Giving legal backing to profligacy with double pay for ex-governors
Unpopular Pension For Ex-Public Officials
Within 34 years and two months, Samuel Nduka rose from being a primary school teacher to being a headmaster. All through his career, he deeply enjoyed his job of imparting knowledge to young people.
As a student in the early 1950s, he loved the aura that surrounded his school principal, Mr. P. O. Anyamele. Even though he was a simple man, Nduka said Anyamele was a symbol of everything a decent young man would want to be.
Despite being a rural gentleman Anyamele’s love for immaculate white shirts and well-ironed trousers, according to Nduka, made him look urbane. At all times, his diction, gait, polite manners and civility stood him out at all times. All these, in addition to the respect he commanded in the entire community, fetched him mentees from a wide spectrum of locals, both old and young, men and women.
Like the ramrod cane he wielded most times, he detested cutting corners, lukewarm attitude to life, foolery and such unserious attributes.
Infatuated with all what Anyamele represented, Nduka elected to become a teacher at a very tender age. He did, and retired meritoriously in late 1990s.
Seated on a rustic cane chair in one flank of his modest residence, he pondered over when next his meagre pension would hit his account. Every time he does this, torrents of tears cascade down his emaciated cheeks, especially when he recalls the millions of naira that his state assembly legislated to be paid to his former student, who by sheer luck became a state governor.
There is no denying the fact that many welcomed the return of democracy to the country in 1999 with open arms. The democracy did not only come with a gale of fresh air, it also arrived with a cocktail of oddities, including diverse shades of profligacy.
And for nearly 20 years after the return of the most popular form of government to the country, millions of Nigerians are totally disillusioned at the glaring lack of corresponding development in the country, occasioned by the country’s brand of democracy, which has been dubbed as the most expensive in the world, especially in view of its overhead cost.
Increasingly, Nigerians are now seeing the hurriedly assembled pension laws for former ex-governors as one of those licentious avenues through, which government’s resources have been frittered over the years.
Expectedly, the number of aggrieved persons calling for appropriate legal actions to challenge the legality of states’ laws, which permit former governors currently serving as senators and ministers to enjoy serving governors’ emoluments as pensions is swelling correspondingly.
Why this is now sticking out like a sore thumb is because it recently emerged that 21 states have so far spent over N40billion to service the luxurious lifestyles of their former state governors and their deputies.
A good number of these states, where many serving senators and ministers are receiving salaries and life pensions running into billions of naira are currently unwilling or unable to pay workers’ salaries. Consequently, these double emoluments and large severance packages for former governors now serving public officials constitute a blatant betrayal of public trust.
One factor that has made this “unmerited largesse” possible is the proliferation of rubber-stamp Houses of Assemblies in many cash-strapped states. In some of these states, accountability and probity on the part of the executive is non-existent, while opacity reigns supreme as far as financial matters are concerned.
For way too long, the issue of pension laws for former state governors was treated with kid gloves by the society. This perhaps forced the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) to take the bull by the horn by instituting a suit seeking to stop former governors who are serving as senators and ministers from receiving “double pay and life pensions.”
Penultimate Friday, the Federal High Court, Lagos, ruled that SERAP, which filed a separate suit in October 2017, is right to institute the suit seeking the stoppage.
Oluremi Oguntoyinbo, the presiding judge handling the case in her ruling, gave leave to SERAP to compel the Attorney General of the Federation/Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to challenge states’ laws that allowed the former governors to enjoy such mouthwatering benefits.
Oguntoyinbo held that SERAP could not be considered as a “meddlesome interloper” in the matter because it had “sufficient interest” in it.
“SERAP has sufficient interest to bring its suit to stop former governors and now serving senators and ministers from receiving double pay and life pensions, and to seek recovery of over N40billion of public funds unduly received by these public officers,” the judge ruled.
“(AGF can) challenge the legality of states’ laws that allow former governors who are now senators and ministers to enjoy governors’ emoluments while drawing normal salaries and allowances in their new political offices, and to identify those involved and seek full recovery of public funds from them.
