By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Wahab Abdullah, Ikechukwu Nnochiri & Joseph Erunke
….My pension goes to charities, says Saraki
LAGOS — Former governors, who are now senators and ministers, have been taken to task over their continued enjoyment of governors’ pensions while drawing normal salaries and allowances in their new political offices.
At least, 21 former governors or deputy governors now serve either as senators or ministers with some of them drawing double emoluments and in the cases of those, who served earlier in the civil service or the military, drawing a double pension while at the same time drawing salaries as political appointees.
Former governors now serving as ministers in the Muhammadu Buhari cabinet include Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers), Chris Ngige (Anambra), Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti), and Babatunde Fashola (Lagos).
Some ex governors
The former governors serving as senators are: Bukola Saraki (Kwara), Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso (Kano), Kabiru Gaya (Kano), Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa), Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom), Sam Egwu (Ebonyi), Shaaba Lafiagi (Kwara), Joshua Dariye (Plateau) Theodore Orji (Abia), and Jonah Jang (Plateau).
Others are Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko (Sokoto), Ahmed Yarima (Zamfara), Danjuma Goje (Gombe), George Akume (Benue), Bukar Abba Ibrahim (Yobe), Adamu Aliero (Kebbi), and Isiaka Adeleke (Osun).
Former deputy governors in the Senate include Senators Biodun Olujimi (Ekiti) and Enyinaya Harcourt Abaribe (Abia). Senator Danladi Abubakar Sani was for sometime acting governor of Taraba State.
Responding to the outrage by a section of the polity on the development, the President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki, one of the beneficiaries, said he could not act otherwise as he told Vanguard he was acting within the provisions of the law.
Forty seven of the former governors of 21 states, according to Vanguard investigations, draw as much as N37.4 billion from the public treasury.
The former governors now serving as ministers and senators, it was learned, are able to enjoy the benefits of their generous pension provisions mainly on account of ambiguities in the law enacted by the State Houses of Assembly and the Code of Conduct Bureau Act.
Lawmakers are excluded from the Code of Conduct Bureau Act which forbids public service retirees from getting a separate remuneration from the public treasury.
What the law says
Section 2 (a) of the Code of Conduct Bureau Act stipulates that a public officer shall not “receive or be paid the emoluments of any public office at the same time as he receives or is paid emoluments of any other public office; or (b) except where he is not employed on full-time basis, engage or participate in the management or running of any private business, profession or trade; but nothing in this sub-paragraph shall prevent a public officer from engaging in farming.”
Section 4 (b) of the same law says “A retired public servant shall not receive any other remuneration from public funds in addition to his pension and the emolument of such one remunerative position.”
Lawmakers are, however, exempted upon provisions of Section 14 of the act.
The provision states thus: “In its application to public officers –(a) members of legislative houses shall be exempted from the Provisions of paragraph 4 of this Code; and (b) the National Assembly may by law exempt any cadre of public officers from the provisions of paragraph 4 and 11 of this Code if it appears to it that their position in the Public Service is below the rank which it considers appropriate for the application of the provisions.”
A cross section of lawyers who spoke to Vanguard on the development flayed what they cited as the exploitation of the law by the former governors. Though most of them that spoke to Vanguard condemned the development, they, however, stressed that it was more of a moral issue than a legal one.
It’s morally wrong —Emeka Etiaba, SAN
“The truth about it is that receiving pension and salary at the same time is like one eating his cake and having it.
“During the pendency or their stay at the National Assembly or any other public office, they shouldn’t be entitled to a pension. Even morally on their own, they should have kept it on hold pending when they will leave the National Assembly. Apart from the position of law, in Nigeria today, we should handle things with some level of care, because so many things have gone wrong and we are all in the rebuilding process.”
It’s an aberration —Tokunbo Mumuni, SERAP
“The idea of pension for an elected public official is an aberration of overwhelming proportion. The original philosophical basis for pension allows it for a career civil servant who would have spent his or her productive and active years in the service of a state or public institution.
“The situation at hand is even more insulting and outrageous when some past governors and deputy governors are now members of the Senate. They benefit from allowances and financial services of the state, and it amounts to impunity.”
No law preventing them now -Ajibola Kaka, lawyer
“The Law did not envisage this; morally it is wrong. However, looking at it from another perspective, they have actually worked for it which makes it deserving.
“The similitude is like those who retired from public service and are later duly engaged in the private sector, does that deprive them from earning their pension?
“But, there should be a Law that will stipulate that those affected must for the period of their stay in the National Assembly forfeit such pension or be suspended for that period. This, however, must be closely monitored because of the drain pipes within the system.”
Nigerians must end the rip-off —Muheedin Shittu
“Looking at the provision of the Constitution in Section 173 as applicable to Federal government officials and Section 210 of the same book, the governors, who now become Senators or other public officials, are presumed to be public officials. There was nowhere the constitution separately talks about their pension but as public officials.
“It’s very unfortunate that given the above provisions, they are to be protected under the law in receiving their pension. For instance, Section 210 (1) & (2) provide that: “(1) Subject to the provisions of subsection (2) of this section, the right of a person in the public service of a state to receive a pension, or gratuity shall be regulated by law. (2) “Any benefit to which a person is entitled in accordance with or under such law as is referred to in subsection (1) of this section, shall not be withheld or altered to his disadvantage except to such extent as is permissible under any law, including the Code of Conduct.
