The current financial challenges being experienced by a majority of state governments have called to question, the desirability of the pension laws enacted by state assemblies to maintain the lifestyles of former governors, writes Davidson Iriekpen
It is no longer news that state governments across the country have been going through tough times, financially. Since the crash in the price of crude oil last year, their allocations from the Federation Account have drastically reduced, leading to their inability to pay workers’ salaries or embark on infrastructural projects. Apart from their numerous overdrafts from banks to enable them cope with the day-to-day governance, the federal government on two occasions had come to their rescue through bailouts.
This ugly situation has therefore thrown up a debate on whether the outrageous amounts that state governments are spending in the payment of pension to their former governors are justifiable under the current realities. The debate was accentuated by the fact that a majority of these governors are currently either senators or ministers, who are also drawing salaries from public purse.
A majority of the nation’s 36 state Houses of Assembly has laws which give generous pension entitlements to governors, which in many cases provide 100 per cent pay for the incumbent governors buildings, generous medical allowances for them and their family members and annual holiday provisions, all of which are to last for life. Provisions in the pension allowances are also made for staff, security and vehicles that are renewable every three or four years.
As at the last count, there were 21 former governors and deputies in the Senate and President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet. The former governors now senators are Bukola Saraki (Kwara), Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso (Kano), Kabiru Gaya (Kano), Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom), Theodore Orji (Abia), Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa), Sam Egwu (Ebonyi), Shaaba Lafiagi (Kwara), Joshua Dariye (Plateau) and Jonah Jang (Plateau). Others are Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko (Sokoto), Ahmed Sani Yarima (Zamfara), Danjuma Goje (Gombe), Bukar Abba Ibrahim (Yobe), Adamu Aliero (Kebbi), George Akume (Benue) and Isiaka Adeleke (Osun).
Former deputy governors in the Senate include Ms Biodun Olujimi (Ekiti) and Enyinaya Harcourt Abaribe (Abia) while Danladi Abubakar Sani was the acting governor of Taraba State.
Former governors now ministers are Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers), Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti), Chris Ngige (Anambra) and Babatunde Fashola (Lagos).
While the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) had approved the payment of 300 per cent basic salary as severance allowances for political office holders on leaving office, the various state Houses of Assembly – all in the name of running a federal system of government – have gone ahead to approve a wide range of entitlements for ex-governors and their deputies.
Though the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) Act does not prohibit the former governors from drawing dual remuneration simultaneously, there are concerns on the financial implications on the states. Only recently, President Buhari said 27 states were struggling to pay salaries despite collecting over a trillion naira from the federal government as bailouts.
According to a Lagos Pension Law approved by former governor Bola Tinubu in 2007, a former governor will enjoy the following benefits for life: Two houses, one in Lagos and another in Abuja. (Property experts estimates such a house in Lagos to cost N500 million and Abuja N700 million.)
Others are six brand new cars replaceable every three years; furniture allowance of 300 per cent of annual salary to be paid every two years, and close to N2.5 million as pension (about N30 million pension annually). He will also enjoy security detail, free medicals including for his immediate families. Other benefits include 10 per cent house maintenance, 30 per cent car maintenance, 10 per cent entertainment, 20 per cent utility, and several domestic staff.
In Rivers, the law provides 100 per cent of annual basic salaries for ex-governor and deputy, one residential house for former governor “anywhere of his choice in Nigeria”; one residential house anywhere in Rivers for the deputy, three cars for the ex-governor every four years; two cars for the deputy every four years. His furniture is 300 per cent of annual basic salary every four years en bloc. House maintenance is 10 per cent of annual basic salary.
In Akwa Ibom, the law provides for N200 million annual pay to ex-governors, deputies. He enjoys a pension for life at a rate equivalent to the salary of the incumbent governor/deputy governor respectively.
A new official car and a utility vehicle every four years; one personal aide and provision of adequate security; a cook, chauffeurs and security guards for the governor at a sum not exceeding N5 million per month and N2.5 million for the deputy governor. There is also a free medical services for governor and spouse at an amount not exceeding N100 million for the governor per annum and N50 million for the deputy governor.
Also, there is a five-bedroom mansion in Abuja and Akwa Ibom and allowance of 300 per cent of annual basic salary for the deputy governor. He takes a furniture allowance of 300 per cent of annual basic salary every four years in addition to severance gratuity.
The Kano State Pension Rights of Governor and Deputy Governor Law 2007 provides for 100 percent of annual basic salaries for former governor and deputy. Furnished and equipped office, as well as a six-bedroom house; “well-furnished” four-bedroom for deputy, plus an office.
The former governor is also entitled to free medical treatment along with his immediate families within and outside Nigeria, where necessary. It is same for deputy. Two drivers are also for former governor and a driver for his deputy; and personal staff below the rank of a Principal Administrative Officer and a PA not below grade level 10. There is a provision for a 30- day vacation within and outside Nigeria.
In Kwara, the 2010 law gives a former governor two cars and a security car, replaceable every three years, a “well-furnished 5-bedroom duplex,” furniture allowance of 300 per cent of his salary; five personal staff, three SSS, free medical care for the governor and the deputy, 30 per cent of salary for car maintenance, 20 per cent for utility, 10 per cent for entertainment, 10 per cent for house maintenance.
