THE National Assembly’s passage of the law  awarding more perks for Nigeria’s former leaders cannot stand. It proposes glaring abuses.

When Senator  Dalhatu Tafida proposed the bill in 2006, it excluded past military rulers and was for only the President and Vice-President just as the Constitution prescribed. The National Assembly has extended the list to include the Senate President, Deputy Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Deputy Speaker and Chief Justice of the Federation.

Criticisms of the additional perks to these leaders centre on the fact that Nigerian leaders take good care of themselves and their families while in office, the only exception could be Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who died in the 1966 coup. We may be paying pension to those who have the least need for it and with a generosity that borders on scandalous waste.

Hundreds of thousands of pensioners, old, ill, blind, bed-ridden (some have to be brought to verification centres in contraptions that portray their disabilities) are subjected to dehumanisation across the country as they queue for pittance governments pay them. Their pension is small, irregular and handed out under the most inhuman conditions. Many of them, who are entitled to pension are excluded for not meeting conditions that are beyond their control.

Deaths on pension queues hardly make the headlines these days — they occur too often and in too many places. The agony of these pensioners, some of who sometimes disrupt traffic in Abuja, has failed to gain the attention of our legislators.

The National Assembly is for the rich and makes laws for the benefit of its kind. As the new law indicates, it is enthusiastic to funnel millions of Naira to those who do not need it.

Provisions that entitle the family of deceased ex-presidents and vice-presidents to an annual payment for the upkeep of their spouses and education of their children up to university level are bound to be abused. The inclusion that the spousal upkeep allowance will cease when the last spouse of the deceased dies is an acceptance of indeterminate number of partners for our leaders.

How will Nigerians know the number of beneficiaries of the perks? Marriage is considered a private affair and traditionally children are not to be counted. How do we identify the number of children our former leaders have? Can this law be implemented without ascertaining the beneficiaries? Will there be a ceiling on the number of wives a leader can have? How many of their children will Nigeria pay for their university education? Will these children attend Nigerian universities (patriotism so demands) or be sent abroad to benefit from better education than their parents ordained for ordinary Nigerians?

Why should past leaders get medical treatment abroad after running medical facilities in Nigeria aground? Are we rewarding their poor performance and setting further standards of low expectations from our leaders?

These are more relevant challenges than asking us to imitate countries that cater for their leaders. In other countries uncertainties do not surround membership of a president’s family.

Moreover, their leaders serve honestly. They leave office without the sort of resources our leaders amass. It behoves their countries to look after them. Former US President George Bush (the older Bush) moved into a rented apartment when he left office. It is simply unimaginable, in Nigeria, for anyone who attained that status not to have property wherever he wanted.

The inclusion of leaders of the National Assembly in the law is self-serving and cheap. The enthusiasm with which they have attended to re-working this bill is understandable. They were working for themselves. The Constitution never envisaged presidential privileges could extend to this group.

According to the proposed law, so long as the leader was not impeached, he is entitled to the package for life. It means that Mrs. Olubunmi Patricia Etteh, for example, who was Speaker of the House of Representatives for less than five months, will be a beneficiary. How do we stop changes in leadership of the National Assembly from swelling the number of beneficiaries of this law?

Section 1(2) of the Constitution states: “The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall not be governed, nor shall any persons or group of persons take control of the Government of Nigeria or any part thereof, except in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.”

David Bonaventure Mark, Senate President, alluded to this last March when he justified exclusion of former military from beneficiaries. “This is to discourage other unconstitutional means of getting into power. The only way recognised by the constitution is through (the) ballot and not the barrel of a gun,” Mark said. What  informed the change of mind? Mark spoke to the gallery then realised law cannot be retroactive.

By Section 84 (5) of the Constitution, “Any person who has held office as President or Vice-President shall be entitled to pension for life at a rate equivalent to the annual salary of the incumbent President or Vice-President: Provided that such a person was not removed from office by the process of impeachment or for breach of any provisions of this Constitution.” Can the  National Assembly extend the list without amending the Constitution?

These many questions make this legislation unworthy of the President’s assent until they are cleared. The last session of the National Assembly sent the former bill, without these complications, to Obasanjo for assent. He did not sign.

President Goodluck Jonathan should not sign an unconstitutional law that will  also be stymied in embarrassing paternity claims. It will be uncontrollably expensive, a drain on the wobbling economy and a slap on millions of suffering Nigerians.


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