Former governors’ illegal, scandalous perks
Given the debilitating COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the world and the excruciating poverty hitting the economy of many states of the federation, it has become impractical and unrealistic for the state governments of the federation to sustain the jumbo life pensions and other perquisites granted former governors, deputies and legislators.
A cursory look at the severance packages of former governors and legislators in states of the country reveals that the Lagos State governor and deputy governor Pensions Law of 2007 provides one of the most lucrative pensions in the federation. Apart from 100 per cent of annual basic salaries of the incumbent governor and deputy, “the former governor is entitled to six new cars every three years and a house in Lagos and another in Abuja. Conservatively, a house in Lagos will cost N500 million and one in Abuja N700 million. The former governor and family (spouse and children ─ both married and unmarried) are entitled to free medical, which is not capped. Another highlight is that the ex-governor is entitled to a cook, steward, gardener and other domestic staff who are pensionable.”
In Gombe State, a similar package applies. There is also for the governor and deputy governor an additional 30-day paid travel expenses annually to any country of their choice with their wives. Katsina State even included the ex-speakers and ex-deputy speakers of the State House of Assembly. With slight modifications in the respective pension laws or bills passed, Akwa Ibom State, Abia State, Kano State, Delta State, Kogi State and Bayelsa State have similar humongous packages for former political office holders.
Even if such perquisites, which run into billions of naira, have been granted by law, their continued payment is inconsistent with the practice of the pension schemes. It is insensitive to the global and local economic plight and so it is morally reprehensible. It is for these reasons that we support a move made recently by a coalition of lawyers that this odious practice of unjustified payment of pension and gratuity should be abolished. Reacting to a Federal High Court ruling compelling former governors and other public officials to disclose their life pensions, Abuja-based lawyer, Joe-Kyari Gadzama (SAN), captured the positions of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and other lawyers, when he insisted that the parochial legislation backing the huge life allowances were “unconstitutional and illegal” and as such “must be rescinded forthwith.”
Why should any public officer be rewarded with the above given the state of the economy? What parameters justify such perquisites beyond the fiat of law? Are the benefits commensurate with the positions? Does the former governor or legislator become extra-human because of his positions and so cut off from the class of human beings? If a former governor or legislator, who, through his office has supposedly acquired prestige, influence and possibly goodwill, would require such benefits at the expense of the state, what point does it make to embellish his status?
Could this be another way of initiating public officers into an oppressive social class?
Elsewhere, we hear of public officers, who upon leaving office, take up their former jobs, or convert their experiences in public office into becoming resource persons and consultants to serious-minded organisations and progressive governments. Most of these retired officers have written good books on governance experiences. These former public officers don’t get houses and property at the expense of the state. Surprisingly, some of them have had to buy houses through mortgages. They also do not recycle themselves perpetually in government, while amassing scandalous and suffocating perquisites.
In the spirit of the times, ex-governors and others who enjoy fantastic perks as gratuity ought to empathise with the Nigerian masses. They should bear in mind that consistent with their legislative functions is the exercise of moral rectitude. They may take a cue from the gesture of former president of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, who as Senate president refunded benefits Kwara State was paying him. It could be recalled that during the 2008 meltdown political appointees willingly accepted a 50 per cent cut in their statutory salary. This lean time is the right time to stop payments of any unnecessary and unjustified perks to former public political office holders.
Even though former governors and legislators no longer wield the authority or exercise the powers of their former offices, they still retain the clout of leadership conferred on them by the offices. And since they are leaders of some sort, they owe followers a moral duty to exercise leadership at all times, especially, moral leadership and responsibility. It is gravely irresponsible to acquire needless entitlements amidst penury and widespread lack, especially when this lack is caused by the actions or inactions of the government. Such appurtenances may at best be an emblem of status and as such merely decorative.
Leaders must be cognizant of the fact that they have a moral responsibility of enablement and concern. Their positions impose on them the duty of helping others grow and showing concern for their needs. Nowhere is this duty primarily expressed as in the lifestyle of leaders, for their lifestyle is a symbolism of their relationship with people. If the former governors comport themselves well as true leaders they would be able help others grow to their fullest. No one who enjoys the scandalous perquisites from government coffers is likely to desire the growth of others.
We commend the reaction of these lawyers and well-meaning organisations that have condemned the parochial legislation that unjustly enriches former public officers. This gesture is consistent with a fundamental principle of natural law jurisprudence, which insists that a law may be unjust if it is contrary to the dictates of right reason and promulgated against the common good. All laws serve their final cause when they pursue the fundamental moral principle called justice. Any deviation from this, as the lawyers have observed against jumbo packages for former governors, weakens the raison d’etre of the law.
Nigerians must exploit the vibrancy and potency of this outcry from civil society groups to attack anti-people initiatives. Thus, the laws legalising these scandalous perquisites should be repealed, immediately.
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