By Josef Omorotionmwan
THE labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain. This is one way of appreciating our Federal and State Governments for carefully designing pension schemes for former Presidents and Vice Presidents; and former Governors and their Deputies.
In the Judiciary, retired Judges and other Judicial Officers are properly catered for. But when it comes to the legislative branch of Government, there are more questions than answers. Understandably, it is a function of instability. With the incessant incursions of the military into governance, the legislature has remained largely unstable.
As we begin to see some semblance of stability in the legislature, questions must necessarily arise as to who should be entitled to pension; and whether people should be entitled to multiple life pension points. On Wednesday, August 9 2017, the Secretary to the Government of Kwara State, Alhaji Isiaka Gold, announced that the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki, had allegedly relinquished his pension as former Governor of Kwara State to the Kwara State Government. This case is relevant to today’s analysis.
In 2013, the National Assembly, NASS, enacted a law, bestowing on the President of the Senate and his Deputy as well as the Speaker of the House of Representatives and his Deputy, life pension rights. Clearly, this runs counter to the very definition of pension: An amount of money paid regularly as retirement benefit by government or company to somebody who is considered too old or too ill to work. The NASS law has a number of pitfalls.
It makes no sense to bestow life pension rights on somebody simply because of his pronouncement as a Presiding Officer – even for one day. This is certainly an open invitation to instability. This came to the fore when the position of the Senate President was zoned to the South-East.
We saw the marriage of convenience, or what they call in the colloquial, “You-fall-for-me-I-fall-for-you” type of arrangement resulting in the most rapid turnover at the Senate presidency. On the one hand, despite Senator Chuba Okadigbo’s death in office, they still had serial Senate Presidents, from that small enclave, coming out with life pensions within the shortest possible time – all at the taxpayers’ expense!
On the other, it also makes no sense to deny pension rights to any member who stays long enough in the legislature, whether or not he was a Presiding Officer. The situation in the legislature is one of primus inter pares (first among equals) as no member was elected a Presiding Officer from his Constituency.
At that time, we invited only two witnesses to buttress our points: First, we had Senator David Bonaventure Alechenu Mark, President of the Senate, as he then was. Early in his life, Mark went into the Nigerian Army, where he served meritoriously and retired with full pension rights. By the 2013 Law, he would be entitled to another life pension, which raises the question, how many pension points can one man have in one life time? It is note-worthy that many of our legislators nation-wide fall into this category.
Secondly, we invited Hon. Farouk Muhammad Lawan who represented Bogwai/Shanono Federal Constituency, Kano State. As soon as he left the University he went into career politics, where he contested, and won, election into the House of Representatives. By 2013, he had been re-elected three times, which means he was already putting 16 years of unbroken service into the Legislature. It would be grossly unfair to deny such a member pension rights just because he did not become a Speaker. We also observed at the time that many members like Hon. Abdul Ahmed Ningi (Bauchi), Hon. Samson Osagie (Edo), etc., a bulk of who started from their State Assemblies also deserve consideration in the pension scheme.
Edo Legislature is the theatre of the absurd – Four Speakers in less than 25 months, all within the same Party? The vital qualification for being Deputy Speaker is that you must have been a Speaker. Dr. Justine Okonobo is justifiably aggrieved because his summary dismissal is against the run of play: Mrs. Elizabeth Ativie was Speaker before she became Deputy Speaker; Mr. Victor Edoror who was the first Speaker of this Sixth Assembly is today the Deputy Speaker; and if they get their permutation right, Kabiru Adjoto shall be Deputy Speaker by mid-2018.
However, the NASS pension law is perhaps not yet domesticated in Edo State. Shamefully, though, members have to sharpen their boxing and chair-throwing prowess to survive the legislative storm.
Sarak’s pension case is as interesting as it is intriguing. Apparently, Saraki ran into an ambush in the market-place of morality. Here is a two-term Governor of Kwara State. His executive bill to the Kwara State House of Assembly produced the Governor and Deputy Governor Payment of Pension Law No.12 of 2010.
Apparently, Saraki drew the pension until he became the Senate President. The new position attracts salaries and allowances, obviously too humongous for public knowledge. Above all, the position is pensionable.
Saraki already has two hefty life pension points to his credit; and given his skill at political maneuverability, who says Saraki may not become the President or Vice President of Nigeria sooner than later? That will be yet a third life pension point to which he will be legally entitled! All the same, Saraki is a man of conscience. He realises that he has the rest of his life to live with himself; hence he allegedly relinquished the Kwara pension to the Kwara State Government.
Saraki’s move is a smart one. That it is not always smart to be smart is an issue for another day. Saraki cannot stop here. Having come face-to-face with the evils inherent in the multiple life pension points and how the practice is sucking Nigeria dry, he knows that the issue is too important to be left to individual conscience. Beyond relinquishing his State pension to his State Government, one further step becomes imperative – he must strive to go down in history as the man who abolished the multiple life pension points in Nigeria!