From Zamfara, an Example to Die For

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CICERO  

Last week, Zamfara State set a new record, when the state House of Assembly repealed her controversial pension law for former governors and their deputies. Hopefully, other states would follow suit, writes Davidson Iriekpen

Zamfara State, last week, became the first state in the country to repeal her law mandating the state governments to pay jumbo pension and other allowances to former governors and theirdeputies. 

The development, which came two days after former Governor Abdul’aziz Yari wrote to his successor, Bello Matawalle, lamenting the non-payment of his monthly N10 million upkeep since August, went viral.

In the letter dated October 17, 2019, and addressed to the governor, Yari said the law, which provides for the entitlement of former governors, deputies, speakers and deputy speakers was amended in March and that it should not be truncated.

“I wish to humbly draw your attention to the provision of the law on the above subject matter which was amended and assented to on March 23, 2019. 

“The law provides, among other entitlements of the former governor, a monthly upkeep allowance of N10,000,000 only and a pension equivalent to the salary he was receiving while in office,” he said.

This had since prompted the state House of Assembly to stop the implementation of the law. 

Presenting a bill before the assembly to that effect, the House Leader, Faruk Dosara, urged his colleagues to consider a ‘complete repeal’ of the law, because according to him, these categories of past leaders “are collecting over N700 million annually,” which he said the present economy could not sustain.

Under the law, Yari was entitled to N10million every month as pension. He also got two vehicles from the state government that are replaceable every four years; free medical treatment for the former governor and his immediate family and vacation within Nigeria and outside; thirty days vacation within Nigeria or outside Nigeria; and a five-bedroom house in any location of his choice.

The law equally extended similar largess to former deputy governors, former speakers of the state assembly, and former deputy speakers.

Assenting to the new law last Wednesday, the governor said he would use the mega allowances going to the ex-government officials to build the teeming unemployed youths in the state. 

He regretted that although Yari had left behind pensions liabilities of about N10 billion apart from other liabilities such as promotion benefits, and workers’ annual increment, he still had the gut to request the state government to pay him N120 million annually.

Since the law was repealed, many civil society organisations had been commending the state government for the courage in taking the decision. They said though the move was more of a political decision than activism, it was nonetheless commendable. 

The groups called on other state governors and their Houses of Assembly to emulate the Zamfara lawmakers by repealing their pension law for former governors and save their states huge revenue that could be used to provide infrastructure for the people.

Since 2007, former governors had been exerting pressure on national purse with pension payments and other entitlements draining billions of naira every year from development funds for the states. 

Findings revealed that over N50.367 billion had so far been expended on servicing 47 former governors from 21 states in pension payments and provision of houses, staff and motor vehicles replaceable between three and four years.

The controversial law, which was first enacted in Lagos in 2007 under former Governor Bola Tinubu, had practically spread across other states of the federation with the governors committing their states to write laws that entitle them to lives of luxury outside office as well as opulent burials when they die.  

For instance, the Lagos Pension Law approved by Tinubu gives a former governor life pension at the rate of N30 million per annum, one house each in Lagos and Abuja, six brand new cars every three years and other allowances. 

In the twilight of his eight-year rule in 2015, former Akwa Ibom governor, Godswill Akpabio approved a new pension law that started with him, granting N200 million annual pay to ex-governors. 

He enjoys a pension for life at a rate equivalent to the salary of the incumbent governor. It is the same with an ex-deputy governor. The amended law gave an ex-governor and the deputy N100 million and N50 million respectively for medicals annually but after an uproar, this provision was scrapped.

In Rivers, the law provides 100 per cent of annual basic salaries for ex-governor and deputy, one residential house for a 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. 

In Edo State, the law provides for a former governor to be entitled to a house at any place of his choice in Nigeria at a cost of N200 million. An ex-deputy governor gets a N100 million mansion. Other fringe benefits include pension for life at a rate equivalent to 100 per cent of the last annual salary, three brand new cars every five years, drivers, domestic staff and free medical service for them and their immediate families. 

All these jumbo entitlements are coming at a time when ordinary pensioners, who served for 30 to 35 years in most of the states, are not paid their meagre entitlements for many years. More upsetting is the fact that 21 of these retired governors/deputies are currently entitled to salaries in the Senate or the federal cabinet, drawing huge remunerations, thus raising a serious question about the propriety of the naked rape of the treasury.

In an environment where infrastructure is non-existent, and the citizens are hobbled by deep-seated poverty and high illiteracy, the continued desirability of the laws has been questioned and seriously faulted. 

This is why many have argued that the trend represents a broken, lopsided reward system in the country. They feel that the social contract favours only the political class. 

To them, it shows that politicians pretend to care, but deep down, they employ subterfuge to deny the majority good life. This is why the Zamfara example, whether or not it was political, is commendable and worthy of emulation.