We welcome most heartily the proposal by the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo- Olu, to repeal the obnoxious self-dealing Pension Law for Governors and Deputy Governors in the state. It is a long-awaited step. While welcoming this token gesture, we must note that the proposal is coming on the heels of public angst at the amount of public funds being used in maintaining an extravagant and opulent lifestyle for those who claim they have come to serve the people. This immorality is best appreciated when pitched against the pittance pension payable to civil servants who served the States for decades and often with no assurance of regular payment.
One cannot escape the suspicion that the unfortunate recent violence that followed the shooting break-up of the peaceful EndSARS protests might have provided the immediate catalyst for this largely symbolic act of contrition. The self-approved pension foisted on the State in 2007, which in its generosity looked more like a lifetime peonage on the people, was destined to be a burden on the finances of the state. It is a classic case of self-dealing that have come to define our politicians’ understanding of public service. A guarantee of mandarin lifestyle from public service has become the most potent source of the destruction of our work ethic. This is but just a first step in reversing the reckless abuse of office and power and moral compromises that have characterised our governance in recent years and created in our people cynicism about public service. To believe this token addresses all that is wrong in the structures of state capture that many citizens in Lagos claim have been erected over the last 30 years, will be a gross misreading of the exasperation of the people.
We must salute the doggedness and sterling devotion of SERAP in keeping this moral and ethical blight in our governance in our consciousness. At every turn the culpable State Governments had used every means to resist the enquiries of SERAP for disclosure of the recipients and amount of what had been paid to all Governors and the Deputy Governors. Transparency in our governance should not require CSOs like SERAP to go to court to have information on amounts drawn from public purse by those who were being paid for their public service. We must also acknowledge the Zamfara State Government as the first state to scrap the obnoxious financially ruinous Governors’ pension.
Beyond the financial constraint of the Governors’ pensions on the capacity of the States to provide relief for the impoverished citizens is the immorality of the pensions. In this regard, we must applaud Mr Babatunde Fashola, SAN for his recognition of the moral burden that the Governor’s Pension in Lagos represented. He declined to benefit from the ridiculous provisions of a house in Lagos and another one Abuja, six cars every three years and many other ridiculous perquisites for voluntarily offering to serve the public for eight years! The welcome of the repeal of the law today by a beneficiary, particularly one who awarded these outrageous benefits to himself without the moral strictures that constrained Governor Fashola sounds hypocritical and self-serving. The path to rectitude is full disclosure and restitution, including the return of the Lagos and Abuja houses. There comes a time in every person’s life when he apprehends an epiphanic realisation of the transience of every physical accumulation and the eternal value of a good name and legacy.
It is important to make the point that beyond the financial burden on the challenged Treasury these kinds of unearned plunder of the Commonwealth damage the productivity incentive regimes in the country. Economics is a science of incentives. If some people thrive so luxuriantly from so little work and value creation, work ethic is and will continually be observed in the breach. People who could work hard turn their energies and talents to politics or seeking deals with politicians. The net result is poor economic growth and pervasive poverty.
For the rest of us, the lesson to be learnt is the urgent need for Nigerians to demand from those who claim to serve us, more transparency, selflessness and adherence to a moral and ethical code that exults our people and which they also exemplify.
We also note with delight the Senate President’s acute appreciation that failure to address the growing unemployment of youths provides a possible spark for another round of protests by the youths. It is a good reading of the factors that fed the peaceful protests and its violent aftermath executed by the so-called hoodlums. We however think the Senate President missed an opportunity to counsel the Government against alienating the youths by looking for scapegoats or abridging capriciously the fundamental rights of the youths who led the peaceful protests. Let us separate the criminal acts from the peaceful protests. Let us investigate and prosecute criminal acts, of both citizens and law enforcement agents, while treating suspects with dignity and decorum until found guilty.
What would however have gladdened the hearts of all Nigerians, young and old, from all regions of Nigeria and of all religious persuasion is the announcement of the drastic reduction of the notoriously high emoluments (salaries and allowances) of our legislators. This would have engendered in our people a renewed trust in the National Assembly, enhanced the moral authority to check waste in the other arms of Government, especially the Executive.
It would also have been a ringing sacrificial support for our flagging economy. It is not enough to offer platitudinal advice on solving our youth unemployment; practical contribution to the solution of the problems would have been a lot better. It would also have been a fitting response to the broad national belief that the self-awarded allowance of members of the National Assembly is outrageous.
An 80% reduction in the vote for renovation of the National Assembly from N25 billion to N5 billion with the N20 billion saved utilised for carefully targeted Enterprise Risk Capital Support Fund will be a good start to demonstrate the National Assembly’s good faith in solving the youth unemployment problem.
The same goes for various public officers who control huge security votes with oversight by no-one. It is seen as a Slush Fund from which Governors pay for control of party structures thereby undermining democracy both within their parties and the society at large. This explains the enthronement of mediocrity in leadership selection.
Dr. Muiz Banire, SAN
Prof. Pat Utomi
For Concerned Professionals