Opinion

Stopping bogus payment to ex-state officials

Constitutionality of payment of pensions to former Governors and their deputies is found in Section 124(1) of 1999 Constitution (as amended): “There shall be paid to the holders of the offices mentioned in this section such remuneration and salaries as may be prescribed by a House of Assembly, but not exceeding the amount as shall have been determined by the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission…

“(5) Provision may be made by a law of a House of Assembly for the grant of a pension or gratuity to one in respect of a person who had held office as Governor or Deputy Governor and was not removed from office as a result of impeachment; and any pension granted by virtue of any provision made in pursuance of this sub-section shall be a charge upon the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State.”

Based on the above constitutional provision, was the Imo State Governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma right in revoking the payment of pension allowances and gratuities to former governors, their deputies, Speakers and Deputy Speakers in the state? The answer is a capital “YES”. Let us take a look at what led to this action – “A BILL FOR A LAW TO REPEAL THE IMO STATE GOVERNORS AND SPEAKERS PENSION AND PRIVILEGES LAW NO.5 OF 2007 (AS AMENDED)”. From the long title of the Bill, one can see clearly where the illegality arose from!

The law passed by Imo State House of Assembly No. 5 of 2007 and assented to by then Governor, Chief AchikeUdenwa went beyond the constitutional provision of Section 124(5) to include Speakers and Deputy Speakers of the House of Assembly and therefore rendered the law unconstitutional, null and void. The Speaker and his deputy are not mentioned, covered or supposed to benefit from the pension or gratuity approved for governors and their deputies who were not impeached while in office.

The state governors and their deputies are symbol of a state like the President and Vice President at the federal level. The State Chief Executive is not supposed to engage in self-help while in office by misappropriating Laws especially Appropriation Laws which deal with welfare of the people of the state to take care of himself after four years in office. He falls into the class of politically exposed persons (PEPs) by anti-graft agencies world over including our own Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC). On the other hand, Speakers and their deputies as legislators represent a fraction of the state called “STATE CONSTITUENCY” of one Local Government Area in Imo State.

Their election among their peers is a mere privilege and not a right. The RMAFC which is the body responsible for prescribing the salaries and allowances of political office holders at all levels had in year 2000 approved remuneration of Speakers including a severance package of 300% of his annual basic salary payable at the end of four years’ tenure.

5One wonders how the Imo State House of Assembly breached the 1999 Constitution (as amended) by even going ahead in 2019 to approve pension not only to Speakers and their deputies but to other members of the House? The power given to the Imo State House of Assembly to prescribe pension or gratuity to governors and their deputies is not at large hence the use of the word “MAY” and not “SHALL”. Again, to qualify, one must not be impeached while in office.

The issue of multiple tenure for governors and deputies is not even a criteria for pension as other factors must come to play which include the finances available to the state. The constitution equally gave the Legislature the powers of the purse – see Chapter V, THE LEGISLATURE, PART II: HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY OF A STATE; PARAGRAPH E – Powers and Control over Public Funds. This constitutional provision given to the legislature to provide pension or gratuity to governors and their deputies is a further check on the performance and stewardship of the Executive arm of government. The powers of impeachment of a Governor or Deputy Governor is equally given to the State House of Assembly in Section 188 of 1999 Constitution (as amended). Therefore, the Imo State House of Assembly cannot corrupt the privileges of the Governors and their Deputy Governors or arm-twist the governor by including themselves in pension matters when the constitution did not provide for it. This Imo State Pension Law of 2007 (as amended) is contrary to Section 124(5) of 1999 Constitution (as amended) and should not continue to exist hence the accolade being showered on Governor Uzodinma for abrogating it.

Having said all the above, do we throw the baby away with the bathwater? The answer is “NO”. Therefore, Imo State House of Assembly should follow the constitutional provision as captured in Section 124(5) of 1999 Constitution (as amended) to grant pension or gratuity to former governors and deputies of Imo State in line with approved remuneration by RMAFC. The bogus payments as the one in question as well as those seen in Lagos, Zamfara, Kwara, Ogun, Akwa Ibom, Rivers among several other states must stop immediately as they are contrary to approved benefits by RMAFC.

The pension or gratuity for Governors and Deputy Governors is different from pension of civil and public officers as approved by National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission as contained in the Pension Reform Act, 2004 as amended in 2014. The comparism of functions and years of service by several commentators will help the members of Imo State House of Assembly to do what is right and constitutional. The Legislature has enormous powers to check the abuse and mismanagement of state resources by the Executive through this reward mechanism. Also, serving governors and their deputies must learn from the hue and cry of citizens following the abrogation of this Imo State Governors and Speakers Law No.5 of 2007 as amended by rendering honest and selfless services to the common masses.

One good turn deserves another. The privilege to govern with the benefits attached should motivate the governors and their deputies into leaving worthy legacies which even posterity will remember them for many years after leaving office. Dee Sam Onunaka Mbakwe P.hD is a typical example and reference point for the present and future Governors and Deputy Governors of Imo State.

lHon. Ihuoma (MNISM) is the Executive Secretary, Legislative Watch, Abuja.

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