Responsive governance sprang up in Zamfara State last week with the repeal of the pension law for former governors and other ex-public officers, which provided obscene benefits for their upkeep to the tune of N700 million annually at the expense of its suffering citizenry.
In repealing the law, the state assembly went through the legislative processes the same day, just as the governor, Bello Matawalle, wasted no time in assenting to it. The invalidated, obnoxious law had provided N10 million for the monthly upkeep of each former governor. Others generously provided for in the law were former deputy governors, ex-Speakers of the state assembly and their deputies. The state has produced three former governors since 1999.
As the state assembly lawmakers argued, the huge cash entitlement is “detrimental to the socioeconomic wellbeing of our people.” The outdated law was amended in March this year, obviously to enhance the perks for the affected former public officers. As a result, from N7 million and N2 million monthly for an ex-governor and his deputy, it increased to N10 million and N5 million respectively.
The immediate past governor, Yari Abdulaziz, had collected this N10 million twice since he left office on May 29. But the arrears elicited a written reminder to the governor, which eventually led to the leak, sparking public outrage and condemnation; and justifiably so. Other entitlements included two vehicles, replaceable every four years; free medical treatment for him and his immediate family; 30 days vacation within or outside the country funded by the government and a five-bedroom apartment in any location in the country.
These benefits are repugnant and offensive to good conscience. It rankles that a man who left a cumulative N6 billion backlog of unpaid pensions and gratuities for local government workers, primary school teachers and retired civil servants for years, wants his own outrageous and un-merited benefits paid promptly, placing it above those of pensioners subjected to untold hardship for years. Zamfara is a state savaged by insecurity —banditry, kidnapping and cattle rustling — which reached a stratospheric level under Yari’s administration. Matawalle was spot on when he asserted that whoever attained the position of a governor and other top political office holders were already financially well off. As a result, such persons should not be leeches when out of office.
Unfortunately, the jumbo entitlements the categories of ex-public officers under review seem to be like a Bermuda triangle into which at least 22 states have descended, according to a media report. The despicable roll call is as follows: Akwa Ibom; Lagos; Edo; Delta; Kano; Gombe; Yobe; Borno; Bauchi; Abia; Imo; Bayelsa; Oyo; Osun; Kwara; Ondo; Ebonyi; Rivers; Niger; Kogi; Zamfara and Katsina. This unjustifiable benefit reared its ugly head in 2007 when the first set of governors that served eight years were about completing their tenure. Lagos State set this gangrenous ball rolling when Bola Tinubu, as governor, assented to the law that gave a former governor life pension at the rate of N30 million per annum, a house in Lagos and Abuja for those who served two terms; six brand new cars every three years and a retinue of domestic servants.
In Gombe, an ex-governor has N300 million pension benefit, just as in the twilight of Godswill Akpabio’s eight years tenure as governor of Akwa Ibom State, he signed a pension law that provided N200 million annual benefit to an ex-governor; N100 million and N50 million per annum for medical treatment for him and his deputy; cars and maisonettes in the state and Abuja to boot. But the angry public reaction that greeted the outlandish medical provision inspired its withdrawal.
With governance driven more by personal interest and greed rather than service delivery to the people, it is not unlikely that more states will enrol in this infamy. Sadly, outrageous life pension for someone who governed a state for just four years is an odious trademark of Fourth Republic governance with probity and accountability having taken flight, helped by an uncritical and complacent citizenry. Nigeria’s democracy cannot survive for too long with this raiding of the treasury.
Virtually all these states involved in these controversial welfare packages for former governors are not viable, save Lagos. They are mired in debts as their internally generated revenue cannot take care of workers’ salaries, let alone fund the provision of social services. The N2.08 billion, which was Gombe State IGR in the first half of this year, speaks volumes. Therefore, without the monthly shared revenue by the Federal Accounts Allocation Committee in Abuja, the state will simply be like a fish out of water; and so are others.
As Matawalle stressed, no ex-governor is poor, given the perks of office they enjoyed, in most cases, for eight years. Security votes running into billions are spent unaccounted for in the country, which the affected former governors indulged in. Some of them have cases with the anti-graft agencies since 2007, as the sources of their stupendous wealth come under legal scrutiny.
The indices of bad governance are so overwhelming that the Zamfara assembly’s action recommends itself to other states. International statistics indicate that over 90 million Nigerians live below the poverty line; pupils sit on bare floor to learn across the states; and in 2018, Nigeria was ranked 187th out of 191 countries in healthcare delivery, according to the World Health Organisation, just as it is the fourth in maternal mortality globally.
Apparently, this farcical humungous fiscal provision for ex-governors is rooted in the fact that state assemblies have been reduced to appendages of the executive. This should not be so in a democracy. The legislature should guard its autonomy jealously in order to discharge its statutory responsibility. Under the 1999 Constitution, the control of public funds is vested in the assembly in Sections 120 and 124. It is not in the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission recommendation for a governor to collect N10 million per month as salary, let alone doing so while out of office. As the constitutional ramparts against predators of public treasury, therefore, each state assembly should emulate the Zamfara paradigm to ensure that only the RMAFC pension package for ex-public officers prevails. No more!