Amid the prevailing harsh economic environment, rising unemployment, mounting external and domestic debts and the recession the country recently slid into, many states that have jumbo pension packages for their former governors and deputies have said they have no immediate plans to repeal the respective pension laws in their states.
Some of the states said that they were not under any obligation to imitate Lagos State that recently indicated plans to repeal the law. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu had described the move by the executive as a necessity to reduce the cost of governance and demonstrate selflessness in public service.
Imo State has already repealed the law while Kwara State has begun moves to repeal its own. The bill has passed second reading at its House of Assembly.
Zamfara State began the move in 2019 when it repealed its pension law that allowed for the payment of pensions and other allowances to the state’s former governors and their deputies shortly after the immediate past governor, Abdul’aziz Yari, in a leaked letter to the state government requested his N10m monthly upkeep. The letter evoked outrage across the country, with many people calling for the abolition of the law in states that had them.
Meanwhile, sequel to the recent actions taken by Lagos and Kwara states and in the light of the current economic crisis, some of the states that have failed to show any commitment towards repealing the laws in their states in interviews include Ekiti, Katsina, Gombe, Adamawa, Abia, Delta, Taraba and Akwa Ibom.
In oil-rich Akwa Ibom State, a state that owes $46.6m in external debt and over N239bn domestic debt as of June 30, 2020, according to the Debt Management Office, the Commissioner for Information and Strategy in the state, Ini Emem Obong, said the state government was not an appendage of Lagos State and therefore did not see any reason to toe its line of action.
He said, “Akwa Ibom is not an annexe of Lagos State. There are things we are doing that Lagos is not doing. We must set priorities. The lawmakers are up to the task to make laws for the smooth-running of the state and when in their perception they think amending the law or repealing it is good for the state, it will happen.
“I also hope that one day, people will ask that ex-Presidents and former vice-presidents should not be entitled to salaries and pensions. We should not segment this discussion; it should be full and should start from up.”
In Delta State, another state that has crude oil but owes $53.85m in external debt and over N235bn in domestic debt, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa said the state had no immediate plan to repeal the law.
Okowa said, “There is an existing law in Delta State on what accrues to the governors and their deputies that I don’t want to touch. We are not thinking in that direction; my counterpart in Lagos State may have reasons why he wants the law repealed but we in Delta don’t want to go into that.
“It is the decision of Lagos State Governor. Each state has power to make decisions concerning its governance.”
Enugu State, which has $115m in external debt and N62.43bn domestic debt as of June 30, 2020, according to the DMO, said it had yet to decide whether it would repeal the law or not.
The state Commissioner for Information, Mr Chidi Aroh said that it was the duty of the House of Assembly to do such but that he wasn’t aware the Assembly was undertaking any such exercise. “The state doesn’t have a position yet on repealing their law,” he added.
The Speaker, Edward Ubosi, could not be reached as he did not answer his calls and had yet to respond to a text message sent to him as of the time of filing this report.
In Ekiti State, the Commissioner for Information, Mr Akinbowale Omole, said on Friday that the state government would make it public if there would be a decision on the issue. According to the DMO, Ekiti State had external debt running into $90.7m and over N77bn domestic debt as of June 30.
He added, “When the time arises for a decision like that to be taken, the public will be informed. There is no information on that yet as to whether we are going to do it or not, but I know that it is worth considering.”
In Gombe State, a state that owed $35.2m in external debt and N90.5bn domestic debt as of June 30, the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor Inuwa Yahaya on Media and Publicity, Ismaila Misilli, said it would require wider consultation to repeal the law.
Misilli added, “Gombe State Government has not yet formed an opinion on this matter. The issue of abolishing, repealing or whatever decision that may arise from the executive pension act is something that requires wider consultation if at all there will be consideration for that.”
Adamawa State, which had $105m external debt and N100.5bn domestic debt as of June 30, also said it had no immediate plan to review the law.
The Director, Media and Communications, Government House Yola, Solomon Kumangar, said, “The pension (for former governors) issue is an issue of law. It was enacted by the House of Assembly. The process to repeal is also by law not by executive fiat. At the moment, the state has yet to contemplate taking any action that would see the pensions of politically-exposed persons such as past governors and their deputies repealed or reviewed.”
In Abia State, the Commissioner for Information, John Okiyi Kalu, said, “We are looking at all available options to improve our financial capacity to deliver more dividends of democracy to the people. In due course we will make our position public.”
In Katsina State, findings from the House of Assembly and the governor’s office showed that there are no plans to repeal the law. Attempts to get the comments of the Speaker, Tasiu Magarin, and Governor Aminu Bello Masari’s Special Assistant on Politics, Kabiru Charanchi, proved abortive as they did not answer their calls.
The state has $74.9m external debt and N44.4bn domestic debt as of June 30.
But a top source said, “We are not thinking along that line. We passed the Governor’s and Deputy Governor’s, Speaker’s and Deputy Speaker’s Pension Law in 2015 and so far the situation has not called for a review.”
Some other states that still have the jumbo pensions for their former governors include Rivers, Osun, Bayelsa, Kano, Jigawa, Sokoto and others. Experts, however, noted that states that were non-committal on whether they would repeal the controversial laws were invariably saying that the status quo would be maintained.
The pension law in Taraba State has been largely dormant since a former governor of the state, the late Danbaba Suntai, stopped the payment when he had issues with former Governor Jolly Nyame.
The Special Adviser to Governor Darius Ishaku on Media and Publicity, Bala Dan-Abu, and the Commissioner for Information, Mr Danjuma Adamu, declined comments on the issue, but a top source in the Government House said the state might want to keep it dormant.