“SERAP cannot be considered a meddlesome interloper or busybody in seeking to stop double pay and life pensions for former governors. It has sufficient interest in the application for leave to apply for an order of mandamus,” the judge said.
In view of the reliefs granted to SERAP by the court in the suit no FHC/L/CS/1497/17, the organisation will now seek the recovery of over N40billion of public funds allegedly received by some of the 21 former governors and deputies in the Senate and President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet. The matter has been adjourned till March 22.
What The Law Says
SECTION 2 (a) of the CCB law provides that a public officer shall not “receive or be paid the emoluments of any public office at the same time as he receives or is paid emoluments of any other public office; or (b) except where he is not employed on full time basis, engage or participate in the management or running of any private business, profession or trade; but nothing in this sub-paragraph shall prevent a public officer from engaging in farming.”
Another part of the law, Section 4, equally maintains that “A public officer shall not, after his retirement from public service and while receiving pension from public funds, accept more than one remunerative position as chairman, director or employee of – (a) a company owned or controlled by the government; or (b) any public authority. A retired public servant shall not receive any other remuneration from public funds in addition to his pension and the emolument of such one remunerative position.”
But Section 14 of the same law seemed to exempt lawmakers from the above provisions when it states: “In its application to public officers –(a) members of legislative houses shall be exempted from the Provisions of paragraph 4 of this code; and (b) the National Assembly may by law exempt any cadre of public officers from the provisions of paragraph 4 and 11 of this code if it appears to it that their position in the public service is below the rank, which it considers appropriate for the application of the provisions.”
Legal Entitlement Versus Moral Burden
There has been immense debate as to whether the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) Act prohibits former governors and their deputies from collecting dual remuneration simultaneously based on the above, but the matter that has become very compelling to address here is the financial dire straits, which most states are in, and which makes drawing such pensions from them akin to drawing blood from an anaemic patient.
The Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) has approved a payment of 300 per cent basic salary as severance allowances for political office holders on leaving office. But most of these rubber-stamp assemblies are goaded to approve luxurious pension packages for their former states’ helmsmen.
One of the issues, which civil society organisations feel strongly about is the penchant of the political class to earn so much that they live extravagantly, while workers in the civil service are still battling with their pathetic N18, 000 minimum wage, which is grossly incapable of taking them home.
For instance, according to the RMAFC, a minister takes home an annual basic salary of N2million; accommodation N4million; vehicle loan N8million; furniture allowance N6million; utility allowance N607, 920; vehicle maintenance allowance N1.5m; entertainment allowance N911, 880 and leave allowance N202, 640.
A minister also receives N506, 600 for personal assistants; N1.5 million for domestic staff; N303, 960 for newspapers and N6million as severance gratuity; N35, 000 as duty tour allowance (DTA) per day. For foreign trips, a minister receives $1, 000 per day.
Among other things, senators on their part earn a basic salary of N2, 026, 400.00, accommodation, motor vehicle loan (400% of their annual basic salary), motor vehicle maintenance allowance (75% of annual basic salary), furniture allowance (300% of their annual basic salary), utilities allowance (30% of their basic salary), and medical allowance.
They are also entitled to newspaper allowances, a special assistant each (between Grade Level 12 and 14), personal assistant, two legislative aides, one senior legislative aide, entertainment allowance, wardrobe allowance, constituency allowance and severance gratuity.
All these entitlements, perhaps explain why Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Mike Ozekhome, while weighing in on the conversation last year said he was of the view that receiving double income is “morally and ethically reprehensible. You are either pensioned, or you are working. You cannot be both a pensioner and an active worker simultaneously.”
He had advised that former governors “must drop one income. Since they are actively working at the National Assembly now and earning income, they must forgo the pension money from their cash-strapped states, until they retire in the true sense of the word. They cannot eat their cake and have it, nor have their cake and eat it. They cannot approbate and reprobate simultaneously.”
