By Ayodele Okunfolami
Barely ten days after leaving office as a two-term governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole made headlines again. This occurred following a recent Pension bill passed by Edo State House of Assembly giving N200 million and N100 million worth of houses to past governors of the state and their deputies. It drew protests. The altercation between those who supported and those who opposed the bill was not unexpected. Like many things in life, there are usually people at extremes of any divide.
It is right that workers get their pay after years of meritorious service, and should be entitled to pensions for the rest of their lives. However, the offensive packages planned for these public officers have attracted public outcry.
The first thing to consider is that political office is not the regular 35-year civil service job. Political office holders like governors are contracted to do their assignments through elections, and so, should not be entitled to pensions like regular civil servants. It is like making provision for special pensions for sportsmen or artistes after earning millions in their active days or from endorsements for certain brands and image rights.
Even if one argues in their favour, the premise of such argument remains faulty since their brief stay in political office benefits them much more than what they would have earned in 35 years as civil servants. As politicians, they enjoy various allowances from the ridiculous to the bizarre, while civil servants are owed for months. This is what makes these pensions immoral and unacceptable.
Coupled with the fact that these former governors leave Government mansions to become senators, ministers, ambassadors or other top positions, implying that they are still being doubly fed by taxpayers that have been deprived the basic things of life. They receive salaries for their present offices and on the other hand make pensions from their previous seats. Painting another picture, imagine a senior civil servant getting a political appointment and then becomes an adviser of a governor some time later and this fellow is entitled to steady pensions from his former and latter offices. While these ex-governors luxuriate in this, the ordinary pensioners are left stranded on verification queues.
These pensions for ex-governors must be checked urgently because there are already moves by some states to extend this insidious gesture to Speakers of the State Houses of Assembly and their deputies. If not stopped, it would get to local government chairmen, their assistants and councilors.
Aside the pensions, the jumbo allowances, fleet of exotic vehicles and houses in high value areas planned for these ex-governors are questionable.The question one should ask is who are the former governors and deputies that should profit from these pensions? There are some governors that their terms in office were upturned by the courts and so making their mandates illegitimate despite being sworn in to office earlier? Should these ousted ex-governors be given mansions, SUVs and millions monthly for the rest of their lives? What about those that spent just a term in office? Would they receive the same pensions with the two-term governors? What of the governors or deputies that were impeached?
Curbing this praxis that was ignited by the Lagos State House of Assembly in 2007 must begin with the Buhari administration and incorruption. The culture of placing all former presidents and heads of state on any form of annuity should not continue. It makes no sense paying dictators who seized office by the barrel of the gun or others who got to power through undemocratic and dubious means to be rewarded with retirement income for life. Their membership of the Council of States in a constitutional democracy should be reviewed.
When their membership is sorted out, we can then look at the necessity of waging individuals that might have been enjoying pensions from their previous services in private or public service. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo for example, would be receiving pensions as a retired general in the Nigerian Army ditto Goodluck Jonathan receiving pensions as a retired lecturer and still banking on life pensions and allowances because they served less than a decade as president. This presidency must take the lead in stopping this pension thing. This will give states that have done this to repeal it.
Another question to ask is how the various State Houses of Assembly and other bodies that passed these pension bounties came about the appropriate remuneration for these former executives. Was the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) consulted or was it a party in fixing these pensions? Was the present economic situation of the country and eventual sustainability put into consideration?
What of the Pensions Act of 2004 that mandates employers and employees to respectively contribute certain amount of their monthly income into the pension scheme? If legislators and elected officers in general fail to strengthen institutions such as the Pensions Act, who else will?
These pensions if not upturned could do more harm to the fight against corruption and free, fair and transparent elections. When an individual knows that winning an election settles his financial needs for life, he would do everything possible to win the seat. It also destroys the psyche of the youths who are increasingly seeing that the conventional 8-to-4 daily work schedules have no social security in them. This is evident as youths now pick role models from entertainment, sports and politics.
Stopping this act would involve more than just dancing away at public protests. It would require changing our entire fiscal structure. Until we change this “feeding bottle” structure where states line up monthly for allocations from the multi-breasted centre (Abuja), we will continue to spend our oil wealth on frivolities like pensions for former political office holders. True fiscal federalism should see states look inwards to generate revenue for their sustenance while remitting agreed percentages to the centre. This way, Nigerians will become more judicious with our resources.
Moreover, the overall economy must be improved quickly so that people’s worth is not only defined by political positions as is the case now. The economic team, under the strict supervision of the president, should ensure more of such personalities can be produced easily by improving the economy.
Okunfolami writes via [email protected]