On 26 November, the Zamfara state assembly repealed its pension law. This law, while active, made provisions for the upkeep of former governors and ex-public officers with expenses for this upkeep running up to 700 million Naira. An extremely obscene amount of money to spend on maintaining the already sufficiently padded lives of these ex-public officers who were generously paid while in office. This was possible in part by the actions of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).
Many Nigerians have condemned the law that grants top leaders in the executive and legislature lifetime pensions without truly understanding the legal structure that has allowed this system to be manipulated in this way. The Nigerian executive (this includes governorship and presidential positions) are considered civil service positions. The president and the governor is the highest civil servant in the state/country. If we implemented the law, only persons who had previously been in the civil service and worked their way up the ranks would be eligible to contest for governorship, presidency and legislative positions. That would ensure they understood how the government works implicitly and would be able to implement projects with a 360 view. But we also run a democracy, and that opens these positions to just about anyone, including people with no previous civil service experience.
A direct consequence of this is that presidents and governors and members of the Nigerian legislature are automatically granted civil service status once they enter office, a status that confers them benefits including a lifetime pension and benefits.
The new law in Zamfara state challenges the right of public officials elected into office to access benefits traditionally accrued from 30 years or more of service to the federal and state governments through public service. And the laws have been heavily perverted. Inspired by the then governor of Lagos, Bola Tinubu’s acquiescence to a law that provided a former governor with a 30 Million Naira life pension including a house in Lagos and Abuja for former governors who served two terms, three brand new cars at the end of every three years and of course an endless supply of domestic labour, other state governors began to implement similar laws. Varied in their peculiarities but united by their unnecessary exorbitance.
For Zamfara state, like many other states in the country with its backlog of unpaid public servants, unresolved social issues and continuously rising level of poverty, this is a great step in cutting back on these expenses and redirecting these monies into more pressing matters.
News of the Federal High Court’s ordering the federal government to “recover pensions collected by former governors now serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly, and directed the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws permitting former governors and other ex-public officials to collect such pensions” is revolutionary.
This order came off a case brought forth by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP). The case which has been adjourned to 3 February 2020 in anticipation of the report of compliance with judgement by the Federal Government, currently looks to be in favour of SERAP and ultimately the people.
SERAP has exposed the ways in which our political architecture allows for the flexible transition of administrative powers of former public-officers, ex-governors are known to make a straight shot at the Red chamber when they leave office, while stringing their pension packages along. What this means is that these officials are still able to live off the already meagre finances of the states they served, while getting paid for performing their senatorial functions. So to successfully fetter this pension law would be cost-effective and helpful to the economy of the states, yet the question remains of the willingness of governors to repeal these laws.
Considering the improvident bent of many of our country’s public-officials as regards to the utilization of public funds for both official and personal uses, letting go of the privileges that come with serving the country in important positions might prove to be impossible. With possible counterarguments on the laws’ irreversibility and the protracted steps in repealing them, the point remains that keeping in mind the benefits these public-officials enjoy while in office, these extortionate pension plans are not only impractical but need to be done away with as soon as possible.