27 August 2014

Nigeria: Public Officers and Jumbo Pensions


THERE is no doubt that blatant corruption, conversion of state resources into personal use or outright appropriation of the public treasury and debasement of public morality by Nigeria's leaders have come to a climax and need to be challenged by all forms of constitutional means and citizens' action. Therefore, the institution of a suit at the Federal High Court in Abuja by a coalition of civil society groups to challenge the constitutionality of the decision by different state houses of assembly to fix scandalously generous and very corrupt pensions and out-of-office allowances for sundry elected state officials is a good development. The time is now for all Nigerians to rise in unity against the culture of an indolent and conscienceless elite feeding fat on the common wealth.

The suit, which seeks to annul state pension laws, joined the 36 state governors, their houses of assembly, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) as the defendants. The contention is that the state houses of assembly do not have the legislative competence to make law with respect to remuneration, including the pension of governors. The plaintiffs are seeking a declaration annulling such exercises with specific regard to "the governors and deputy governors pension law 2014 of Akwa Ibom State; Lagos State Governor and Deputy Governor Law 2012; Oyo State pension (Governor and Deputy Governor) Law 2004; Governor and Deputy Governor (Payment of Pension) Law No 12 of Kwara State 2010, or any state stipulating the remuneration including pension of any of the 36 state governors."

According to the prayer, those acts contravene sections 1 [3] and 4[2] of the 1999 Constitution and for that reason are ultra vires, null and void. Other important points adduced are that under item 34, part 1 of the second schedule of the 1999 Constitution, the National Assembly has exclusive powers to enact laws with respect to the condition and welfare of public officials or any other employee in any part of the federation. Besides, the RMAFC Act already covered the field of pensions for public office holders and had, therefore, deprived the state houses of assembly the legislative competence to legislate on such matters.

It is gratifying that when Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom caused a law to be passed to the effect that he should be entitled, among other things, to N100 million every year as healthcare allowance for his person and family once out of office, as part of a pension to be enjoyed by elected former governors and deputy governors in the state, the public uproar it generated prompted the governor to compel the state legislature to review the law. But an outright abolition of any such indulgences as the civil society groups now seek is the ideal that all Nigerians must work to achieve.

The civil society groups deserve commendation for this initiative and they are urged to be more pro-active on policies that are counter-productive to the goal of good governance. This is so much desirable in an environment of rapacious greed among public officials. Members of Nigeria's ruling class are now totally and shamefully oblivious of the fact that to be a legislator, senator, governor and president and any other public position, is a privilege and a call to service. To exploit the inherent powers in such positions for self-indulgence to the detriment of the public good is to undermine the spirit of public service.

Elected leaders who ought to be custodians of the commonwealth are now the biggest looters. Misappropriation and misapplication of public funds are the order of the day as constitutional loopholes are creatively exploited for self-enrichment at all levels of government. With an exploding population, massive youth unemployment and abject poverty compounded by an inept leadership that thinks nothing of planning for the future, this phenomenal corruption constitutes danger to national security.

In spite of this absence of the public spiritedness and a sense of social responsibility in many public officials in Nigeria, such oases of selfless service as Dr. Stella Ameyo Adadevoh who died recently of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) as a result of her decision to stand in the way of the disease's spread, thus putting her life on the line, should inspire a depressed citizenry to noble deeds. Adadevoh by her dedication and commitment as a care-giver saved the lives of 170 million Nigerians. Her sacrifice and that of her colleagues felled by the EVD are, of course, worthy examples of selfless service, the type Nigerians seek, in futility, in their elected and unelected leaders

It is important to note that in the pecuniary greed rocking public service in Nigeria, the houses of assembly have been complicit to the extent that they now constitute a platform for the debasement of democracy and primitive accumulation of state resources to the detriment of the society.

Every public officer, including governors and even the president who leaves office should be on a modest pension like civil servants and, of course, it should be contributory.

This is one sure way to restore a sense of responsibility in public office holders and to engender a culture of service to country.

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