Most stakeholders in the North-Central and Taraba have rejected the law granting life pension to former governors and their deputies, describing it as unfair and economically unrealistic.
The citizens expressed their views in a survey conducted in Kogi, Niger, Nasarawa, Benue, Plateau and Taraba.
They said such privileges should not be extended to the former political leaders in view of the dwindling resources of the states coupled with the economic hardships being encountered by the people.
A section of them, however, supported the gesture, saying it should be implemented provided that the states had the resources to do so.
Some of the respondents in Kogi even charged residents of states with laws granting life pension to former governors and their deputies to challenge such laws in the courts.
They said granting such privileges to the former governors and their deputies was unfair, exploitative and morally wrong.
They regretted that the Executive Arm in some states arm-twisted the legislature to enact such laws and backdated them to cover their predecessors.
This, according to them, has led some of the legislative houses to demand that their Speakers and Deputy Speakers should also be covered by the law for them to be on life pension.
Mr Hamza Aliyu, Executive Director, Initiative for Grassroot Advancement (INGRA) a Civil Society Organisation based in Kogi, who said that the law was in existence in thestate, described as unfair and urged the citizenry not to accept it.
“The practice is unfair, unpopular, undemocratic and people should reject. I’m calling on the NBA, the Civil Society that we need to test these laws in the court. People need to take this law to court. They should not accept it. It is unfair, we should not make laws that are detrimental to our economy and welfare. Why should states that cannot pay the N30,000 minimum wage and only pay percentage salaries to Local Government staff and teachers be paying jumbo pensions to former governors and their deputies.
Similarly, Mr Sam Owoyomi, Chairman, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Lokoja branch, confirmed the existence of the law providing for Life Pension for Former Governors and their Deputies in the state, but said that it was not being implemented.
According to Owoyomi, the law is in place in Kogi but that the present government does not believe in it and that plans are underway to sponsor a bill at the State House of Assembly to repeal it.
Owoyomi said some other states had repealed the law outrightly, while some others were in the process of repealing it adding, “The law is not desirable and most states have seen that it is not desirable”.
Those who passed the law were trying to take care of their selfish ends. I do not believe in it at all. I consider such provisions as outrageous.
“Many retired civil servants have worked for 35 years and there is no money to pay their gratuities, pension and other allowances. The law is not desirable, it is not implementable, not sustainable and not convenient,” he said.
Dr Akoh Ojonugwa, a lecturer at Kogi State Polytechnic, Lokoja, said it was exploitative and inordinate for former governors and their deputies to draw life pension after the state had taken care of their official, unofficial and domestic bills while in office.
“At most, the governors serve two tenures in eight years and workers, civil servants who work for 35 years and retire hardly get their gratuities and other entitlements. Why should the governors’ own be an exception. In the first place, they are not even entitled to it. They often coerce the state Legislative Assemblies to enact such law. Most of the governors after their tenure, find their way to the National Assembly. Their desire to still want to draw from their respective state governments’ coffers in the name of life pension is exploitative and inordinate,” Ojonugwa said.
Mr Williams Aliwo, former Chairman, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Lokoja branch, said, “I don’t believe in life pension for governors and deputy governors because it is morally reprehensible”.
“It is an attempt to deprive the future of the standard that it requires to satisfy the desires of the masses and deprive the masses of the benefits of good governance. Legally speaking, the House of Assembly is expected to pass laws for the good governance of the state on matters that are within its own legislative jurisdiction. And so, it is not as if it is unlawful for them to pass the law but my concern is about the moral uprightness of that kind of law. It is devilish, politically devilish and shameful.
“But you see, the target beneficiary is the governor who is supposed to sign the bill into law, and so, for a sitting governor who is also the target of that law to sign the bill into law is morally wrong and condemnable. If the state is unable to meet its obligations to its workers, it will be morally condemnable for them to starve themselves even further by implementing the law. Yes, it can be settled in the law court. I’m not sure anybody has challenged it if they have, I have not seen any definite pronouncement of the judiciary on it but it is worth challenging,” he said.
Mr Cosmas Atabor, Chairman, House Committee on Judiciary of the 7th Assembly in Kogi said the placement of such political office holders on life pension was certainly not desirable.
Atabor said that such laws where they existed, should be revisited, adding that he would need to see that of the state to study it, saying, “If there is a law then, they are entitled to it. It is repealing it now that matters. I need to see the law, I need to know that the law really exists before doing anything on it,” he said.
Mr Justin Gbagir, Chairman, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Makurdi branch, said most states in the country would not afford to sustain life pensions for former governors and their deputies.
Gbagir said payment of life pensions for them would be an uphill task for most state governments owing to the downturn in the economy.
He said former governors and their deputies were not included in the Nigerian Pension Act.
He said it was impracticable for states who were struggling under huge wage bills, pensions and gratuities to continue paying huge amounts of money as life pension to former governors and their deputies.
The chairman said governors were by convention entitled to certain allowances even after leaving office, but that to pay them life pensions was inappropriate.
