Kano State House of Assembly has passed a bill granting pension to its Speaker and the deputy for life. It is the height of insensitivity that lawmakers, as public representatives, will initiate such undeserved reward. This self-centred piece of legislation should, therefore, be consigned to the rubbish bin by Governor Abdullahi Ganduje when presented for his assent. Lawmakers’ pay, allowances and pension should be linked to the standard of living of the people they represent.
Details of the bill reveal that the amount to be paid monthly to the two officers will be “equal to the emoluments of a serving Speaker and Deputy Speaker, provided that either the Speaker or the Deputy does not hold any paid elective or selective appointment.” Besides, they are to be given brand new cars, probably Sports Utility Vehicles, every four years, and provided medical expenses whether at home or abroad. The bill is, however, silent on the benefits of other lawmakers.
The state’s internally generated revenue of N44.1 billion in 2018 is not even enough to discharge its statutory obligations in one quarter of a year. As a result, it survives from the monthly shared federal revenue mostly derived from crude oil. The slump in the prices of crude in mid-June 2014, which triggered an economic recession in Nigeria, is indicative of the fact that no state or even the country, should depend on such an erratic revenue source for the conduct of government business.
Ganduje should emulate his colleague, Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State, who rejected a similar bill last month from the state legislature, citing its inconsistency with the constitution, the state’s low IGR, need to protect public interest and general good as reasons for his action. The Bayelsa State House of Assembly had approved a monthly pension of N500,000 for the Speaker, N200,000 for the Deputy Speaker and N100,000 for each member. It was passed without any public hearing; much against due legislative process. The move jolted the Civil Liberties Organisation, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project and Trade Union Congress into mobilising Bayelsa citizens to protest. In his rejection letter to the assembly, Dickson said the bill “…is inconsistent with Section 124 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria… I am not convinced about the legality of this bill, which seeks to expand the categories of persons entitled to pension.”
The affected public officers, according to the afore-stated section, are: the Governor, Deputy Governor, Auditor-General for the State and Chairman and members of State Civil Service Commission, State Independent Electoral Commission and the State Judicial Service Commission. Public resources should not be lavished on a select few, amid our gross inadequacies in public infrastructure such as good roads, healthcare delivery, quality education and potable water.
Unfortunately, this irrational and selfish dimension to legislation has become contagious. The Ekiti State assembly is reportedly eager to pass a similar law for its members’ benefit. The House Majority Leader, Gboyega Aribisogan, in justifying the move, said it was illogical to use the parlous economic state of the country as an excuse to derogate their demand, whereas former governors and their deputies enjoy the same benefits under the same dire-straits.
Greed is at the centre of it all. The National Assembly, which has set aside N23 billion as severance package for its members and their aides, as it winds up in June, had okayed life pension for the President of the Senate and the deputy; and Speaker of the House of Representatives and the deputy in 2016. In the Senate, the proposal passed through with 22 votes as against 13 nays.
Former public office holders’ rapaciousness reached new heights in 2007 when governors elected in 1999 exited office with huge welfare packages legislated by their state assemblies. In Lagos State since then, a two-term former governor is entitled to two mansions, one in Lagos, and the other in Abuja, in locations of his choice. This is in addition to new cars every four years and mouth-watering sums of money; domestic aides, 10 police and SSS security personnel. Many states have similar entitlements for their ex-governors. But the Akwa Ibom State assembly took it to a most ludicrous level with cash, mansions and healthcare it provided for the then outgoing governor, Godswill Akpabio and members of his family. Akpabio was compelled by public outrage to drop part of the offer.
It is this obscenity that our legislators at both state and federal levels want to entrench in our system. Interestingly, such avarice does not exist in democracies that serve as our model. Members of Parliament in the United Kingdom, for instance, contribute to their own pensions, accessible when they clock the age of 65 or exit the parliament. According to the Financial Times of London, “The official cost of MPs’ pensions is under 12 per cent of their salary, after 11 per cent contributions from MPs themselves.” In the United States, the Congressional Research Service says, “Congressional pensions, like those of other federal employees, are financed through a combination of employee and employer contributions.” Lawmakers access their pensions at 62 years old after five years of service; at age 50 with 20 years of service; or at any age after 25 years in office. This is civilised political behaviour.
Nigeria, therefore, should end this penchant for its lawmakers to haemorrhage the treasury at the end of their tenure by giving themselves bizarre severance packages. A country adjudged by the IMF to be the global poverty capital cannot luxuriate in these excesses.