Oyadare Gbenga, 60, who retired as a headmaster after 35 years of service in Osun State, was paid only half of his salary for 30 months before his retirement. The streak has continued with his pension since he retired in 2017 – a fate shared by over 4,000 of his colleagues in the state.
“It is very difficult to feed or to pay the school fees of our children without this pension,” he said.
Ada Okafor (not real name), 62, retired from the Abia State civil service as a typist in 2013 but for the past six months has been receiving only half of her pension. Instead of N45,000, she gets paid N23,000 monthly. Still, she is owed a twenty-month backlog.
Now residing in Calabar, Mrs Okafor spoke of how she and her contemporaries are “unjustly owed.” She declined being named because she feared she may lose the “little they are paying me now.”
Meanwhile the two former governors of Abia State – Orji Kalu, a serving senator, who signed the state’s pension law for governors in 2001, and Theodore Orji – are entitled to equal salary as the incumbent among other allowances estimated at N57.76 million in four years.
Governor Okezie Ikpeazu’s spokesperson, Onyebuchi Ememanka, said the administration was clearing the backlog of pension debts but said the pension for ex-governors cannot be stopped unless the state “feels the law is not necessary.”
Unlike Mrs Okafor, Busola Alade, after 30 years with the Osun State education board, SUBEB, does not have this “luxury” of half-payment as he has “not received a dime in pension” since he retired in 2015. He and other retirees have been “fighting” this, but the government is not swayed.
“It is the peak of injustice and that’s what we are fighting,” he said. “Many of us have died and some are managing small businesses to survive. The government is very heartless.”
Governor Gboyega Oyetola’s spokesperson, Ismail Omipidan, said the administration “inherited the backlog but since we came on board in 2018, we have been paying gradually.”
Citizens have wondered why ex-governors and their deputies, who at most served for eight years, enjoy largesse while civil servants who worked for decades are paid poor and irregular pension.
Despite being due for lifetime allowances, former Plateau State governor, Joshua Dariye, was jailed in 2018 for embezzling N1.162 billion ecological funds. His successor, Jonah Jang, is on trial for allegedly stealing public funds while in office. The former Delta State governor, James Ibori, was convicted in the UK for laundering Delta State funds while ex-Abia governor, Orji Kalu, was serving a jail sentence before the Supreme Court ordered the retrial of his corruption case due to technical reasons.
A political analyst, Adewale Adeoye, said state pension laws for ex-governors are wasteful and cannot be justified.
“I don’t think a poor nation like Nigeria should have that kind of law to enrich people who are already rich.”
About 24 states have passed the law to award pension to their former governors. The states are Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Anambra, Borno, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Gombe, Jigawa, Sokoto, Kano, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Imo, Lagos, Niger, Ondo, Osun, Plateau, Ondo, Rivers, Yobe and Zamfara.
In Jigawa, former governors are entitled to the same salary as the incumbent, two vehicles replaceable every four years, a six-bedroom apartment, furnished office, two personal assistants not below grade level 10, and two drivers.
Meanwhile, nine in ten residents in Jigawa live on less than N377 daily. In 2019, the state’s internally generated revenue was N12 billion, among the lowest in the country. As of mid-2020, it recorded the lowest internal revenue, N3 billion. In 2017, it was listed among states that could not survive without federal allocation.
Mr Adeoye said governance should be driven by “humanitarian value…to meet social and economic needs of the masses.”
Under a pension law passed in 2013, Sokoto, “Nigeria’s poverty capital,” splurges N200 million and N180 million respectively on its former governors and deputies and also provides them domestic aides, residential and office accommodation and vehicles replaceable every four years.
Sokoto has had three governors since 1999, including incumbent Aminu Tambuwal. Assuming the law was implemented from 2016, by the end of 2020, the state would have spent about N3 billion as pensions on its former leaders, more than its IGR as of June.
“Are you saying that former governor Aliyu Wamakko, now a serving senator, needs such benefit or it is just a misplaced priority?” a bewildered secondary school teacher in Sokoto, Abdullahi Ibrahim, asked. “Abolishing pensions for ex-governors is in the best interest of the people. It does not meet up with the current realities,” he said.
In 2000, former Akwa Ibom State governor, Victor Attah, signed the pension law for former governors. But despite being flagged as one of the states that are heavily reliant on federal allocation, in 2014, former Governor Godswill Akpabio lobbied for an amendment to the retirement luxury.
The amendment included an annual pay of N200 million, two official vehicles with chauffeurs, furniture allowance of 300 per cent of basic salary replaceable every four years, an aide, a cook, and lifetime security guards worth N5 million monthly for ex-governors and N2.5 million for their deputies.
