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Akpabio, 13 senators to earn over N5.6b ex-govs’ pension, benefits

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Barring a change of mind by the beneficiaries, no fewer than 14 sitting senators, including the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, will draw pensions and other benefits worth N5.6 billion from their states, for the duration of the 10th Senate.

Except the former Governor of Ogun State, Senator Gbenga Daniel, who has requested that he be exempted from pension largesse, none of the other 14 senators has publicly recluse from binging on state’s lean resources.

Besides the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom), other beneficiaries of ex-governors’ pensions are: Adams Oshiomhole (Edo), Dave Umahi (Ebonyi), Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto), Ibrahim-Hassan Dankwambo (Gombe), Abdulaziz Yari (Zamfara), Aliyu Wammako (Sokoto), Orji Uzor Kalu (Abia), Seriake Dickson (Bayelsa), Adamu Aliero (Kebbi), Ibrahim Gaidam (Yobe), Danjuma Goje (Gombe) and Abubakar Sani Bello (Niger).

The Guardian investigation revealed that on the average, former governors earn N100 million yearly, including 100 per cent of the basic salary of incumbent governors, which the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) puts at N11.54 million.

Their allowances include furniture, 300 per cent of the annual basic; two brand new vehicles every four years, accommodation anywhere in the country, free medication for the ex-governor and his immediate family; Cooks, Stewards, Utility, Drivers and security.

With what is accruable to each of the 14 Senators every year, they will be receiving N1.4b per annum, making it N5.6 billion for four years apart from their salaries and sundry allowances in the senate.

The lifelong largesse is higher in states like Lagos, Akwa Ibom and Rivers. Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, had in 2020, sent a bill to the State House of Assembly to repeal the Public Office Holder (Payment of Pension Law 2007), which provided jumbo payment of pension and other entitlements to former governors and their deputies.

Sanwo-Olu said stopping the pension would reduce the cost of governance, as well as signal selflessness in public service.

But the bill was amended by the Lagos State Assembly. It slashed the pension by 50 per cent and expunged provision of houses in Abuja and Lagos.

When contacted to clarify if the President is still receiving pension from Lagos State government, former Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotosho, in a short message, said: “Let your man in Alausa find out. Our executive council is dissolved and I should not be speaking on official matters.”

The spokesperson of the President, Dele Alake, did not respond to a text message sent to him on the matter as at press time.

As a governor of Akwa Ibom, Akpabio, who signed the bill specifically, capped the pension for ex-governors and allowances at N200m yearly, because if the state pension law of 2014 were to be fully implemented, the state may be spending over N600m on each ex-governor yearly.

Under the law, the ex-governor pockets N2,223,705.00; total of N26,684,460.00 as pension, yearly; a new official car and a utility vehicle once every four years, one personal aide and the provision of adequate security during his lifetime at the expense of the state government; N5 million or an equivalent of $50,000.00 monthly to engage the services of a cook, chauffeurs and security guards; free medical services at a sum not exceeding N100 million or an equivalent of $600,000.00, yearly. One house not below 5-bed maisonette in Abuja or Akwa Ibom, Furniture: 300 per cent of annual basic salary every four years.

IN Rivers State, an ex-governor is entitled to have three new cars every four years, free medical care (no cap) for him and his family.100 per cent of annual basic salary of the incumbent governor, accommodation anywhere in Nigeria, Furniture: 300 per cent of annual basic salary every four years “en bloc”.

House maintenance: 10 per cent of annual basic salary. Domestic staff: Cook, steward, gardener and other domestic staff (no limit), who shall be non-pensionable. Security: Two SSS operatives, four policemen (two each for house and personal security); Personal Assistant (PA): 25 per cent of annual basic salary. Car maintenance: 30 per cent of annual basic salary.

At the twilight of his administration as governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom sent a bill to the House of Assembly for ex-governors to be receiving N138.49 million as pension every year.

However, a state like Gombe added 30 days annual vacation outside Nigeria and estacode for the ex-governor and a wife. Senator Goje signed the law as the governor of the state.

The decision by former Governor of Ogun State, Senator Gbenga Daniel, to suspend his pension from the state government has put pressure on other 13 ex-governors in the 10th Senate to follow suit.

By this decision, Daniel has succumbed to pressure from members of the public urging political office holders collecting double salaries to desist from doing so.

The Guardian checks revealed that a host of ministers and National Assembly members in previous administrations were criticised for receiving pensions and at the same time drawing salaries from the government because of their political appointments.

Daniel, who is representing Ogun East Constituency, in a letter dated June 14, 2023 to the state governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun, requested for the suspension of his monthly pension with immediate effect.

However, the Deputy Director of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) Kolawole Oluwadare, who commended Daniel for doing the “right thing”, urged him to refund every kobo he has received as pension since he left office in 2011 and work with other members of the National Assembly to enact a law to repeal pension legislations for former governors.

According to him, there is a subsisting judgment of the Federal High Court that declared life pensions for ex-governors illegal.

He said: “Public service law is very clear. Paragraph 2a of the code of conduct for public officers in the fifth schedule Part 1 of the 1999 Constitution is very clear that no public officer is allowed to do this.”

