‘It’s criminal’ – BARR MOHAMMED FAWEHINMI
‘It’s immoral’’- BARR JOHN ITODO
Human rights lawyers have condemned all the sitting senators who are still collecting pensions in their various states either as former governors or deputy governors. However, their opinions were polarized to some extent but they all agreed that it’s immoral if at all it may not be outrightly criminal.
In his submission, Barrister Mohammed Fawehinmi stated point blank that indulging in such a practice in the name of any constitutional provision while still in active service is criminal. He therefore opined that the issue should be looked into by the Bureau of Revenue and Fiscal Commission with a view to addressing what he described as undue anomaly in the system.
“I am not in support of that. It’s criminal. Provided you’re still serving and collecting salary and allowances, you’re not entitled to collect any pension again. When they were governors or deputy governors, they received salaries and allowances. Now, they’re still collecting salaries as senators with pensions from their various states while many workers from such states have not even been paid their salaries for many months. It’s unfair. You can imagine people like Chris Ngige who was once a governor of his state, a senator from that same state and now a minister again. How many pensions will he be collecting. They’re many like that, including the senate president, Bukola Saraki who are just stealing our money.
“If you check section 15(5) of 1999 constitution, you will know that doing that has contravened that aspect of the constitution because as they continue to serve as public officers, they’re not entitled to collect any pension again. Your pension starts when you’re out of service. Even, to start with the money being paid to them as pension is outrageous. For example, that of Lagos state is tremendously terrible. It’s a criminal way of stealing public fund.. If you’re not in service any more, it’s non disputable. But so far you’re still serving, it becomes not only a crime but immorality. Now, some states, Lagos, Kwara, Edo, Akwa Ibom and others are coming out with their laws for the payment of such outrageous pensions to their ex governors and deputy governors which run contrary to the provisions of section 15(5) of 1999 constitution earlier stated. So, something must be done urgently to address the issue so that they won’t continue to steal our money under the guise that they’re serving us.”
While reacting to the issue, Barrister Oluwatoyin Bamgbose-Falaye said, “The portfolio of a governor or deputy governor who served a state for a period of time comes with some benefits after the expiration of his tenure. Wherein a governor has proceeded to seek another offer and invariably becomes a senator or minister, such a governor still enjoys his benefits
“However, the question of whether or not it is a crime takes us to the section 3 of 1999 constitution (as amended) which provides for the office of the governor. In my opinion and just the same way I have always opined that the law needs reviews and amendments. The pension accruable to the office of the governor cannot be taken away from him but the question should be that should the same set of people be the ones to still become senators or ministers and still enjoy all the benefits? I am equally at a loss on this because I have always been an advocate of us as a country that should stop recycling of people in government. This we may say it’s morally a crime against humanity. Until we get it right, we still have a long way to go as a country.”
Barrister John Itodo, in his view, said “It is very disturbing and worrisome to hear that an ex-governor and or a deputy governor who is in the Senate or a Ministerial appointee ‘eats with both hands’ from the people he is meant to protect and represent. There are a lot of agitations out there and the debate on the propriety or otherwise of ex-governors and their deputies receiving ‘sophisticated’ pension and severance packages while taking salaries and allowances as members of the National Assembly or as serving Ministers will rage on with no end in sight soon.
Let me start by immediately bursting the bubble of some agitators that FROM A CONSTITUTIONAL STAND POINT, IT IS VERY OK FOR EX-GOVERNORS TO EARN PENSION AND EMOLUMENTS FROM THEIR STATES AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. THERE IS NOTHING LEGALLY WRONG WITH THAT.
However, if we as a people are truly pained, then let us stop voting ex-governors into the Senate or allowing our Senators to confirm them as Ministers and head of parastatals if presented for screening at the Senate. That much we as citizens, NGOs, Agitators, Pressure Groups, etc can do or mobilize the masses to do before the Ex-governors and Deputy Governors get a second hefty bite at the cherry.