The Zamfara version of the law, signed in 2006, gives former governors 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. The law also gives the former governors a four-bedroom house in Zamfara and an office, free telephone and 30 days paid vacation outside Nigeria.
In Sokoto, former governors and deputy governors are to receive N200 million and N180 million respectively being monetisation for other entitlements which include domestic aides, residence and vehicles that could be renewed after every four years.
Section 2 (2) of the Sokoto State Grant of Pension (governor and deputy governor) Law, 2013 states that “The total annual pension to be paid to the governor and deputy governor, shall be at a rate equivalent to the annual total salary of the incumbent governor or deputy governor of the state respectively.”
In Gombe, there is N300 million executive pension benefits for the ex-governor and houses for the former governors. Also, states like Oyo, Edo, and many others equally have these laws that are currently doling out billions to their former governors and deputies.
Investigation by THISDAY revealed that in many of the states, where these laws are operational, the speakers of the Houses of Assembly who presided over the passage of these laws merely did it not because they knew it was the proper thing to do but because of fear of being impeached if they opposed them.
According to the RMAFC, a minister receives an annual basic salary of N2 million, accommodation N4 million, vehicle loan N8 million, furniture allowance N6 million, utility N607, 920, vehicle maintenance N1.5 million, entertainment N911, 880 and leave allowance N202, 640.
He or she also receives N506, 600 for personal assistants, N1.5 million for domestic staff, N303, 960 for newspapers and N6 million as severance gratuity. In addition, he or she is entitled to N35, 000 as duty tour allowance (DTA) per day. For foreign trips, a minister receives $1,000 per day.
For a senator, he or she earns a basic salary of N2,026,400.00, accommodation, motor vehicle loan (400 per cent of their annual basic salary), motor vehicle maintenance allowance (75 per cent of annual basic salary), furniture allowance (300 per cent of their annual basic salary), utilities allowance (30 per cent of their basic salary), and medical allowance.
Other benefits they earn include newspaper allowances, special assistant (between Grade Level 12 and 14), personal assistant, two legislative aides, one senior legislative aide, entertainment allowance, wardrobe allowance, constituency allowance and severance gratuity. Yet, these are not enough to quench their lust for depleting the common patrimony.
Observers and analysts alike have wondered why a governor in particular or his deputy, who served for just four or eight years as the case may be should enjoy such largess after all they benefited legally and illegally while in office, when those who served for 30 or 35 years do not get a quarter of such benefits in retirement.
Perhaps, what many observers cannot comprehend is why many of the former governors still enjoy huge contracts from the respective states they served.
Recently, a coalition of 40 non-governmental organisation (NGOs) sued the 36 state governors, 36 state assemblies, RMAFC and the Attorney General of the Federation seeking to nullify the various pension laws enacted by some of the 36 States Houses of Assembly. The suit which was filed at the Federal High Court in Abuja by the NGOs lead counsel, Chino Obiagwu, is seeking an order to recover any pension payments paid to ex-governor or deputy, saying the RMAFC law supersedes any law passed by the state legislatures.
While many Nigerians are anxiously waiting for the outcome of the suit, they wish an intervention could come from other quarters especially from the presidency to stop the avarice and greed of the former governors.
This is why many Nigerians are surprised that President Buhari has turned a blind eye to the greed of the past state chief executives and has continued to fund their avarice through bailouts to state governments. Buhari, upon assuming office last year, had led a campaign to repeal the pension laws for governors. The proposal by the president was believed to be based on what sources close to him affirmed as the incongruity of the laws under the country’s socio-economic environment and also, as a way of demonstrating moral leadership from the top.
His inclination towards a review of the pension for former governors was first publicly declared few days to the presidential election at the All Progressives Congress (APC) retreat in Owerri, Imo State. A source privy to the development disclosed that Buhari told the governors that there was no way Nigeria could survive under the financial weight of the pensions that had been earmarked for governors.
He was said to have described the pension laws as scandalous. But over a year in office, Buhari has not only refused to deal with the issue but has continued to give bailouts to the states for the ex-governors to benefit from.
Flowing from the largess benefitting the former governors and ex-presidents as well as their deputies, the Senate, at a retreat on constitution review organised by the Senate Ad hoc Committee on Constitution Review in Lagos, saw some senators propose immunity from criminal prosecution and life pension for the presiding officers of the National Assembly.
The proponents of the proposal such as the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, argued that if the heads of executive arm of government – the president and the vice-president and governors and their deputies at the state levels – as well as the heads of the judiciary are entitled to life pension, why shouldn’t the presiding officers of the National Assembly be entitled to same?
Though some persons and corporate bodies, such as human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), and the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Projects (SERAP) have described the proposals as irrational, immoral, insensitive and provocative, the proposal has not been dropped yet.
This ugly situation has therefore thrown up a debate on whether the outrageous amounts that state governments are spending in the payment of pension to their former governors are justifiable under the current realities. The debate was accentuated by the fact that a majority of these governors are currently either senators or ministers, who are also drawing salaries from public purse