Scrapping bogus pensions for ex-governors

LAGOS State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has announced a plan to repeal the infamous Lagos State Public Office Holder (Payment of Pension) Law 2007, which guarantees life pension, houses and other exquisite benefits to all former governors and deputy governors. This is a huge relief given the fact that just a few years ago, the Lagos State House of Assembly was planning to create another law to grant Speakers and their deputies similarly obscene life pensions. The excessively generous pensions have been roundly condemned was one of the demands made by the recent #EndSARS youth protesters.

The reckless law, which was signed by a former governor, Bola Tinubu, grants ex-governors an array of benefits, which include a house in any location in Lagos State and a house in Abuja for a two-term governor. The package also includes six new cars every three years, 100 per cent of the basic salary of the incumbent governor, free health care for himself and members of his family, furniture allowance, which is 300 per cent of their annual basic salary and house maintenance allowance. Eight police and two State Security Service officers are also attached to him for life. The law was stretched to the point of absurdity in 2015 when the 2007 impeachment of former Deputy Governor, Femi Pedro, was reversed by the House of Assembly to enable him benefit from the largesse.

A repeal of the law is therefore welcome, as it will help reduce the cost of governance at a time when funds are desperately needed. By this noble act, Lagos will join Zamfara and Imo, which have thrown similar laws into the dustbin. As a law, it has benefitted no one but Nigeria’s greedy political class and gulped N37.36 billion to maintain 47 ex-governors, according to reports.

This is certainly not the best of times for Nigeria, which has been named the world’s poverty capital with an unprecedented level of unemployment, an ever-rising inflation rate and an impending economic recession. Combined, they have contributed in no small part to youth restiveness as witnessed in the recent nationwide protests and riots. Most states in the country are financially insolvent as their internally generated revenues are abysmally low.

But despite this worthy example by some states, several others insist on continuing to pay ex-governors undeserved pensions and other retirement benefits. This is despite the fact that the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission already makes provisions for political office holders to receive 300 per cent basic salary as severance allowance. This is more than generous enough. In the United States, several governors have refused, reduced, or otherwise donated their earnings. Many others draw their pension from previous jobs.

Delta, Gombe, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Edo, Bayelsa and Kano states are still swimming against the tide, refusing to repeal the repugnant laws. Evidently, these state executives have failed to realise that the principal objective of public office is to render service to the people. There are many examples worldwide worth emulating.

The CNN reported in 2016 how Ann LePage, the wife of the governor of Maine, USA, had to take up a job as a waitress in order to augment the salary of her husband, who was the lowest paid governor in America. In 2014, Alabama Governor, Robert Bentley, refused to collect a cent from the state until the unemployment rate dropped to 5.2 per cent in the state. Many other American governors who were already rich before attaining office also decided not to collect any salary since everything they needed was provided free by the state. But in Nigeria, governors prefer to be treated as kings rather than servants of the people. Even those who have plundered the state’s resources are rewarded with life pensions.

A clear example is the obnoxious Delta State Governor and Deputy Governor Pension Rights and Other Benefits Law, which made it possible for a convicted ex-governor, James Ibori, to be paid N250 million while he was in jail in the United Kingdom between 2012 and 2016 for stealing £250 million from the same state’s treasury. This is the height of madness.

It is deeply concerning that some former governors, who have gone on to become ministers or senators, earning jumbo pay, still benefit from the pension laws in their respective states while simultaneously receiving salary provided by their current offices in contravention of the Code of Conduct for Public Officials Act. This must stop immediately.

A Federal High Court in Lagos State in a landmark judgement in December 2019, ordered the Federal Government to recover pensions collected by former governors now serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly. However, till date, there is no indication that the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, has enforced this order.

For many years, there have been complaints about the cost of governance in Nigeria, which continues to increase due to the opaque administration of public funds. According to Transparency International, state governments spent a combined $670 million on the controversial security votes in 2018, which was more than the combined budget for the Armed Forces. The breakdown of how these funds are used is never provided due to the acquiescence of the pliant state legislatures. Given the continuous mismanagement of public funds, it is therefore not surprising that most states can neither pay regular salaries nor offset pension arrears.

But it is not too late to do the right thing. State governments must immediately repeal the frivolous expenses and laws that institutionalise waste and plunder. At a time when the economy is haemorrhaging from the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, the best way any government can gain public support is to show that it is willing to make sacrifices, which include repealing pension laws for ex-governors. Any government that fails to do so lacks the moral right to demand sacrifices from its citizens.

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