Journey To Retrieve N40billion
Last July, SERAP in an open letter dated 14 July 2017, nudged Malami to institute a legal action to recover the over N40billion, which it maintained the ex-governors and their deputies, who are now either senators or ministers dubiously earned in double payments.
The group listed 21 former governors, which it claimed were currently serving in elective and appointive offices and still drawing the dubious payments on the strength of the retirement and pension laws they crafted while in office.
Some of those on the list are Senate President, Bukola Saraki; Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso and Kabiru Gaya (Kano State); Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom State); Theodore Orji (Abia State); Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa State); Sam Egwu (Ebonyi State); Danjuma Goje (Gombe State); Bukar Abba Ibrahim (Yobe State); Adamu Aliero (Kebbi State); George Akume (Benue State); Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers State); Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti State); Chris Ngige (Anambra State); and Babatunde Fashola (Lagos State).
SERAP urged Malami to use his “good offices as a defender of public interest” to urgently institute appropriate legal actions to challenge the legality of states’ laws permitting former governors, who are now senators and ministers to enjoy governors’ emoluments while drawing normal salaries and allowances in their new political offices.”
It specifically asked Malami to “seek the full recovery of over N40 billion of public funds that have so far been received from those involved; and to begin to take these steps within seven days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter, failing which SERAP will institute legal proceedings to compel the discharge of constitutional duty and full compliance with Nigeria’s international anti-corruption obligations and commitments.”
In the letter signed by SERAP’s executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni, the organisation said that, “Public interest is not well served when government officials such as former governors and deputies supplement their emoluments in their current positions with life pensions and emoluments drawn from their states’ meagre resources, and thereby prioritising their private or personal interests over and above the greatest happiness of the greatest number.
“SERAP considers double emoluments for serving public officials unlawful, as the laws granting those benefits take governance away from the arena of public interest, and create the impression that former governors acted contrary to the best interests of the general public. Double emoluments and large severance benefits for former governors now serving public officials constitute a blatant betrayal of public trust.”
The letter further stated that, “Under the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party, it is forbidden for any public official to engage in self-dealing, and place him/herself in a position of conflicting interests, and to hold incompatible functions or illicitly engage in providing to him/herself emoluments deemed unacceptable under international law. This is a clear case of the former governors placing their private or personal interests over and above their entrusted public functions, and unduly influencing the level of benefits they receive.”
However, before SERAP eventually sued the Federal Government, a coalition of 40 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) had sued all states’ governors, the 36 state assemblies, the RMAFC and the attorney general of the federation, seeking to nullify the various pension laws enacted by some states assemblies.
Filed by the lead counsel for the NGOs, Chino Obiagwu, at the Federal High Court, Abuja, the suit also sought an order to recover any pension payments made to ex-governors or their deputies, on the strength that the RMAFC law supersedes any law passed by the state legislatures.
However, shortly after SERAP wrote to Malami, Saraki told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) Forum in Abuja that he wrote a letter to the Kwara State government to stop the payment of the pension “the moment I saw that SERAP allegation.”
Asked whether he was still collecting pension from Kwara State during the session, he responded, “No, I’m not collecting pension; the moment I saw that allegation, I wrote to my state to stop my pension.”
Saraki is not the only former governor that has rejected the tempting fruit. At least three ministers said they never ever tasted it before now. They include Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Fashola; Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, and his counterpart in the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige.
While appearing on Hard Copy, a programme on Channels TV, Fashola said he rejected the offer of pension from the state government having felt conflicted by the very idea behind it, since he considered it a real privilege and an honour to serve the people of the state.
Fashola, who said, “I have gone back to my house in Surulere and I am not collecting any emoluments,” added, “I know that there was some credit of about Three hundred and fifty something thousand naira to my account every month and I asked them to explain what that was for, and I believe that my chief of staff was looking into that, but the money is there in my salary account and I have not used it. So, if I have collected anything at all, that is what I have collected and I have not used it since I left office.”
On whether houses have been built for him in Lagos and Abuja as part of the pension plan, he responded “none absolutely.”
