Governors’ Pension Law: Stakeholders rue Lagos Assembly’s failed repeal of privileges
When Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu announced during the presentation of 2021 budget estimates that he would seek to repeal the Public Office Holder (Payment of Pension) Law, which has been controversial, it was applauded across board. Even former governors of the state that are beneficiaries of the law commended the move.
Addressing the lawmakers during the budget presentation, Sanwo-Olu said his administration had concluded plans to repeal the Public Office Holder Payment of Pension Law, which prescribes pension for former governors and deputy governors in the state.
Ten months after the governor made the announcement, the lawmakers have acted. But contrary to the repeal, which the governor had proposed, they only slashed the benefits by 50 per cent.
Commenting on the move, Babatunde Fashola, who lauded the gesture, said: “When this came up at our State Executive Council meeting, I made it clear that if this is a privilege conferred on me, I have the right to refuse and I refused and insisted that the cabinet meeting should record my refusal to partake.”
Another former governor, Bola Tinubu not only supported Sanwo-Olu on the action, he described it as a bold move, encouraging all All Progressives Congress (APC) loyalists to follow suit.
Before now, Nigerians have been outraged that after spending at most eight years in office, most governors and deputy governors in Nigeria leave office to enjoy life pensions. In some states, the Houses of Assembly speakers and their deputies are even included in the package.
Yet, some stakeholders have continued to kick against life pension for public office holders, especially with dwindling revenue and mounting developmental challenges.
At the frontline of the call for the abolition of pension for governors and their deputies is the Socio-Economic Rights And Accountability Project (SERAP). SERAP had gone to court to demand for what each of the governors collects as pension aside stating that what they are being paid as pension was on the high side.
Those against pensions for governors and their deputies argue that it is eating into the state finances, thereby hampering state governments from executing developmental projects.
Apart from the pensions, some of the former state executives are alleged to be receiving double emoluments, since they also go ahead to serve the state or federal government in other capacities after their tenures where they are also paid salaries.
For instance, at the moment, there are 16 former governors serving at the Senate. Also, there are nine former governors and deputy governors currently serving as ministers in President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, including a former Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola.
So, when Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodima, on May 2020 abolished pension for ex-governors and speakers of the state House of Assembly, the development received applause. This was more so given that many states were grappling with the payment of workers’ salaries amid dwindling revenue. The Coronavirus pandemic has even made matters worse. As such, some Nigerians suggested that other states yet to abolish the pension law for ex-governors and speakers should emulate Imo and Zamfara States.
Like many states, Lagos State is grappling with financial burdens for which reason it had to review its 2020 budget downward by 21 per cent, particularly with its expected revenue dropping by 24 per cent.
Giving the proposed breakdown of the revised budget, the state Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget, Sam Egube, said the total budget size was reduced by 21 per cent from N1, 168.562b to N920.469b with the financing deficit increasing slightly by 11 per cent from N97.533b to N108.005b; recurrent expenditure (debt and non-debt) declining by 10 per cent from the initial N457.529b to N411.608b, while total capital expenditure reduced by 28 per cent from N711.33b to N508.861b. The revised total revenue, according to the commissioner, represents a drop of 24 percent from the projected N1, 107,029b to N812.464b. Hence, the need for the Lagos State government to cut down on some extraneous spending.
In Lagos, Section 2 of the Public Office Holder (Payment of Pension) Law 2007, of Lagos State had approved one residential house each for the governor and the deputy governor at any location of their choice in Lagos State and one residential house in the Federal Capital Territory for the governor on two consecutive terms.
The law also awarded six new cars every three years for the governor. This is in addition to one pilot and two backup cars, while the deputy governor gets two cars in addition to one pilot and one backup car every three years. An ex-governor is also to enjoy 100 per cent of the basic salary of the serving governor (N7.7m per annum), as well as free health care for himself and members of his family. The law also says former governors will be entitled to furniture allowance, which is 300 per cent of their annual basic salary (N23.3m); house maintenance allowance, which is 10 per cent of basic salary (N778, 296); utility allowance, which is 20 per cent of the salary (N1.5m) and car maintenance allowance, which is 30 per cent of the annual basic salary (N2.3m). Other benefits include entertainment allowance, which is 10 per cent of the basic salary (N778, 296) and a personal assistant, who will earn 25 per cent of the governor’s annual basic salary (N1.9m). A former governor will also be entitled to eight policemen and two officials of the Department of State Services for life, according to the Lagos law.
