At a time state governments in Nigeria could not pay workers’ salaries and provide basic infrastructure for development, the demand for life pension for former governors and their wives has again woken the ire of lawyers.
The recent was the stepping down of the ‘Enugu State Gubernatorial Pensions Bill 2021’ by the House of Assembly.
Lawyers told Financial Street over the weekend that the controversial life pension benefits were “unacceptable, immoral and unlawful.”
The executive bill had appropriated at least 900 per cent of governors’ annual salaries as their monetary entitlements yearly after leaving office, while their wives get N12m as annual medical allowance, among other benefits.
According to the Interim President, Association of Idoma Lawyers, Lagos Branch, David Ogebe, considering that majority of the states are unable to pay salaries, provide infrastructure and healthcare for the states, such bill is immoral.
“For governors to now award such humongous amount of money, houses and all what not to themselves after just working for eight years is totally immoral and unacceptable at this time,” Ogebe said.
As regards the law, he said there was really nothing unlawful for legislatures to say they wanted to take care of their former governors, but that it would be useful in a society where corruption was not rife.
“For instance, if a law was passed so that somebody like the late Lateef Jakande, who was governor of Lagos State, could be taken care of in his life time, most Nigerians will not complain because they all know that Jakande worked for Lagos without enriching himself; everybody knows that,” he said.
Consideration could also be made, particularly, for former governors who left their businesses to work for the state and who did not enrich themselves while in office, he added.
“Of course, their businesses would suffer while they’re working for the state. So, the state in that sense could provide something for those former governors, so that they do not lack after sacrificing for the state for eight years,” Ogebe stressed.
But what happens in Nigeria nowadays is that a person, who has no known business, becomes the governor and then suddenly becomes a billionaire, he said.
“What he could not afford before he was governor, he now affords; living an extravagant life. Then, he wants the government to fund his lifestyle after he left office. No! This works in a society where there is no corruption.
“That is the whole idea behind it. But in Nigeria, it is the other way round. You steal the whole money left for the people, and when you are going, you say take care of me again. No! It is clear, it cannot be allowed at this time,” Ogebe added.
Another legal practitioner, Sasi Jaja, said since the salaries of governors and their deputies were not subject to pension deductions, it was immoral and illegal in the eyes of the law.
According to Jaja, pension is a regular payment made during a person’s retirement from an investment fund or account to which that person and their employer(s) contributed during their time as employees.
His words, “In Nigeria, the Pension Reform Act 2014 governs the framework and procedure for pensions, which is defined contribution, as against defined benefits. Since the salaries of governors and their deputies are not subject to pension deductions, their pension is a different scenario, which can only be fixed by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission.”
Jaja recalled that, in January 2020, the National Industrial Court also declared as null and void payment of pension and gratuity to former governors and deputies.
“The law is clear, from the foregoing, that the payment of pension and gratuity to former governors is illegal,” he said.
He also recalled the words of former United States President, Barack Obama, that a good compromise legislation is like a good sentence or a piece of good music, which everybody could recognise.
“Can we describe the bill to place ex-governors on life pension as a good piece of legislation, against the backdrop of abject poverty and economic burdens being faced by the states in issue?” Jaja queried.
However, some states seem to be with the masses on the issue. Last year, Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodimma, and the House of Assembly reportedly threw the idea to the dogs.
Other states were said to have also done so, but how true they will be to it remains to be seen.
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