A fresh move by the National Assembly to grant life pension for its presiding officers, including the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives as well as their deputies has sparked outrage among civil society groups and some senior advocates.
If the proposal is passed by the legislature, the current Senate President, Ahmad Lawan; the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila; and their deputies will benefit.
This is according to the National Assembly’s Joint Special Ad Hoc Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution which laid its report containing 68 recommendations in the respective chambers on Wednesday.
While the Senate has scheduled voting on the amendment bills for Tuesday, members of the House of Representatives are to consider and adopt the recommendations on Wednesday and Thursday.
Recommendation 16 reads, “That the House does receive the report of the Special Ad-hoc Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution on a 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.”
Already Section 84(5) of the Nigerian constitution guarantees life pension for all former Presidents and Vice-Presidents, a cost which gulps an average of N7.8bn yearly.
The provision in the constitution reads, “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.”
In an interview, however, the Deputy Director, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, Kola Dare; called on Nigerians to ask their various representatives at the National Assembly to kick against such provisions, adding that it was selfish of them to have considered such a provision in the first place.
The SERAP director stated, “The proposed amendment if that is true, cannot be said to be in the interest of Nigeria. SERAP is in court challenging the payment of life pensions to some governors and deputy governors in their states.
“That of the National Assembly is at best a waste of public resources. They money could be put to better use, the education sector is there, and our health sector is not getting the best of funding. That proposed amendment should not be allowed to stand. Nigerians should reach out to their representatives at the national assembly to vote against the amendment.”
Also, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, which is Nigeria’s chapter of Transparency International, described the provision as outrageous.
The Executive Director of CSLAC, Auwal Rafsanjani, said the proposal, if passed would further put a strain on the fragile economy of the country.
According to him, public office holders have enjoyed more than enough from the lean public purse. He added that positions of leadership are meant for service and not to amass wealth.
Rafsanjani said, “I think this is one of the most self centered provisions for people who have been benefiting from the public fund to now permanently continue to burden Nigerians. This is at the expense of the deteriorating economy, lack of commensurate wages to hardworking Nigerians and also at the expense of social services Nigerians should be enjoying.
“These people should fear God and be fair to Nigeria. Elective positions are meant to serve the people as seen in other climes but in Nigeria it is seen as an avenue to milk Nigerians dry. This is unfair.
“We are calling on the right thinking people should not allow that particular provision to see the light of the day. We have more pressing issues in the country that they are not giving priority to.”
An economist and a senior lecturer of Economics at the Pan Atlantic University, Dr Olalekan Aworinde, condemned the lawmakers’ decision to vote for life pension, describing it as a form of high-level nepotism.
He said, “If it scales through, it is a function of the high level of nepotism. We will find ourselves in a situation whereby they will continue enriching themselves at the mercy of the poor. This is just a means for them to take more resources from the country. There are lots of negative implications to this.”
Aworinde added that it will be a financial burden to the government as there will be an increase in governance costs and increased fiscal deficits.
“It will increase the cost of governance. It would likely consume a huge amount of money and increase the cost of governance and an increase in the cost of governance will likely lead to deficit spending for the country. All of these are recurrent expenditures,” he added.
He further decried the state of pension in the country, adding that if the lawyers succeed with getting life pensions for themselves, it would be harmful to the country.
Aworinde added, “If we look at the pension system in Nigeria, some pensioners who have given a lot and contributed a lot in terms of their pension are not able to get their pension when due. Yet, the lawmakers instead of coming to the aid of these people are pursuing life pension for themselves.
“Nigeria’s democracy is not the government of the people for the people by the people. It is the government of the politician for the politician and by the politician.”
In a separate interview, human rights activist, Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN), said it would be immoral for the National Assembly to approve pension for presiding officers.
Adegboruwa argued that it made no sense for a presiding officer who spent only one term in office to receive a life pension while those who worked for 35 years were not receiving their fair share.
The senior advocate said the National Assembly’s budget which included estacode, oversight allowances, constituency projects and other costs was already bleeding the public purse.
He said, “I believe that the burden of sustaining the National Assembly is too much on the economy of our nation having regard to the allowances, constituency projects, and the interventions in Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government and the amount that we expend on oversight functions on executive agencies.
“This is apart from the litany of aides that they parade, the estacode and other allowances that are paid to them. I believe that political office holders should not be entitled to pension given that the tenure of office is always incumbent on their return. It is possible that the heads of these chambers may return and not be voted as presiding officers. Are we saying they should be paid a pension? You cannot serve four years and get a pension for life.
“It is not like someone who works for 35 years. It won’t be good for the National Assembly to legislate pensions for themselves. I think it should be stepped down. There is no use paying a pension to people who work part time.”
Another senior advocate, Robert Clark, said the lawmakers were already earning more than they should. He said the bill must not scale through.
He added that elective positions are not permanent employment.
Clark said, “They cannot do that. Where did they derive that from? Are they in permanent employment? They are elected officials who are meant to serve the country and once their term has ended they go. They are already having enough, we are even calling on them to reduce their allowance, one day they would be asked to come and refund this money.”