Lagos Assembly And Ex-Governors’ Pension Slash, In Whose Interest?

The Lagos State House of Assembly, on Thursday, August 5, amended the state Pension Law for former governors and other political office holders, reducing their benefits and emoluments by 50 per cent. 

The House approved the recommendations sequel to the presentation of the report by the Chairman, House Committee on Establishment, Training and Pension, Hon. Yinka Ogundimu, during plenary. 

Ogundimu, representing Agege II, said the committee reduced their benefits and other emoluments by 50 per cent, based on the present economic situation of the state. 

He added that the House expunged the provision of houses in Abuja and Lagos for former governors, as stipulated in an earlier law operated by the state. 

He said that the committee report presented to the House further showed a reduction in the number of vehicles to be made available to former governors and their deputies. 

Speaker of the House, Rt. Hon. Mudashiru Obasa, however, suggested that the former governors should get two vehicles (a car and a van) instead of the three recommended by the committee. 

Obasa also said the amended bill should provide that the cars be changed every four years instead of the three years recommended by the report. 

He said that the reduction should be left at 50 per cent, especially as the report had recommended the removal of houses and reduced other benefits. 

The speaker recalled the recent murder of the President of Haiti, saying it was necessary to also secure the lives of the former office holders. 

“By virtue of my office, I have seen former speakers who we just had to intervene in their lives because of the situations they found themselves outside the office. We have also seen former governors in very bad situations. 

“However, we must realise that this is democracy, and it is all about the people. We are here because of the people. When we represent people, it is good for us to listen to them as well. 

“We must realise that we will always go back to the people for support. So, when we hearken to their agitations and reduce what existed, it shows that we listen,” Obasa added. 

Reactions have continued to trail this move by the House of Assembly, as some see the development as a deceitful move, thereby asking the state governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu to withhold his assent to the amended Bill. 

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Late last year while presenting the 2021 budget to the lawmakers, Sanwo-Olu announced plans to repeal the Public Office Holder (Payment of Pension Law 2007), which provides for payment of pension and other entitlements to former governors and their deputies. 

In his words, the governor said, “Mr. Speaker and Honourable Members of the House, in light of keeping the costs of governance low and to signal selflessness in public service, we will be sending a draft executive bill to the House imminently for the repeal of the Public Office Holder (Payment of Pension Law 2007), which provides for payment of pension and other entitlements to former Governors and their Deputies. 

Sanwo-Olu stated that the abolition of pensions for former governors and deputies will reduce the cost of governance in the state. 

“It is our firm belief that with dwindling revenues and the apparent inflationary growth rates, that we need to come up with innovative ways of keeping the costs of governance at a minimum while engendering a spirit of selflessness in public service,” he said. 

In his reaction to the governor’s announcement, national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, threw his weight behind the decision of the governor, saying he supported Sanwo-Olu’s push and urged all APC loyalists to rally round the governor. 

“I would also like to commend the governor for the plan to commence the repeal of the pension law giving pension packages to former governors and their deputies. 

“This is a bold and courageous move by Mr. Governor and I wholeheartedly support him. I encourage all APC loyalists to do the same,” Tinubu had said in a series of tweets to commend Sanwo-Olu. 

Speaking through a statement a day after the amendment was passed by the House, Nigeria’s leading anti-corruption rights group, Human and Environmental Development Agenda, (HEDA Resource Centre), noted that the decision of the Lagos State Government to reduce the pension of former Governors by 50 per cent is a breach of the earlier public commitment and original Bill submitted to the Assembly by Governor Sanwo-Olu to entirely abolish the privilege. 

HEDA Chairman, Mr Olanrewaju Suraju said the reduction to 50 percent betrays the earlier public commitment of the state governor to abolish the practice and falls short of the remarkable revocation of similar laws by Kwara and Zamfara States. 

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“We are shocked by the hypocritical and selfish decision of the State House of Assembly to reduce the package for the former State Governors rather than approving the proposal as sent by the State’s executive. 

“The truth of the matter is that, having served the state for between four to eight years, with their salaries and emoluments paid apart from a string of perks and privileges including unquestionable security votes, it is ridiculous that the public will continue to shoulder their personal needs after they have left the office,” part of the statement read. 

The group further noted that the former governors are not career workers like civil servants who often put in up to 35 years into public service, just as it pointed out that the 50 percent slash fails to address the fundamental issue which is that the former governors do not deserve to live on public funds after they have left to continue their mostly profit driven private businesses. 

“The decision of the Lagos State House of Assembly is unilateral and even amounts to crying more than the bereaved. There were no consultations with the public. The elected members did not hold any discussion with the electorate. There was a kangaroo public hearing on the floor of the house. This is not a popular decision but a step taken to please their political godfathers,” Suraju said. 

He argued that payment to former governors is a decision that has to be taken in consultation with the tax payers and not an imposition by 40 members of the State House of Assembly. 

“The country is facing declining economic glory. Hunger and starvation are ravaging the land. It is ridiculous that what the elected officials are thinking of is the special economic protection for former governors,” HEDA said. 

The anti-graft group said the attitude of the lawmakers is like pouring water in an ocean adding that the ex-governors are already more than comfortable and do not need pampering at public expense. 

Though, the House, while discussing the amendment prior to its passage, was silent on an aspect that also provides pension for the former Speakers and their deputies. There have been allegations that the House smuggled that aspect so that ex-speakers and their deputies could also be beneficiaries of pensions. 

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However, in an interview session with the Chairman, House Committee on Finance, Hon. Rotimi Olowo, DAILY INDEPENDENT correspondent demanded to know if there was any part that takes care of former speakers. 

In his response, Olowo said: “I will be frank with you, it is part of it because you know we have three arms of government and when you talk of these three arms, one of them is professional and they earn their pension when they leave office, I am talking about the judiciary. The head of the judiciary today is the Chief Judge of Lagos State, he is in service and he is getting all his remuneration and all other things attached to that office. By the time they leave office as a chief judge or as a judge, they are getting their pension. 

“Also, the governor and the deputy governor are pensionable but when you look at the parliament, which is the most important among the three because we are representatives of the people, the speaker and the deputy speaker are not pensionable. And whoever the speaker is today, is the symbol of the House. 

“Only if you could see some of our ex-speakers today, it is only their fellows and probably this House that are still assisting them. 

“We as members, the representatives of the people, are not talking about ourselves, but the speaker, who is the symbol of the house and the deputy… if the same thing is accorded to the executive and the judiciary, the same thing should be accorded to the legislature. What is good for the goose should also be good for the gander.” 

Source: DAILY INDEPENDENT

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