by Bunmi Makinwa
Politicians do not retire. They change their parties. They seek new positions in the same parties. Or they die. The same is true of many professionals who are self employed or who have no age or term limits in their jobs.
However, elected officers at the highest levels – President for country and Governors for state – have fixed terms of office. They must leave after two terms. A President is eligible for pension after “retirement”. According to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and a bill passed by the National Assembly in November 2010, former presidents, Heads of State, Heads of federal legislative Houses and Chief Justice qualify for the remuneration.
Governors were not included in the bill. Some Governors have taken up the cause for remuneration after office or “pension” and they got juicy packages passed by the State Houses of Assembly. Notable among them are Akwa Ibom, Lagos, Oyo and Kwara. Current Akwa Ibom Governor Godswill Akpabio caused national bedlam recently for getting the State Assembly to over-abundantly provide mouth watering pension for himself and his deputy. The state legislature has had to review the law. But no such review seems to be going on in the other three states.
Several commentators spoke on the Akwa Ibom package at the time. More recently, a group of civil society organizations has instituted a civil action to reverse and stop state legislatures from making laws to remunerate Governors and deputies after their service expires. The Guardian newspaper in a critical editorial on the subject urged every public officer, governors, president who leaves office to take a modest pension like civil servants as part of their responsibility “to engender a culture of service to country”.
Do Governors merit pension? Is “retirement” from office of Governor pensionable? How much of a pension package is fair remuneration?
Retirement and pension is a fairly new concept in the work culture anywhere. Only in the second half of the 20th century did men, who dominated the labour force overwhelmingly, start to retire and obtain pension. Until that time, men typically worked until they died. With retirement came alongside it pension funds, social security, welfare for seniors and similar mechanisms and services in private and public sectors.
In the context of Nigeria, pension in the public service has been generally poorly managed, embezzled or abused. Public officers fear to retire from their jobs and are financially unable to survive even minimally on their pension. Others have emotional difficulty to cope with retirement. More often than not many civil servants who have such opportunities use their positions while in service to generate income beyond their official earnings. Retirement is reversal. Pension is penury.
A governor is chief executive officer of the state and chief security officer. He is in reality chief distributor of largesse, chief contract giver, chief authority on important decisions of state and political party, king maker, overall lord. There is a lot to show for it. Consider the representations and images of power and authority – appointments and personnel managed, financial and legal decisions, number of vehicles in the entourage of most governors; number of persons who consult a governor daily, security detail. This is entrenched in the current political and leadership arrangement, and it continues to expand as a governor wishes. A lot of money is involved.
The context of state house and paraphernalia of office creates an over-indulged existence that quickly embraces holder and attendants. The constant and unending influx of demands made on governors – from political party, party members, communities, family, friends, known and unknown people -cripples management of state. In some states, it reduces governance to government-charity doled out to-the-dominant-few. The efforts, expenses weigh heavily on the spender. Yet the spender enjoys the accolades. It is a cycle that has created its own rhythm of demand and supply.
In a short time the personality of the holder of the office is transformed.
In a report of the retreat of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) in Port Harcourt this year, governors confessed to the loss of self worth and material well being that comes with post-office period or retirement. Oyo State Governor Abiola Ajimobi gave a telling example from his previous job as an Executive in the Oil and Gas industry. “When I was in a lucrative position, all manner of people brought gifts. I remember some market women who never forgot my birthday. But when I left the post, they didn’t even greet me,” he was quoted.
Hear the then Adamawa State Governor Murtala Nyako, who said that he had prepared for life as a farmer and did not expect any benefits from the government after office: “I don’t intend to trouble myself with what benefits I will get after office. If they don’t give me anything, I will not trouble myself.” He must have looked into a crystal ball.
Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, said governors should be concerned with delivering effective governance, which would serve as insurance to them. He said that it was the fear of life after office that pushed some people to engage in “primitive accumulation of wealth.”
Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo state: “Governor’s office is an office and like every other; you always know there is a time to go.”
Governors must leave office either through tribunal decisions, impeachment, end of mandates or loss of elections. The challenge is how to continue to be relevant, have a sense of self worth and be materially at ease. It is a human concern, made more acute by the way the office and its holder is manifested in the current political system. Ministers, party leaders, senior advisers, and most senior political office holders face a similar challenge.
To ensure relevance and maintain material and financial weight, many political office holders cut corners, amass wealth by hook or crook and battle acrimoniously for the next office possible.
Putting in place a retirement and pension scheme for governors is a good shot at lessening the acrimony, graft, corruption, looting, diversion of efforts from service to crookedness that ultimately confront governors. It is fair, deserved and proper that public officers be compensated and a pension scheme that is graduated to years of service is one important part of such remuneration.
No pension scheme allows pensioners to live the same standard of expenditure as when the workers are in full employment. Pension is not a substitute payment of salaries and allowances, but merely compensation. Especially, public service cannot be saddled with huge pension payments for numerous former office holders in an age when people live for longer years, many pensioners move into other jobs and retirement can be a transition and not an end.
Former governors and former deputies as pensioners cannot be supported to carry on with unbridled use of public monies to finance hangers-on, party hacks who live on them. Nor should former governors be supported to maintain a glamorous, exorbitant life style that the current political system orders. More than two out of three serving governors are below sixty years old. Improved life style and health today translates into longer life for this group of people. A governor who lives office after two terms can expect to live till about 80, meaning some 15 years of pensionable remuneration for governor and deputy.
A retirement and pension scheme for governors should start from the assumption of office with a structured preparation on emotional, stress, boredom management after service. Also training on physical and material well being adjustment that has to be made. It is not all about money, cars, large homes, as the NGF in Port Harcourt revealed.
It behooves on leaders to give true meaning to leadership. Leaders should not be content with making money to be shared in droplets to the poor. Leadership should seek to elevate society as a whole and reduce the dependence of most people on the few. Governors should lead an improvement of the retirement and pension scheme for all public officers and not just fix better post office life for governors and political office holders.
Bunmi Makinwa is a communication for leadership entrepreneur based in South Africa and Nigeria. He was Africa Regional Director of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.