We commend Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State for his bold initiative to abolish payment of life pensions for former governors and their deputies. Presenting the 2021 budget to the Lagos State House of Assembly, recently, Sanwo-Olu said the decision to repeal the Public Office Holder (Payment of Pension Law 2007) was due to dwindling revenue. It is also to cut cost of governance and signal selflessness in public service.
Coming at a time of dwindling public revenue, the Lagos example is worthy of emulation by other states. Lagos was the first state that introduced the life pension law during the tenure of former Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu. According to the law, a former governor of the state is entitled to 100 per cent of the basic salary of the incumbent governor per annum as life pension. This is in addition to a house each in Abuja and Lagos if he had completed two terms in office, six brand new cars every three years and some domestic servants.
He is also entitled to 300 per cent of annual basic salary as furniture allowance; 10 per cent of annual basic salary as house maintenance allowance; 20 per cent of annual basic salary as utility allowance, and 30 per cent of annual basic salary as car maintenance allowance. Others are entertainment allowance, free health care for him and family members, personal assistant, eight policemen and two Department of State Security (DSS) operatives for life.
At least 21 states followed the footsteps of Lagos soon after the law was passed. Some of them include Abia, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Borno, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Kano, Katsina, Kogi, Niger, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Rivers and Yobe states. In Akwa Ibom and Gombe states, the annual pension benefits for ex-governors amount to N200 million and N300 million, respectively.
Zamfara State Government led in the repeal of this law last year. Before the abrogation, the state was spending N700 million annually to implement it. Then, former governors and their deputies were entitled to two vehicles replaceable every four years, two drivers, two personal staff, free medicals in Nigeria or abroad, a house in Zamfara, an office and some other benefits.
Earlier this year, Imo State followed the Zamfara example. In signing the law repealing the life pensions for former governors and speakers enacted during the administration of Chief Achike Udenwa, Governor Hope Uzodinma said: “As a young state grappling with enormous challenges, it dawned on me that the Imo State Governors and Speakers Pension and Privileges law No.5 of 2007 was a bad omen.” Describing the law as illegal, Uzodinma said it was designed to allow a few privileged individuals feed fat on the commonwealth of the people. It is estimated that Imo will save over N1 billion annually from the repeal of this law.
In 2018, the Kwara State House of Assembly passed a bill suspending payment of pensions to former governors and their deputies still in public service. Three days after Sanwo-Olu of Lagos announced plans to repeal the law, Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq of Kwara State disclosed plans to finally scrap the law in the state. The decision to abolish it, the governor noted, was in line with the demands of the citizens of the state.
One major drawback of the life pension is that some of the former governors, who are entitled to it, are currently receiving salaries either as ministers or senators. And this obtains in states riddled with huge debts, unemployment and inability to pay the N30,000 minimum wage. This is why the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) obtained a court judgement last year ordering the Federal Government to recover pensions which the former governors now serving as ministers and National Assembly members had collected.
Apart from pensions, security vote is another major drainpipe that should be drastically slashed if we are serious about reducing the cost of governance. It is usually not subject to independent audit or legislative oversight. According to Transparency International, the federal and state governments spend N241 billion on security votes annually.
In all, we agree with the May 2019 unanimous judgement of the Court of Appeal, Abuja, on the dispute between the Kogi State Government and some former members of the Kogi State Local Government Service Commission who served for four years. The Appeal Court said, “It is not morally right to pay an elected public officer or a political appointee pension and gratuity or severance allowance for holding such an office for three to eight years as the case may be. It cannot be justified in the context of the present social realities; it amounts to gross social injustice.”