A total of N13,805,814,220 has been proposed for the payment of pensions to former Presidents, Vice-Presidents, Heads of State, Chiefs of General Staff, retired heads of service, permanent secretaries, as well as retired heads of government agencies and parastatals in the 2023 fiscal year.
The beneficiaries include former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan, as well as Vice-Presidents Atiku Abubakar and Namadi Sambo, among others Saturday PUNCH has gathered.
Also expected to benefit from the windfall are ex-military Head of States, General Yakubu Gowon and General Abdusalami Abubakar, as well as former dictator and self-styled military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, and a former Chief of General Staff, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe (retd.).
It is, however, not clear if the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), and his deputy, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, will benefit from the largesse as they will hand over power on May 29, 2023. Buhari served as Head of State between December 31, 1983 and August 27, 1985 before he was booted out of office in a palace coup.
In the 2023 appropriation budget appropriation, which was highlighted under the service wide vote of the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National planning, it was stated that a total of N2.3bn would be for “entitlements of former presidents/heads of states and vice-presidents/chief of general staff.”
An analysis of the proposal revealed that a total of N10.5bn would serve as “benefits of retired heads of service and permanent secretaries.”
The budget also revealed that a total of N1bn would be paid as “severance benefits to retired heads of government agencies and parastatals.”
At state level, governors and their deputies are also entitled to humongous pensions when they leave office and a number of former chief executives of the various states are known to be beneficiaries of the huge pensions, which include monthly payment, purchase of new vehicles, building of mansions and payment of domestic workers.
Mounting debt burden
Saturday PUNCH reports that the budget comes at a time when the government has continued to lament dwindling revenue amidst excess borrowing.
The country’s debt rose by N30.72tn between July 2015 and June 2022, according to data released by the Debt Management Office.
According to the DMO statistics, Nigeria’s total debt as of June 30, 2015 stood at N12.12tn. By June 30, 2022, the figure had risen to N42.84tn, which showed an increase of 253.47 per cent. Despite the high increase in debt over the years, the government still plans to borrow N8.4tn in 2023.
Just like the massive rise in debt, there has been a huge increase in expenditure under Buhari. The Federal Government has increased the projected expenditure in its annual budgets by about 238.45 per cent between 2016 and 2023, according to reports analysed by one of our correspondents.
According to data from the Budget Office of the Federation, the government budgeted to spend N6.06tn for the 2016 fiscal year. However, in the recently proposed 2023 budget, the projected aggregate expenditure was pegged at N20.51tn, more than thrice the amount budgeted in 2016.
In the 2023 budget, the government’s N17.12tn projected expenditure consists of N6.9tn recurrent expenditure, N5.9tn capital expenditure and N3.9tn for debt servicing. Statutory transfers amount to N744.11bn; non-debt recurrent costs, N8.27tn; personnel costs, N4.99tn; pensions, gratuities and retirees’ benefits, N854.8bn; overheads, N1.11tn; capital expenditure, including the capital component of statutory transfers, N5.35tn; debt service, N6.31tn; and sinking fund of N247.73bn to retire certain maturing bonds.
CSOs, others react
The Coordinator, Advocates for Peoples Rights and Justice, Victor Giwa, said former Presidents and Heads of State should exclude themselves from such benefits, adding that the money should be used to revive Nigeria’s dwindling economy.
“It is by the provisions of the constitution that they are enjoying this benefit. But if these former presidents and heads of states have this country in mind, knowing that the country is at the point of collapse economically, they should wave it. They’ve presided over the country and have benefited and are still benefiting from the country,” he said.
Similarly, the Convener, Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, Debo Adeniran, said, “Well, it is what they can do; it is highly insensitive of them; it is a bad example for other public servants. Despite all they had access to while they were in power with all the allowances, pension and gratuities paid, for them to accept such a humongous amount of money after retirement in this poverty-stricken period is a sign of sadism.
“It is not only insensitive, the government is culpable maybe because they believe that they have the knife and yam, not knowing that they are pushing Nigerians towards the wall and when that happens, Nigerians will strike back.
“I will also advice the President not to leave a legacy of profligacy that will continue to hunt him years after retirement from public service; he should leave a good name that will show him as considerate leader, who lived a modest life and left a legacy of modesty for those who will take after him. Finally, any past public officer that accepts that should be seen as insensitive and not taking into consideration the majority of Nigerians who are suffering under the present economic quagmire.”
