I have followed with keen interest the current debate over the existing Enugu State Gubernatorial Pensions Laws 2007, which was represented as a personal bill to the State House of Assembly for amendment. I have observed the genuine concerns being expressed by people on social media over this issue. I also observed acts of mischief and undue personal vendetta being advanced by cynics and pessimists, who usually cash in on such engagements to expose their unruliness, lack of character and sense of respect, as portrayed by one Ikem Okuhu.
May I, therefore, point out that the grundnorm of the Federation, i.e. the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) gave legal backing to the issue of pension for persons who have held office as the Governor or Deputy Governor of a State in Nigeria.
Specifically, section 124(5) of the Constitution provides for this and gives the House of Assembly of the State the power to enact a law to that effect. The section further provides that such pension shall be a charge upon the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State.
Pursuant to the above provisions of the constitution, on the 2nd day of August, 2007, the Enugu State House of Assembly under the leadership of Eugene Ogbonna Odo, the then Speaker, during the administration of former Governor Sullivan Chime enacted the Enugu State Gubernatorial Pensions Law, 2007.
The said Gubernatorial Pensions Law, 2007 provides that “Any person who has held office as Governor or Deputy Governor under the provisions of the Constitution shall be entitled to Pension for life at a rate equivalent to the annual salary of the incumbent Governor or Deputy Governor respectively, provided that such a person was not removed from office by the process of impeachment or for breach of any provisions of the Constitution…”
The said Law was amended on the 9th day of May, 2017 by the Enugu State House of Assembly under the leadership of Rt. Hon. Edward Uchenna Ubosi, the Honourable Speaker. The essence of the amendment was to inter alia restrict the applicability of the law to elected persons only and thereby reduce the number of persons to whom the law would have applied to. This amendment effectively reduced the financial burden that would have been borne by the State under the 2007 Law.
However, in 2021, a need arose to amend the law further and introduce new provisions. Accordingly, a Bill was introduced into the House of Assembly and has only scaled first reading. These new provisions will be explained hereunder.
Key New Provisions in the 2021 Bill
Reduction of the Pension Payable- Under section 3 the 2007 Law, former Governors and Deputy Governors were entitled to a pension at a rate equivalent to the annual salary of the incumbent Governor or Deputy Governor respectively. However, the Bill in question reduced this sum by providing for pension at a rate equivalent to the annual basic salary of the incumbent Governor or Deputy Governor respectively in Section 3.
Death of a former Governor or former Deputy Governor – This is provided for in section 6 of the Bill. It provides that where a former Governor or former Deputy Governor dies, Government shall make adequate arrangement and bear the financial responsibility for his burial and pay a condolence allowance of a sum equivalent to the annual basic salary of the incumbent to his next of kin, among others.
Various concerns have been raised as a result of the bill. Some of them will be highlighted and addressed.
First, it has been argued that this is an act of financial recklessness. But the contrary is really the case, as I am aware that the state has received avalanche of endorsements and ratings from reputable financial organization for its fiscal discipline, accountability, transparency and prudent management of the state’s resources. Such ratings, according to records, listed Enugu among the six economically viable states in Nigeria that can survive without federal allocations.
I am also aware that Enugu was also rated as the first state in Nigeria to publish its Audited State Final Account for three consecutive years; first in the South East geo-political zone and ninth in the country based on IGR as against Federal Allocation.
Further analysis, shows that this Bill under debate will not cost the state billions per month, as mischievously alleged. I discovered that the only financial provision relates to payment of annual basic salary, House maintenance allowance, Vehicle maintenance allowance and purchase of vehicles (which will be purchased once in four years). It should be noted that the annual basic salary of a Governor or Deputy Governor (which is publicly available online at www.rmafc.gov.ng) is not what is been bandied around in the media. The sum is N2, 223, 705.00 per annum (N185,308.75 per month) for the Governor and N2, 112, 215.00 per annum (176,017.91 per month) for the Deputy Governor. A percentage of this figure will then be paid as House maintenance allowance, Vehicle maintenance allowance and personal staff allowance. This is obviously not a case of financial recklessness.
Another issue raised is the payment of Primary School Teachers’ Pension and Gratuity. I am very much aware as it is common knowledge that those monetary expenditures are under the responsibility of the local government administration which is the third tier of government.
Ugwuanyi’s administration in all honesty is committed to timely and regular payment of state workers’ salaries and pensions of the retirees. In fact, that administration is among the first states in Nigeria to approve and commence payment of N30,000 new minimum wage to its workers. This rare feat prompted the state workers to pay a Thank-you visit to the Government House, Enugu.
Unfortunately, it is equally on record that before Ugwuanyi’s administration, the Pension and Gratuity of the local government retirees were paid last in Enugu State in 2001, ie 14 years before Ugwuanyi’s administration was inaugurated. What it simply means is that the previous administration with the enormous resources at its disposal such as excess crude oil shares, in eight years of its tenure, could not pay LG retirees their pension even for a month. So from 2001 up to 2015, when this administration came on board, no retiree at the local government level – whether you were a teacher or you were a local government staff – ever received his or her gratuity. It was that bad. Coming to the monthly pensions, they had, in fact, forgotten how to count it in months.
Well, Enugu has had this singular fortune, or perhaps misfortune, of being the capital of the old Eastern Region, the old Eastern Central State, the old Anambra State and the old Enugu State. You may not believe that there are some people from Cross River and Akwa Ibom that are receiving their pensions here in Enugu because they were teachers here before they relocated to their state. The State thus, has the highest number of pensioners to pay. Some people have even suggested, including my humble self, that the state government should send all the pensioners back to their various states but the governor said no.
Following the receipt of the Paris Club Refund from the Federal Government, Gov. Ugwuanyi constituted a committee made up of all relevant stakeholders including the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), ICPC and DSS for the disbursement of the fund. The sharing formula was between the state and the local governments in which the state government got N3.1 billion to offset workers arrears of salaries (accrued under the previous administration) while local governments got N2 billion.
The state government utilized the fund in this manner despite the fact that the salary and pension of local government staff are paid by the various local government areas of the state and not the state government.
Apart from the Ugwuanyi administration’s judicious utilization of part of the Paris Club refund to pay arrears of pension and gratuity, a transparent exercise the Senate adjudged as the best in the country, the present administration out of its passion and commitment to the well-being of the retirees, dedicated the sum of N100 million every month for payment of arrears of pension and gratuities of former local government staff. The administration, I learnt, has been conscientious in providing the N100 million every month.
On welfare of the state workers, I was dismayed to read people alleging that this was not a priority for the state government. As I noted earlier, Enugu is among the few states to implement the payment of N30,000 new minimum wage in the country, despite the adverse economic effects of the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. BudgIT listed Enugu alongside Lagos and Rivers as the only three states out of the 36 states of the federation that have fulfilled obligations to their workers. The state government has remained regular in payment of workers’ salaries on the 23rd of every month and state retirees’ pensions before the end of the month. The novel 13th month salary to workers as Christmas bonus is yet another accomplishment the people-centered administration of Gov. Ugwuanyi will be remembered for