In the midst of poverty, infrastructure and development deficit, former leaders at both the federal and state levels enjoy staggering sum of money and other perks as pension benefits annually to the consternation of other citizens. NDUBUISI ORJI writes.
How justifiable is the staggering sum paid to former presidents, vice presidents, former Senate Presidents, ex-governors and their deputies every year as pension benefits? Those championing the payment of pension and gratuities to former leaders believe the gesture will reduce graft by public officers, because, knowing that at the end of their tenure they are entitled to hefty pension benefits, the leaders are more likely to serve the county more conscientiously.
For the beneficiaries of the pension schemes, they are well-deserved benefits. But the citizens think otherwise. Several Nigerians have described the pensions as immoral. This group expressed displeasure that former leaders at both the national and state levels are placed on pension after most of them are known to have run the country and their respective states aground when they were in government.
In keeping with the pension law for the former leaders, the federal government and the various state governments have to cough out staggering sums of money running into several billion or hundreds of million naira annually as pension benefits to past leaders. For instance, in the 2013 appropriation bill, the sum of N5.5billion has been budgeted for the pension allowances of past leaders at the federal level. A legal expaert, Prof. Itse Sagay, said it is an anomaly for the government to spend such amount on people who had no financial problems. “It is one of the greatest anomalies of Nigeria.
These past leaders are people who are already very rich. These are people who had access to our resources. Many of them and their families have no financial problems. It is, therefore, ironic that the government prefers to spend billions on these privileged few, while over 70 per cent of Nigerians are living below one dollar per day,” he said. Sagay advised government to reduce its expenditure on past leaders, stressing that such monies could be used for the provision of basic infrastructure across the country.
For former governor of Edo State, Chief John Odigie Oyegun there is nothing wrong with payment of pension to ex-presidents and governors. In his view, not only should pension be paid to former leaders at the state and federal levels, it must must also be very attractive. The former governor argues that this will go along way in checking corruption in the system. “The salaries and pension should be attractive, so that they should not be tempted,” he says. However, the former governor adds that such paymemts must carry with it “a heavy responsibiity. If any one of them if found to have robbed the state, the person should be punished examplaray.
If you dont pay them well, you are giving them room to help themselves. But if after paying them pension and they still steal, you can lock them up and through the keys away.” Sagay says he would prefer a arrangement where former presidents and governors are paid a one off gratuity at the end of their tenure, instead a pension that they fix for themselves. The pension packages for former leaders The pension for former leaders at the federal government level covers past presidents-, including former military leaders, Prime Minister, Vice Presidents, Presidents of the Senate, and Speakers of the House of Representatives. However, those removed from office by impeachment are not eligible for the benefits.
The families of deceased ex-presidents and vice presidents are also entitled to an annual payment for upkeep of their spouse(s) and education of their children up to university level. According to the pension law enacted by the National Assembly, this spousal upkeep allowance will cease the moment the last spouse of the deceased passes on. In the states, the Rivers State pension law recently passed by the state House of Assembly, and signed by the state governor, Mr Rotimi Ameachi, stipulates that former governors of the state and the deputies get 100 per cent of their basic salaries as pensions, two houses each for former governors and deputy governors in the state. One of the houses will be built in Abuja; the nation’s capital while the other will be constructed in any part of the state.
In accordance with the enabling law, the state government will furnish the buildings. Besides, as part of their pensions, ex-governors and their deputies are entitled to three cars each, which will be replaced every three years, free medical treatment for former chief executives and members of their immediate families; provision of cooks, drivers, stewards, gardeners and other domestic workers, who are also expected to earn pensions after retirement.
They are also entitled to eight security operatives. In Lagos State, the pension law provides that a former governor is entitled to a pension that is the same as the salary of the incumbent governor. 300 percent of this amount as furniture allowance, two houses (one in Abuja and the other in Lagos), three replaceable brand new cars amongst other benefits. Like Rivers and Lagos States, Kwara, Edo, Gombe and several other states have equally enacted various pension laws to take care of their former leaders. Albeit, at serious financial cost to the states.
At the twilight of his administration, immediate past governor of Gombe state, Senator Danjuma Goje, had reportedly paid himself and his deputy the sum of N300m as executive pension benefits. Recently, a member of the House of Representatives representing Apapa Federal Constituency Mr. Babatunde Adewale mooted a bill that would provide for pensions for former members of the National Assembly. Adewale had said at a town hall meeting in Apapa, Lagos, that the bill was aimed at reducing corruption among lawmakers. He said it would also aid their oversight function. But is it really justifiable for these colossal sum of money to be paid to the former leaders at both the federal and state levels, especially when most of them are alleged to have ruined the country and the states, when they held sway as the chief executives?
If it is justifiable, is it also morally right for former heads of the executive arms of government at the federal level and their counterparts in the state to pocket such mouth watering benefits after a mere four or eight years tenures in office? A Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain in Lagos State and former governorship candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Dr. Dominic Adegbola says the pension benefits for the past leaders are uncalled for. Adebgola holds the view that the pension packages as presently obtained across the nation, particularly in Lagos State is “excessive and obscene”.
“Why should an ex-governor receive any pension at all anyway? Was he jobless before he became governor? How many years did he put into public service? How much did he contribute to the pension fund?” he queried He says the argument that it would prevent government officials from stealing while in office does not hold water. “If, as some people suggest, the purpose is to discourage a sitting governor from stealing public money, then that presupposes that the governor had a propensity for stealing and therefore, was not worthy to be governor in the first place”, he argued.
Mr. Bamidele Aturu, a Lagos based lawyer agrees. Aturu says the pension policy is anti-development. He said the huge sums of money that goes to former leaders as pensions shows that the nation’s democracy is only for a few privileged group. He added that the pension policy for former leaders is ridiculous when considered against the backdrop that most of them during the terms of office stole the country blind.
According to him “We are practising gangsterism as democracy. When you pay 5.5 billion naira to former leaders as pensions, and the pensions for former workers, former police officers, former railway people, former doctors, former teachers, they are being stolen by people yet those people who stole the money, you can’t even try them, is that not gangsterism? This democracy is democracy for a few.” Aturu warns of dire consequences if the country continues like this. “If Nigeria goes on like this, there would be an implosion.
There is no way you are going to run a country and the country will develop if this is the kind of selfishness that motivates leaders. How would you go and assign 5.5billion naira for former leaders, those who have had enough money. Some of them have probably even stolen enough money for two generations; you still go and be paying them money.
If a man is getting so much money from the state for doing nothing, and those who worked, those who laboured their pension is been stolen and nobody is being tried. There is no way there is not going to be revolution if this continues.”