By Luke Onyekakeyah
Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s recent announcement of plans by his administration to repeal the Public Office Holder (Payment of Pension Law 2007), which provides for the payment of humongous pension and other mouth-watering privileges to former elected governors and their deputies is a step in the right direction. This bare-faced rip-off has for long attracted public opprobrium.
It is interesting that some state governments are beginning to realise that it is immoral to be paying abnormally huge financial and other benefits to ex-leaders who worked for four or at best eight years, and who have leveraged substantially from their state’s resources.
And while this official rip-off is going on, the masses of retired old, frail, and impoverished men and women who worked for 35 years in the civil service cannot be paid their meagre monthly pension that has been rubbished by inflation.
While these are left to die, as it were, the over-fed ex-leaders are paid more using the resources that would have been used to pay the poor suffering retirees. If this is not blunt cheating and gross injustice, what else it is?
There is public acclaim over the emerging trend of repealing those anti-people selfish pension laws for the ex-governors against the backdrop that the said pension scheme is a blatant abuse of the spirit and purpose of the contributory pension scheme that Nigeria operates. The ex-leaders did not contribute any funds to be saved as pension but are instead, paid first and unfailingly from the public till before any thought is spared for the thousands of famished retirees languishing across the country.
It would be recalled that the Zamfara House of Assembly, a short while ago, also abolished the same pension law that allowed the payment of pension and other allowances for the state’s former governors and their deputies, as well as ex-speakers of the state House of Assembly and their deputies.
The development came after a former governor, Absul’aziz Yari, in a reportedly leaked letter to the state government, requested his N10 million “monthly upkeep,” which he said had not been paid for months.
In a similar vein, Governor Hope Uzodimma, the other day, assented to a bill repealing the law that created pension allowances and gratuities for former governors, assembly speakers, and deputy speakers.
While signing the law in Owerri, the governor noted that the erstwhile law runs contrary to the 1999 constitution as amended, which stipulates that a pensioner must have worked for at least 10 years and must be up to 45 years of age. Going by this provision, no governor or president is qualified for a pension since none works beyond eight years.
Uzodimma regretted a situation where some of the beneficiaries of such payments also get a huge amount of money and salaries and allowances in other positions they occupy such as serving as senators or members of the House of Representatives.
He said, apart from the inconsistency of such law to the provisions of the constitution, this has led, for a very long time, to precedence that does not encourage diligence and prudence in service delivery.
Kwara State is another progressive state that has decided to do away with the obnoxious pension law under which former governors and their deputies collect monthly pensions.
Alhaji Rafiu Ajakaye, the Chief Press Secretary to Gov. AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, reportedly said in a statement recently that the governor was set to send an executive bill to the House of Assembly that would repeal the current pension law. Ajakaye said the executive bill would be transmitted to the lawmakers seeking the immediate repeal of pension law.
Come to think of it, the mere thought of enjoying humongous benefits in the name of pension after leaving office is enough to make the leaders act anyhow since the benefits were guaranteed whether or not they performed.
It is common knowledge that most of the ex-leaders didn’t perform while in office, which makes it unfair and immoral for them to enjoy a kind of Eldorado amid the poverty and want they left for their people by not providing the same good things of life.
A typical pension package for the ex-governors and their deputy consists of the basic salary of the current governor; three cars that are renewable every three years, the deputy will collect two; allowances for both the governor and his deputy includes free medical treatment for them and their families; housing and furniture allowances, which is 10 per cent and 300 per cent of their basic salary; car maintenance, entertainment, and utility allowances; pay for their cook, steward, gardener and other staff in their house. The pension law also allows them to hire as many houses helps as they need; their PA collects 25 per cent of the governor’s salary; payment of their drivers by the state. The state will also give them two SSS officers and eight policemen.
The foregoing represents what obtains in many states. Governor Sanwo-Olu had argued that the repeal of the ex-governors’ pension law would help the state meet the projections in the 2021 budget of N1.15 trillion. The illegal pension payment is paid using taxpayers’ money in the states.
Similarly, Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo State had stated while signing the pension repeal law that the state cannot afford to continue paying the huge pension package to the ex-governors. He argued that every four or eight years, we have a new set of ex-governors and their deputies, speakers, and deputy speakers. He said if the payment should continue, time will come in the future when almost all the state’s resources would be used in paying the ex-governors and nothing would be left for the state. This is a very sound and valid argument, which cannot be faulted.
I must commend the state governors that are championing this patriotic and pro-people action. However, in a way, the governors have no choice but to do the needful. Recent developments leave the governors with no choice but to repeal the law that robs people of the state’s scarce resources to pay ex-governors.
According to available information, the Pension Reform Act of 2004 changed the Nigerian pension system from defined benefits to defined contributions. That means private and public sector workers can only be entitled to a pension from the funds they contributed while in active pensionable work.
Since the salaries of the governors and their deputies are not subject to pension deductions, their pension is a different ball game, which can only be fixed by the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC). But rather than have that, the states turn to taxpayers’ money to pay the illegal pension.
Besides, Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo of the Federal High Court had in a suit filed by SERAP in 2017, ordered the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), to challenge the legality of the pension payments to ex-governors and their deputies. But there is no indication that the Attorney General, Justice Abubakar Malami, has taken any action in that regard. What could he be waiting for?
Moreover, the National Industrial Court in January 2020 also declared as null and void, payment of pension and gratuity to former governors and their deputies.
The law is clear, from the foregoing, that payment of pension and gratuity to the former leaders is illegal.
If that is the position of the law, there is no other choice left to the states than to repeal the law and release that burden from the states. That is what the governors are doing and it is laudable.
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