By Adekunle Adekoya
Some people are so poor, all they have is money.” — Song by The Brain Cell
I feel very depressed, utterly despondent, totally dejected that some people can be thinking of certain things. One of such things was a bill that proposed life pension for the top four leaders of the National Assembly. For clarity, the four top leaders are the Senate President, Speaker, House of Representatives, Deputy Senate President, and the Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives.
The bill is titled, “Bill for an Act to Alter the Provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to Provide Pension for Presiding Officers of the National Assembly; and for Related Matters.”
In the House of Representatives, 162 members voted in support of the bill, while 163 voted against it. Ahmad Lawan, President of Senate refused to announce the number of senators that voted for or against the bill, but merely remarked that “this bill has conclusively failed”, adding that “it is a good thing and a good message to our country that we do not sit here to do things for ourselves”.
That’s a hard sell. The lawmakers, being an integral part of the power elite, irrespective of which faction is ruling at the moment, has always fended for themselves and defended their interests, to the detriment of the ruled, poor masses. They have always seemed to act in the interest of the disadvantaged poor only when it seems their interests may be at stake. It is bad enough that the Constitution guarantees life pension for all former presidents and vice-presidents.
Section 84 (5) of the Constitution states:
(5) 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.
This provision is already costing the national exchequer nearly N8 billion annually. And then, somebody wakes up, supposedly after a good night’s sleep, goes to the legal draftsman in his office and asks him to draft a bill to that effect. I do not know what must be going on in the minds of the sponsors of this bill. It is good that the self-serving bill died, but then only just, since as much as 162 members of the House voted for it. What was the motivation for those 162 men and women? Did they pause to think of the causes and effects if the bill got passed into law?
Without gazing at any crystal ball, it is almost certain that the state Houses of Assembly would have followed suit if that bill had succeeded. That would have added 72 speakers and deputy speakers (incumbents) of state houses of assembly drawing life pension. For doing what?
If I understand the Nigerian system and how it works, a way would have been found for past holders of these offices to benefit. At least seven former senate presidents are still around and kicking, as well as seven former speakers. Add their deputies, and you have enough people to fill a cathedral, drawing life pension!
Just the same way governors got their state houses of assembly to legislate and approve life pension for them and their deputies.
After their tenures as governors, their successors activate their pension provisions, and life goes on just as if they were still in power. One governor even drew the pension for his first term in office during his second term, and he is now a senator. What is more galling is that some of them remain in public life as ministers and senators and ambassadors, and draw pay and perks of their new positions in addition to pensions that continue to accrue.
Looting legalised, abi? If the members of the executive could do it for themselves, why not the legislature? Next thing, local government chairmen will also be asking for life pension, and they’d be justified! There must be something about the Nigerian power elite and and money that I don’t understand. And in all of these, there is never enough money to fix the broken electricity system, to repair our roads, fund our schools and train our teachers, equip our hospitals and train our doctors, nurses and paramedics. There is also no money to provide potable water since we all now drill boreholes, government offices inclusive.
The power elite is only interested in milking and bleeding our dear country, and we seem so helpless. We then go to our churches and mosques in prayerful supplication to The Almighty that they do not bleed our country to death. Rich looters, poor people, poor country. Our country is so poor because our leaders love money so much. Shame.