From FRED ITUA, Lagos
DESPITE sharp disagreement over the proposal to grant life pension to the Senate President, his deputy, as well as the House of Representatives Speaker and his deputy after they leave office, a recommendation was made to allow presiding officers of the two chambers of the National Assembly to be paid pensions after leaving officers.
The lawmakers, who concluded a 2-day constitution review retreat at Eko Hotels and Suites, also clashed over moves to include the Speakers of the 36 state assemblies and their deputies as beneficiaries of life pensions. Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu who doubles as the chairman of the constitution review committee of the Senate, had advocated that principal officers of the two chambers of the National Assembly be entitled to life pensions after their tenure in officer.
The suggestion had generated mixed reactions from senators. While a number of them kicked against it, others supported the move, but added a pro- viso that it should be limited to presiding officers of the national and state assemblies.
While coordinating the consideration of the report, Ekweremadu said: “This has nothing to do with an
individual. It is about the institution. Let us not politicize it. Nobody elected the Chief Justice of Nigeria, but he enjoys pension.
But if we cheapen our own institution, so be it. Let us not make this a personal thing.”
Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe from Abia State in his contribution, kicked against the move. He said:
“If there must be pension for principal officers, it should cut across. We were all elected from our various constituencies. I think we should not milk the nation dry. We should put selfish interest aside and put that of the nation first.” Wife of former Lagos State governor and senator representing Lagos Central, Senator Oluremi Tinubu who also spoke against the proposal said: “I think principal officers have had enough. I know some senators that have served and they sometimes come back to ask us for help. Principal officers drive fleet of cars and they have other entitlements. They should not earn extra money when they leave office
“In the last Assembly, we in the minority tried to raise our voice against it.
You are first, second and third among equals. Some of us do not even have cars, but principal officers have so many. I think we should drop that idea.” In her contribution, which was in favour of the proposal, Senator Stella Oduah said: “The president and his deputy enjoy it. Let us stand by our leaders. They should enjoy these benefits. They act on our behalf. They are equal to the executive and the judiciary and should therefore enjoy the same benefit Senator Ahmed Yerima, former governor of Zamfara State spoke in favour of the suggestion.
He said: “After being elected by all the lawmakers and their constituencies, they should enjoy pensions. Govenors who spend just four years enjoy it. Principal Officers should enjoy it too.” Leader of the Senate, Senator Ali Ndume spoke against the move. He said:
“The case of the state governors and their deputies is different because they were elected by the public, but we elected our principal officers. I believe that the benefits attached to the officer of the Senate president and other principal officers is too much. They are just one among equals.
“I am against any excessive privileges given to the Senate president or the Speaker. All of us were
elected. If we are doing anything, it should be for all members of the National Assembly.”
Senator Bala Na’Allah who also spoke in favour of the proposal said: “Nigeria operates three arms of government. They are supposed to be independent. The Chief Justice of Nigeria takes pension and gratuity when he retires.
He gets a house too. This is a serious matter. All Justices of the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court get gratuity. “Are you saying we should exclude ourselves as an arm of the government? They are institutions created by the government.
The Senate president and others presiding officers should benefit.” Satisfied with the contributions from lawmakers, Ekweremadu put it to a voice vote and those in favour of the suggestion had the day. While 22 supported it, 13 voted against it. Others did not vote in favour or against it.
Displeased with the outcome, Senate Minority Leader and former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Senator Godswill Akpabio criticized it as a wrong move.
“If you ask me to vote to have life pensions for principal officers, I will say yes. The counting you are doing is not right. The governor of a state and the president cannot stay in office for more than two terms. But for a senators, he can stay in office for 35 years,” he added.
Recall that in the 4th Alteration Bill of the 7th Senate which former president Goodluck Jonathan failed to sign into law, lawmakers had made provisions for life pensions for former principal officers of the National Assembly, as well as the 36 Houses of State Assemblies.
Meanwhile, lawmakers also kicked against the continuous operation of joint account between state and local governments. When the issue came up for deliberation, six lawmakers supported the retention of the status while 24 supported financial autonomy for local governments.
Former governors who were in attendance were among those that voted in support of the state-local government joint account.