On the propriety of putting such laws in place ab initio, especially as it affects some former governors, who are still drawing emoluments from government, either in the Senate or in other capacities, Fashola said, “In my opinion, I can be legalistic about it by saying that if the elected representatives of the people of that state pass such a law, then that is the law, and that is why I said I can be legalistic about it. I feel conflicted and that is why I declined because if you confer a right on me, I can refuse to exercise that right. So, I felt conflicted that there was a bigger honour in the opportunity to serve than a reward for the service.”
He added: “I still believe that I have some productive capacity to earn a living for myself when I leave government; I am a professional, so this is just a portion of my life that is dedicated to public service, and not the whole length of my life. That said, I think that if we also want very qualitative service, we must be ready to pay for it.”
On whether there should be an age limit that a governor or his deputy must attain in order to qualify for this pension for life, he said, “Honestly, I think the side of the public servants, especially the elected governors that we see in terms of ‘a privileged life’ is just one side of it. There is the other side, that of responsibilities that you acquire and they would never leave you once you take that office, and they can be very demanding and tasking. But I think that it is important that we have a look at this thing again.
“Each state should deal with these issues on the basis of affordability, on the basis of its expectation so that it is not one size fits all since the resources of each state differs and that is why legislative work at the state level must also be taken very seriously. There are two sides to this, because the expectations that the public has of you after you have left office; the kind of burden that you are expected to carry are quite heavy. If perhaps there is something for governors to deal with that when they leave office, that would be helpful.”
It’s Our Due Entitlements
Notwithstanding the barrage of attacks and negative criticisms that have continued to trail these life pensions, some former governors have continued to maintain that they are eminently qualified for such benefits.
For instance, when the matter started drawing the flak of members of the public, former Kebbi State Governor, Senator Adamu Aliero reportedly said there was “nothing wrong for a former governor now serving as senator or minister to be collecting pension. It is consistent with the pension law and absolutely nothing is wrong.”
Senator Sam Egwu, who takes home N462, 144 monthly as pension after the pension law was amended during his tenure, also believes that there is nothing wrong in enjoying the largesse as he was quoted as saying, “It is a constitutional requirement that somebody who worked and retried must be given pension. It was under my tenure that the Ebonyi pension law was amended but I allowed it to be this meagre because my state is a very poor one.”
Asked if he would still be collecting pension from his state if he were to be in the Senate, former Governor of Ogun State, Segun Osoba told The Guardian, “If I am a minister or a senator, I will collect my entitlements and still collect my N676, 000. When I was governor, I was paying areas of pensions to pensioners in the state and even to federal government pensioners.
“As a person, the only thing I collect from Ogun State since I left office is N676, 000 monthly. During the era of Governor Gbenga Daniel, he was not even paying. It took the intervention of highly placed traditional rulers and other prominent people before he made some payments to me … The N676, 000 does not even cover the cost of fuelling my car in a month. The tax that I pay to Ogun State yearly is in millions when you look at the balance sheet. I am putting more into the coffer of Ogun State than what I am taking from the state. That is the reason I will only speak for myself… if I am holding any appointive office, I will rather collect all my entitlements because the N676, 000 that I am taking from Ogun State cannot sustain me,” he stated.
Osoba added that he was not “against the regular change of vehicles for ex-governors. It is ostentation that I condemn. You can change a car as recommended by the RMAFC but not a fleet of cars. That is too much … The only time they changed my car was when I was 70. Ogun State government since the last 15 years has not given me that privilege.”
A Glimpse Of What
Ex-governors Are Enjoying
Even though the luxury packages for past governors differ from state to state, the one in Akwa Ibom State is something akin to paradise for the beneficiaries.
For instance, the scandalous Governors and Deputy Governors Pension Law 2014, which the former House claimed was an amendment to a similar law passed in 2006 under Obong Victor Attah, entitles Akpabio and others to about N200million of state resources annually.
As part of the law, which the former House described as “a patriotic duty exercised by the assembly to uphold the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; show respect for public trust and to protect public income,
an expenditure limit of N100million for medical treatment was set for former governors and N50million for former deputy governors.”
