Greed and the elected public officers
Continued public outrage at the continued payment of pensions to former governors and their deputies as well as some other elected public officers who are out of office is expected in a country where millions cannot even afford a decent meal a day. When a few privileged individuals, who have had the best of time as leaders, are, again, being stupendously paid pensions, even when some are still active in their careers or in other public offices, it can only be deemed a blatant assault on the sensibilities of Nigerians. It is, indeed, immoral. As a famished citizenry suffers, the system has been bastardized to suit the sumptuous lifestyles of a few.
Since curbing corruption is a major preoccupation of the Muhammadu Buhari administration, something should be done to stop this nonsense before it engenders violent reactions from the people.
The solution is to enact appropriate laws against this fraudulent and insensitive scheme. Unfortunately, those who should make such laws are also seeking to be beneficiaries, thus making it difficult to legislate against a burgeoning culture of greed.
In the first place, pension is paid to someone in retirement after a certain number of service years with the operative words being ‘retirement’ and ‘service years.’
Pension, therefore, serves as a reward for years of service and the retirement age in Nigeria is 65 years or 35 years of active service. With this, what ex-governors and other elected public officials who have legislated these sumptuous out-of-office benefits for themselves are doing is not only unacceptable, it is criminal. Indeed, nothing underscores a culture of insensitivity and impunity in Nigeria’s public service than the phenomenon.
Unfortunately, the tragedy is that the people who are being so cheated are lethargic. This criminal greed has been sustained by the docility of the Nigerian people who know how wrong this is but have refused to act against it.
To its credit, a coalition of civil society groups once challenged the constitutionality of the decision by different state houses of assembly to fix scandalously generous and very corrupt pensions as well as out-of-office allowances for sundry elected state officials.
The suit, to annul state pension laws, joined the 36 state governors, their houses of assembly, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) as the defendants. The contention was that the houses of assembly do not have the legislative competence to make law with respect to remuneration, including the pension of governors. The plaintiffs sought a declaration annulling such exercises with specific regard to “the governors and deputy governors pension law 2014 of Akwa Ibom State; Lagos State Governor and Deputy Governor Law 2012; Oyo State pension (Governor and Deputy Governor) Law 2004; Governor and Deputy Governor (Payment of Pension) Law No 12 of Kwara State 2010, or any state stipulating the remuneration including pension of any of the 36 state governors.”
According to the prayer, those acts contravene sections 1  and 4 of the 1999 Constitution and for that reason are ultra vires, null and void. Other important points adduced are that under item 34, part 1 of the second schedule of the 1999 Constitution, the National Assembly has exclusive powers to enact laws with respect to the condition and welfare of public officials or any other employee in any part of the federation. Besides, the RMAFC Act already covered the field of pensions for public office holders and had, therefore, deprived the state houses of assembly the legislative competence to legislate on such matters. While the case is yet to be fully determined, it is important for Nigerians to keep the pressure on their leaders to be responsible.
It must also be remembered that when the then Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State caused such a law to be passed to the effect that he should be entitled, among other things, to N100 million every year as healthcare allowance for his person and family once out of office, as part of a pension to be enjoyed by elected former governors and deputy governors in the state, the public uproar against it prompted the governor to ask the state legislature to review that law. Certainly, an outright abolition of any such indulgences is the ideal that all Nigerians must work for today.
It, afterall, is a shame, that members of Nigeria’s ruling elite are now totally unmindful of the fact that any public position is a privilege and a call to service and to exploit the inherent powers in such positions for self-indulgence to the detriment of the people is to undermine the spirit of public service.
It is a monumental tragedy that the state houses of assembly have been complicit in this greed to the extent that they have become the platform for the debasement of democracy and primitive accumulation of state resources. It needs to be emphasized that the people are actually the employers of all their political leaders.
The only way to engender a sense of responsibility in public office holders and to entrench a culture of service to country is to put an end to this impunity. When the people sleep on their rights, the result is the greed that rules now.