By HENRY UMORU & JOSEPH ERUNKE
ABUJA — MOVES to provide for the remuneration of former Presidents, Senate Presidents, Speakers of the Federal House of Representatives, Chief Justices of the Federation, among others, yesterday, suffered a major set back as the Senate rejected the Bill.
After a very hot debate by the Senators, it was agreed by the lawmakers that there was no need for such an arrangement.
The rejection of the Bill followed a lead debate by Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, who had argued that the Bill was first read on the floor of the seventh Senate in November, 2012, just as it was earlier passed by the 4th, 5th and 6th National Assembly, but was not assented to by the President before it lapsed.
According to him, it became imperative to reintroduce the Bill for an Act to remunerate all former Presidents, Heads of Federal Legislative Houses and Chief Justices of the Federation and other Ancillary Matters 2013 due to what he described as the exigencies of the time of the nation.
In his lead debate, Senator Ndoma-Egba said, ‘’I decided to reintroduce this Bill due to the exigencies of our time and the uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing economic situation of past leaders of this country.
‘’The thrust of this bill is essentially to repeal the provisions of CAP R6 LFN 2011 which provides for remuneration packages for former Presidents, Heads of State, Vice Presidents and Chief of General Staff to ensure that only democratically elected former Presidents are entitled to benefit from entitlements and benefits enumerated in the schedule to this Bill.
“The Bill automatically shuts out all former Military Heads of States who usurped political power through undemocratic means.
‘’The Military government of General Abdusalami Abubakar on May 10, 1999 in the twilight of his administration decreed a remuneration package for our former leaders.
“The 4th, 5th and 6th National Assembly thought it otherwise and in a bid to strengthen our democracy went beyond bars to remove former Military Heads of State and Chief of General Staff who came to power through the bullet rather than by ballot box from any benefit.
‘’Another important feature of this Bill is that persons who were removed from any of the offices referred to in this Bill through the process of impeachment are also not in contemplation of any remuneration package provided .
‘’Similarly, any person who has held two or more offices referred to in the Bill shall be entitled to only the benefit accruing to the highest of those offices which he has held in order of National precedence.
‘’The time has come for us as a country to begin to acknowledge the services of people who rise through hard work and commitment to certain positions constitutionally. One way of recognising such persons is to provide for them after office so that there is life for them after office.
‘’This Bill does not limit itself only to those who have attained the office of President and Vice President but it also applies to those who have attained offices as presiding officers of both Houses of the National Assembly and those who have attained the position of Chief Justice of the Federation which is a sharp difference from CAP R6 LFN 2011 which provided for the executive arm only.
‘’From the forgoing, the Bill when it becomes an Act of Parliament will send right signals that will consolidate our democracy. It will no doubt promote and make democracy attractive, thus making Military Coups unattractive. It will also encourage dedicated leadership from our present leaders when they know that their efforts will not go unnoticed.”
Senator who spoke after the Senate leader however kicked against the Bill.
In his contribution, Senator Gyang Pwajok, Plateau North stressed that considering a bill seeking to reward individuals who had had the opportunities of occupying such exalted offices in the country and simultaneously enjoyed access to immeasurable rewards and benefits was ill-timed and counter-productive especially in Nigeria’s current situation where lots of persons live in pains and have no hope of meaningful future.
According to him, the move became much more provocative when the Constitution had already provided remunerations for such persons, adding that the commitment of the Senate at the moment should be to legislate on issues that will affect the lives of countless Nigerians and geared towards deepening the nation’s democracy.
Pwajok said, ‘’it would be misplaced for the Senate to be busy enacting a law to reward people whom he noted were already comfortable in a country where lots of innocent Nigerians either get killed everyday or forced to live in anguish.
Also in his contribution, Senator George Sekibo, PDP, Rivers East, who did not agree with the Bill, stressed that a situation where remunerations were provided for principal officers of the National Assembly would create room for leadership crisis as every member will be seeking to become principal officers.
According to him, legislating on the matter at the time the Federal Government had been striving hard to reduce the cost of governance in the country would absolutely be uncomplimentary, adding that internal mechanism should rather be worked out to remunerate affected leaders instead of enacting laws to that effect.
In his contribution, Senator Smart Adeyemi, PDP, Kogi West, argued that former military rulers should be barred from participating in partisan politics and must not be accommodated in the bill, just as he said that all individuals who had derailed the course of democratic government should also be made to tender unreserved apology to the country.
Senator Adeyemi’s reaction came following a point of Order he moved against Senator Ehigie Uzamere, ACN, Edo South, who had advocated the inclusion of former military rulers in the remuneration package, even as he described it as immoral and ungodly.
When it became clear that the debate was becoming over heated, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu who presided over the plenary called for a voice vote.
The call for voice vote by Ekweremadu was done twice and the second voice vote which also opposed it like the first became higher and the Bill was then thrown out.