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Applause as Lagos moves to repeal jumbo allowances for ex-governors

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Sanwo-Olu. facebook.com/jidesanwooluofficial

In November last year, Governor Sanwo-Olu announced plans to repeal the Public Office Holder (Payment of Pension Law 2007), which provides for payment of pension and other entitlements to former governors, deputies and categories of public workers. This was in a cost-cutting venture, which the governor decided to embark on as he presented the year 2021 budget proposals of N1.155 trillion tagged: ‘The Budget of Rekindled Hope’ to members of the State House of Assembly for consideration and approval.

“Mr. Speaker and members of the House, in light of keeping the costs of governance low and to signal selflessness in public service, we will be sending a draft executive bill to the House imminently for the repeal of the Public Office Holder (Payment of Pension Law 2007), which provides for payment of pension and other entitlements to former governors and their deputies,” he said

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This proposal has been greatly applauded by a lot of stakeholders and Lagos citizens. A former Lagos state governor, Bola Tinubu, commended the move to repeal the bill in a tweet posted before the ban on the micro-blogging site.

He wrote: “Congratulations to Governor Sanwo-Olu over the 2021 budget, which he appropriately christened ‘Budget of Rekindled Hope’. This audacious and enterprising budget will empower our people and begin to rebuild Lagos State.”
 
A civil society organisation, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) said it is a welcome development because “it complies with the judgment by Justice Oguntoyinbo of the Federal High Court, Lagos, in SERAP v AGF, which ordered the Nigerian Government to recover pensions collected by ex-governors and their deputies and to challenge the legality of pension laws in several states.”

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SERAP, therefore, urged the AGF Abubakar Malami (SAN) to immediately fulfil his promise to enforce the judgment in suit number FHC/L/CS/1497/2017 to recover pensions already collected, and challenge the legality of all life pension laws in several states across the country.
 
To show that the governor meant business, on June 11, 2021, the Lagos State House of Assembly organised a one-day public hearing in respect of the repeal bill, an indication that the executive bill has reached the House. Participants at the public hearing aired their views on the proposed law, titled, “A Bill to Repeal the Law to Provide for Payment of Pensions and other fringe benefits to public office holders in Lagos State and for Other Connected Purposes.” 
 
The new law under debate provides that all former governors or their deputies should be entitled to a pension at the rate equivalent to the annual basic salary of the incumbent governor or deputy governor, which is 300 per cent of their basic salary of N2, 223,705 amounting to N6, 671, 115 as severance pay, as provided by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC).
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The schedule of the law sought to be repealed, stipulates that all former governors and deputy governors are entitled to residential houses in any location of choice in the state and a house in Abuja for a two-term governor.
 
On transportation, it provided for three cars for a former governor, an additional pilot and two backup cars to be replaced every three years. Also, the deputy governor would be entitled to two cars, one pilot and one backup car to be replaced every three years. They are both entitled to furniture, a domestic staff – who should be pensionable, free medical treatment for them and their immediate family members.
 
On security, a former governor is entitled to two SSS details and one female Police officer, while the deputy governor is entitled to one SSS official. There is also a provision of eight policemen, four each for house and personal security for a former governor and two policemen, one each for house and personal security for a former deputy governor, while their drivers would be pensionable.
 
It is also worthy of note that some former governors, who have gone on to become ministers or senators, still benefit from the pension laws in their respective states, while simultaneously receiving salary and allowances provided by their current offices in contravention of the Code of Conduct for Public Officials Act.
 
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According to findings in 2017, over N37.367 billion, was expended on servicing 47 former governors from 21 states in pension payments and provision of houses, staff and motor vehicles replaceable between three and four years.
 
Reacting, Managing Partner, Malachy Ugwummadu’s Chambers, Malachy Ugwummadu, noted that the move to repeal allowance of ex-governors is consistent to the reality of the economy as well as sensitive to the current economic situation of the country and Lagos State in particular.
 
“How would you justify a state that its civil servants who have worked their lives out; for like 35 years or more, queue up for their pensions and allowances, many of whom have been reported dead on the queue? On the other hand is a governor that has spent four or eight years maximally, which is not half of the years a civil servant has spent; so taking away those entitlements, like vehicles changed at periodic times, buildings of their choice houses in strategic areas of the country and above all retaining the pension at the same rate and amount with the yearly basic salaries of the incumbent, is praise-worthy,” he stated.
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He said that there is no other way of showing disparity than that, as section 42 of the 1999 Constitution clearly abhors any form of discrimination on the basis of sex, creed or political status. “From the standpoint of morality, it is wrong. As a policy of government, it is insensitive and from the law, it is condemnable, because it is discriminatory. It widens the gap between the have’s and the have not’s and it encourages corruption. Those that are not entitled to such benefits would see civil service as an opportunity to bridge the gap so as to meet up before their retirement,” Ugwummadu argued.
 
Senior Associate, Olisa Agbakoba Legal (OAL), Beverley Agbakoba-Onyejianya, stated that the question to be asked is who pays for the allowance with already bloated personnel that a lot of states can hardly meet up with their financial obligations for their civil servants? “Is it justifiable to maintain ex-governors allowance at the expense of education, security and health?” she asked.
 
She noted that if the state is putting a lot of resources into those sectors, then, it could be argued that they are entitled to it for being former employees of the state. 
 
She, however, added that as the nation battling crisis of inflation, with the naira devaluing and foreign debt increasing, it is not a smart decision to continue maintaining such a heavy personnel bill at the cost of the taxpayers.
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“I like to look at it from that angle, let us not be sentimental about it. It is easy to suggest a cut in those allowances, but can we justify it?  If we cannot justify it, by all means, let it be scrapped. I am sure the majority of us will support it. We should continue to focus on getting the right people to hold those offices. Let people not be attracted to those offices because of the gains.”
 
Partner, Idris Bawa and Co, Idris Bawa stated that the old pension law was not justified, as the ex-governors had not done enough to warrant such allowance.

“For instance, a commissioner of police, who has put in 30 to 35 years of service doesn’t take home on a monthly basic of such huge amount. Then a governor or senator, who served for four or eight years takes a chunk of the money. How do they think the economy would survive? What have they contributed to the economy that would warrant such allowance?” He asked.  
Bawa noted that about 60 to 70 per cent of civil servants across Nigeria don’t have private homes. He stressed the need for accountability and putting processes in place for the benefit of everyone.
 
Also, Project Director, Access to Justice, Deji Ajare, explained that the bill to repeal the allowance is the right thing to do. “Assuming it was justified without conceding, I think under the current circumstance, particularly the economic downturn, it was only the functional thing to do to take away the jumbo allowance,” he said and encouraged other states to take a cue from Lagos.  

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