The move by the Lagos House of Assembly to amend the Public Office Holders’ Pension Law (2007) with a view to giving life pension to Speaker, Deputy Speaker has continued to receive knocks from activists, writes Oladipupo Awojobi
Amid a virulent recession and rising call on government at all levels to cut cost, Lagos State House of Assembly has re-introduced a bill seeking an amendment to the state’s Pension Law that would give life pension to Speaker and Deputy Speaker. The bill titled: “A Bill for A Law to Amend the Payment of Pensions and Other Fringe Benefits to Public Office Holders in Lagos State and for Connected Purposes”, seeks to amend the state Public Office Holders’ Pension Law (2007) by accommodating the Assembly’s presiding officers.
The exiting law only provides pensions for former governors and the deputy governors.
Interestingly, the latest attempt to give life pension to the Assembly’s speakers and deputies is coming more than a year after a failed attempt to amend the state’s Pension Law following public outcry.
The amendment bill redefines public office holder by including the speaker and deputy speaker. Section 6 of the existing law defines public office holder as governor and deputy governor.
Highlights of the bill include: that the governor and deputy governor will receive 50 percent of their annual basic salary but the allowances and fringe benefits will cover the governor, deputy governor, speaker and deputy speaker. These benefits include accommodation, furniture allowance, transport, car maintenance allowance, entertainment allowance, medical and provision for domestic staff such as cook, steward and gardener who shall be pensionable.
For accommodation, the amendment proposed a one residential house for the public office holder at any location of their choice in Lagos State while furniture allowance will be payable every five years en bloc. The amendment bill proposed that one car and one pilot car will be provided for the speaker while the deputy speaker will get one car. Both will get 10 per cent of their annual basic salary as car maintenance allowance.
The proposed pension package for the speaker and deputy speaker, according to the bill, also includes 10 per cent of their annual basic salary as entertainment allowance, free medical treatment for them as well as members of their immediate families, and one policeman for the speaker and one policeman for the deputy speaker.
All the public office holders are entitled to domestic staff, cook, steward and gardener, who shall be pensionable.
Reactions have begun to trail the proposed amendment to the pension law. An activist, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, described the plan as insensitive, adding that it smacks of ultimate impunity in the midst of this recession, while warning the lawmakers to “drop such an inconsiderate plan.”
In a telephone interview, Comrade Biodun Aremu of Joint Action Front (JAF) said that though the matter was still a subject of speculation, it is also not unexpected.
He accused Nigerian politicians of being selfish, adding that the nation’s politics is not for public service.
“Whatever they are doing is consistent with the general pattern of backwardness of our country. Our legislative arm is being used as a rubber stamp. The recent one that happened in Edo State is an example. It is important for the people to rise to the occasion because we cannot continue like this.
“They always find a way to rationalise their actions.
The people have to wake up to the reality that we have to redirect our politics. You cannot sanitise our political environment with election, it has to do with struggle. That was why you find uprising in many countries. It is not about 2019 or 2023, the people would not get what they want if we don’t fight for ourselves,” he said.
Aremu stated further that the people must be ready to rise to the occasion, saying that it is abnormal to disenfranchise 98% of the people of the country as most Nigerians can only vote, but they could not be voted for because those that canvass for votes are those that have access to looted funds or are sponsored by godfathers.
He said: “There cannot be credible election in Nigeria if the people have the right to vote, but cannot be voted for. The candidates that are available are those, who have access to looted funds or are sponsored by the godfathers. You cannot talk of free and fair elections, where those contesting elections are not credible.
“You deny the people the right to be voted for, you have no choice but to go and vote for one thief from two thieves. They are talking about change in direction of looting, not that of the country. You promote the politics of the personal benefits.”
In his view, President of Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL), Comrade Debo Adeniran, stated that he didn’t know the figure that the lawmakers were proposing for themselves, but that they must do the amendment with caution.
He added in a telephone interview that there could be some pension for all the lawmakers if they serve the state meritoriously, but that CACOL kicks against outrageous pensions for government functionaries, while making reference to Edo State.
“It is unthoughtful for the legislators to have allocated such an immense amount of money for government functionaries. If the legislators are not going outside the recommendation of RMFAC, it would be reasonable and justifiable.
“But if they talk of legislation on pension for themselves and for their leaders, it would be unreasonable, especially at this time, when people find it difficult to feed themselves and their families.
“We feel the cost of governance should be reduced. We expect them to reduce the amount of emolument that is accruing to them rather than increasing it. May be what they are trying to copy is what is being given to governors and deputy governors, and we feel that even these people should reject these offers because they are not acceptable to an average Lagosian,” he said.
However, a lawmaker, who spoke on the matter anonymously, wondered why people bother themselves about having pension for speakers and deputy speakers of the state House of Assembly.
He maintained that the House had the power to determine what it wants for its leaders when they leave office, and that the House deserves the same treatment with those in the executive.
“We passed the Pension Law in the state Assembly and approved the money the state is spending all through the year. It is not out of place if we now decide to make life better for ourselves too. People should not bother themselves over issues like this. I even blame the media for making issues out of things like this,” he said.
Observers have also criticised the Pension Law (2007) on the premise that it only covers those, who served as governors and deputy governors of the state from 1999 till date leaving out the likes of Second Republic Governor Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande, his deputy, Alhaji Rafiu Jafojo, Third Republic Governor Michael Otedola, and his deputy, Alhaja Sinatu Ojikutu. Sadly, Otedola and Jafojo died without receiving pension from the state government despite their meritorious services to the state.
It will be recalled that the former deputy governor of the state, Alhaja Sinatu Ojikutu, who served with the late ex-governor Otedola between 1991 and 1993, before the General Sanni Abacha military interregnum, dragged the state government to court over the discriminatory pension law and won the case, but she is yet to be included in the pension package as it was gathered that the state government under former Governor Raji Fashola, who is now a beneficiary of the pension package, challenged her victory in court.
If the proposed amendment to include the speaker and deputy speaker in the pension law is passed, the new law will be cited as the Public Office Holder (Payment of Pension) (Amendment) Law 2016.