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Righting the wrong on political pensions and unearned emoluments

The Lagos State House of Assembly (LSHA) jumped ahead of the pack on Sunday, December 8th 2019 to defend its law on pensions and payments for former state officials. Spokesperson Tunde Braimoh swore that the LSHA would not review the law as Zamfara State did nor would it listen to court judgements on the matter. He based their defiance on the alleged legal independence of state assemblies to “make laws that are in tune with the yearnings and dynamics of their society”.

The LSHA statement brings to the front burner the vexed matter of legislation that rewards former public officials with unearned remuneration. The payments are in reality higher than the earnings of current occupants of the office who citizens employed for that purpose. Lagos State stands out for provisions for former officials that are wasteful and obscene. It places a considerable burden on the resources of the state. The responsibility would grow exponentially as more officers join the ranks of ex-this and ex-that.

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Lagos State provides two houses each to former Governors and their deputies, one in Lagos and the other in the federal capital territory. Each of the officers gets six new cars every three years or two cars every year. The rewards or awards include earning the same basic salary as the serving governor. They receive free healthcare for themselves and their families, with no indication of any ceiling to the number of such family members.

The allowances are mind-boggling. They include a furniture allowance of 300 percent of their annual basic salary, currently translating to N23.3m annually. There is a house maintenance allowance of ten percent of basic; utility allowance of 20 percent of basic; car maintenance allowance of 30 percent of basic and entertainment allowance of 10 per cent. Their assistants would earn 25 percent of the governor’s annual basic salary. The governors would be entitled to eight police officers and two officials of the DSS for security.

It is instructive that assemblyman Braimoh mounted this defence two days after the burial of Brig General Mobolaji Johnson, the first governor of Lagos State. Johnson ruled for eight years, built a solid foundation of prudence, vision and project execution for Lagos State but did not build any personal house or take a hefty “pension” from the state. Johnson’s sacrificial leadership and that of leaders like Lateef Kayode Jakande laid the foundation for the success of Lagos State in addition to an over-abundance of resources.

Most authorities agree with Wikipedia that “A pension is a fund into which a sum of money is added during an employee’s employment years and from which payments are drawn to support the person’s retirement from work in the form of periodic payments”. Common types of pensions are “defined benefits” and “defined contribution” plan. With the 2014 pension reforms, Nigeria moved to a contributory pension scheme whereby employees and their employers contribute to a pool of funds. The pensions awarded to former public officials are defined benefits with no contribution element. Pensions are usually also paid for lifetime employment of an average of 35 years, not for political appointments of eight short years.

Greed is the actuating principle behind the pensions. It builds on irrationality. Why would a former employee, doing nothing to serve the state, earn the same basic salary as the elected official in office? How does one rationalise it? Or explain getting as many allowances as the person in the office?

Forty-seven former governors in 21 states cost their states N37.36 billion in so-called compensations in 2017. There is no justification for paying unearned remuneration to former political officeholders. Lagos State, riding on the hubris of its alleged financial strength, is also the most indebted state in Nigeria, owing $1.45 billion in foreign debts and N542.3 billion in domestic obligations.

The so-called pension payments to former governors are wrong on several counts. They are also immoral, insensitive and reek of sleaze and greed. Those who passed them lack vision, compassion and care for the common good.

BusinessDay calls on the states to follow the example of Zamfara State and the injunctions of the judiciary to repeal these repellent pension acts. They do not make economic sense, nor can they stand the test of political or civic morality. Do away with them now.

 

 

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