Having said what I said above, let me delve a little deeper into the debate and I will lend my voice to the debate from two perspectives – law and morality. Please note from the outset that the fact that an act or omission is immoral does not always make it illegal.
Let’s me treat the Morality aspect of my argument first. Morally speaking it is wrong and despicable for persons who made several promises to turn a state around for the better to now turn round to milk that same state dry even when they are aware that they themselves were not able to meet most of their campaign promises during their tenure; or worse still as in some states, salaries are being owed public servants who never had as much benefits and privileges as these ex-governors and deputies in their short 4 or 8 years tenure.
It is highly immoral, selfish and greedy to say the least for an ex-governor or deputy governor to burden a state with all their personal troubles (immediate and anticipated) and that of their generations yet unborn.
If truly service was the centre-focus of public office holders (as they would like us to believe during campaigns) then one would expect them to turn down some of these bizarre pension and severance packages their ‘people’ offer to them through their various Houses of Assembly. Most of these funds and largess can be channelled into providing qualitative education, health care and transportation, especially at a time when the nation is bleeding from dwindling oil fortune.
Having said all these, is it illegal? I am afraid not. I say so by virtue of Section 124 (5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) which empowers a State House of Assembly to make laws granting pension rights to Governors. The said provision provides as follows:
124 (5) Provisions may be made by a Law of a House of Assembly for the grant of a pension or gratuity to or in respect of a person who had held office as Governor or Deputy Governor and was not removed from office as a result of impeachment; and any pension granted by virtue of any provisions made in pursuance of this subsection shall be a charge upon the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State.
Unfortunately, this is where the Houses of Assembly who have passed obnoxious Pension Laws that favour ex-Governors and their Deputies to the detriment of public morality derive their constitutionality from. And until repealed, it is sacrosanct.
Let me warn that this type of provision allows for corruption of unimaginable proportion, because all a ‘smart’ Governor will do especially with the new anti-corruption crusade is to cumulate all he would have stolen or anticipated to steal into pension and ‘cleverly’ escape EFCC and ICPC and the long arm of the law. This in very plain term legitimizes stealing and looting of public treasury and calls for an urgent review and amendment immediately without delay. In as much as it is morally despicable, it is the law for now and there is nothing anybody can do about it until repealed or amended.
What’s even worse is that there is room for upward review of this pension every 5 years and it is tax free. This is found in Section 210 of the Constitution-
(1) Subject to the provisions of subsection (2) of this section, the right of a person in the public service of a State to receive pension or gratuity shall be regulated by law.
(3) Pensions shall be reviewed every five years or together with any state civil service salary reviews, whichever is earlier.
(4) Pensions in respect of service in the service of a State shall not be taxed
There is also the debate of whether it is legal for an ex-Governor and his Deputy to be on pension and at the same time receive salaries, allowances and emolument as a Senator, House of Rep member or Minister. The answer again is unfortunately YES! The Code of Conduct for Public Officers that should have come to the rescue is no better. It allows ex-Governors and their Deputies to receive pension and at the same time receive salary from the government on the ground that they will not take more than one (1) employment. See it for yourself at Paragraph 4 to the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution titled Code of Conduct for Public Officers:
- (1) A public officer shall not, after his retirement from public service and while receiving pension from public funds, accept more than one remuneration position as chairman, director or employee of –
(a) a company owned or controlled by the government; or
(b) any public authority.
(2) a retired public servant shall not receive any other remuneration from public funds in addition to his pension and the emolument of such one remunerative position.
- (1) Retired public officers who have held offices to which this paragraph applies are prohibited from service or employment in foreign companies or foreign enterprises.
(2) This paragraph applies to the offices of President, Vice-President, Chief Justice of Nigeria, Governor and Deputy governor of a State.
Wow! What shall we say? We can only huff and puff until these anti-people provisions of the Constitution are amended, to strip the States Houses of Assembly the power to make pension laws that their ex-Governors and Deputies who find themselves in the Senate and Ministerial position and others positions will continue to feed fat on our common wealth without repercussions.
- Tade Asifat