The source added, “I remember a former deputy governor followed the issue when he was sick and needed to travel for medical checkup, but he was not given. For political reasons, the governor may not want to repeal the law, but allow it to stay dormant as it is.”
The Chief Press Secretary to Governor Samuel Ortom, Mr Terver Akase, said on Friday that the state does not pay any entitlement to past governors. “We don’t have such a law in Benue State and we don’t pay ex-governors such entitlements,” he added.
In Ogun State, the government said it did not have jumbo pensions for former governors but that it would continue to pay them the equivalence of what the incumbent earns.
Special Adviser on Public Communication to Governor Dapo Abiodun, Remmy Hassan, said, “There is nothing to discontinue because what our former governors and their deputies earn is statutory and it has been there since the time of Chief Olabisi Onabanjo. It’s whatever the salary of the governor is and I think as of today it is N700,000.
“Building houses and changing their vehicles have never been part of our package for ex-governors; it’s just their salary.”
In Cross River State, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Ben Ayade, Hope Obeten, said the state did not have any pension law. “There is nothing like that,” he added.
Life pensions for ex-governors criminal – NUP
Meanwhile, the Secretary of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners, Mr Olusegun Abatan, said payment of life pensions to former governors and other political office holders was criminal and should be stopped by all states.
In an interview with one of our correspondents in Ibadan, Oyo State on Friday, Abatan said, “Payment of life pensions to governors and other political office holders is criminal and should be stopped. It is very wrong for those who served or looted the treasury in four years or so to be collecting pensions for life while some of those who toiled for 35 years do not get their gratuities and pensions. Many died without being paid. This must stop.”
Also, the Secretary of NUP in Osun State, Mr Lawrence Aina, said, “It is unheard of that ex-governors and their deputies that served in comfort for maximum of eight years are drawing jumbo pensions, while meagre salary earners that served between 30 and 35 years are not being paid their retirement benefits. We will never support such wicked acts.”
The Association of Contributory Retirees in Delta State has also asked the state government to as a matter of urgency stop the payment of pensions to ex-governors and their deputies.
The vice-chairman of the association, Mr Anthony Osanekwu, said, “I don’t know why they are overloading themselves with such money while there are people dying out there. If they are able to pay us our pensions, we won’t complain about what they are doing with the money. The rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer.”
Greed driving governors to collect pensions – Rivers pensioners
Pensioners in Rivers State have said governors collecting pensions are driven by greed.
The state Chairman of NUP, Collins Nwonkwo, said, “Governors and their deputies receiving pensions is corruption and greed and that is the character of politicians generally; they don’t want anybody else to share from the commonwealth.
“Former governors and deputies are allocating so much money to themselves at the expense of the people’s welfare, whereas pensioners who served for so many years at the state and federal levels are not being paid or looked after. This is the reason the country cannot move forward.”
In Adamawa State, the Chairman of NUP, Samson Almuru, called for the abrogation of the pension law.
He added, “A lot of our retirees stay for seven years without getting their pensions while a former governor who later became a senator after leaving office will be receiving allowances as senators as well as pension as a former governor.”
In Edo State, leader of the Oppressed Pensioners in Edo State, Osemwenkha Osabuohien, has said it is unnecessary to pay former governors and their deputies pensions considering what they get while in office.
He added, “The law granting them the right to collect pensions should be repealed. I have not seen any of them who didn’t have money or suffered after leaving office, but workers suffer while they are serving and after leaving service.”
In Kaduna State, the Power Holding Company of Nigeria Pensioners Association, Chief Amiegbedhor James, said members of the association had kicked against the payment of pensions to ex-governors and their deputies.
He added, “It is unfortunate that we pensioners who worked for 35 years are receiving peanuts which we still suffer in most cases to collect while the so-called ex-governors and their deputies get fat pensions monthly. Does it make any sense?”
Lagos, Katsina, three others plan over N307bn loans to fund 2021 budget
Meanwhile, five states comprising Lagos, Edo, Plateau, Kebbi and Katsina have planned to borrow more than N307bn to finance their 2021 annual budgets as a result of the dwindling revenue.
Checks by one of our correspondents into the 2021 budgets as presented by the respective state governors showed that Lagos would borrow N192bn; Plateau would borrow N22.6bn; Kebbi would borrow N9bn; Katsina, N68.5bn; and Edo; N15.3bn.
As Nigeria’s economy continues into recession, most states are likely to borrow from either domestic or external sources to finance their budgets, even though only five states have so far disclosed what they intend to borrow.
For Lagos, the budget deficit is N192,494,413,005. In Kebbi State, Governor Atiku Bagudu presented a budget proposal of N141.64bn to the House of Assembly. “The internal loans are N8,900,000,000 while external loans are N804,262,180,” he added.
In Plateau State, the government proposed a N133bn budget. It put its projected revenue at N110.8bn, leaving a deficit of N22.6bn. The state government said the deficit would be financed through bank loans, external sources and the sale of government assets.
In Edo State, Governor Godwin Obaseki presented a budget of N153.4bn for 2021 but said, “We expect to raise N15.3bn as a loan and 13.8bn as capital development fund receipts.”
In Katsina State, the government said it had concluded plans on a N68.5bn loan to finance its 2021 budget of N282.8bn proposal.
Other states which presented their 2021 budgets and revealed their deficits were Kano, Akwa Ibom and Adamawa states.
For Kano, the budget deficit is above N41bn. For Akwa Ibom, Governor Udom Emmanuel proposed a budget of N435.7bn, with a deficit of N180bn.
In Adamawa State, Governor Ahmadu Fintiri presented a budget estimate of N140bn to the state House of Assembly while the expected revenue is about N75bn. The state has a deficit of N65bn. (Sunday Punch)