The speed with which Imo State Governor Hope Uzodimma signed the bill repealing the “Pension and Gratuity Law for ex-governors, their deputies, speakers of the House and their deputies” into law, after its passage by the State House of Assembly recently, which will save the state of over N1billion annually, clearly, is a further manifestation of his unshaken resolve to provide good governance, harness financial resources for the provision of the needed infrastructures for the greater number of Imolites and we totally welcome the abolition.
And coming barely four months of the Governor in office, the timely measure, apart from boosting the administration’s revenue base currently under serious threat by the effects of COVID-19 pandemic hampering the capacity of all levels of government to generate the needed funds for effective service delivery, the courageous move no doubt, will trigger a fresh debate on the necessity or otherwise of continued relevance of such legislation still subsisting in at least 20 out of the 36 states of the federation especially given the dwindling accruals to the Federation Account.
Zamfara State consistently faced by insecurity –kidnapping, banditry and cattle rustling- is on record, had late last year raised the bar in governance with the repeal of a similar pension law for former governors and other ex-public officers, stipulating salacious benefits for their upkeep costing the taxpayers over N700 million annually even though most of the citizens of the state are denied the basic necessities of life.
The Governor, Bello Matawalle, like Uzodimma in scrapping the law swiftly endorsed the bill after it was passed through the legislative processes by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, controlled State House of Assembly. Though we are not fully abreast of details of pension and severance packages hitherto paid to the affected Imo ex-public office holders, the invalidated, Zamfara law had provided a whopping N10 million for the monthly upkeep of each former Governor as well as huge amount of money for former deputy governors, ex-speakers of the state Assembly and their deputies.
Sadly, as at last week when the All Progressives Congress, APC, dominated Imo Assembly passed the bill, at least 20 other states, according to a non-governmental organization, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Projects, SERAP, Abia; Akwa Ibom; Bauchi; Bayelsa; Borno; Lagos; Edo; Delta; Kano; Gombe; Yobe; Oyo; Osun; Kwara; Ondo; Ebonyi; Rivers; Niger; Kogi; and Katsina were still caught in the web of the jumbo entitlements to the categories of ex-public officers.
In our view, such payments have become unsustainable, avoidable and a drain on public coffers and against public interest considering the economic difficulties facing the country. It is common knowledge that most of the aforementioned states apart from Lagos and Rivers, lack the financial wherewithal and internally generated revenue base to meet their financial obligations to workers and pensioners without cap in hand and recourse to monthly allocation from the Federation Account.
Besides, most of them are similarly overburdened and entangled with huge local and foreign debts running into billions of Naira such that the Federal Government in the past, intervened and handed them bailout packages that have not been repaid in addition to the new threat to the global economies including Nigeria by the deadly Coronavirus with no cure yet in sight.
In other words, it makes no economic and moral sense for states to continue paying scandalous pensions and gratuities to former political office holders some of whom are serving ministers or senators and board members of government’s parastatals and agencies to receiving salaries and allowances from the same public purse even when it is obvious that there are no funds to sustain such an extravagant and wasteful expenditure.
Nigerians were first jolted with this self-serving and incredulous legislation in 2007 when the first set of Governors who had assumed office in May 1999 and served eight years were about completing their tenure. Lagos State House of Assembly perhaps having run out of ideas of what to do with taxpayers’ money set a bad precedent by passing the Pension Law when Senator Bola Tinubu, as governor, assented to the bill that gave a former governor life pension at the rate of N30 million per annum, a house in Abuja and Lagos for those who served two terms; six brand new cars every three years and a retinue of domestic servants.
It is regrettable too, that despite the public outcry that greeted the legislation, the one-party Lagos Assembly did not deem it wise to annul the law.
We further note that before this latest act of genius by Uzodimma, the Governor of the Eastern Heartland had in a deft move to improve the state’s revenue base, plug financial leakages and stop pension and salary frauds introduced an innovation- direct E-payment system for civil servants, though with fierce resistance in certain quarters which apparently were beneficiaries of the status quo.
In addition, savings from these efforts, we believe and strongly too, should be ploughed into funding infrastructures and social services like healthcare, education as well as payment of wages, salaries and pensions to those who have served the state diligently and meritoriously for between 10 and 35 years as stipulated by the Pension Act.
And apart from dealing a deadly blow at the source of corruption emanating from the ghost workers syndrome, the Governor’s innovations to governance so far will enhance the prospect of implementing the administration’s three Rs ( Reconstruction, Recovery and Rehabilitation) agenda and yield the needed democracy dividends to the people and the point strongly made that it is no longer business as usual in the state.
Not surprising,however, public support for the Imo positive example in accountability and public interest had been massive and spontaneous with a legal luminary and former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Imo State, Prof. Francis Dike, throwing his full weight behind the Imo legislature and Governor for scrapping the pensions and gratuities.
According to him, “Nigeria as a country is deeply rooted in corruption, mischief and embezzlement of public funds without accountability. It would be a terrible error for a man to serve the state for four years or above, after he had stolen so much money from the state treasury and at the end, the government in power, would use the little fund left to pay pension to those who stole from the people”.
And like Governor Matawalle observed earlier, which we agree, those who were voted to offices of governor, deputy governor, speaker and deputy speaker and other juicy offices were financially well off before contesting elections and should, therefore, not be treated or regarded as paupers when they are out of power.
We wholeheartedly support the abolition of these humongous financial packages to these former public office holders by Imo State and challenge the Houses of Assembly and Governors of the remaining 20 states where such legislation still subsists to in the national interest and that of taxpayers immediately embark on the revocation of the pension law in line with probity and accountability which is one of the cardinal programmes of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Government, whether at the federal, state and local levels, in order to leave up to its constitutional responsibility of providing security and welfare to the citizenry ,in our opinion, requires adequate funding to fully implement same and the abolition of the Pension Law will go a long way to making this a reality.
For a better society