The ex-deputy governor is expected to enjoy 100 per cent of the basic salary of the serving deputy governor, as well as free health care for himself and members of his family. The law also says former deputy governors will be entitled to furniture allowance, which is 300 per cent of their annual basic salary; house maintenance allowance, which is 10 per cent of basic salary; utility allowance, which is 20 per cent of the salary and car maintenance allowance, which is 30 per cent of the annual basic salary. Other benefits include entertainment allowance, which is 10 per cent of the basic salary and a personal assistant, who will earn 25 per cent of the governor’s annual basic salary. A former deputy governor will also be entitled to eight policemen and two officials of the Department of State Services (DSS) for life.
But months after receiving the Executive bill, the Lagos State House of Assembly on August 6 amended the state Pension Law, reducing their benefits and emoluments by 50 per cent.
The House approved the recommendations sequel to the presentation of the report by the Chairman, House Committee on Establishment, Training and Pension, Yinka Ogundimu, during plenary.
Ogundimu, representing Agege II, said the committee reduced their benefits and other emoluments by 50 per cent, based on the present economic situation of the state.
The lawmaker added that it had expunged the provision of houses in Abuja and Lagos for former governors, as stipulated in an earlier law operated by the state, stating that the committee report presented to the House further showed a reduction in the number of vehicles to be made available to former governors and their deputies.
The Speaker, Mudashiru Obasa, however, suggested that the former governors should get two vehicles, a car and a van, instead of the three recommended by the committee.
The Chairman, Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL), Debo Adeniran said the continual implementation of the Public Office Holder (Payment of Pension Law 2007), and other such laws that gave legal backing to the payment of Pension to ex-governors and their deputies in different states in the country was not only insensitive, but callous and deficient in human sensibility.
He noted that beneficiaries of this pension already had everything they enjoyed in office paid for by taxpayers during the four or eight years in office. He added that they were rich enough to take care of their needs.
“Many are retirees who enjoy pensions and other benefits. It is unfair that those who claim to serve people turn themselves to exploiters of the same people who are suffering various degrees of deprivation, sometimes based on their misrule. Sometimes, when they serve twice or deputies become governor, they go on to enjoy the benefits in multiples.
“Meanwhile, some of those who served for more than 30 years in various government ministries and parastatals cannot access their gratuity and pensions, years after serving. Although, we commend the Lagos State House of Assembly for this bold step, having demonstrated that governance cannot be done effectively without prudent fiscal responsibility, we would still recommend further reduction in the pension paid to these ex governors and their deputies. We hope other states in the country would take a cue from this noble act of the Lagos State House of Assembly and amend or repeal every anti-people, anti-development and anti-progress law in their various states.”
On his part, the Social Mobilisation Manager, ActionAid Nigeria, Adewale Adeduntan, said that the reduction of the benefits and emoluments by 50 per cent is not impressive, considering that other states totally abolished such policy.
“It is appalling that the obnoxious law was not totally abolished by the House of Assembly despite the scarcity of resources and rising debt profile facing of the state amidst high cost of governance. Total abolition could have freed up more resources for gender responsive public services.
“Lagos needs more infrastructure like schools, general hospitals, high-tech libraries, modern markets, feeder roads, flood drains, and many more, including huge investment in ensuring optimal security. This is because the population is increasing exponentially and every kobo available must be judiciously used to better the lot of the masses.
“Public service is never about the leaders but the citizens who elected them to hold forte their mandates in trust. Those good things of life the elected leaders desire should be their priorities for the electorate. Governments must be seen to be deliberate in terms of investing more in people and not the over-pampered political office holders. The welfare of the citizens ought to be the ultimate,” Adeduntan stated.
When the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Sanwo-olu, Gboyega Akosile, was contacted for responses on the new development about the pension law, given that it was a huge deviation from what the repeal the governor had promised earlier, he read but did not reply the message sent to him through Whatsapp. With the diverse reactions that have since been trailing the reduction rather than a total repeal by the lawmakers, it remains to be seen whether Governor Sanwo-Olu would sign the bill into law.
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