The law also provides an amount “not exceeding N1, 000, 000 as monthly medical allowance for surviving spouses of former governors, while a former governor is also entitled to at least one unit of a 5-bedroom house in Uyo or Abuja, and 300 per cent annual basic salary as rent for a former deputy governor, in addition to salaries and allowances for their personal aides.”
Former governors can also get 300 per cent of the basic salary of incumbent governor for yearly maintenance and fuelling allowance as stipulated by the RMAFC. This is in addition to a new official car and a sport utility vehicle every four years; one personal aide and provision of adequate security; a cook, chauffeurs and security guards for the ex-governor at a sum not exceeding N5million per month and N2.5 million for the ex-deputy governor.
In the pension law approved by former Governor Bola Tinubu in 2007, a former governor enjoys for life, two houses (one in Lagos and another in Abuja), six brand new cars replaceable every three years and furniture allowance of 300 per cent of annual salary to be paid every two years.
In addition to several millions of naira annual pension, a former governor also enjoys security detail, free medicals for him/immediate family; 10 per cent for house maintenance, 30 per cent for car maintenance, 10 per cent for entertainment, 20 per cent for utility, and several domestic staff. All percentages are of annual basic salary
In Kano State, the State Pension Rights of Governor and Deputy Governor Law 2007 entitles the beneficiaries to 100 per cent of annual basic salaries; furnished and equipped offices, a well-furnished six-bedroom house for the governor and four-bedroom for deputy, plus an office.
A former governor is also entitled to free medical treatment along with his immediate families within and outside Nigeria where necessary. The same applies to the deputy among others.
The law passed in Kwara in 2010 provides for a former governor, two cars and a security car, replaceable every three years, a “well-furnished five-bedroom duplex,” furniture allowance of 300 per cent of his salary; five personal staff, three operatives from the Department of State Service, 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, and 10 per cent for house maintenance.
Jumbo Pension Morally, Ethically Wrong
Many of these former state executives owed their workers several months of salary and pension arrears before leaving office. Some of their predecessors are still battling to offset the backlog.
The co-founder of BudgIT, Oluseun Onigbinde, is therefore of the opinion that, “Considering the state of Nigeria with the scale of poverty and infrastructure gap, it is morally and ethically wrong for a public officer to owe thousands of pensioners for years and still claim pension from such a system. These are the things that state Houses of Assembly should not allow to happen at all.
“However, the legislative houses at the state level are rubber stamps of state governors. In a recent constitutional amendment, they voted against their financial autonomy. It is so unfortunate that institutions at the state level are so weak.”
For aggrieved workers and pensioners that may want to go to court to challenge these laws, Onigbinde said, “I think this is a good way to go, but you have to accept that the law does not follow morality. The evidence is that these pensions that are provided to state governors are backed by the law, passed by their lackeys in the assemblies. To win a case like that will be interesting, but it is impossible such a case should be brought forward. Nigerians need to be reminded that the interest of the political elite mostly differs from what is fair to the general society.”
Lagos-based legal practitioner, Liborous Oshoma, says what the governors are earning in the name of pension “is simply outrageous. When a former governor, who is now a minister or senator, in addition to what he/she takes home now is still entitled to security aides, medical trips abroad, cooks, car renewal every two or three years, houses in Abuja and his state of origin, I strongly believe that this is not right. That is why they will never let our hospitals, security agencies and other such organs work effectively in this country.
By the time you calculate all what goes to a former governor at regular interval, you would simply wonder what he needs the pool of cars at his disposal for. Meanwhile, this is a man that would have used his position to acquire wealth illegally while in office. This kind of scenario further strengthens the fact that the essence of pension has been defeated by what these former governors are enjoying. The sustenance of governors and their deputies after their tenure, should never be to our detriment, rather if a public office is to serve, then we should be talking about service and if you must be entitled to pension, it must be contributory pension that you contributed during your tenure, the same way, it is stated in the Pension Act of 2004.”
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