On Friday, 19th June 2020, the nation’s no. 2 citizens, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, GCON, responding to a statement made by former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, and the immediate past Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, during a Webinar organized by the Emmanuel Chapel on the theme: Economic Stability beyond COVID-19’ said: “There is no question that we are dealing with large and expensive government, but as you know, given the current constitutional structure, those who would have to vote to reduce (the size of) government, especially to become part-time legislators, are the very legislators themselves. So, you can imagine that we may not get very much traction if they are asked to vote themselves, as it were, out of their relatively decent circumstances. So, I think there is need for a national debate on this question and there is need for us to ensure that we are not wasting the kind of resources that we ought to use for development on overheads. At the moment, our overheads are over 70% of revenues, so there is no question at all that we must reduce the size of government….”
I cannot agree more with His Excellency, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. No nation can survive when “over 70%” of its revenue is spent on overheads, spent on recurrent expenditures. A chunk of the nation’s borrowing is used to service recurrent expenditure and not capital expenditure. How do you repay the loan? We must, as a matter of urgency, drastically cut the cost of governance in the country.
This also brings to mind the recent case where the Executive Governor of Imo State, Hope Uzodinma, assented to a Bill to repeal the payment of pensions and gratuities to former Governors of the State, their Deputies, State Assembly Speakers and their Deputies. This is quite commendable and, is a case of accepting the message even if the messenger is not accepted.
It is worth noting that prior to when Gen. Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida as Military President amended the Pension Law to include that public servants who have worked for ten years, can apply for voluntary retirement and be entitlement to full retirement benefits, public servants could only retire after they had worked for 35 years or had attained 60 years of age. It is worth mentioning that this law does not apply to political office holders. Even at that, the longest number of years a Governor and his Deputy can stay in office by the country’s Constitution as it is today is eight years. And this is even less than the 10 years which the former Military President, Gen. Babangida amended the law to. So for some State Governors to make laws to pay life pension to former Governors which will include themselves is immoral, self-serving and unconstitutional.
There is on-going controversy between the Governor of Zamfara State, His Excellency, Bello Matawalle and his predecessor, Abdulaziz Yari overpayment of pension to the former Governor. Governor Matawale stated that former Governor Yari was asking to be paid the sum of ₦10 million monthly as pension totalling ₦120 million annually. In addition, he said that former Governor Yari will be getting two vehicles to be bought for him by the State Government and replaceable every four years, a 5-bedroom house in any location of choice in any part of the country, medical treatment for him and his immediate family and a 30-day vacation within and outside the country. He added that the former Governor “had paid to himself the sum of ₦300 million.” Meanwhile, Governor Matawalle said he met “pension liabilities of local government workers, primary school teachers and state civil servants amounting to about ₦10 billion.”
The case of Kwara State is even more worrisome. The State has a law in place, which states that past Governors and Deputy Governors of the State “shall be entitled to a pension for life at the rate equivalent to the annual basic salary of the incumbent and other benefits as provided by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission. The pension shall include: furnished 5-bedroom duplex, 300% for furniture replaceable every four years; free medical treatment for Governor and Deputy Governor and their immediate families; car maintenance; drivers (pensionable); house maintenance; and two cars for the Governor in addition to one pilot car to be replaced every three years”.
And to think that most of these Governors end up at the Senate as Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and will probably remain there for life, since one can go to the Legislative Houses over and over again, earning additional jumbo pay, is cruel.
Some of them have used public funds to build economic and political empires for themselves. They enthrone and dethrone political officers at their whims and caprices. State-owned properties have been converted to their personal ownership. A former Lagos State Governor converted the State’s Liaison Office in Abuja to his private guest house. His residence in Ikoyi used to be government quarters for State workers, but he converted it to his personal property after renovating it with State government money. Over and above all these, he owns a company that collects revenue on behalf of the Lagos State government where he keeps to himself an abnormally high percentage as commission.
Most of these Governors have pending cases with the EFCC. It is alleged that they have corruptly enriched themselves with our commonwealth, then they go to the Senate where they get paid huge sum of money which was shrouded in secrecy until Senator Shehu Sani told the nation that a Senator in this country receives about ₦14 million monthly; one might ask if we were not also paid bogus salaries during our time as Senators, absolutely not. Almost every year in the National Assembly Budget, provision is made for the purchase of cars for members, this is in addition to what some of them who are past Governors get from their States. Today, about 11.01% of the Senators are former Governors and former Deputy Governors who will be receiving these bogus and provocative pensions and other undeserving benefits. This is most unfair to the nation and is the height of corruption. Infrastructures in the various sectors are dilapidated.
Salaries of civil and public servants are being owed; in fact, most State Governors are saying that they cannot pay the minimum wage of ₦30,000.00 (thirty thousand naira only). Even when the minimum wage was ₦18,000.00 (eighteen thousand naira only), most of the State Governors owed backlog of workers’ salaries. Pensioners, who had worked meritoriously for number of years, yet were paid epileptic salaries during their years in service, pass through untold hardship when they retire to get what is duly their right as pensions and gratuities. The on-going ravaging Corona Virus pandemic has exposed the deplorable state of the nation’s facilities. The country’s research centres are incapacitated because they are grossly underfunded, even though the nation has the manpower to carryout innovations like any other country, they cannot because the enabling environment is not put in place. During this period when starvation is staring people in the face, the government cannot even provide palliatives for the people. A situation where some governments will give few packets of noodles (indomie) to families is so shameful. Nigeria has been classified the poverty capital of the world.
But we have Governors who make selfish laws to suit themselves at the inconvenience, lack and want of the general populace. They even rub it in the face because the payments to themselves come first. This is unacceptable. I appeal to these Governors to search their conscience having regard to the dwindling economy. And that is why I greatly commend the Executive Governor of Imo State for the action he took. I enjoin other public office holders to emulate him, because the diminishing economy has not reflected on the lifestyle of the Presidency and on the various State Houses. Their lifestyle has not changed; they still display a flamboyant lifestyle as if all is well with the nation’s economy.
One is compelled to ask, what is the duty of the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), which has powers according to Part II, 6 1(d) of the Act which established it “to determine the remuneration appropriate to the holders of the offices as specified in Parts A and B of the First Schedule of the Act”, and is, therefore, supposed to control the finances of government including salaries and allowances paid to these “holders of the offices” listed as President, Vice President, Governor, etc.
Are they, as usual, part of the system thus not courageous to carry out their constitutional duties because they owe allegiance and loyalty to those who recommended them for an appointment and not to the Constitution they swore to uphold?
We cannot definitely continue going on like this because we are sitting on a keg of gunpowder, which will likely explode any moment if adequate measures are not taken.
In the historic 2014 National Conference, all these overhead cost of running governance are taken care of. Government, like they say, is a continuous exercise. Mr. President should avail himself of the Report of the Conference Report, which he is already implementing in piecemeal.
I hope Mr. Vice President is not just making a political statement. He is in a position to influence the Presidency to drastically cut the cost of governance and the corruption, which takes place in the public service, even though the government is singing anti-corruption slogan.
•Chief Clark, OFR, CON is an elder statesman and leader of Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF).