By Erasmus Ikhide
The mass of Nigeria populace, penultimate week had thought the El Dorado they have been waiting for has arrived with the cheering news that Lagos State House of Assembly has commenced the process of abrogating her earlier law that lavishes tax payers money on former Governors and Deputies. That piece of news turned out wickedly to be hoax, at best, and at worst, deceptive legislative gambit at its height.
The piece of legislation is symptomatic of what ails us in mind, body and soul as a people. The gamble, for whatever it is worth, is bound to put to text the vigilance and consciousness of the Civil Rights Movement, labour bodies and the media concerns in the country. That an arm of government designated as symbol of democracy and a panacea for good governance has turned tragically into a drain through which the people’s representative aspiration evaporate calls for serious concern. The Speaker’s motive is a scandalous travesty of the people’s sovereignty and collective representation reposed on the Lagos House of Assembly.
Anyone who read the headline on the repeal of the former Governors and Deputies pension packages has reasons to hope that the desired change is imminent. But that was not to be. The screaming headline of the news read, “Lagos Assembly vows to amend law giving Tinubu, Fashola, others free houses, cars”.
Truth be told, Lagos State House of Assembly is not the first to initiate legislation to package handsome pension wages for former political office holders. But it is the first to do so in Nigerian. Pension package for former political office holders is a standard practice in the United States of America and elsewhere. The reason for the packages like that of former President Barrack Obama is accepted wholeheartedly by all because Mr. Obama didn’t use his office to corruptly enriched himself, wife/wive, children and his cronies. Can that be said of our former political office holders.
The underbelly of the proposed amendments to the earlier law that gives humongous pension and other perquisites to former Governors and Deputies is that the law didn’t include former Speakers and Deputies Speakers as beneficiaries. That’s the crux of the proposed amendments. This is why Lagosians/Nigerians must call for wholesale, complete repealing of the politicians’ pension package.
For the record, the controversial law, now available in other states of federation was first put in place by the Lagos State House of Assembly in 2007. The House failed at that time to include itself among the beneficiaries. The Speaker Hon. Mudashiru Obasa recently gave himself away when he said, “The Intendment of this bill is to save tax payers money while addressing the cost implication of some parts of the law.
He went further to say, “for instance, the law allows governors and the deputy to have a house each in Lagos and Abuja while both governor and the deputy are also entitled to six and five vehicles respectively. But with this amendment, both governor and the deputy will be limited to a house in Lagos where they served as well as have three and two vehicles respectively”.
Here is the house and the Speaker’s actual intention: “As such, it seeks to accord due recognition to the legislature, which is the symbol of democracy in the state, by allowing the speaker and the deputy speaker benefit in the payment of pension”.
I had expected spontaneous reactions and protests from poverty plaguing mass of Lagos who are being shortchanged by the intended legislation, whose taxes are wrongly applied and diverted for wrong uses, and oppose the wrongheaded amendments and push instead for outright abrogation from our law books.
In a sense, what’s the use of building houses, purchasing numerous state-of-art cars, countless security aides and domestic servants for former political office holders who are themselves richer than their various state governments? How does that advance the cause of egalitarian governance and government of empathy in a country that harbours over 10 million out of school children, as reported by United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) recently? Why should priority been given to ex this ex that, when state governments are unable to pay workers their wages and pensioners are owed over two to three years pension arrears?
Lagos Assembly has set another negative model and anti people legislative precedent. That was how it started in 2007. Very soon, other States Assembly across the country will fall in line in the quests to legislate for themselves bogus pension packages in a manner that they have criminally and wastefully allocated tens of billions to ex-governors and deputies while Nigerians on whose backs they rode to power remain pathetically poor.
Take for instance the 24 former Governors and Deputies who are presently in the Senate and Ministers without meaningful contribution to economic growth, yet bleeding the nation year in, year out of tax payers money. These 24 individual politicians who are drawing wages left of right and right of centre are the Senate President himself, Senator Bukola Saraki; Godswill Akpabio, Joshua Dariye, Rabiu Kwankwaso, Abdullahi Adamu, Isiaka Adeleke (late), Aliyu Magatarda, Shaaba Lafiaji, Adamu Aliero, Kabiru Ibrahim Gaya, Muhammed Danjuma Goje, George Akume, Abubakar Danladi Sani, Jonah David Jang, Samuel Egwu, Ahmed Sani Yarima, Biodun Olujimi, Enyinnaya Abaribe, Rotimi Amaechi, Babatunde Fashola, Kayode Fayemi and Chris Ngige.
According to the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), the government agency which has the responsibility of determining the remuneration of political office holders, governors and deputy governors are entitled to N2,223,705 and N2,112,214 as annual salaries. This is outside of numerous allowances accruable to them.
RMAFC is also, by the provision of the constitution, empowered to determine the remuneration of all legislators. A Senator is entitled to a whopping sum of N12,939,549 per annum, as basic salary and allowances.
While they are double-drawing and double-raping the nation’s economy run into several billions of naira, our schools, roads and hospitals across the country are at pathetic decrepit decaying states. We do not read of legislations and resolutions calling on the executive arm to wade into these avoidable decays in the country. We only hear of padded budgets that give raise to more free money for legislators across board.
I have argued elsewhere that the convulsing nature of Nigerian politics and the attendant do-or-die configuration/colouration is as a result of over bloated salaries and allowances allocated to political office holders. More money in the hands of politicians means more corruption, more thugs, more guns, more blood and more deaths at election.
The only way out of the cul de sac is for the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) to equalize the salaries of President, Vice President, Senators, Governors, Ministers, Reps and the like to that of Permanent Secretary both States and Federal establishments. As you are aware, no act of corruption can take place without active connivance of the civil servants in public sectors.
The leadership of Lagos House of Assembly must now find the visionary courage, the inner reserves of moral strength and the patriotism to throw away the proposed amendments to law that pauperised Lagosians and promulgate urgent political and economic legislations that will draw government closer to the people. This may sound dismal realities, it may look like a tall order or utopian. But the alternative will be eventual discontent/disconnect between the governing and the governed and the outcome can be better imagined.
Nigerians must be conscious of the fact that the struggle for a working and workable democracy that serves the yarning and aspiration of the masses can not be achieved with the present elite conspiracy whose pretences to representing the masses is a hollow assumption. The time for Nigerians to take their country back from the vampires who hold them down to poverty and unremitting tragedy is now.