It reads: “Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing paragraph, 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 the emoluments of any other public office.”

The organisation had in May this year, sued the Federal Government and the immediate past Attorney-General of the Federation/Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, for allegedly failing to recover over N40 billion pensions paid to former governors, who were lawmakers and ministers.

Daniel said: “I am not aware if any of the former governors at the 10th Senate has suspended payment of his pension. I wrote the governor to suspend mine without having knowledge of any judgment or prompting against it.”

Daniel, who governed Ogun State between 2003 and 2011, noted that he could not continue to collect such emolument with free conscience.

However, Akume is likely to receive N138.49 million yearly as pension, if the proposal by the immediate past governor of the state, Samuel Ortom, is passed by the Benue State House of Assembly and applied retrospectively.

Ortom had in April, this year, proposed among other things: a monthly ‘stipend’ equivalent to the ‘salary’ of a sitting/incumbent governor, a permanent residential accommodation, provision of four cars every four years to the ex-governors and their deputies. The cars ‘shall’ be serviced and maintained at the expense of the state.

No fewer than 24 states had passed life pension bill for their former governors and other ex-public officials. They are: Lagos, Akwa Ibom, Edo, Delta, Ekiti, Kano, Gombe, Yobe, Borno, Bauchi, Abia, Imo, Bayelsa, Oyo, Osun, Kwara, Ondo, Ebonyi, Rivers, Niger, Kogi and Katsina.

However, SERAP has asked the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, and 13 other former governors in the Senate to clarify if they have collected or are currently collecting life pensions as former governors from their respective states, adding that if they are, they should stop collecting it, and return the pensions collected to the treasury.

The organisation also asked the former governors to disclose the total amount of life pensions, if any, they have received from their states since they left office.

In a letter dated June 3, 2023 and signed by Oluwadare, SERAP said that their constitutional oath of office, under the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) requires them to publicly reject and return any of such pensions.

According to the organisation, public function means activities in the public interest, not against it, adding that the alleged receiving of pensions by former governors from their respective states amounts to private self-interest and it is detrimental to the public interest.

The letter reads: “Nigerians expect you to act in the public interest including by ending the collection of any life pensions from your respective states and returning any such pensions that may have been collected to the treasury.

“Collecting life pensions as former governors while in the Senate would clearly violate constitutional provisions and amount to taking advantage of entrusted public positions.

“Ending the practice of former governors in the Senate collecting life pensions from their states would improve public confidence in the integrity and honesty of the National Assembly. It would show that the Senate can focus on serving public interest rather than looking after themselves.

“We urge you to emulate former Senate President Dr Bukola Saraki who stopped collecting life pensions as a former governor of Kwara State and described life pensions by ex-governors as “immoral”, following a request by SERAP.

“We would be grateful if the recommended measures are taken within seven days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions to compel you and other members of the Senate to comply with our request in the public interest.

“The country’s international legal obligations especially under the UN Convention against Corruption also impose a legal commitment on public officials including former governors in the Senate to discharge a public duty truthfully and faithfully.

“Life pensions for former governors serving as senators are entirely inconsistent and incompatible with the constitutional oath of office and the object and purpose of the UN Convention against Corruption, which implicitly prohibits large severance benefits for public officials such as former governors.”

The convention, it stated, specifically in paragraph 1 of article 8 requires such political office holders to promote integrity, honesty and responsibility in the management of public resources.

A human right lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN) said it is illegal for the ex-governors serving in the National Assembly or ministers to be appointed by President Tinubu to continue receiving pensions from their respective states.

He said there is a subsisting judgment of the Federal High Court that made it illegal for public officers to be enjoying pensions and at the same time receiving salaries, adding that the judgment will be enforced “this time around.”

Falana, in a telephone chat with The Guardian said: “You cannot be on pension and be receiving salary. There is a judgment against it, which has not been set aside. It is binding on all the people affected. We have instructions from SERAP to enforce the judgment this time around. I mean, sitting senators who are in service and are collecting money in NASS, as well as ministers who are former governors or former governors who are likely to be appointed ministers by this administration.”

Asked if he was aware of any other Senator that has complied with that order, Falana said: “No, apart from Gbenga Daniel. He has challenged his colleagues to do the right thing, he has challenged their moral conscience, but I am saying that the position of Senator Daniel has conveyed the order of the Federal High Court, which is valid and consistent. We are calling on other senators who are affected to follow suit.”

Kolawole also said SERAP does not have a record to exonerate President Tinubu, Shettima and affected senators from collecting pensions from their respective states.

SERAP had sued the Federal Government in 2017 at the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos to stop former governors serving in the government from receiving double pay and life pensions.

The NGO got a favourable decision. Indeed, the judgment delivered by Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo ordered those affected governors to return the money.

Regretting that the judgment has not been implemented, Kolawole said: “This is unfortunately one of those precedents of democracy that does not bode well for the rule of law. The judgment is yet to be implemented and the legality of pension law continues, which is where we must continue with advocacy to see that rule of law prevails in Nigeria.

“The executive should obey the judgment of the judiciary who are the arms of the government that must be empowered to adjudicate between individuals and other arms of government.”

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