PENSION FOR POLITICIANS: UNCONSCIONABLE AND ABUSE OF PRIVILEGES
I was thoroughly alarmed to read of the Pension law proposed by Governor Godswill Akpabio and passed by the Akwa Ibom House of Assembly for past governors, deputy governors and their wives which included 100 million naira annual medical allowance for the governor. The furore raised by the law forced the otherwise respected Governor to repeal the law. As it turned out, that was only an ammendment of an existing law which prescribed substantial largesse as pension benefits for Past Governors and Deputy Governors. Since then it has been revealed that about eight states have passed such ridiculous pension laws.
I am told that a 'retired' governor of Lagos State amongst other benefits will have six new cars every three years. Six cars!. I can not believe this. Is this sheer greed or mere vanity?. I can not understand why a politician who served as Governor or deputy governor for 4 years or 8 years at the most qualifies for a pension. Perhaps the same applies to the members of the State houses of Assembly and who knows to ex-commissioners( some who serve for only 3 months). I suspect that is the only reason the members of the state legislatures will approve such unconscionable pension scheme for governors. Perhaps, the same situation obtains in the Federal government. That will be really terrible.
My understanding of political office is an opportunity to serve the Nation for a given time. A time to step out from your normal occupation or profession to offer service to the Nation. Thereafter, you return to your profession or business and if you wish, you retire from there. I have never seen or imagined political office as a kind of pensionable employment. I was hoping that after service, one would at the best receive some gratuity to enable him or her transition and reintegrate into his or her normal business or profession. The Honour of service and the gratitude of satisfied constituents should be the reward and nothing else.
I have insisted in my writings that politics can not be primary profession or business for any body. Every one who wants to serve the Nation through the political platform must show evidence of having achieved something in his profession, business or vocation. The unemployed or the unemployable, the idle and the novice must not be allowed to make a profession out of politics. If this were not so, I do not see why a successful professional can not return to his practice after service and retire from there at the right age.
It is mind bugling to imagine what financial weight the States and perhaps the federal government will bear if all kinds of political office holders are placed on pensions like that which some governors and their deputies are enjoying and others hoping to enjoy. There have been complaints that pensions and salary increases are responsible for the very high recurrent expenditure in our budgets. Who knows how much of this is due to the pensions for the political class ?.It is pure abuse of privileges of unimaginable proportions for governors who enjoy so much privileges and perks of office to want to continue to enjoy such privileges though out their lives. It is travesty for a 40 year old governor who served his state for just 4 or 8 years to continue to earn the salaries of a governor and enjoy other such privileges till he is 80 for example or dies at 90. I ask for doing what?
These same governors enjoyed the privilege of dispensing security votes amounting to 2 billion Naira or more per annum in some states. For four Years that is 8 billion naira and for eight years that is 16 billion Naira which they had the 'freedom' to spend without accountability . Then after that we start buying Six cars, and building mansions for them in their state capital and in the FCT. This is unconscionable and a thorough abuse of power and privileges. And this is in a country where minimum wage is 18,000 naira and graduates earn 30,000 naira per annum,when they can find a job. And some of these same governors are retiring to the Senate. So what happens to the Pension benefits? Will they be enjoying the salaries and huge allowances in the Senate and at the same time enjoying the humongous pension benefits?
Everyday that passes, I come to better understanding of why politics is the way it is in our country . I have always wondered why the competition for political offices is so fierce in our Country. I have always been troubled by the readiness of some of our politicians to shed blood and cause mayhem in order to 'win' elections. Now, I am beginning to understand why. The rewards are pretty generous and the benefits, life long. We are regaled everyday by the stories of the bounteous allowances our legislators collect monthly. These same legislators make laws that give them all kinds of privileges, many of which are never known to the public. They are the ones required to act as checks to the possible greed and possible financial recklessness of state governors. But from the revelations coming from these governors pensions, it is clear that there is no check whatsoever . It looks like a case of 'rub my back, and I will rub yours'. What a great tragedy!
This matter is so grave that the people of Nigeria must rise up to protect their patrimony from being totally plundered by those who have been asked to protect it. May be the opportunity that we have is to push the matter and get it included in the recommendations of the ongoing National conference and then included in our constitution prohibiting this injustice to the people of Nigeria or at the best limiting it to gratuity only. There is a contributory Pension Scheme operational in our country today in both the Public and Private sectors. And where does this governors' pension belong?Those who wish to serve the Nation must do so for altruistic reasons. They must do so from a palpable conviction to help change things for good in our Country. They must not come expecting bounties and booties. If they serve faithfully and honestly, they will leave a good life after office. Even if they had no professions or businesses to return to, they would earn money from their memoirs and speaking opportunities.
Beyond that, they will have a grateful Nation, state, local government area or constituency to Honour them and they will profit from goodwill they created while in office. They will be remembered and honoured for the legacies they leave behind. That is why with or without Pensions, the People of Nigeria, the citizens of Anambra State, the profession of Pharmacy, the tribe of NAFDAC, the gentlemen and women of the Ministry of Information and the Federal Executive Council have all risen in unison to Honour a woman who served the Nation Diligently and honestly. Professor Dora Nkem Akunyili has left a legacy that will be read in history books for years to come in Nigeria and around the World. That is the Honour that our political office holders should aspire to acquire. Not primitive acquisitions of houses, cars and money, all in the name of pensions. No one goes to the grave in a motorcade!
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR