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On Ending Pensions For Governors, Deputies

With stories of retried civil servants not getting their  entitlements in various states of the country, the issue of come governor enjoying fantastic pension benefits after serving 8 years in office has become sensational.

While presenting his 2021 Appropriation Bill to the Lagos State House of Assembly, the state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, said he would put an end to the payment of pensions to his predecessors and former deputy governors of the state. He said the law had to be repealed to free the state government of the legal obligations and reduce the cost of governance.

Lagos blazed the trail in 2007 its then governor, Ahmed Tinubu, at the twilight of his tenure, signed into law a bill to provide pensions and other welfare benefits to former governors and their deputies beyond what was approved for former political officeholders nationwide by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, (RMAFC).

The Lagos State Public Office Holder (Payment of Pension) Law stipulates that former governors who completed two terms consecutively are entitled to a house each in any location of their choice in Lagos and Abuja. They are also entitled to six new cars every three years, 100 per cent of the basic salary of the serving governor (N7.7m per annum), free healthcare for himself and members of his family and furniture allowance, which is 300 per cent of their annual basic salary (N23.3m). The law further states that deputy governors are beneficiaries of vehicles, fully-paid vacation, medical insurance and other juicy perks.

While some states pay N300m as gratuity, others pay as low as N2.2m annually as a pension. Also, some states pay 300 per cent of annual basic salary every four years as furniture allowance. Free medical trips for ex-governors and their family members are provided in many states. Some states also provide two houses (one in their state and another in Abuja) for former governors.

Soon after Sanwo-Olu’s laudable decision, his Kwara State counterpart, Abdulrazaq Abdulrahman, on November 13, 2020, made a similar pronouncement via his Twitter handle. The governor said his administration would send a bill to the state House of Assembly to abolish pensions for former governors and their deputies. He said the decision was in line with his campaign promise.

Zamfara State had earlier repealed its public office holders pension law in November 2019 after former governor Abdul’aziz Yari allegedly requested his N10 million ‘monthly upkeep’, which he said had not been paid for some months then. The Zamfara House of Assembly thereafter abolished the law that allowed the payment of pensions and other allowances for the state’s former governors and their deputies. Imo State is set to repeal theirs accordingly.

At the last count, about 26 states have this life pension law for their former governors and their deputies. Ironically, according to reliable sources, states paying former governors and their deputies jumbo pensions top the list of states with the highest domestic and external debts in the country.

Information on the website of the Debt Management Office, (DMO), had it that the 26 states which have the pension laws for their ex-governors owe a total of N3,920,194,580,284.72 (about N4tn), comprising N2,906,789,725,341.46 domestic debts and $3,311,780,571.71 (N1,013,404,854,943.26) foreign debts as of June 30, 2019.

It is mind-boggling that former governors and their deputies and in some cases former speakers and their deputies are living large, existing in obscene opulence while most of their citizens wallow in abject poverty. To rob salt upon a festering injury, many of these former governors have taken “permanent seats” as either senators or ministers after their tour of duty as governors.

Following the obnoxious pension laws, many former governors now draw billions as retirement allowances from their respective state governments. This is even as some governors have refused to pay pension arrears and gratuities of retired workers in their states and these debts have continued to mount.

In approving those bogus pensions, state governors failed to consider the severe economic impacts the huge payments would have on the states. We find it extremely unreasonable for a pension to be paid a public office holder who quits office after a maximum of eight years while the civil servant who labours for 35 years or attain 60 years of age to retire is denied their legitimate benefits and left to suffer hardship. We opine that not only governors should be denied this largesse, former presidents and heads of state who are currently placed on life pension should also cease from enjoying it.

In a suit instituted by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, (SERAP), Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo of the Federal High Court, Lagos, had in a judgment ordered the Federal Government to recover pensions collected by former governors now serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly, and directed the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), to challenge the legality of state pension laws permitting former governors and other ex-public officials to collect such pensions.

In another suit filed by the Taraba State Government against Mr. Garba Umar, a former acting governor of the state, the National Industrial Court declared as null and void, the payment of the controversial jumbo pension and gratuity to former governors and deputies not in harmony with what is approved by RMAFC. These laudable judgements should be enforced immediately.

Like many other retired public officers, government support for governors and their deputies should, based on recommendations of the RMAFC for severance allowances, be modest and within the limit of what is reasonably required for their upkeep and sustenance after leaving office. Former governors and their deputies should be assets, not liabilities to their respective states.

It is hoped that  states still paying life pension to their former governors will follow the good examples of Zamfara, Lagos and Kwara States. It is even more desirable now that Nigeria is in its worst economic recession in the last 36 years.

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