There is also state-sponsored annual medical service pegged at about N100 million for ex-governors and their spouses and N50 million for the ex-deputy governors, five-bedroom mansions in Abuja and Akwa Ibom, alongside severance gratuity.
In fellow oil-rich neighbouring Rivers State, the 2003 law offers a former governor the same basic salaries as the incumbent’s, 300 per cent of it as furniture allowance for four years and 10 per cent as house allowance; a mansion “anywhere in Nigeria”; another mansion anywhere in Rivers for the deputy; three cars for the former governor and two for the deputy every four year.
Kano’s version passed in 2007 provides the incumbent’s salary for the former governor, a 30-day vacation within and outside Nigeria, and free medical services for the ex-leaders and their immediate families.
Ex-governors and their deputies are respectively entitled to “well-furnished” six-bedroom and four-bedroom apartments plus an office; two drivers and a driver; personal staff not below the rank of a principal administrative officer and an aide not below grade level 10.
Gombe State, even though it earned N3.8 billion in the first half of 2020, has been paying each of its ex-governors N300 million yearly since 2008.
Musa Alhaji, a commentator, wondered why the “evil and nefarious law” has not been abolished, and why ex-governors who became ministers and senators are still paid pensions.
“We are currently in recession and one of the ways to go is cutting the cost of governance and stopping pensions for ex-governors and their deputies.”
Activists have called for the abolition of the pensions for ex-governors. Rights group, SERAP, filed a suit which led to the court ordering the federal government to “recover pensions collected by ex-governors now serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly,” and the attorney-general to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws for ex-public officials.
It is unclear if this has been done. Attorney-General Abubakar Malami’s spokesperson, Umar Gwandu, declined comment.
Meanwhile, when the first civilian governor of the former Borno (1979–1983, during the Second Republic), Mohammed Goni, filed a suit demanding the payment of pension and other benefits passed in the Fourth Republic, the National Industrial Court dismissed the suit for lack of merit.
Nonetheless, economic downturn is pushing some states to abolish the law, as part of measures to shore up their revenues.
In November, Zamfara State Assembly abolished the law after former governor, Abdul’aziz Yari, wrote to request for his N10 million ‘unpaid monthly upkeep.’
Prior to this, the state’s ex-public officials got two personal staff, two vehicles replaceable every four years, two drivers, a 4-bedroom house in Zamfara and an office, free telephone, 30-day all-expense paid vacation outside Nigeria and medical services for their families in Nigeria or abroad.
This year, Imo State also repealed the law saying it “does not encourage diligence and prudence in service delivery.”
“(Citizens in) states that have not repealed the law should go to court and compel them to do so, ” Mr Adeoye advised.
On the brink
Stung by the economic impact of COVID-19, Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu last month told state legislators that lifetime pension law would be abolished. He said doing this would help cut the costs of governance and engender “a spirit of selflessness in public service.”
Approved in 2007 by former governor Bola Tinubu and drawn from the state’s consolidated revenue fund, the state pension law offers ex-governors and deputies two houses, in Lagos and Abuja, six cars replaceable every third year; biannual furniture allowance, 300 per cent of annual salary; house allowance, 10 per cent; utility allowance, 20 per cent; car allowance, 30 per cent; entertainment allowance, 10 per cent; a personal assistant who should earn 25 per cent of the governor’s basic salary.
While a two-term Lagos governor, Babatunde Fashola, who has been a minister since he left office, said he declined the benefit, it is unclear if his deputy does. His spokesperson, Hakeem Bello, declined comment.
“I have the right to refuse and I refused and insisted that the cabinet meeting should record my refusal to partake,” he reportedly said, a sentiment shared by former Ogun State governor, Olusegun Osoba, who said all he gets is N676,000 monthly.
Days after Lagos moved to abolish the law, Kwara State governor, Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, also announced that the law, which was assented in 2010 by former governor Bukola Saraki, would be repealed.
If abolished, it means ex-governors would no longer get two cars and a security car, replaceable triennially, a “well-furnished 5-bedroom duplex,” furniture allowance of 300 per cent of their salary; five personal staff, three SSS personnel; free medical care for ex-governor and the deputy; 30 per cent of salary for car maintenance; 20 per cent for utility; 10 per cent for each of entertainment and house maintenance.
Although anti-corruption agency EFCC accused Mr Saraki, also a former Senate President, of receiving hundreds of millions as pension, he has maintained that the funds are paid into a special account used to fund indigent students’ scholarship. He would later say he stopped receiving the compensation after hearing of SERAP’s suit last year.
“No, I’m not collecting pension; the moment I saw that SERAP allegation, I wrote to my state to stop my pension,” he reportedly said.