a Principal Administrative Officer and a PA not below grade level 10. There is a provision for a 30- day vacation within and outside Nigeria.
States such as Oyo, Sokoto, Zamfara, Gombe, Edo, and many others equally have these laws and are currently doling out billions to their former governors and their deputies.
Investigation by THISDAY reveals that in many of the states where these laws are operational, the speakers of the houses of assembly who presided over the passage of these laws did not not do so because they believed it was the proper thing to do but rather they allowed the laws to pass because of fear the governors would orchestrate their impeachment if they opposed the laws.
According to the RMAFC, a minister receives an annual basic salary of N2 million, accommodation N4 million, vehicle loan N8 million, furniture allowance N6 million, utility N607, 920, vehicle maintenance N1.5 million, entertainment N911, 880 and leave allowance N202, 640.
He or she also receives N506, 600 for personal assistants, N1.5 million for domestic staff, N303, 960 for newspapers and N6 million as severance gratuity. In addition, he or she is entitled to N35, 000 as duty tour allowance (DTA) per day. For foreign trips, a minister receives $1,000 per day.
For a senator, he or she earns a basic salary of N2,026,400.00, accommodation, motor vehicle loan (400 per cent of their annual basic salary), motor vehicle maintenance allowance (75 per cent of annual basic salary), furniture allowance (300 per cent of their annual basic salary), utilities allowance (30 per cent of their basic salary), and medical allowance.
Other benefits they earn are newspaper allowances, special assistant (between Grade Level 12 and 14), personal assistant, two legislative aides, one senior legislative aide, entertainment allowance, wardrobe allowance, constituency allowance and severance gratuity. Yet, these are not enough to quench their craze for good life.
Many observers and analysts have wondered why a governor in particular or his deputy who served for just four or eight years as the case may be should enjoy such largesse after all they benefited legally and illegally while in office when those who served for 30 or 35 years do not get a quarter of such benefits in retirement. Perhaps, what many observers cannot comprehend is that many of the former governors still enjoy huge contracts from the respective states they served.
Recently, a coalition of 40 non-governmental organisation (NGOs) sued the 36 state governors, 36 state assemblies, RMAFC and the Attorney General of the Federation seeking to nullify the various pension laws enacted by some of the 36 states Houses of Assembly. The suit which was filed at the Federal High Court in Abuja by the NGOs lead counsel, Chino Obiagwu, is seeking an order to recover any pension payments paid to ex-governor or deputy, saying the RMAFC law supersedes any law passed by the state legislatures. While many Nigerians are anxiously waiting for the outcome of the suit, they wish an intervention could come from other quarters especially from the presidency to stop the avarice and greed of the former governors.
This is why many Nigerians are surprised that President Muhammadu Buhari has turned a blind eye to the greed of the past state chief executives and has continued to fund their avarice through bailouts to state governments.
Though many analysts would have expected the law to be totally abrogated across the country, for now, they want states where it is operational to emulate Kwara State by reviewing theirs. This is why the Senate President, Saraki called on state assemblies to take a cue from Kwara and pass their own versions of the bill suspending payment of pension to former governors and deputy governors. In a statement last week, Saraki commended the Ali Ahmad-led assembly for working to pass the bill.
"I am pleased that following my conversation with Kwara speaker, Ahmad two months ago, the bill to suspend the payment of pension to former governors and their deputies when they hold a political or public office was passed into law yesterday by the Kwara State House of assembly. Moving forward, it is my hope that other state assemblies take a cue from Kwara State and pass similar pieces of legislation into law," Saraki said