•A need to overcome an insensitive and self-serving move on the part of lawmakers
The civil society has quickly reacted to efforts by the 8th NASS to amend the constitution to favour principal legislative officers with outlandish pension earnings after ceasing to be lawmakers. Leaders of various civil society groups concluded at a conference that attempts by the NASS to ‘award’ pension benefits to Senate president, vice president, House speaker and deputy speaker, and speaker and deputy speaker of state assemblies are “unacceptable, uncalled-for, and a great drain to national resources.”
Without doubt, the attempt by NASS to put principal officers of federal and state legislatures on life-long pension earnings equivalent to the salaries of incumbent principal officers ought to incense not just members of patriotic civil society organisations but also looks silly enough to embarrass the citizenry, particularly after citizens’ complaints against award of extravagant salaries and allowances to members of the National Assembly. There are many reasons why NASS should not have contemplated this move.
One is the lawmakers’ refusal to be influenced by the hard facts of the nation’s financial crunch. It is no longer news that governments at all levels in the country are facing deep economic and financial crisis as a result of collapsing price of oil and unbridled stealing of public revenue garnered during the years of plenty in the petroleum sector. It is unpatriotic for lawmakers to ignore failure of state governments to pay workers’ salaries or threats of state governments to suspend payment of N18, 000 minimum wage to workers, as well as delay in payment of federal pensions. It should have been obvious to the lawmakers that years of unchecked political and bureaucratic corruption must have depleted the nation’s purse such that adding another line of avoidable expenditure is unrealistic and senseless.
Given that many lawmakers are returning legislators with previous opportunities to study and experience legislative governance in countries that have served as models for Nigeria: United Kingdom and the United States in particular, it ought to have occurred to NASS members that amending the constitution to entrench pension benefits for lawmakers of whatever rank requires rigorous actuarial standards for calculating pension pay packets. The arbitrary decision of Nigerian lawmakers to ignore factors that are used in working polities and economies to determine remunerations and superannuation benefits for lawmakers sells the NASS short and confirms fears among citizens that most elected representatives are in the legislature to enrich themselves.
Questions that are given critical consideration in better organised polities seem to have been ignored by lawmakers using the platform of amending the constitution to pad the income of lawmakers in the period beyond their service years. Before such decisions are made in other places, the following questions are asked and answered: What is the total worth of the economy and how do recommended policies on pension income for lawmakers reflect the volume of the economy and the size of the nation’s wealth? How does the wage and pension policy relate to current wage and pension policies of the country?
For example, the United Kingdom with a $2.829 trillion economy, the 4th largest economy in the world, does not give a life-time pension income that is equivalent to the annual salary of serving principal lawmakers. Similarly, the United States with a $17, 348,075 trillion economy does not give any political officer such profligate pension benefits as Nigeria with a $573,999 billion economy. It is insensitive to the concerns of citizens (presumably for whom lawmakers are elected to provide laws that can improve their welfare) to ignore the huge disparity between the minimum wage of N18,000 per month and the hundreds of millions being recommended for legislators in the proposed constitutional amendment of NASS.
There are many more rational options for compensating lawmakers who retire after meritorious service, especially in a developing economy that has been weakened financially by decades of overpayment to political officers, particularly legislative ones whose monthly earnings in salary and allowances surpass that of their counterparts in other parts of the world. For example, NASS can recommend that the governments key into existing pension policy in the country, with the aim to make governments pay 20 percent salaries of principal officers to the existing contributory pension scheme for each lawmaker, as well as those in the executive. This could be coupled with reasonable stipends while in office for principal lawmakers and others involved in onerous committee assignments.
The Nation calls on the lawmakers to hear the cries of citizens about efforts of individuals in executive or legislative office to privatise the state for the purpose of feathering the nests of those in political power. A legislature that makes public announcement of its commitment to end regimes that use their privileged positions to enrich themselves cannot justify dipping its hands into the nation’s depleted treasury to service the greed of its lawmakers, particularly now that the executive is struggling to reduce the cost of governance, in the interest of the country’s security and economic survival.