The ex-governors’ sleazy pensions
The most concrete evidence that many Nigerian public office holders do not aim to serve (as public servant) but to loot the commonwealth must be the emoluments that governors and others draw from state treasuries for a mere four to eight years of public ‘‘service.’’ It is cheering that a federal court has ordered affected former governors serving as ministers and senators to refund pensions cash they have collected so far. It is a remarkable starting point to deal with the emerging executive criminality.
Former Governor of Zamfara State, Abdul’aziz Yari’s written request for the payment of his ‘‘monthly upkeep allowance of ten million naira only…and a pension equivalent to the salary he was receiving while in office,’’ has triggered a reaction that he never could imagine, besides creating a devastating ripple effect on the undeserved earnings of other holders of high office. The Zamfara State House of Assembly has simply revoked the law on which authority Mr. Yari made his demand. The bill to repeal the law has been processed and only awaits the assent of the governor. There can be no justifiable reason that he will not approve of it. When–not if- Governor Bello Matawalle does, he and the state legislature would earn eternal public respect for righting one of the most outrageous wrongs in the history of Nigerian politics. For, besides specifically abrogating the law in Zamfara State, they have brought to public attention and loud condemnation similar obnoxious laws in other states – be it rich Lagos and Akwa Ibom, or poor Ekiti, Osun and Katsina. There are more.
Following the courageous and commendable steps of Zamfara legislators who are sufficiently outraged, Nigerians naturally expect other state legislatures with the interest of their people at heart to initiate forthwith a bill to free their state treasuries from the looting hands of former public officeholders.
Zamfara State will save up to N700 million each year going by the calculation of the sponsor of the bill, House Leader Faruk Dosara. That is a substantial percentage of the state’s 2020 budget of N135.32 billion. This is a potentially rich state in terms of exploitable minerals and cash crop such as gold, cotton, coal. But by current monetary calculation, Zamfara is poor; beside the rather small annual budget for a population of 3.6 million people spread over 14 local government areas on 39,762 sq. kilometres, its internally generated revenue (IGR) for the first half of 2019 was a meagre N21.7 billion according to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics. The point must be quickly made, however, that this state can become rich if, guided by patriotic leaders; it exploits its natural resources, which include limestone, granite, kaolin and livestock farming, guinea corn, rice and tomatoes.
Yari is not alone in the mindless rape of public wealth by former Nigerian leaders. At both federal and state levels, public resources are, year in, year out, allocated to former heads of state, former chief justices, -indeed all sorts of people who have only been allowed by Providence and the grace of the people, to occupy high office in the land.
A January 2017 report calculated that ‘‘over N37.36 billion was …expended on servicing 47 former governors in 21 of the nation’s states as pension payments and provision of houses, staff, and motor vehicles replaceable between three and four years.’’
In the relatively rich state of Lagos, with a 2020 budget of N1.168 trillion and an IGR of N262,25 billion in the first half of 2019, there are four former governors that by a 2007 law on pension for public office holder, are paid 100 percent of the basic salary of the incumbent governor, receive a house in Lagos and Abuja, six cars every three years and all expenses paid; medical treatment for the governor and members of his family. These persons also receive 300 per cent of their annual basic salary as furniture allowance, 10 percent as maintenance allowance, 20 per cent as utility allowance, and 30 per cent as car maintenance allowance. In a country so severely short in policemen to secure life and property, a former governor will also have eight policemen and two security operatives of the Department of State Services to protect them. These are only for the governors.
The deputy governors, speakers and deputy speakers of the state legislature, are similarly rewarded albeit not to the same extent. ‘Rich’ Lagos is nevertheless burdened by a debt profile of $ 1.45 billion and N542.23 billion foreign and local debts respectively. Incumbent Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu recently received the legislature’s approval to raise a N250 billion loan to finance what he termed critical infrastructure needs. We dare to say that freed of the weight of exorbitant payments in cash and kind to its former high office holders, the state will have enough money to work with.
In poor Katsina State, with a 2020 ‘‘Budget of Reflection and Progress’’ worth N249.5 billion (including a loan component of N33.4 billion), and an IGR of only N35.4 billion in the first six months of 2019, an extant 2007 law on pensions for governors and deputy governors grant them pensions for life that is the equivalent of the basic salaries of the incumbents respectively. Each receives gratuity, two cars every four years, four and three bedroom furnished houses respectively in the state capital, paid medical care for them and their families and two personal aides. This law is reported to now provide for speakers and deputy speakers. Osun State with a 2020 budget of N154 billion, an IGR of a mere N20.2 billion in the first six months of this year and which for three years paid so-called modulated salaries to its hapless employees, nonetheless, has a 2001 law that grants pension to its four living governors and deputy governors at the same pay as the incumbent officers. If they are not being paid as and when due, the complaint is yet to reach public attention. Gombe State reportedly gives pension for life, two vehicles every four years and free medical treatment to ex-governors and their immediate family members. The ‘‘list of shame’’ could go on.
Like Zamfara State, it would be inaccurate to classify Katsina as poor. With a landmass of 24, 971 sq. kilometres, a population of about six million spread over 34 local governments, the state is rich in minerals such as gold, uranium, nickel and iron ore. Its crops include maize, millet, cassava and beans. A visionary leader would translate these human and natural resources into wealth to benefit the citizens. Alas, not so in Zamfara, Katsina and indeed other states of the federation where self-seeking, rent-collecting political leaders reign supreme. At the federal level, federal lawmakers who commit billions to buy vehicles in a country where more than half of the population lives below poverty line, unabashedly defend it as part of the cost of making laws for their hungry fellow citizens.
All these point to an unpardonable character deficiency among the Nigerian political leadership and the elite group in general. It speaks for a deep-seated lack of compassion and shame that any Nigerian in leadership position can expropriate for himself and his family these huge sums of money amidst the misery in the land.
It can be argued that an act of illegality has been committed as these state laws and their unconscionable beneficiaries are in breach of the 1999 constitution (as amended. The extant law defines the remuneration and salaries of public office holders at federal and state levels. Section 124 states, in respect of governors, deputy governors and certain other officers specified as follows: ‘‘There shall be paid to the holders of the offices mentioned in [subsection 4] such remuneration and salaries as may be prescribed by a House of Assembly but not exceeding the amount as shall have been determined by the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission.’’
Representative democracy that by definition should be of, by, and for the people has, since 1999 seems to have put the worst of us into government. Or perhaps it has brought out the worst instinct in persons voted into leadership positions. Thus, in what must qualify as the most unconscionable parasitism imaginable, political leaders who literally begged and cajoled voters to be entrusted with the management of state affairs would rape state resources not only while in power but even out of power. This is atrocious in the extreme.
As earlier stated, every state legislature must muster the Zamfara courage and begin a public hearing on the laws that govern the pensions of high office holders with a view to aligning the provisions with the economic realities of each state. Specifically, as Section 22 of the constitution provides, the mass media must rise to its constitutional obligation to tackle these obnoxious laws, interrogate and throw them open for public scrutiny in as many local languages as possible. Civil society organisations (CSOs) should borrow a leaf from SERAP and challenge in court, laws and practices that take away public resources from the genuinely needy to insatiable members of the elite. Certainly, everyone must strengthen this democracy by protecting it from ravaging locusts that our public officers have become. Meanwhile, former governors who are now senators and ministers that a federal court has ordered to refund their pensions should be enrolled into a ‘‘Hall of Shame’’ by the Office of the Citizen.