The recent repeal of life pension’s law for former governors and speakers in Imo State is one of the good things to come out of that South-eastern State in recent times. The repealed law was enacted during the administration of Chief Achike Udenwa. No doubt, the signing of the repeal bill into law by Governor Hope Uzodinma is a step in the right direction and a move that is worthy of emulation by other states.
The governor said he abolished the pension’s law because it was illegal and designed to allow a few privileged individuals feed fat on the commonwealth of the people. “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,” he said. He added that the state might have more than 20 governors and speakers to pay pensions in the next 15 years if the law was not repealed.
Imo State is not the only state that has taken this action. Kwara State House of Assembly passed a bill in 2018 suspending payment of pensions to former governors and their deputies. Zamfara State also repealed the life pension’s law last year. Before this repeal, former governors and their deputies in Zamfara enjoyed 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.
It was Lagos State that first introduced this law during the administration of Bola Ahmed Tinubu. The Lagos version of the law makes provision for a life pension of N30 million per annum for a former governor. Other entitlements include a house each in Lagos and Abuja for any ex-governor who had completed two terms in office, six brand new cars every three years, some security details and domestic servants. Some states like Akwa Ibom and Gombe have N200 million and N300 million as annual pension benefits for ex-governors, respectively.
To put it mildly, life pension for ex-governors is a drainpipe on Nigeria’s economy. In states where the law exists, it takes so much money to service such obnoxious pensions every year. Some of such states include Lagos, Akwa Ibom, Edo, Delta, Kano, Katsina, Niger, Bauchi, Borno, Abia, Bayelsa, Osun, Yobe, Rivers, Oyo, Ondo, Kogi, Ebonyi and Gombe states. The worst of it is that some of the former governors who receive these pensions currently serve as either ministers or senators. This means they receive double pay from the nation’s lean resources.
Riled by this phenomenon, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), last year, obtained the judgement of the Federal High Court in Lagos ordering the Federal Government to recover pensions collected by former governors now serving as ministers and National Assembly members. The court also directed the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to challenge the legality of states’ pensions’ laws. SERAP had, in July 2017, asked Malami to urgently institute appropriate legal action to challenge the legality of the laws. Malami failed to do that, prompting the organisation to go to court. It is sad and unfortunate that in an era where we should cut cost of governance, we are raising it instead. Last week, the Bauchi State Governor, Senator Bala Mohammed, slammed the immediate past governor of the state, Mohammed Abubakar, for allegedly spending N50 million for each trip to Abuja when he was governor. If this is true, we wonder how the ex-governor came about this outrageous expenditure.
Generally, some of our political office-holders are extravagant. Nigeria is blessed with enormous resources and has no reason to be poor. But our democracy is one of the most expensive in the world. The presidency and the governors siphon money in the name of security votes. They embark on trips with a retinue of aides that gulp millions of naira. The legislators’ take-home pay is another drain on the economy. If something drastic is not done to stop this profligacy in the governance of the nation, there may be no end to the crisis bedevilling the country’s economy.
This is why the governor of Imo State deserves kudos for repealing the pension’s law. It is a welcome development, and we urge other states to follow suit because it is one of the best ways to cut cost of governance. The governor’s action will save over one billion naira annually.
At the same time, we advise Uzodinma and other governors to go beyond the pension’s law. They should reduce the large number of ministries, personal aides and other political appointees. They should also drastically cut security votes and ensure that the votes and the recovered pensions are ploughed back into development projects. Nigerian people will give their maximum support if they begin to see tangible things their leaders do with their money.