Obscene pensions for state governors

Some few weeks ago, Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo, presiding judge at a Federal High Court in Lagos gave decision in favour of the Socio- Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) that brought a suit in December 2017 challenging the legality of 21 former state governors or deputy governors now serving as ministers and senators and drawing two salaries and emoluments, one as former governors and now ministers and senators. Even if it were not illegal, it will be immoral in situations where most states are unable to pay salaries and pensions. But in real fact, it is actually illegal. SERAP is also asking the federal attorney- general to sue the 21 former governors involved who have allegedly collected N40 billion since 2015. I have on one occasion written about the immoral allowances and pensions some of these governors awarded themselves on their way out of their executive mansions. For example In Akwa Ibom the most extreme in generosity, a former governor is entitled to the following: N100 million for medical treatment annually; N1 million monthly medical allowance; Five bedroom bungalow each in Abuja and Uyo; 300% of the basic salary of the incumbent governor; a new utility and three saloon cars every three years; foreign holidays for wife and children under 18 years; provision of personal aide, cook, security guards not exceeding N5 million per month.

Former deputy governor of Akwa Ibom receives about half of these humongous and unfair salaries and allowances.

It is of course not Akwa Ibom alone that is involved in this executive looting. All the states of the federation are complicit in this sordid deed. One of course hopes that Ekiti and Gombe states – the two poorest states in the country will not be involved. This is only a hope but my guess is that all the former governors and their deputies in Nigeria are collectively involved in this gubernatorial financial selfish financial self-aggrandizement.  It seems these governors are in competition with the federal legislators who are each allegedly earning from N23 – N28 million every month. The suit filed by SERAP hinges on the illegality of earning two salaries from the same government in the federation. I will even go further for a cancellation of pensions for governors and their deputies who may have served for between four and eight years or in some cases less than four years. Ordinarily a person who has not worked for up to 10 years is not entitled to pension under the old labour laws of Nigeria. My assumption is that former governors and their deputies were either self-employed or on salaried jobs before coming into elective offices and they are by my own reasoning not entitled to pensions.  We all know that these former state executives do not need these huge unearned pensions. The former governor of Lagos, Babatunde Raji Fashola SAN said he declined to accept any pension saying serving as governor of Lagos was sufficient honour for him. I commend Fashola and I hope this republic will benefit from his excellent character and service for many years to come. Dr Bukola Saraki also said he has stopped collecting pensions from poor Kwara State for now.

In the First Republic, members of parliament at regional and federal levels served on part-time basis. Those who were elected were professionals and whenever they left office they went to their jobs as teachers, lawyers and civil servants. I regret to say that some of them died in penury but this should not be used as justification for this financial shenanigans masquerading as pensions policy we have today.

We do not know if the legislatures at state and federal levels have also approved humongous pensions for their members, most of whom are birds of passage.

Since the public, in spite of the Freedom of Information Act, do not know the terms and conditions of service of members of the various legislatures in the country, former members may also be earning huge pensions quietly. We have also heard of people being given so-called “severance packages” which are totally illegal. At the right time when we have a regime that wants to cleanse the system, many may have to pay back moneys illegally collected. Who for example would have believed a conservative kingdom like Saudi Arabia would arrest several of its leaders who are mostly princes and force them to disgorge US$117 billion which they illegally appropriated to themselves from the public treasury?  In the United States, former governors would have contributed to public pensions scheme which is available to all public workers unlike here where politicians treat themselves as unique and special individuals. In the United Kingdom, Members of Parliament   receive a pension of either 1/40th or 1/50th of their final pensionable salary for each year of pensionable service. Ministers who are members of parliament are also entitled to pensions on the same scale. Members of parliament are also encouraged to buy into investment that is available to all British people. With the huge bulge of youth unemployment and economic hopelessness in the land, we may have to tidy our finances and recover whatever had been illegally cornered using political power.

There is nothing stopping governors, their deputies and members of parliament at state and federal levels setting up pensions schemes or buying into existing pensions that are based on voluntary or in some cases compulsory contributions. This is what Nigerians who are lucky to find jobs do and our representatives should reflect our financial reality and in any case politics should not be made so attractive that getting elected becomes a matter of life or death. We must go back to part-time legislatures and abolish the extant laws permitting current executive brigandage. The only elected officials of government who should live at our expense after their service are the president, vice president and judges who cannot after office go back to work. The president and the vice president are by the nature of their offices, physical representation of the Nigerian nation.

 

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Author: Jide Osuntokun