Enugu State Pension controversy: Need to follow Uzodinma, Matawalle footsteps

What seemed like a settled issue was brought to the fore recently, when an executive bill seeking to provide for the payment of life pension to former governors and their deputies passed through first reading in the Enugu State of .

One of the first actions Gov. Bello Matawalle of Zamfara and Gov. Hope Uzodinma of Imo took on assumption of office was abolition of pension for former political office holders.

The two governors were in agreement about the undesirability of payment of pension to former high political office holders.

When he annulled the Zamfara Pension Law, Matawalle argued that no ex-governor is poor, given the perks of office he enjoyed, in cases, for eight years. Among others, the Zamfara Pension Law made provision for payment of N10 million monthly upkeep allowance for an ex-governor.

Uzodimma, when he assented to the bill, described payment of pension to former governors and speakers as anti-people.

He said that Imo has about 15 people who had served either as governors, deputy governors and speakers.

He said that about N1.2 would be saved annually through abolition of the pension and gratuity payments to the former governors and others.

He explained that the would be channelled into the execution of people-oriented projects.

Expectedly, the move to legislate payment of pension to ex-governors of Enugu State was met with vehement opposition.

The Enugu State Life Pension Bill, which  passed through first reading on 12, was sponsored by the Majority Leader, Mr Ikechukwu Ezeugwu.

The Bill sought to appropriate at least 900 per cent of a governor’s annual salary as his monetary entitlements every year after leaving office.

The wife of the governor will also be entitled to N12 million as annual medical allowance provided she was married to the governor while in office.

Besides the N12 million provided for a former governor’s wife as annual medical allowance, both ex-governor and ex-first lady will also receive medical services until death.

The Bill guarantees almost any possible major expenses an ex-governor could incur in his or her life, including financial responsibility for burial.

Section Six of the Bill states inter alia: “Where a former governor or former deputy dies, the state government shall make adequate arrangement and bear the financial responsibility for his burial.

“It shall also a condolence allowance of a sum equivalent to the annual basic salary of the incumbent to the next of kin.’’

Section Four provides for “Such other gratuity or allowances as may be provided by any other law” as may be entitled to a former governor other than what is stated in the Bill.

In addition to the lifetime Annual Basic Salary (ABS) for an ex-governor, there is also a maintenance allowance, an annual salary for five domestic staff and a vehicle allowance, each valued at 300 per cent of the ABS.

The ex-governor is also entitled to three vehicles to be replaced every four years as well as a personal assistant on salary Grade level 14.

There are also similar provisions for former deputy governor who gets 200 per cent of their ABS each for allowance, vehicle allowance and annual salary for three domestic staff.

A former deputy governor will also get two vehicles to be replaced every four years, medical services for him and his wife as well as N6 million medical allowance for the latter.

A South-East socio-political organisation, Save Enugu Group (SEG), was among the first  groups to react.

The group, via a statement signed by its National Coordinator, Chief Willy Ezugwu, gave the a 21-day ultimatum to drop the bill.

SEG said it was already mobilising “conscious citizens, civil society groups and labour unions in the state to shut down Enugu State House of for as as it will take to kill this insensitive Bill.”

“It is shocking that while a state like Lagos, with high Internally-Generated Revenue (IGR) that runs into billions of naira monthly, has abolished pensions for former governors, the Enugu State House of Assembly allowed such a bill to pass first reading when such a law will deplete the meagre Enugu State revenue to the tune of over N2 annually.

“It’s more disheartening to discover that the proposed law is an executive bill.

“This is a country where people that served their states as civil servants for over 30 years are struggling to get their terminal benefits, then a governor or his deputy who may have spent eight years, or even less, will be buried at the state government’s expense and the next of kin paid thereafter.’’

Another group, Concerned Youths in Enugu State, on Tuesday ( 16) also protested against the proposed life pension bill, at the Enugu State House of Assembly.

The youths, led by Mr Wilfred Okeke, expressed dismay at the development, demanding that the Bill should be withdrawn.

“This Bill is not in the interest of the public, it is even coming at a time that the people are passing through excruciating economic reality.

“It is unfair for former governors and their deputies to earn pensions, how can they ask for such earnings when retired civil servants have yet to be paid gratuity and pension after several years,” he said.

Responding, Speaker Edward Ubosi restated the assembly’s commitment to making laws that would drive development.

The speaker said that the legislature under his watch would not enact laws that would negatively on the development of the state.

“We are aware of the controversy and mixed reactions being generated by the  Pension Bill.

“We shall look critically at the issues raised by members of the public. As we speak, the Bill has not been passed,” he said.

He said that the assembly would continue to work in the interest of the people of the state.

“This is the reason we were elected.

“We are not a rubber stamp legislature, we shall ensure that the right thing is done at all times,” he said.

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) also joined in the agitation to drop the proposed Bill. It threatened to take a legal action if the government would not to comply.

The rights group, statement, said: “The Bill amounts to abuse of office

“Rather than sponsor bills that would improve access of children in Enugu State to quality education, the governor and lawmakers are taking advantage of their entrusted public positions to propose a bill to collect large severance benefits.’’

Yielding to public outcry and mass opposition, the Assembly, during Tuesday, 16 plenary, announced stepping down of the bill.

Speaker of the House, Chief Edward Ubosi, said the Bill was not the making of the Seventh Assembly but existed since 2007.

He said that the 1999 Constitution, as amended, gave backing for such legislation.

Ubosi said the stepping down of the Bill would help the Assembly to thoroughly go through it and delete as well as add necessary sections.

According to the speaker, the public should have allowed the lawmakers to study the Bill, which just passed through the first reading last Thursday.

He said that former governors serving as senators would not benefit from the pension , while spouses of the former governors would also not benefit from the since the Constitution did not recognise them.

Earlier, the Majority Leader of the Assembly, Mr Ikechukwu Ezeugwu, who sponsored the executive bill, expressed shock at the level of protest that followed its presentation.

He described as not necessary.

Ezeugwu said that the Assembly would be guided by the opinions of their constituents in the consideration of the Bill, adding that it would hold a public hearing to allow members of the public to make inputs.

He reiterated that the Seventh Assembly was “not a rubber stamp’’.

Ezeugwu stressed that the lawmakers were  not elected to be collecting salaries and allowances without making laws that would better the lot of Enugu State.

Is a good development that the Assembly has listened to the voice of reason. At the end of the day, it should do the needful because, as they say, the voice of the people is the voice of God. (NANFeatures)

**If used, please credit the writer as well as News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)