By KENNETH DARENG
IT took a leaked memo from former Governor Abdul’aziz Yari which went viral on the social media platform which indicated that the ex-governor had requested the present Governor of Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle to pay him his N10 million monthly upkeep allowance including arrears, which has opened Nigeria’s eyes to another conduit pipe in Nigeria’s system of government. Most Nigerians started getting revelations from other states on what appears to be a bonanza being enjoyed by the ex-political office holders at the expense of the ordinary tax payer.
According to the Daily Trust Publication of Friday November 29, 2019, former governors are drawing billions as retirement allowances from state government while pension arrears of retired workers have continued to accumulate.
The publication had quoted different groups including the Civil Society Legislature Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) as commending the Zamfara State House of Assembly for abolishing the Pension Law for former governors, the deputies as well as speakers and their deputies.
According to media reports, the Zamfara Assembly had recently repealed the law that approved different hefty allowances for former politicians. This development came few days after former Governor Abdul’aziz Yari in a leaked letter to the government, requested Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State to pay him his outstanding N10 million monthly upkeep allowance and arrears.
The development caused uproar across the country, which political analysts condemned such hefty packages? It is worrisome that this is besides the fact that politicians have access to all privileges of life yet they are still demanding more to the detriment of civil servants and other citizens across the country.
The Daily Trust publication revealed that while the former governors and their deputies, and state assembly speakers and their deputies are receiving billions of naira as allowances, retirees are being owed arrears for several years or months.
Findings showed that the bogus pension packages of the former governors are contrary to what is approved by the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) which is charged with the responsibility of approving salaries of political functionaries in the country.
Investigations show that the commission had approved payment of 300 percent basic salary as severance allowances for political office holders at the end of their tenure.
The spokesman of RMAFC, Mr. Christian Nwachukwu had alluded to the fact that. “While the commission fixes salaries and allowances for state governors, it doesn’t have powers over their pensions and exit benefits”.
He also told journalists that, he was not aware of any law that allowed governors to allocate “fat pensions” to themselves. Adding that the Zamfara case was a litmus test. “As it stands now, the commission is set to review the salaries of political office holders by the year 2020. I can’t say if it would be downward or upward,” Nwachukwu stated.
He also clarified that RMAFC doesn’t control the pensions of elected officials at the state levels, saying, “The issue is on the concurrent legislative list”.
Although there are exceptions in some states, SUNDAY STANDARD findings revealed that in some states such bogus provisions are not made for ex-political office holders.
For instance in Gombe State, the Executive Pension Law enacted in 2008, during the administration of former Governor Danjuma Goje, provided a monthly salary for life for all former governors and deputies. According to the law, the state governor and his deputy should be entitled to monthly pension at the rate equivalent to their salary when they were in power and the benefit should be for life.
While in Lagos State, the SUNDAY STANDARD gathered that the public holder (Payment of Pension) Law number II Official Gazette of Lagos State 2007 states that, (former governors of the state are entitled to a house each at any location of their choice in Lagos and Abuja”. Section 2 of the law also states that, “one residential house each for the governor and the deputy governor at any location of their choice in Lagos or Federal Capital Territory (FCT) for the governor having concluded two consecutive terms”. The law also provides new cars every three years, 100 percent basic salary of the present serving governor (which is N7.7 million per annum) as well as free health care for himself and members of his family.
The same law also made provision for furniture allowance which is 300 percent of their annual basic salary (N23.3 million), house maintenance allowance which is 10 percent of basic salary (N778, 296), utility allowance which is 20 percent of the salary (N1.5 million) and car maintenance allowance of 30 percent of the annual basic salary (N778, 296) and a personal assistant, who will earn 25 percent of the governors annual basic salary (N1.9 million), apart from being entitled to eight policemen and the officials of the Department of State Services (DSS) for life according to the Lagos Executive law.
In Kano State, the SUNDAY STANDARD findings revealed that former governors and their deputies started enjoying their pension package since 2007. It was received by former governor Ibrahim Shekerau.
According to section 3(1) of the Kano State Pension Rights of Governor and Deputy Governor Law of 2007, a former governor and his deputy are entitled to a monthly allowance equivalent to a basic salary of a serving governor. A former governor and his deputy are entitled to a 6-bedroom house in an area of his choice. Both are entitled to an office within the state worth N90million, two brand new cars after every four years, two drivers and a special assistant to be paid by the state government. However, the 8th Kano State Assembly amended the law to cover only former governors that are not holding any political position at either national or state level.
In Kogi, there was a law passed by the State House of Assembly approving some amounts as monthly pensions for former governors, deputies and speakers and their deputies.
While in Kaduna State, former governor of the state, Alhaji Balarabe Musa disclosed that what he receives as pension before the implementation of the new minimum wage in the state was N741, 000 monthly.
In Delta State, there is gratuity of 350 percent of basic annual salary for a first tenure governor and a gratuity of 450 percent basic salary for a second tenure. While the percentage of the “pension” for the first term is 70 percent and that of the second term is 80 percent.
Bayelsa State is one of the states whose former governors and deputy governors are entitled to N3.66 million and N3.55 million respectively as their pensions. According to the 2003 pension bill for former Governors and former Deputy Governors passed into law by the Bayelsa State House of Assembly, the former governors and their deputies will also be entitled to cars, personal a ides, medicals and others not explicitly stated by the law.
