By Osita Enwe
Mainstream media reports of Enugu State House of Assembly’s 11.03.2021, first hearing on the Gubernatorial Pension Bill, 2021, apparently omitted to inform the public that Enugu State Gubernatorial Pension Bill, 2021, (the “Bill”) seeks to repeal Enugu State Gubernatorial Pension Law, 2007, as well as to introduce crucial amendments.
In Enugu State as well as in over 22 States in Nigeria, past governors and their deputies earn fat pensions from the lean coffers of tax payers. The unquestionable validity of legislations on pensions to former governors and deputies received judicial imprimatur in the case instituted by the Registered Trustees of Human Development Initiatives & 39 Others against the Governor of Abia Incorporated State & 73 Others (Unreported Suit No. NICN/ABJ/47/2019 delivered on 23.01.2020) here referred to as the “Judgement”.
Michael Dugeri’s scholarly work on “Legal Validity of State Pensions Laws for Political Office Holders in Nigeria (https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3545797&download=yes) is very instructive on the subject of invalidity of former governors and deputies’ pension laws.
The Judgement appears to be more elaborate in view of its thoroughness and combined reading of constitutional provisions. In our view, it appears weightier than the earlier judicial pronouncements of the Federal High Court and National Industrial Court of Nigeria, that legislations on former governors and deputies’ pension enacted by respective State House of Assembly were unconstitutional. Such judicial pronouncements included orders that pensions paid thereto were to be recovered from the pensioners.
Given the validity of pension laws enacted by State House of Assembly, should we place both hands on our heads and retire home – to what appears to be a home for most Nigerians? Leaving the fledgling economies of most States in Nigeria to politicians-marauders of our social institutions – some States are evidently near bankruptcy given their inability to pay the increased (paltry) minimum wages punctually.
Could Nigerian Courts intervene to rescue Nigerians from the legislative rascality of, largely, all members of the various State House of Assembly who are apparently finely-hand-picked by the executive arm of government. Well, Nigerians distrust the constitutionally provided independence of the judiciary yet the judiciary is the last hope of the Nigerian people. Perhaps, the judiciary may take into account the cultural and social harm done by the “fine boys” of the State House of Assembly at the “bidding of their lord” and read pension into the meaning of remuneration under the Exclusive legislative list in the 1999 Constitution (as Amended) and strike down all the public officers’ pension laws in Nigeria as unconstitutional.
On 31.12.2019, Enugu State Government’s outstanding domestic expenditure arrears was at the sum of ₦24,252,954,596.73 (twenty four billion two hundred and fifty two million nine hundred and fifty four thousand five hundred and ninety six Naira seventy three Kobo) – these were solely outstanding gratuities & pensions owed to retired workers from 2010 to 2019 (https://www.enugustate.gov.ng/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/DOMESTIC-EXP.-2019.pdf)
Bede Chukwuekezie approximates Enugu State’s annual expenditure that will arise from the Bill when Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi promptly signs it into law at ₦1.153 billion yearly pension and ₦1.250 billion for vehicles (https://mobile.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10225574016834684&id=1155607910&_rdc=1&_rdr)
Notably, Vanguard report on 05.06.2019 stated that a retired primary school teacher in Enugu State, Mr. Onyekachi Okolie’s pension was unpaid to him for about 36 months in spite of urgent medical attention (https://www.vanguardngr.com/2019/06/sick-enugu-pensioner-cries-out-for-payment/) – the Motion, if any, moved on the floor of Enugu State House of Assembly by the honourable member that represents Mr. Okolie, following the Vanguard report is not in the public square.
Interestingly, well-meaning Nigerians together with civil societies should close rank against passage of the Bill into law. Social pressure and public debates – in-person and virtual – on the impropriety of the Bill appears to be an imminent way to stop the Bill being passed into law.
Enugu State Governor appears – expressed modestly – to be amenable to social pressure in the manner of an ostrich. To look to the judiciary for salvation is an arduous journey in view of its reluctance to interfere on issues touching on any bills before a legislative house as well as the precarious 3 months pre-action notice that the Houses of Assembly require for any law suit against it.
The Government of Enugu State, has shown more audibly, its true response to the global coronavirus pandemic that has further robbed Nigerians off basic necessities of food, clothing, shelter – and electricity. The State Government seeks to fatten the calf by all means – an affront to the sanity of a weakened people.
This is our early morning call to you and the rest of us not to supinely criticize any self-seeking policies and legislations such as the Bill, but to snap out of our reverie, close ranks and unanimously denounce the Bill by way of debates, protests, media campaigns, for what it is, a robbery of our fathers’ social values that include industry, diligence, reward, benefit, remuneration.
Written by Osita Enwe
@OsitaEnwe on Twitter
In this article: