QUESTIONABLE SEVERANCE PACKAGES

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The retirement benefits of many public officers constitute a heavy financial burden on the states

The prevailing harsh economic environment is forcing many Nigerians to have a rethink of many things they had glossed over in recent years. That perhaps explains why criticism has grown over a group of public officers who are entitled by a law they themselves enacted to draw sumptuous severance benefits and salaries from the system all at the same time.

As things stand today, many hard-pressed states across the country are paying billions of naira as pensions to some of their predecessors who are also drawing salaries from the public purse as serving senators and ministers. It hardly bodes well too that many retired civil servants and military officers to boot who are on pension, but later found themselves in government are also receiving hefty salaries running into millions monthly at a time of limited resources and when many states are attempting to negotiate downwards the minimum wage of N18,000.

Since the return to civil rule in 1999, virtually all the states across the nation have passed scandalous pension laws aimed at making the governors and their deputies live a life to the fullest outside government house. From Benue to Zamfara States, Lagos to Rivers, the governors, with the aid of pliable Houses of Assembly, have been initiating and assenting to these dubious laws that confer on them the rights to appropriate public money outside office. In most cases, the governors and their deputies are entitled in retirement to 100 per cent of what the incumbent is earning, while in other states, the benefits could be as high as 300 per cent.

Although this law differs from one state to another, the principles are the same: They provide for a former governor a befitting palace in both the state and nation’s capital, Abuja while they are also entitled to furniture allowances and brand new cars every four years at the tax payers’ expense. Their cooks, chauffeurs and security men are also well provided for. And in order not to be accused of selfishness, the interests of all other former governors and deputies of the state, living or dead, are taken care of by the new law. Yet what is now egregious is that most of the beneficiaries of these laws are now senators of the federal republic who also draw salaries from the system.

There are many questions arising from this state of affairs: What should Nigeria do about the financial implications of former governors who are still in government, squeezing their vulnerable states and the federal government, all at the same time? Can the nation continue to bear this costly and self-inflicted burden? What should be done? At the last count, about 21 former governors, deputy governors and former ministers were still in government (either as senators or ministers), drawing double salaries monthly even though they are not ghosts. This is not to mention other countless administrators who are members of this insidious, but legitimate cartel, and this includes ministers who were heads of government agencies from where they collected hefty pay-outs before their new portfolios from which they now also draw huge sums from the treasury.

“There is nothing wrong for a former governor, now serving as a senator or minister to be collecting pension,” said Adamu Aliero, former Kebbi State governor and now a serving senator. “It is consistent with the pension law and absolutely nothing is wrong.”

In the eyes of the law which they helped to enact, Aliero is right. But it is also true that these retirement benefits constitute a heavy financial burden on the states and the nation at large. We feel strongly that a nation with so many challenges – from getting enough to eat to providing shelter and jobs for many of its citizens, and to stalling in payment of salaries – cannot sanction the indiscriminate awards of its resources to already well-heeled and comfortable citizens.