He admitted that some State Houses of Assembly had “surprisingly” made legislations making available pension for former governors and their deputies, explaining that in such cases it was a matter of law.
“First and foremost, I think former governors by convention are entitled to certain allowances for their maintenance even after they leave office throughout their time. But to also pay them pension is, what I think is inappropriate because they are not within the concentration of the Pension Act. But I am also aware that there are some state houses of assembly that have made legislation making available pension for their former governors. So, where a state has a legislation, then it is matter of law. It can only be repealed or amended,” he explained.
Gbagir regretted that most states that were paying pensions to their ex-governors and deputies were unable to pay the new minimum wage to their workers and pensions to their retired workers.
“Even at that, considering the huge amount of money that is being paid in the name of pension to former governors and considering the level of financial challenges at the various states, I think, it is an act of irresponsibility to take lots of money to pay former governors when the same states are unable to pay salaries to their workers.
“So, by and large, I think, it is a matter of law and also a matter of equity that former governors, particularly, that some of them, apart from being past governors, are in the Senate while others are occupying different positions where they are collecting salaries and allowances. So, I think the payment of pension to past governors is just a calculated attempt to continue siphoning state funds even after they leave office,”he said.
Another lawyer, Mr Kelvin Anum, said there was no law or act of the National Assembly that conferred on any political office holders the right to be entitled to pensions after his tenure of office.
Anum said for the avoidance of doubt, the objectives of the Pension Act as clearly encapsulated in Section 1and Section 2 (1) of the Pension Reform Act 2014 included –
“Establish a uniform set of rules, regulations and standards for the administration and payments of retirement benefits for the Public Service of the Federation, the Public Service of the Federal Capital Territory, the Public Service of the State Governments, the Public Service of the Local Government Councils and the Private Sector.
“The Act clearly specifies and states the category of persons qualified for pensions in Nigeria. Former governors and their deputies do not fall within the purview of this definition. The provisions of this Act shall apply to any employment in the Public Service of the Federation, the Public Service of the Federal Capital Territory, the Public Service of the States, the Public Service of the Local Governments and the Private Sector”.
In Nasarawa State, a Catholic Priest, Rev.Fr. Lawrence Anyembugu, said life pension for former governors and their deputies would not be sustainable considering the dwindling resources in the country.
Anyembugu, who is the Parish Priest in charge of St John’s Catholic Church, Awe, said: ” As a man of God, I want to advise that life pension for former governors and their deputies is not desirable and sustainable because of the dwindling resources as well as poverty in the country.
“Some states of the federation are finding it difficult to implement the N30,000 minimum wage for workers and to embark on peoples-oriented projects. Did we think that life pension for former governors and their deputies will be sustainable. The answer is no, if Nigeria wants to tackle poverty and improve on the standard of living of the orphans, widows and other less privileged ones. My advise is that let all of us think about how to change the lives of Nigerians positively, that is my message”.
Mr Augustine Thomas, a politician, also kicked against life pension for former governors and their deputies.
“As a politician, I would say pension is good, but for life pension for former governors and their deputies, I will not support that because if resources will be given to former governors and their deputies for life, what about other Nigerians. I will advise that there should be no life pension for former governors and their deputies if we want to progress and grow in this country,” he said.
Another politician, Hajiya Hauwa Abdul, also rejected the idea.
“Considering the level of poverty in this country and how some states are struggling to pay salaries and execute projects. The gesture will not be sustainable due to the nation’s dwindling resources,” Abdul said.
Another stakeholder, Mr Sani Isah, also kicked against the idea, saying, “life pension for former governors and their deputies will create more hardships and poverty in the country”.
Similary, Dr Josiah Kente, a former lawmaker in Taraba, called for the removal of life pension for ex-governors and their deputies in states that cannot afford to sustain it.
Kente was a member of the Taraba House of Assembly from 2007 to 2015, and at a point, ascended to the position of Speaker of the assembly.
Kente, who is now a lecturer with the Nasarawa State University, Keffi, said in spite of his involvement when he was a lawmaker in Taraba in the pursuit of the enactment of a law providing pension for Taraba former governors and their deputies, he saw the entitlement as unsustainable.
“I am now in the school of thought that subscribes to the abolishment of that privilege because it is not economical. I don’t believe in the policy because it is not desirable. If you cannot even pay a N30,000 minimum wage to workers and former governors are taking large amounts as full salary, it is not working. It is not justifiable at all,” he said.
Similarly, a Taraba-based Civil Society Organisation, Transparency and Accountability Forum (TAF), kicked against life pension for former governors and their deputies in Nigeria, describing the gesture as “wasteful”.
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Mr Pascal Ayuba, Executive Director of the group,said a life pension for former governors and their deputies in a developing country such as Nigeria was wasteful and unnecessary.
He said the personal emoluments of governors while in office were capable of sustaining them till death.
“It is wasteful and unnecessary to pay life pension to governors. We are in an economy that is weak; where even poor retired civil servants are not paid their retirement benefits and pensions. Benefits accrued to governors when they are in offices are enough to cater for their needs after they leave office. To me, the pension scheme for former governors and their deputies should be abolished,” Ayuba said.
