By Obike Ukoh
THE debate, whether or not, former governors and others, now occupying different positions are entitled to pension, in addition to accruals from their current political office, has continued to dominate national discourse.
Though the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has been consistent in its campaign against payment of pension to political office holders that stayed only a maximum of eight years in office, former governor of Gombe State, recently brought the issue, once again to national attention.
The former governor, Ibrahim Dankwambo, now the senator representing Gombe North, has asked the state government to suspend the payment of his monthly pension.
Dankwambo in a letter he addressed to Gov. Inuwa Yahaya, dated Oct. 4, 2023 noted that the monthly pension was approved under the 2007 Executive Pension Act.
He said the government pays him N694,557 as pension every month, adding that after consultation with civil society organisations, integrity institutions, friends and associates, he decided to stop it and make refunds.
“Also note that since I left office in 2019, I have never benefitted from any welfare packages be it medical, furniture, transportation, among others,” the former governor said.
Though the issue of constitutionality or otherwise of former governors, speakers, among others receiving life pension is still raging, Kwara, Imo and Zamfara states, had earlier abolished payment of pension to former political office holders.
When the then governor of Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle, now Minister of State (Defence) annulled the Zamfara State Pension Law, he stressed that no ex-governor is poor, given the perks of office they enjoyed, in most cases, for eight years.
He stressed that whoever attained the position of a governor and other top political offices, were already financially well off.
As a result, such persons should not be leeches when out of office, he asserted.
Under the Zamafara State Pension Law, former governors are to receive N10million monthly as pension for life; two personal staff; two vehicles replaceable every four years; two drivers, free medical for the former governors and deputies and their immediate families in Nigeria or abroad; a 4-bedroom house in Zamfara and an office; free telephone and 30 days paid vacation outside Nigeria.
Imo State Governor Hope Uzodimma, when he assented to the bill repealing the “Governors and Speakers Pensions and Privileges Law of 2007,’’ explained that his government sponsored the bill because it was illegal and designed to allow a few privileged people feed fat on the commonwealth of the people.
He said the law was against the Pension Act which stipulates that only those who have put in a minimum of 10 years in public service were entitled to pensions, adding that former governors and speakers stayed in office for a maximum of eight years.
He also wondered how the same people who collect fat severance allowances at the end of their tenure can turn around to be paid pensions as well.
”It is noteworthy that I am supposed to benefit from this law when I leave office as governor; yet I called for its repeal.
“This should leave no one in doubt that I am acting in the best interest of our state and our people.
“I believe that those of us who have had the privilege of occupying exalted positions must be human enough to resist the temptation of feeding fat from the lean resources of the state at the expense of the people,’’ the governor said.
Mr Declan Emelumba, Imo Information Commissioner, said the state currently has about 15 people who had served either as governors, deputy governors and speakers.
He said that about N1.2 billion would be saved annually through the abolition of the pension and gratuity payments to the former governors and others.
The three states that annulled their pension laws did so without prompting, as the mouth watering entitlements were approved through legislation, via bills passed into law by state assemblies.
However, SERAP and other stakeholders, have remained consistently in kicking against the constitutionally and morality, of those who occupied exalted political offices to be paid pension for life.
SERAP has drag the Senate President Godswill Akpabio and others to court on the issue.
In a suit FHC/ABJ/CS/1360/2023 at the Federal High Court, Abuja, SERAP is seeking an order of mandamus to direct and compel the senate president and others to stop collecting both salaries and pensions and to return any pensions collected to their respective state treasuries.
The body lamented that it was absurd for the respondents to be “looking after themselves while over 137 million Nigerians are living in extreme poverty” which was worsened by the fuel subsidy removal.’’
SERAP added: “Collecting pensions as former governors and salaries while serving as public officers is a flagrant violation of the letter and spirit of the Nigerian Constitution and the public trust.”
SERAP documented mouth watering entitle ments to governors in some of the states.
In one of the states, under the state’s “ Life Pension Law [as amended] a former governor is entitled to an annual pay of N200 million, two official vehicles with chauffeurs, furniture allowance of 300 per cent of basic salary replaceable every four years, an aide, a cook, and lifetime security guards worth N5 million monthly, and N2.5 million for their deputies, among others.
Even before the present suit, it should be recalled that SERAP, on Nov. 26, 2019 obtained a judgment against ex-governors receiving pensions and at the same time drawing salaries.
Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo of the Federal High Court, Lagos, ruling on an application for an order of mandamus in suit number FHC/L/CS/1497/2017 brought by SERAP, had ordered the Federal Government to recover life pensions collected by former governors serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly.
SERAP also in May this year sued the Federal Government and the immediate past Attorney-General of the Federation/Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, for allegedly failing to recover over N40 billion pensions paid to former governors, who were lawmakers and ministers.
SERAP also in September 2023, filed a lawsuit against President Bola Tinubu over “the failure to stop the former governors who are now serving as ministers in his administration from collecting life pensions and other ‘retirement benefits’ from their states while they serve as ministers.”
In the suit number FHC/L/CS/1855/2023 filed at the Federal High Court in Lagos, where the affected Ministers are joined as defendants, SERAP is seeking: “an order of mandamus to direct and compel President Tinubu to instruct the former governors who are now serving as ministers to stop collecting life pension, and other ‘retirement benefits’ from their respective states.”
As the debate goes on, a civil rights advocacy group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), has called on the 10th National Assembly to enact a law to stop ex-governors from taking pensions while still serving as ministers.
Emmanuel Onwubiko, national coordinator, said it was not only criminal but gross corruption for ex-governors who are now serving as ministers to earn double pay while Nigerians are wallowing in poverty.
“It is criminal and corrupt for anyone to earn double pay and purloin the nation’s treasury funded by taxpayers’ money,” he said.
On his part, human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), has urged former governors to emulate Ogun State’s former governor, Gbenga Daniel, and former Gombe State governor, Ibrahim Dankwambo.
The senior lawyer stated that since the Kwara, Imo, and Zamfara states Houses of Assembly had abolished the Governors Pension Scheme, he admonished other Houses of Assembly to follow suit without any further delay.
Falana, in the statement also made reference to the judgment delivered on November 26 2019 by Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo (retd.) declaring the payment of the pension to former governors as illegal and unconstitutional.
He recalled that Justice Oguntoyinbo had in the judgment declared the payment of the pension illegal and unconstitutional. The judge consequently ordered the Accountant-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to recover the life pensions collected by former governors serving as senators and ministers.
Falana noted that in compliance with the judgment, Daniel and Dankwambo had requested the governors of Ogun and Gombe States, respectively, to stop paying them the scandalous pension.
Falana said: “This is highly commendable at a time when not less than 20 former governors in the executive and legislative branches of government are receiving double salaries.
“In view of the foregoing, we call on Senator Akpabio and other former governors in the executive and legislature to emulate the example of Senators Daniel and Dankwambo by rejecting the payment of the illegal pension forthwith.”
The position of the constitution is clear, though the payment of the life pensions were given legality by state assemblies.
The current beneficiaries should toe the line of Daniel and Dankwambo. After all, the voters that lined up to vote for them do not have life pension. Severance benefit is enough reward for service.
-Nov. 21, 2023 @ 11:49 GMT |