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The Public Office Holders Pension Law recently enacted in Rivers State with the assent of Governor Rotimi Amaechi is one of the many actions of Nigerian representatives in government that demonstrate the self-centered character of political leadership across the country since the return to democratic rule in 1999.
The law pays pensions and other fringe benefits to public office holders in the state. Apart from receiving 100 per cent of their basic salaries as pensions, the law places a huge bill on the finances of the state by requiring that the government provides two houses each for former governors and deputy governors in the state. One of the houses for each of these public officers is to be built in Abuja, the nation’s capital while the other will be constructed in any part of the state. Other benefits are three cars each for the ex-governors and their deputies, which will be replaced every three years, free medical treatment for former chief executives and members of their immediate families; provision of cooks, drivers, stewards, gardeners and other domestic workers, who are also expected to earn pensions after retirement. Over eight security operatives, including employees of the State Security Service will be provided for them on retirement.
The state is not alone in the provision of pension for governors and deputies. Law No. 11 of 2007 of Lagos State gives a pension to a former governor equivalent to the exact salary paid to the sitting governor, plus 300 per cent of his or her basic salary as furniture allowance. In addition, the law provides choice houses, bullet-proof cars to be renewed every three years; eight policemen and two SSS details, entertainment, car maintenance, house maintenance, personal assistant, and utility allowances. The Kwara State government passed into law a similar bill for the benefit of former governors and deputies in the state in 2010. The law in Kwara State applies to all democratically elected governors and deputy governors of the state since 1967. Gombe State, also enacted a law that provided a pension scheme that would last the lifetime of former governors and their deputies. In implementing the law, former governor, Danjuma Goje paid himself and his deputy the sum of N300m as executive pension benefits.
The Federal Government has also taken a cue from the state governments. The National Assembly in 2011 approved a new and comprehensive pension package for past Nigerian leaders. The beneficiaries include past presidents, heads of the government of the federation, prime minister, vice presidents, presidents of the Senate, and speakers of the House of Representatives. In September 2011, the Senate Committee on federal character and inter-governmental Affairs rejected the N1.2billion budget proposed by the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation for the upkeep of former Heads of State and their deputies. The sum was being presented to the Senate because it was not captured in the 2011 budget. Explaining further, Mr Taiye Haruna stated that the sum of money was meant to cater for the needs of the former leaders in arrears. He also stated that the sum was in accordance with the Act recently passed by the National Assembly on the upkeep of the former leaders.
Those listed for care are seven living heads of state, five vice-presidents, six families of deceased heads of government/presidents and two families of deceased vice presidents. Indeed, the budget included the provision of a five bedroom housing accommodation for each of the former heads of state in any location of their choice with telephone services. The government also proposed to provide at least three vehicles for them and payment of salaries of their personal staff. The funds was to be used to cater for them each time they visit Abuja and pay for courier services utilised by them.
After a brief debates over whether former coup plotters and military usurpers should be included in the list of beneficiaries, members of the National Assembly who had presided over the sharing of the national patrimony among themselves in the name of allowances, abdicated their role in ensuring that the executive is frugal in public spending and in ensuring that public expenditure is made to add value to the well-being of citizens and passed the budget.
Like the bills in the states, the laws on benefits for former heads of state was speedily passed without prolonged debates and public hearings that usually follow bills that could directly affect the ordinary masses. The law makers have become connivers with the execute in short changing the public. They have consistently failed to provide laws that will promote responsible and accountability. For instance, the Petroleum Industry Bill designed to sanitise the management of the petroleum industry has been and is still with the National Assembly since 2008, yet to be passed. The Freedom of Information Bill was passed into law after about 11 years with the content of the final law watered down compared with the original proposal.
A few politicians have endorsed the law providing sumptuous benefits to past leaders. They argue that such laws would guarantee that no former chief executives can become very poor after leaving their official positions. This guarantee will prevent any governor in the state from stealing while in office. This is in their thinking, because while in office, the chief executives will have it at the back of their mind that their welfare after office is guaranteed by the government. But when the volume of money stolen by public officials is examined, it is immediately obvious that governors do not steal because they are afraid of becoming poor after leaving office. Indeed, many of the governors were multi-millionaires before they assume office. That they have such guarantees will therefore not limit their greed.
THESE sordid benefits will also not guarantee that a governor would not become poor. But it will guarantee that many states would not be able to promote public welfare under such needless burden. Regardless of how much is paid to him, a gambling former governor, for instance, may still remain poor and broke. The provisions in the law are unsustainable and will put further pressure on the already weak economy of the state. In the face of financial difficulties. In any case, many of the governors and heads of state are too wealthy to need such benefits. It is unfortunate that none of them has come out to oppose this act of taking coal to Newcastle. The former leaders seem to think that it is their right to continue to earn benefits from the coffers of the state even when they are responsible for the poverty that continues to characterise the life of majority of Nigerians.
WE call on the various legislative houses to review their stand on these benefits. The law merely demonstrates the poverty of mind and lack of character of the nation’s contemporary leadership. A former public officer who is undisciplined and irresponsible with his wealth should not become a burden on the public purse. Such monies should rather be deployed to public services and amenities that will benefit all, whether a government official or not.Share