“From the passage, you will observe they are protected in collecting pension the moment they have served. The constitution does not consider whether they will occupy another public office where full salaries are to be received. However, the last sentence from above provision should be a way out. The Code of Conduct should step in and prevent them from taking the pension and same time taking emoluments as lawmakers. To me, Nigerians should rise to the situation and put an end to the rip-off. A new law must be enacted to end the impunity.”
More moral, than legal questions here — IKORO
A constitutional lawyer, Mr. N. A. Ikoro, maintained that the current economic situation in the country was enough to persuade the ex-governors to consider the plight of the citizens and forfeit huge sums they collect as pension on a monthly basis.
He said: “If Pension is a legal entitlement for a job done and completed, then a person who has finished that job deserves it as of right. This is irrespective of whether he gets another job.
“If the law entitles someone to the right, it cannot be illegal unless another law creates an exception. For instance, a new law can say ex-governors should not earn their pension while being in the Senate.
“Remember this issue of pension also goes to returning parliamentarians. I see it as a moral quagmire rather than a legal one.
“An ex-governor can say, please I don’t want this pension when many Nigerians are starving or unemployed. A person has a right to give up a right given to him under the statute, of course, except a constitutional right which is inalienable”.
‘It’s unfortunately lawful’
Similarly, an Abuja based lawyer, Mr. Ugochukwu Ezekiel-Hank, decried the absence of any law against such practice.
“It is, unfortunately, lawful because they manoeuvred their various State Houses of Assembly, enabling them to receive remuneration in the form of pension or whatever name they call it after leaving office.
“As it is today, there is no law that prohibits the receipt of pension and other remuneration(s) if such a person is still able to work after retirement.”
Another lawyer, Mr. Arinze Ugwueke said: “First, you should define pension. Secondly is whether the State House of Assembly of that state passed a bill into law making provision that any person who served as the governor shall be entitled to a pension, because to my understanding, it is not provided for directly in the 1999 Constitution, as amended.”
It’s unconstitutional — Osuagwu
On his part, a human right activist, Mr. Ugochukwu Osuagwu, insisted that the practice is illegal.
“Is it in the constitution? Unless it is in the constitution whatever they are receiving can be challenged. Let them cite constitutional provisions to back it up. So, as far as I am concerned, it is unconstitutional and fraudulent.
“You cannot appropriate such huge public funds as pension to public officers if no constitutional provision supports it,” he submitted.
‘Beneficiaries are insensitive’
Likewise, another lawyer Mr. Emmanuel Rukari accused the beneficiaries of being insensitive.
His words: “In my view, that is morally unjust because it amounts to cutting from two edges.
“This is one of the reasons I believe fighting corruption in Nigeria may be difficult. These guys, while as governors, made so much for themselves aside from their legitimate income and in the long run, found their way to the Senate where they could enact laws that will cover their tracks and better enhance their corrupt tendencies.
“Until Nigerians wake up to this injustice and call a spade a spade, these persons will continue to recycle themselves in government.
“The National Assembly must fashion out ways of curbing this menace as it appears. Allowing former governors now in the Senate to take home two pensions creates an impression that they are super heroes.
“It is only unfortunate that most of these issues end up only on paper without achieving the desired motives. Nigeria, in my view, is too big to encourage multiplicity or continuous holding of public office by an individual in the midst of several well qualified and better-oriented persons for some of these positions.
“In fighting corruption, the leadership must first purge itself from these anomalies particularly in a society like ours where many die daily due to lack, yet some others are wallowing in affluence.
‘It’s a contest between morality and legality’
Yushau Shuaib, former spokesperson at the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC, in his comments on the issue described the matter as a contest between legality and morality which, he said, should be adjudged by economic realities.
“The political office holders are entitled to severance packages which have been fixed by RMAFC. Meanwhile, some tiers of government have gone further to approve generous pension scheme to past office holders… some of such allowances are so outrageous that the current economic realities cannot sustain them.”
My pension goes to charity — SARAKI
However, Senator Saraki in defending himself, told Vanguard that his pension entitlements were being used for charity, especially for educational purposes, which he noted, have positively impacted the needy in his state.
Reacting to a question from Vanguard on the rationale of drawing the pension having collected 300 per cent of his basic salary as severance allowance, the Senate President, speaking through his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Yusuph Olaniyonu, insisted that he could not act otherwise, as he said he was covered by the law.
He said he had no direct access to the pension money, explaining further that he had directed from inception that the money be channelled into a special account administered by a board for educational purposes.
Olaniyonu said laws were made to be implemented or followed and so, what his boss was doing was not in isolation or a bad thing.
He said: “Are you aware that in any state, there are laws and the laws are meant to be implemented. Are laws made not supposed to be implemented or to be followed?
“In the specific case of Kwara, it is public knowledge to everybody that the Senate President has from the inception, announced that the money would be channelled into a special account and to be administered by a board for educational purposes, that is to give scholarships to people, to fund WAEC fees for those who cannot afford that, and to buy GCE forms for those who have not bought.
“I believe you are also very aware that the beneficiaries are very happy for what he has done.
“Let me give you an instance, on December 18, 2016, he hosted some first-class graduates from Kwara State, and they were given scholarships from that fund.
“What they are doing is not in isolation, it’s not a bad thing, it was the law that provided for it.”
I’m not a beneficiary — Abaribe
Senator Enyinnaya Abribe, PDP, Abia South, a former deputy governor of Abia State, however, affirmed that he was not a beneficiary of any pension payments even though he was covered by the law as enacted by the Abia State House of Assembly. He told Vanguard that the impeachment move orchestrated against him after he had duly resigned as deputy governor did not stand the test of legal consideration.