He said that the life pension was not being paid in the state, but that some persons had been demanding for it using other states as reference points.
In Minna, Mr Abdullahi Jabi, the state Chairman of Campaign for Democracy and Human Rights Advocacy Civil Society, also rejected the idea of life pension for former governors and their deputies.
He said considering the current economic downturn and the hardships being encountered by citizens, it was a wrong decision to legislate life pensions for former governors and their deputies.
“This is because they got all the greater benefits while they were in office, so when they leave the office, the issue of life pension should not arise, rather, we should give room for resources to be channeled into other development projects,” Jabi said.
He said the economic and revenue streams of most states in the country were shrinking, adding that the era of vigorous spending of unguarded public expenditures had to stop.
He said resources accrued to states should be used for the betterment of the people, adding that states and the country could no longer sustain unnecessary public expenditures.
However, Secretary to the Niger Government, Alhaji Ahmed Matane, said life pension for former governors and their deputies was good if it was well structured.
Matane also said life pension for them was good if the state had the resources to be able to pay.
Matane said he believed in the principles of pension for former governors and their deputies because they were elected as the first and second citizens of the state, and that it was not good to see them go into the state of binary for the society.
“However, in adopting that, it should be within the available resources of the state and the payment should not be a uniform thing across the country,” he said.
He disclosed that former governors and their deputies were entitled to only severance allowances in the state, adding that governors and their deputies should enjoy severance and some forms of incentives, not necessarily life pension.
Also, Mr Ahmed Bello, lawmaker representing Agwara Constituency at the State House of Assembly, said the issue was not life pension, but the entitlements that former governors and their deputies were entitled to by way of legislation, even though there was no constitutional provision.
“There is a legislation that provides for former governors and their deputies as well as former speakers and their deputies to enjoy certain entitlements. I was once a deputy speaker at the State House of Assembly, but I have not been enjoying such entitlements, ” Bello said
He said that former governors and their deputies just like the civil servants, were people who had contributed their quota in developing the state and the country, hence should enjoy certain privileges.
He said there was a need for legislation that would give former governors and their deputies a back-up for some entitlements, not every month, but quarterly.
The lawmaker disclosed that there was no provision in the legislation of the state that granted life pension for former governors and their deputies, but that they were entitled to a certain amount of money after serving for four or eight years.
He, however, said financially buoyant states who had successfully implemented the N30,000 minimum wage should key into life pension their former governors and deputies.
He said each state should look at its peculiarity and financial capability to see if they could afford life pension for former governors and their deputies, but that if they could not, they should fall back on the legislation for amendment.
For Mr Yakubu Bawa, Chairman, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Jos branch, the policy is undemocratic considering the nation’s dwindling economy.
Bawa sees no reason why one should be given life pension because he served as governor or deputy.
“I consider the life pension thing as one of the problems why our democracy is not on the right trajectory. The democracy we practice is not workable for us in Nigeria, we must change the pattern to address our own peculiarities,” he said.
He stated that leadership was about trust and service, and not about what one gained but what one offered.
According to the chairman, there is no justification morally or legally to have a life pension for the former governors and their deputies when Nigerians are struggling to feed.
“If you see the life pension figures, it is astronomical, shocking and tragic just because they were elected to offer service. I support the way it is at the federal level where their cars are changed periodically and they have medical allowance once in a while but not monthly. If they continue with the life pension, we will be left with no option but to challenge this in the court of law,” he said.
Prof. Victor Ayedun-Aluma of the Department of Mass Communication, University of Jos, said one of the implications of the policy was that resources meant for development would be taken away in the name of pension.
“The long term consequence of the policy is that there will be inadequate investment in our infrastructure and human resources. We will end up having young people coming to the conclusion that our system does not offer them prospects to fulfill their potential,” Ayedun-Aluma said.
He said governors and deputy governors wanted and were taking life pensions because there was no financial safety net for them when they leave office.
The professor of Mass Communication advised governors to use the once-in-a-life-time opportunity as governors to address the systemic issues to make everyone secure, rather than seek life pensions.
“The only way they can take care of themselves is to build a system that takes care of people. If they build a system that takes care of people, when they are out of office, that same system will take care of them,” he said.
Mr Steve Aluko of Civil Liberties Organisation, viewed life pension for governors and deputy governors as criminal and should be revoked.
Aluko said there were judgments that declared the policy illegal and wondered why it was still standing in some states.
“Some states in their own conviction, have come out to nullify the whole process and we wonder why some other state assemblies have not followed suit. This to me is contempt of the people and enslavement of the whole state as resources meant for the public is reduced to some few persons,” he said.
Mr Abubakar Dogara, Chairman, Inter Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) in Plateau, said life pension for the politicians was another way of embezzling state resources.
Dogara suggested that where there were constitutional provisions for such, they should be repealed because there were no resources to sustain it.
“These people were in business before in one way or another; and they should go back to their businesses after their tenure of office,” he said.(NAN)
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