The declared intention by the Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu to present a bill before the State’s House of Assembly for a repeal of the State’s Public Office Holder (Payment of Pension) Law of 2007 is a positive response to public yearnings for an abrogation of an insensitive law. There is no basis to justify payment of pension for governors and their deputies who were elected for four or eight years during which they were fairly taken care of by the states.
Although the governor’s action is coming about 13 years after the law was promulgated, it is nevertheless expected to cure some of the ills associated with it. The 2007 law guarantees a category of elected former officer holders, including the governors and their deputies, a bogus life pension and other allowances that are patently incongruous to economic reality of the state, and inimical to its future prosperity.
While it is heartening that some other states with similar laws have either abrogated them or indicated intention to do so, some other state executives have remained fixated to the award of pension to their former officials. The development calls to question the democratic disposition of many public office holders who ignore public outcry against obnoxious laws, which only serve to further enrich a few past office holders, while impoverishing the majority of the citizens.
Under the Lagos State Payment of Pension Law, a former governor of the state shall receive 100 per cent of the basic salary of the incumbent governor, a house each in Lagos and Abuja, six cars every three years and all-expenses-paid medical treatment for the governor and members of his family. These persons also receive 300 per cent of their annual basic salary as furniture allowance, 10 per cent as maintenance allowance, 20 per cent as utility allowance, and 30 per cent as car maintenance allowance. A former governor is also entitled to eight policemen and two Department of State Services (DSS) operatives for life.
In Akwa Ibom, the absurdity is extended to widows/widowers of former governors who are entitled to N12 million a year, while those of deputy governors would get N6 million. The former public office holders are to receive an amount not above N5 million (for ex-governor) and N2.5 million (for ex-deputy) to employ cook, chauffeurs and security. Following wide public condemnation of the law in 2014, the State’s Commissioner for information at the time was quoted as saying the law was in the interest of the state. One can only wonder how the deprivation of the masses for the luxurious comfort of a few can be in the state’s best interest.
Similar laws abound in Rivers and some other states. The basic argument against these outlandish awards is that it depletes the states’ resources, leaves little for development and can hardly be sustained for long. Besides, how will public office holders be motivated to provide basic social amenities like security and health facilities for the public, with the existence of a law that guarantees them more than adequate security and the best of medical services in or outside the country, all at the expense of the common man.
Sometime in 2017, states reportedly spent N37.367 billion on pensions for 47 ex-governors and their deputies. That woeful situation, if anything is sure to have worsened considering the number of ex-governors/deputies that have joined the spurious life pension club since 2017.
These humongous amounts constitute a burden on the states that are barely able to undertake adequate infrastructural development, pay salaries of civil servants and fulfill other social obligations. According to a report by the debt management office the nation’s debt profile stood at N31 trillion as at June 2020 with debt by states and the Federal Capital Territory constituting a sizeable portion of it.
Following the announcement by Sanwo-Olu, the Governor of Kwara State, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, also announced his intention to repeal a similar law in the state. Kwara’s announcement is a curious failure of institutional memory because the law was reportedly repealed in 2018 at the request of the former governor, Bukola Saraki, who was then the president of the Senate. It is gratifying that despite all odds, Lagos has joined the likes of Zamfara and Imo states that had already taken steps to repeal similar obnoxious laws and free funds for public benefits.
Instructively in December 2019, pursuant to an action instituted by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo of the Federal High Court, Lagos Division, granted an order compelling the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, to recover pensions collected by former governors now serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly; with further directive to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws permitting former governors and other ex-public officials to collect such pensions. One year on, it is uncertain if the nation’s chief law officer has complied with the Court’s order.
In the face of dwindling economy and a rising national debt profile, for state executives to insist on maintaining a law that is clearly anti-social and unsustainable, is most irresponsible and insensitive. Public office holders must note that policies that guarantee the enrichment of a few in the face of abject poverty will only serve to ignite a time bomb, the like of which was witnessed during the recent #EndSARS protest.
An exorbitant display of wealth amassed at public expense is hardly a way to go, when governors should be angling for drastic reduction in the cost of governance, and judiciously channeling the monies into areas of infrastructural development. Other governors should emulate the examples of the Lagos, no matter whose ox is gored.