Meanwhile, experts in various fields have called on the Federal Government, national and state assemblies to stop the payment of pensions to former presidents, governors and their deputies in order to save the economy.
The experts, who spoke in separate interviews with Saturday PUNCH, said the current economic situation in the country required reduction in the cost of governance as well as blockage of financial leakages in order to avoid an economic crisis.
A professor of Economics, University of Uyo, Akpan Edet, described the payment of pensions to past leaders as “robbery” of the country’s treasury that would continue to wreck the economy.
He said, “The pension that these past leaders take is robbery. It is totally unjustified. It’s just because a great majority of Nigerians are not politically aware.
“A civil servant stays for at least 35 years and at the end, what does he get? But political office holders will stay for eight years, and during that period, they pay themselves heavily both officially and unofficially, and leave office and still take pensions. It is unfair; it should be expunged from the law and from the system.
“This is one of the reasons why the economy is badly affected. This act of paying huge pensions to past presidents and governors, and giving them all sorts of undeserved benefits after office adds to the wrecking of the economy.
“In such ways, money received through loans or internally generated revenue or the states’ allocations is spent carelessly and such careless spending by those who have access to that kind of wealth helps to cripple the economy.”
Edet added, “Most of the time, what these people spend the money on are foreign products that don’t in any way help the economy. You see them holding meetings in London, Europe and America, and then we complain that the naira is depreciating, why won’t it fall?
“Each time they make those trips, they supply the naira to the foreign exchange market and make demand for foreign exchange, but there is no demand for the naira in the foreign exchange market. When you have that kind of situation, the domestic currency, which is our naira, will take a serious fall in value.”
The Dean, School of Business and Entrepreneurship, American University of Nigeria, Yola, Prof Leo Ukpong, said, “The idea of giving governors four vehicles and changing vehicles every four year is pure waste of taxpayers’ money.”
According to him, some of the governors collect pensions and salaries in the Senate instead of supporting their states to boost the living conditions of their people.
“I think they should carry out a constitution amendment to put an end to all these unrealistic benefits at the federal and state levels,” Ukpong added.
A professor of Constitutional Law, University of Jos, Nnamdi Aduba, said the over-bearing influence of the governors on the state Houses of Assembly resulted in the passage of laws providing humongous benefits for them when they leave office.
According to him, the autonomy of the legislature should also be reviewed to ensure a good system of governance in the country.
Aduba stated, “It will show you the amount of greed and lack of morals most of them have. With all the money most of them have, why will they want a house in Abuja? Is it not criminal? Every four years, you are going to take a huge amount as salary and you will now go to the Senate.
“You know our laws are weak and that’s why some of these things are happening. Some states can’t even pay salaries to civil servants, yet the governors will be enjoying unearned benefits and the past governor will be enjoying pensions.
“Of course, you know the Houses of Assembly are in the pockets of the governors. So, when they propose ridiculous things, the assemblies will just pass them into law.”
Speaking on the matter, human rights lawyer and Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Public Interest and Development Law, Dr Monday Ubani, said giving pension to the former leaders would continue to have adverse effects on the economy unless it was repealed.
He said, “Provided it is an enactment of the state House of Assembly, which passes through the rigorous process of law making, it is something that is legitimate until that law is set aside. Unless there is a provision in the constitution that conflicts with it, in the absence of such, it remains a valid law.
“But with the economic situation, if a governor has been in office and made so much money from the system, and you are rewarding him again with such pension despite the fact that the economy is very fragile and many people are living in abject poverty, I don’t see the economic sense of that provision of building houses and paying them pensions.
“Yes, if anyone has served his state meritoriously, there is nothing wrong in making provision for him, but the problem is that most of the governors, while in office, amassed so much wealth and then come again to enact a law that will cripple the economy.”
The Chancellor, International Society for Social Justice and Human Rights, Jackson Omenazu, said though paying benefits to past governors and presidents was not wrong, it should be based on their performance, which should be decided by the people.
Omenazu stated, “I think for those who served well and diligently, that is fine, but it shouldn’t be general, and I believe some of them aren’t worth it. There is no justification for the payment of pension.
“They (former presidents and ex-governors) are supposed to even return the salaries they took while in office, because there is nothing to show for it; rather, they worsened the situation of the country and their states.”