Onigbinde declares benefits availed ex-governors scandalous

Oluseun Onigbinde

The Co-Founder of BudgIT, Oluseun Onigbinde, described state assemblies as rubber stamps of state governors, who legislate into existence whatever catches the governor’s fancy. In this interview with ENO-ABASI SUNDAY, he said benefits provided to ex-governors were simply scandalous in the face of massive poverty and yawning infrastructure gap.

Should there be pension for elected office holders after their time in government?
It is absurd that governors allocate bogus pensions to themselves after living large off state funds. Most states in Nigeria are not viable and actually lean on federation revenues for existence. Infrastructure is weak and poverty is rife. However, this democracy is wired to serve the interest of a few. If not, why would a governor after spending opaque fund such as security votes still take pensions? This should be a constitutional issue and agitations are also rising in Lagos State that speakers need pensions too. How far can we take this insensitivity?

Some persons say the original basis for pension allows it for a career civil servant who would have spent his or her productive and active years in the service of a state or public institution. Do former governors and their deputies fit into this picture?
People should come into public office with honest work and should return to such when their tenure is done. We must stop propagating this idea that public officers must keep that free lifestyle while they are in office. Civil servants who put in the years are the ones entitled to pensions, but the benefits that have been provided to ex-governors are so scandalous that civil servants can’t even dream of this. Most of these states still owe pensioners their dues including gratuities. It is most unfortunate.

Even though these pensions are backed by respective state laws, is it morally right for a man, who served in office for a maximum of eight years to be qualified for pension running into hundreds of millions, even as some state are still owing thousands of pensioners their pension? 
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 pensions 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.

Since these former governors get their pensions routinely, can aggrieved pensioners, who are owed for several months challenge these laws in courts?
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 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. Nigerians need to be reminded that the interest of the political elite mostly differs from what is fair to the general society.

The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, recently asked Kwara State not to pay him his pension any longer. Does that make any impression after he collected the money for so many years?
Any longer was the story there. The question is why would he take pension when he also draws salaries and allowances from the public treasury as a sitting senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? I am on board with what SERAP is doing. It is not about making a moral argument for this. We need a definite court injunction that makes this criminal. How do you benefit from public treasury on that scale? This is not right on any level.

Can the National Assembly come to the aid of Nigerians by fashioning out ways of curbing this menace as most state assemblies are spineless in this regard? 
Most state assemblies are spineless and I think starting with financial autonomy is critical. This should be emphasised in the current constitutional amendment and the National Assembly can help by sensitising them. We also need citizens to pay attention to the quality of leadership at the state Houses of Assembly. A lot of persons in this space have no point being there. It just reeks of a cathedral meant to worship the governor.

How realistic is the idea of compelling the attorney general to take steps towards recovering the over N40b so far paid out to former governors? 
We operate a federal system and except there is an explicit constitutional provision that limits this, we might not get the attention of the attorney general. If we are really interested in fighting corruption, this is our low hanging fruit. However, we know the current system is rotten. We need to fix it.

The Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly under Samuel Ikon had described the Akwa Ibom State Pension Law, 2006, which made mouthwatering provisions for former governors and deputy governors as a “good- intentioned and patriotic law.” He added that the house acted in good faith and clear conscience to protect public income and curb wastages. In what ways do you see this law realising these claims? 
I believe he spoke in ignorance. This is the problem with most oil-producing states. Rather than use funds to expand the economic capacity of the state, they were investing in frivolous projects mostly in state capitals. Most oil-producing communities are in deep-seated poverty. The former state governor should get adequate security considering his former status. After this, everything else is insensitive, frivolous and wasteful in my view.

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BudgITOluseun Onigbinde
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