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Life pension plan for principal officers, not again!

By Editorial Board
13 March 2022   |   4:05 am
The Eighth Assembly had in 2016 proposed an obnoxious life pension plan for its principal offices, though the bill graciously ended in the trash bin.

The Eighth Assembly had in 2016 proposed an obnoxious life pension plan for its principal offices, though the bill graciously ended in the trash bin. Six years later, the same proposal resurfaced at the National Assembly. But besides lacking justification like it did in 2016, the new proposal is simply insensitive. The lawmakers re-introducing it should know.

The National Assembly has a puerile reputation that should worry its leadership the more. As representatives of the people, the worsening plight of the Nigerian public has never seemed to move the legislature to concrete actions or solidarity with the masses. The reality is that Nigerians are poorer than they were in 2015. With more people out of jobs, high inflation, surging cost of living, starvation, insecurity and hopelessness, the socio-economic situation is dire. The Ninth Assembly knows too well that one-third of the 2022 budget shall come from borrowings, to compound over N35 trillion worth of debt burden. If the lawmakers are apprehensive about a bleak future ahead, they have not shown it.

What the Nigerian public has seen is their self-centredness, as stenciled by prodigal earnings from declining commonwealth. Just the other day, the National Assembly’s Joint Special Ad-hoc Committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution, yet again, proposed a life pension plan for its presiding officers. If the proposal is passed by the legislature, the sitting Senate President, Ahmed Lawan; the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, and their deputies, will line their pockets with public funds for life. The statutory right to free money, as intended, is akin to Section 84 (5) of the Nigerian constitution that guarantees life pension for all former Presidents and Vice Presidents, which already cost the country N7.8 billion yearly. Ex-governors and their deputies across 22 States are also not left out of the right to life benefits!

It is understandable that the new proposal has generated uproar in the public, especially for its absurdity. Indeed, it lacks economic and moral justifications to request further plundering of public funds in the middle of an economic dire strait that demands prudence and austere management of resources. It is absurd and self-serving that the lawmakers are not considering measures to prune down wasteful earnings and expenditures, rather scheming for a permanent place in national earnings even at no value added to the country. What is the compelling reason for this life pension for National Assembly’s heads and their deputies? A greedy appetite, selfishness and corruption aided by financial insecurity even if it further impoverishes the people? That is not a selfless approach to people’s representation in a democracy, nor a way to dignify a modern National Assembly.

Again, by what benchmark should the life pension for principal officers be made? Section 84 (5) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, stated that: “Any person who has held office as president or vice president shall be entitled to pension for life at a rate equivalent to annual salary of the incumbent President or Vice-President. Provided that, such a person was not removed from office by the process of impeachment or for breach of any provisions of this Constitution.” Should the similar gesture be extended based on what the lawmakers earn as basic salary or other monthly votes that are made on behalf of the constituency? What of the former principal officeholders that return, only as the floor member? That they should be paid life pensions too?

Clearly, the presiding officers are already earning too much than expected of a leadership position. Besides bogus monthly pay and perks, the lawmakers are all laced with aides that also draw salaries, allowances and receive estacodes from state-sponsored travels. But lest the proponents of life pension forget, a democracy is about the people, and leadership purported for service. It is morally reprehensible to serve the public for four years and earn a salary for life. Principal Officers are not permanent employees deserving of post-service gratifications, how much more life pension. Those most deserving of such benefits are the civil servants that have served the country for decades. Yet, they are the set of people that rarely get their gratuities despite disparaging years of queuing and dying on the verification line. It never bothered the National Assembly to demand a permanent solution to such disservice!

It is incumbent on the current leadership of the National Assembly to reject the Greek gift as men of honour and trash the bill without delay. Their constituents and Civil Society Organisation (CSOs) should as well mount opposition against the proposal. The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has done well to obtain a court judgment ordering the Federal Government to recover pensions that ex-governors now serving as ministers and National Assembly members had collected. CSOs should by extension demand a downward review of current earnings by politicians, at least to be in tune with economic realities and discourage all Tom, Dick and Harry from seeing politics and being in power as career paths. The country needs all the monies it could save from wastages and for judicious use in social and infrastructural development. To do otherwise, and plough more scarce resources into the life happiness of a privileged few, is repulsive and self-serving.