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Ending pension allowances for ex-governors, deputies

It is no longer news that governors in Nigeria live very good life in and out of office. Apart from working their way up, while still in office, to become senators or ministers, these governors either coax or coerce their states Houses of Assembly to come up with legislations that make them enjoy pension for life.

So far, about 22 states have passed this law, making their ex-governors and their deputies lords after leaving office. These include Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Borno, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kogi, Kwara, Imo, Lagos, Niger, Osun, Oyo, Rivers, Yobe, and Zamfara.

In Lagos State, for instance, which was the first to implement this legislation signed by former governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu in 2007, the legislation provides a lot of comfort and convenience for their ex-governors and their deputies.

A breakdown of the legislation titled ‘Public Office Holder (Payment of Pension) Law No 11 Official Gazette of 2007, shows that former governors in the state are entitled to a house each in preferred locations in Lagos and Abuja, the nation’s capital.

The law provides for six new cars every three years, 100 percent of the basic salary of the incumbent governor (N7.7million per annum), and free health care for the beneficiary and his family members.

Former governors in the state are also entitled to furniture allowance, 300 percent of annual basic salary (N23.3million); house maintenance allowance, 10 percent of annual basic salary (N778,296); utility allowance, 20 percent of annual basic salary (N1.5million), and car maintenance allowance,30 percent of the annual basic salary (N2.3million).

There is also an entertainment allowance which is 10 percent of the annual basic salary (N778,296); and a personal assistant who will earn 25 percent of the governor’s annual basic salary (N1.9million).

We are pained that, amid rising poverty, youth unemployment, inability of most states to pay N30,000 minimum wage, poor roads infrastructure, underdevelopment of rural areas, the states involved have continued to pamper and enrich their ex-governors to this disquieting level.

But there is good news. Some states have decided to stop this parasitic impact on lean state revenues. Lagos State is one. Imo is another. There are rumours of more states taking this cue mainly for reasons of declining state revenues and fading prospects of largesse to share from the federation account.

We are gladdened by the revelation that there are ex-governors with conscience who, ab initio, were not in support of such legislation. Babatunde Fashola, two-term governor of Lagos and Nigeria’s current minister for works and housing, is one of such ex-governors.

Fashola was quoted as saying that he was “morally conflicted” with the idea when it came up for discussion at their State Executive Council meeting where he declined to benefit from the privilege.

Though, “legalistically speaking” Fashola does not see anything immoral in the legislation which was passed by elected representatives of the people, we nonetheless commend his moral conscience and capacity to endure where he could enjoy.

That, for us, is patriotism and selflessness. It smacks of fellow-feeling and that is what we expect from public office holders, especially now that revenues are falling, economy is contracting and there is general outcry against unwieldy and bogus cost of governance at every level in the country.

Fashola says the real privilege and honour for people in government is the opportunity to serve and we cannot agree more. But it is worrisome that when some people find themselves in public office they see it as an opportunity to live large at the expense of the people they are elected to lead.

When the economist talks about opportunity cost, what he means is the real cost of the decisions or actions we take. He also means foregone alternative. The states that have legislated life pension for their ex-governors and deputies don’t seem to have thought such actions or decisions through.

In most of the states where this legislation is being implemented, it is not only that the new minimum wage of N30,000 for civil servants is not being implemented, but also that even the old minimum wage of N18,000 is being owed in several months. Yet these ex-governors, who are either senators or ministers, are being paid as and when due.

The salaries, cars, houses and furniture allowances given to these people who are enjoying similar opportunities in their new offices are enough to pay over 50 percent of the civil servants. The salaries the government owes them, their inability to pay their house rents, children’s school fees and other bills are the real cost of these needless pension which, in our opinion, is a locust attack on the people’s commonwealth.

While we commend both Lagos and Imo State governments for recognising this pension as a parasite in governments’ lean purse and taking the bold step to yank it off, we call on other states to do the same. The time to do that, especially as economic condition worsens, is today and now.

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