However, former Governor Timipre Sylva according to the Daily Trust report had during a radio interview early in the year, lamented that since he left office in 2012, he had never collected anything from Governor Seriake Dickson’s government as pension.
Meanwhile in Zamfara State, until the amendment of the Pension Law in March this year, each of the ex-governors in Zamfara was receiving N7 million and deputy governors N2 million every month.
However media reports revealed that months before handing over, former Governor Yari amended the law and raised the allowance of each of the ex-governors to N10 million as upkeep allowance, deputies N5 million each, ex-speakers N3 million while their deputies would be going home with N1.5 million each every month apart from other privileges including two vehicles to be replaced every four years, free medical treatment for a former governor and his immediate family, vacation within Nigeria and outside and a 5-bedroom house in any location of their choice within the country.
The same privileges extends to former governors in other states as laws formulated by those State House of Assembly had almost the same kind of Executive law with a difference in semantics. States such as Akwa Ibom, Katsina, Abia, Rivers etc are among those states whose former governors, deputies, speakers and their deputies are already drawing the jumbo allowance packages.
According to the Daily Trust statistics in its publication of November 29, 2019, some states pay N300 million, while others pay as low as N2.2 million annually as pension. And on houses, there is a ratio of 1 to 2 houses (one in own state and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
A good example or some of the packages enjoyed by the politicians is so interesting that a state like Lagos provides up to 6 cars while Bayelsa only pays transport allowance to the former political holders. Also, almost all ex-governors retain some security details for life.
Ironically, in a state like Zamfara, the backlog of pension and gratuity of local government workers and primary school teachers stand at 3 billion. While that of civil servants at the state level also stands at 3 billion while in Kogi State, some categories of pensioners who had issue with previous screening held in November were still being owed some arrears.
Meanwhile, in a review of the pension package, the Socio-Economic Right and Accountability Projects (SERAP) cited Akwa Ibom where a law enacted by the State House of Assembly provided N200million annual pay to ex-governors. According to the SERAP Executive Director, Mr. Adetokumbo Mumuni, they stand by their position that former governors should not be receiving jumbo pay at the detriment of the welfare of the masses.
SUNDAY STANDARD findings also revealed that out of 21 states out of the 36 states, that have so far enacted the executive law on pension rights for the former governors and their deputies including speakers and their deputies there are 56 ex-governors that are supposed to be enjoying such huge allowances. And going by SUNDAY STANDARD checks, if for instance, each of these 21 ex-governors were to be given just approximately N10 million monthly allowances, this translates to N210 million monthly, apart from other allowances such as utility, medicals, upkeep and so on. This is excluding that of the Deputy Governors, Speakers and their Deputies. A political commentator Benard Salihu wonder why Nigerians allowed themselves to be milked by politicians to such an extent that the amount of greed and selfishness have been taken to the state of satanic madness.
“Imagine a former governor who has never bothered paying attention to pension for retirees now turning round and paving way for himself to benefit from the same pension law earlier neglected by him. Can you imagine a governor who throughout his tenure did not perform by either payment of salaries to civil servants, or execution of projects now enacting laws that smack of self centredness at the expense of the poor masses. Yet our society condones such acts of impunity”.
In Plateau State, there are four ex-governors; namely, Sir Fidelis Tapgun, Chief Joshua Chibi Dariye and Da Dr. Jonah David Jang who based on the same template across the country are expected to enjoy their pension allowances although SUNDAY STANDARD investigation gathered that the government may be silent on the nature of allowances that the ex-governors, their deputies including former speaker and their deputies are entitled to access.
According to Mr. Ayuba Bulus, “The way and manner government is being run in this country based on this kind of scenario is quite unfortunate because it has given room for outright corruption and it is self serving without the interest of the masses in mind. Otherwise, how can a country that is struggling with the highest scale of poverty and unemployment allow just a few privileged Nigerians eat fat for life at government expense”. Then what is their accumulated salaries and benefit going to be used for?
“Take for instance when former U.S President Bill Clinton when he left office, he had no house. He had to rent a place before he was able to buy a little house for himself and his family via mortgage. And the same goes with former Vice President Joe Biden who on his final office day took a train in his home state to begin life as a private citizen. Both didn’t wait for government to provide allowances for any form of luxury. And that is how government should work. People must cultivate the spirit of service and not going to government to enrich themselves and become Lords of the Manors”.
Also speaking on the matter with the SUNDAY STANDARD Barnabas Okojie said that; “The only solution out of all these madness is for Nigerians to take a look at the present constitution and see how it can be fashioned out to take care of the overall interest of the common man or woman on the streets”.
“Government needs to be made less attractive, take away all these perks of office, you will see the real caliber of people that are ready to serve. Otherwise we cannot move forward as a nation with such attitude of primitive accumulation of wealth.
“We need to reduce the size of government i.e number of Senators, members of House of Representatives, Ministers, Commissioners and so-on. Because if you add the wage bill of all these political office holders some of whom we still don’t even know exactly how much they earn… I mean our Senators and Reps. Their monthly wage bill can build schools, equip hospitals and provide basic service delivery in this country”, adds Okojie.
However, with this development, most Nigerians expressed anger over what they see as daylight robbery which needs to be stopped before it makes mockery of anti-corruption crusade of the Buhari administration.
Civil Society organizations have also condemned the attempt by former political office holders to just feed on the poor masses despite the enormous wealth already acquired while in office.