By Chuks Onaga
The information highway had been aglow in the last one week or so on a Private Bill before the Enugu House of Assembly tagged the Gubernatorial Pension Bill, 2021 (the “Bill”). However, the Enugu House has suspended the bill. The bill was seeking to repeal the Enugu State Gubernatorial Pension Law, 2007 and introduce crucial ancillary amendments to it. Tensions had indeed risen to their ultimate and understandably so. The grouse of the generality of the people who vented their spleens on the issue was multidimensional. First in the line of their avowals was that, in a Nigeria where there is a subsisting mindset that what those in government do essentially is to filch the resources of the people and their patrimony, it would be double jeopardy on the people for their leaders to officially legalize a by-the-corridor system of continuing this stealing of their money, even when they are out of office. To them, this was what the Gubernatorial Pension Bill represents.
Another school of thought rationalized and justified its anger towards the Bill on the fact that, at a time like this when there was a dangerous dip in the quality of lives of the people, when monthly pensions are paid in the breach than observance and when workers are owed by some state governments in heaps of months of arrears, it would be totally unthinkable for governors and their deputies to have voted for them billions of naira at their exits from office.
The truth is that, in many of Nigerian states where governance has literally been abandoned, there may be some justifications in the calls for kinds of Gubernatorial Pension Bill’s stoppage. However, we must seek to know the rationale, the thoughts behind the minds of the drafters of some of these bills, even from the perspective of those who govern and the perspective of the reality that faces them.
First, it behooves us to go on a journey into how the Gubernatorial Pension Bill 2021 came about. The first issue to advert our minds to is that, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) affirms that pension to persons who served in various offices while in their prime is a constitutional issue. Section 124(5) is specific about this provision. It thus reposed the power to enact laws to that effect in the State House of Assembly, stating that such pension would be a charge on the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State. Thus, Governors and Deputy Governors who so held offices are ipso facto constitutionally entitled to pensions after their service to fatherland. Whether that pension is large, lean or medium, the fact remains that having worked for the government and by that very fact, the people, they also deserve to be paid pensions upon leaving office.
In Enugu State and in response to the above section of the constitution, in August, 2007, the State House of Assembly acted upon its power. Thus, on August 2 of that year, the House, then being administered by Hon Eugene Odo, as the Speaker and under the overall administration of Governor Sullivan Chime, began the legislative process for enacting laws that it invariably called the State Gubernatorial Pensions Law 2007. Its main provision was, to wit, “Any person who has held office as Governor or Deputy Governor under the provisions of the Constitution shall be entitled to pension for life at a rate equivalent to the annual salary of the incumbent Governor or Deputy Governor respectively provided that such a person was not removed from office by the proves of impeachment or for breach of any provisions of the constitution.”
This particular law underwent an amendment on May 9, 2017 at a time when Rt. Hon Edward Uchenna Ubosi had become the Honourable Speaker. The amendment came into operation when members raised issues about the helicopter coverage of the law as it covered even unelected persons who had administered the state before then. If it was not amended, its applicability would have been so wide that the financial commitment of the 2007 law would have been huge and unmanageable and thus gulp a sizeable portion of the state’s funds.
Unknown to several people, the Gubernatorial Pension Bill, 2021, while trying to maintain the tenets of the constitutionality of pensions, tried to save the people a lot of money. It is only in a thorough analysis of its provisions that this can come to light. It is only in a comparative analysis of their provisions that can make these nuances to come to light. First is that, while the Gubernatorial Pension Bill, 2007 entitled Governors and their Deputies to pensions at the rate that was equivalent to the annual salary of the incumbent holders of the offices, the 2021 reduced this financial burden to entitlement of pensions equivalent to the annual basic salary of the holders of the offices. Section 6 of the Bill says this glaringly.
Also, the said Bill provided for House Maintenance allowance, Vehicle maintenance allowance as well as purchase of vehicles, the latter which would be purchased once in four years. While the annual basic salary of a Governor is N2,223,705 and N185,308.75 monthly respectively and his Deputy’s is N2,112,215 annually and N176,017.91 per month, and represent the amounts that would be subjected to percentages, it is obvious that the humongous amounts of money being bandied on the social media are figments of the imagination of the people behind it. Eventually when these percentages are worked out, they can never justify the hoax of financial recklessness that the authors of the hate against the bill are spreading.
This leads me to a very important element of fact that we often gloss over as a people. In the urgency to criminalize those who rule or administer us and to spread a general tar brush of hate over them, we often lose sense of some facts. The Mo Ibrahim gives the sum of Five Million Dollars prize to former African presidents who are adjudged to have performed creditably well in office. That money is spread over a period of five years or so. The intendment of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation was to encourage presidents and leaders of Africa to work very hard while in office to bring about changes in the lives of their people and not to tamper with the purses of the state while in office. If they succeeded in doing this, a kind of pension awaits them after office. While not strictly saying so or while the said sum may not totally be enough for them after office, the fact that there is a provision for them at their old age, at a time when they had left office, could make them to keep their hands off the public till. That is the lesson of Mo.
Now extrapolating the above to explain our current situation, first and foremost, it will be hasty generalization to submit that all public officials in Nigeria are corrupt and tamper with the funds of the state. There are some public officials, nay governors and deputies, who have the fear of God in their minds and who look forward to being canonized by their people as a result of their works in office. It will then be grossly unfair to have this set of people swept with same comb as is used for the rogues in office. If there is no fallback for this selfsame people, there is the probability that, in their desperation in looking at an uncertain future to feed themselves and their families after office, they might be forced, in desperation, to join the band wagons of leeches of the state. What this means essentially is that, as the constitution stipulates, there is no harm in providing for these Governors and their Deputies who served the state meritoriously in office. One of such is Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and his Deputy.
Enugu State is renowned to be one of the few states in Nigeria where salaries and pensions are paid regularly. It was one of the states which first approved and started payment of the National Minimum Wage of N30,000 in the country. Workers of the state are appreciative of this gesture and this manifests in their love for the governor and his governance. It was this state government which began to pay the Pensions and Gratuity of Local Government retirees. This had been abridged years before the administration. Ugwuanyi’s predecessor, with the humongous resources at the government’s disposal and the Excess Crude payment from Abuja that gushes into the state finance like broken water tap, didn’t find the interest of the workers and pensioners of the state necessary. Ugwuanyi, despite the challenges of COVID-19 and the draining resources of Enugu State, has kept faith with the people and the workers.
It is also one of the rare states in the country to devote N100 million of its allocation every month to the payment of pensions and gratuities of retired local government staff, among others. These apparently prompted the well-respected BudgIT to rate Enugu, Lagos and Rivers states as ones who fulfill the fiduciary relationship between their governments and workers. Those who stated that Primary School Teachers’ Pensions are observed in the breach in Enugu State mischievously forget to add that payment of this money is under the purview of the local government and not strictly the state government.
More instructive is that, when we criminalize holders of office in Nigeria, we in the process sweep under the carpet the commendable activities of many in that category and put their lives at risk after their service to their fatherland. A governor who signs death warrants in office, steps on several toes in the process of taking harsh but necessary decisions, deserves to be protected by the state when the protective veneer and shield of office have been removed and when he is too feeble to fend for and protect himself. That state he served and took charge of its progress must also bend over backwards to protect him. That was the intendment of the Gubernatorial Pension Bill, 2021. Noting that there was huge ignorance about the Bill, Governor Ugwuanyi prevailed on the Speaker to withdraw it, in the interest of peace. Though the Bill has now been suspended, we must not gloss over the above cogent facts.
• Onaga, who lives in Enugu, is a lawyer and public affairs analyst