The Kwara State House of Assembly recently passed a law to stop ex-governors of the state from enjoying pension while still holding public office as that would amount to double pay. At a time the Nigerian economy continues to bleed from lack of foresight in economic management by the authorities coupled with the drastic fall in oil revenue on the one hand and the high cost of running government, as shown in the rise and rise in recurrent expenditure, on the other, the Kwara lawmakers’ decision could be described as the best makeover by legislators anywhere in the country for now.
Though it is tempting to allude the motivation to self-interest and describe it as a war by other means considering the input of President of the Senate, Dr Abubakar Saraki, who probably needed to score a point vis-a-vis his running case with the Conduct of Conduct Bureau, it is by no means a legislative coup of big size. Even for its symbolism, it is significant that the number three citizen set it up. Henceforth, Senator Saraki, his predecessor, Senator Shaaba Lafiagi would stop feeding from the lean purse of the state and save it billions of Naira.
Indeed, past government officials enjoying pensions while holding another public office are many and not limited to governors. And one of the most alarming, if not criminal, aspect of corruption is unearned income by many public officials. The EFCC has published reports of public officials whose bank accounts and personal vaults at home breathes money to warrant further statement on it.
However, the moral extent of the Kwara example is large. Those ex-governors still benefitting from this scourge have a moral burden on them, however mannered they may act to the contrary; a searchlight is beaming on them wherever they go, a yardstick to measure their often claimed patriotism. It also provides a method that should conscientize informed citizen to be able to provide checks against future abuses, particularly since Governors Babatunde Raji Fashola of Lagos State and now Minister of Power, Works and Housing, his counterparts in Mines and Steel Development and Labour and Productivity, Dr Kayode Fayemi, formerly of Ekiti State and Senator Chris Ngige, ex-governor of Anambra state, had to reject their membership of this baleful club when an NGO, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), raised the issue publicly.
Indeed, the NGO had published the pension of the states, some of which are as far apart as Zamfara and Lagos, Akwa Ibom and Port Harcourt, for instance, to show that in spite of economic and commercial disparity between them, earnings accruing to ex-governors do not reflect the inequality. Except for Lagos and Rivers which earn Internally Generated Revenue, IGN, in the range of between N20- 40 billion monthly, most states in the country barely manage to rake in a few millions, even so from non-commercial sources and have to wait helplessly for Abuja to collect the monthly statutory allocations before they can carry out any meaningful activity.
According to SERAP, in Zamfara, “former governors to receive pension for life; two personal staff; two vehicles replaceable every four years; two drivers, free medical for the former governors and deputies and their immediate families in Nigeria or abroad; a 4-bedroom house in Zamfara and an office; free telephone and 30 days paid vacation outside Nigeria.”
“Under the Lagos Pension Law a former governor will enjoy the following benefits for life: Two houses, one in Lagos and another in Abuja estimated to cost between N500 million and N700 million. Others are six brand new cars every three years; furniture allowance of 300 per cent of annual salary every two years, and a close to N2.5 million as pension (about N30 million pension annually); free medicals including for his immediate families; 10 per cent house maintenance; 30 per cent car maintenance; 10 per cent entertainment; 20 per cent utility; and several domestic staff.”
“In Rivers, state 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; 300 per cent of annual basic salary every four years for furniture; 10 per cent of annual basic salary for house maintenance.”
“In Akwa Ibom, state law provides for N200 million annual pay to ex governors, deputies; pension for life; a new official car and 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; free medical services for governor and spouse totalling N100 million for the governor per annum and N50 million for the deputy governor; a five-bedroom mansion in Abuja and Akwa Ibom; and allowance of 300 per cent of annual basic salary for the deputy governor; 300 per cent of annual basic salary every four years and severance gratuity.”
According to the organisation in a petition to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Shehu Malami, “the following governors are receiving double emoluments and large severance benefits from their states, 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 include: Ahmed Sani Yarima (Zamfara); Danjuma Goje (Gombe); Bukar Abba Ibrahim (Yobe); Adamu Aliero (Kebbi); George Akume (Benue); and Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers), Magatakawa Wamako (Sokoto).
That is how it is in all the states, many of which are still owning their workers several months of unpaid salaries. There is no better index of misery and evidence of the collective rape of the resources of their states by these ex-governors than the poverty and lack of productivity there in spite of the rich mineral resources abounding in them.
How states that do not generate sufficient revenue to pay their wages and bills could get the money to pay such fat pensions boggles the mind.
Rightly, SERAP has alerted the chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Governor Abdulaziz Yari and his colleagues to follow the Kwara example and take up the challenge to end double pay for ex-governors and their deputies. After all, these ex- governors dictated the expenditure profile of their states while in office for two-terms of eight years and therefore know that many of their states are economically weak and commercially poor. Why then should they refuse to play the more honourable role of statesmen rather than the ignominious one that such an act will bring to them?. Is it not more honourable to constantly be in the hearts of the people they once served rather than be in their bad thoughts? Which is more honourable and preferable? To amass cloth and gold which are wordless or to have one’s fellow men and women answer back anytime one calls them?
Even though the Kwara example is targeted at double pay, the point is that the pension is too exclusively high and prohibitive to be called pension. It is tension on the states.
We salute the courage of Kwara lawmakers for this move. We salute Fashola, Fayemi, Ngige and Saraki for their courage to reject such tempting offers in a country where money is everything. We call on others to follow suit. It is not late for them to join the league of the Fasholas, Fayemis, Ngiges and Sarakis. That is the only honourable path. Nigeria is bleeding from sleaze; she needs men and women to rise up to be counted. The long term solution, in our considered view, lies in the reign of equality, equity and prosperity in the land in the event that government obeys the Constitutional diktat to provide for the economic and social and well-being of the citizenry as enshrined in the section of Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy
Still, we call on the revenue authorities and legislators in the respective states to take a second look at the whole matter with a bid to cutting down drastically on the amount. We are not against the payment of pension. We are against the looting of the treasury of any state in the name of pension that ends up creating tension, which may blow an ill-wind sooner than later. The new executive officials of the Conference of Speakers of Assembly’s should please take note.