Lagos Assembly? It Dares Not!

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For obvious reasons, the Lagos State House of Assembly is not one to tamper with the pension law for former governors, writes Segun James

Today, in the country, everybody is complaining about the dysfunction in the system, a government divided against itself, political office holders who are consumed by greed and a people exasperated by a political leadership that is distant from the reality of things in the country.

It was in the midst of this apprehension that the Zamfara House of Assembly did the impossible. It abolished a law that allowed the payment of pension and other allowances to former governors and their deputies in the state. The development is coming days after a former governor, Abdul’aziz Yari, in a leaked letter to the state government, requested his N10 million ‘monthly upkeep’, which he said had not been paid for some months.

Following the demand, which drew the ire of the people, the House of Assembly abolished the law authorising the payment of pensions to these categories of former officials.

Presenting the bill before the assembly, Leader of the House, Faruk Dosara, urged his colleagues to consider the ‘complete repeal’ of the law “which provides the jamboree payment for the former political leaders of the state at the detriment of the retired civil servants, who have not been paid their entitlements over the years.” According to the lawmaker, these categories of past leaders “are collecting over N700 million annually” which he said the present economy could not afford.

All over the world, political people are guided by facts, reality and crunchy scrutiny of situations before questions are asked and answers given.

For example, like what is your economic plan? What is your development goal for infrastructure, education and roads? And will a project deliver a reasonable return on investment?

It is such questions as these that prompted the call for the stoppage of outrageous pensions for ex-political office holders, especially former governors of the state.

One of such politicians is the Zamfara State Governor, Matawalle, who believes that political leadership goes beyond selfish interest as exhibited by many former political office holders who demanded from the states the impossible.

Flashback to Lagos in 2007

Just before he handed over to his successor, Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu got the state House of Assembly to enact a law giving him and his deputy juicy pensions.

The Lagos Pension Law stipulates that former holders of the number one political office in the state will enjoy the following benefits for life: Two houses, one in Lagos and another in Abuja. (Property experts estimate houses in the two cities to cost about N500million and N700milion, respectively). It also includes medical treatment abroad, cars, drivers and domestic staff amongst others.

In the eight years that he was governor, Tinubu had three deputies, although only two of them are currently entitled to pensions. The third former deputy governor, who was impeached like the second, didn’t have the impeachment reversed.

Fast Forward 2019

This was the situation when the LAHA dismissed the call stopping the payment of pensions to former governors and their deputies. The House made it clear, that it would not repeal the state’s pension law permitting former governors and other public office holders the right to receive huge pensions from the state coffers.

Chairman, House Committee on Information and Strategy, Mr. Tunde Braimoh, said Lagos Assembly would not go the way of the Zamfara Assembly, which repealed pension law for its former governors.

Court Ruling That Changes the Game

A Federal High Court in Lagos had ordered the federal government to recover pensions collected by former governors now serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly.

The court also directed the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws permitting former governors and other ex-public officials to receive huge pensions while drawing normal salaries and allowances in their new political offices.

Braimoh faulted, however, the court ruling, noting that as long as the law did not contravene the Constitution, state assemblies have the right to make laws for the benefit of the society in which they operate. According to him, separation of powers as enshrined in the Constitution empowers the legislature to make laws, the executive to implement and the judiciary to interpret the laws.

“The Supreme Court had made it clear several times that no arm of government can repeal the constitutional provisions of another arm of government.”

Braimoh said he was not aware of any law that restricts state assemblies from making laws for the provision of welfare package for former governors and public officeholders.

But to most Lagosians, the position of the Assembly is not surprising, as they have no authority of their own in such a matter in the first place.

According to Alhaji Kunle Akangbe, it would be most risky for any of the legislator to propose the stoppage of Governor Tinubu’s pension. But can a state House of Assembly enact pension law in Nigeria? This is the question, according to Dr. Olufemi Abifarin and J.O. Olatoke, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.

Pension means regular payments made by the state to the disabled, widowed or by a former employer to an employee after long service or a periodical payment made especially, by government, company or an employer in consideration of past services.

According to them, can a state can enact a pension law to grant pension and gratuities to an ex-governor and if not what happens to the pensions so far collected by the ex-governors under the various states’ pension laws?

“Only the federal government or National Assembly can make law on pension in Nigeria, therefore the various states’ laws on pension and gratuity to Ex-Governors should be declared null and void.

Understanding the Financial Obligation

The inability of most state governments to meet their financial obligations on various fronts and embark on development projects as promised during their respective electoral campaigns have been linked to the huge resources being used to service the pension of former governors and deputy governors of some of the affected states. Indeed, the payment of pensions and jumbo perquisites to the former state helmsmen and their deputies has incapacitated their successors in the fulfillment of such obligations as to payment of workers’ salary.

Some of the states affected are Akwa Ibom, Gombe, Sokoto Lagos, Rivers, Kano, Kwara, Edo and Zamfara States.

Findings showed that the nine states that are involved in the payment of huge pension benefits to their former state executives, are paying a whopping N776,163,584,000 every year to cater to the pension demands.

The amounts listed exclude allowances approved to cater to such miscellaneous benefits as housing, accommodation, vehicles, furniture, leisure and allocations to the ex-governors’ domestic staff, among others.

In Akwa Ibom, a former governor is entitled to a new official car and utility vehicle, changeable 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.

A former governor of Lagos is entitled to a house in Lagos and Abuja, six new cars every three years and 300 per cent of the incumbent governor’s annual salary for furniture allowance

Concerns have been raised that the beneficiaries of the largesse succeeded, during their tenures, in getting the legislature to pass into law would sustain the standard of living they enjoyed while they were in power.

The Dangers Ahead

Taxpayers and observers are already expressing fears that if the present continues, it would affect development. Other benefits in the package 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 monthly, amounting to about N30 million annually.

Under that law, a former governor of the state will also enjoy security details, free medical services, which also takes care of his immediate family.

Other benefits which a former governor of the state is also entitled to include 10 per cent house maintenance allowance, 30 per cent car maintenance allowance, 10 per cent entertainment allowance, 20 per cent utility allowance and an unspecified number of domestic staff.

Worried by these outrageous benefits, concerned Lagos residents and democracy activists are now kicking. They described the provision of the Pension Law as insensitive and a way of exploiting the people and the state for the benefit of former leaders. Following public outcry, LAHA has said it is planning to reduce the state’s pension law. Speaker, Mudashiru Obasa disclosed this, when he said the decision would help save taxpayers money.

“This House is amending the Public Office Holder (Payment of Pension) Law. The amendment is titled, Public Office Holders (Payment of Pensions) Amendment Bill, 2016. The bill has been read the first time and awaiting second reading. The intendment of this bill is to save taxpayers’ money while addressing the cost implication of some parts of the law.

“For instance, the law allows a former governor and the deputy to have a house each in Lagos and Abuja, while both governor and the deputy are also entitled to six and five vehicles respectively. “But with the amendment, both the governor and the deputy will be limited to a house in Lagos where they served, as well as have three and two vehicles respectively.

“At the same time, the amendment seeks to accord due recognition to the legislature by allowing the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker to benefit in the pension.”