“The proposal is not in any way weighty, urgent or imperative, yet the senators managed to bring it in.”
Lest the point be lost on us all and we allow this to slip by, Nigerians need to question the rationale behind and the implication thereof of Senate’s vote to alter the Constitution to provide salary in perpetuity for former heads of the parliament.
At its sitting on Tuesday July 16, the Senate decided, inter alia to alter Section 84 of the Constitution (by inserting a new subsection 5a and subsection 8) to read that: “Any person who has held office as President or Deputy President of the Senate, Speaker or Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, shall be entitled to pension for life at a rate equivalent to the annual salary of the incumbent President or Deputy President of the Senate, Speaker or Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives.”
Let us quickly note that what the Senate did remains a mere proposal. For it to have effect, it must first be concurred to by two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives and afterwards by at least two-thirds of the state houses of assembly (24 out of 36).
This proposed alteration follows the existing subsection 5 of Section 84 of the Constitution which provides for payment of pension for life to the President and Vice President of the country at a rate which is the equivalent of what the sitting president and vice president are paid.
The present subsection 5 however has a proviso which states: “provided that such a person was not removed from office by the process of impeachment or for breach of any provision of this Constitution”.
The Senate’s proposed amendment coming after the present subsection 5 (and its proviso) and without any proviso thereto, suggests that if passed, the provision for life pension to former heads of the federal legislature would apply to every single one of them, whether or not the person served out a term or was removed from office.
Even if the proviso to the present subsection 5 is to apply to the proposed new subsection 5a, there is still likely to be controversy of legal interpretation. The present proviso excludes persons who were removed from office “by the process of impeachment”.
An impeachment process admits that there is a formal charge of wrongdoing against (usually the head of the executive or other holder of an executive position), a trial or hearing (leading to an establishment of guilt) and consequent decision taken to remove the person from office. That is the usual manner by which a president, vice president, governor or deputy governor can be removed from office. And this is a rare occurrence. Hence there are very few former presidents, vice presidents, governors or deputy governors who fit into this category.
Heads of the legislature are usually removed from office by two-thirds of votes of the members, whether or not there has been any allegation of wrongdoing. To be sure, no leader of the Senate or House of Representatives of the present republic in Nigeria was ever removed from office by way of impeachment.
In all the instances where the leaders of the two chambers of the National Assembly were removed, they were merely pressured to resign, and that includes the notorious liar and perjury offender, Salisu Buhari, who cheated his way to the speakership of the House of Representatives.
In fact, the closest thing to an indictment held against former senate presidents Evan(s) Enwerem and Chuba Okadigbo were later, by parliamentary resolutions, expunged and the officers exculpated from any wrongdoing on the occasion of the valedictory session of the legislative session and during the special session to mark Enwerem’s funeral.
It therefore means that all the former Presidents of the Senate and Speakers of the House of Representatives alive would be entitled to be paid pension for life, calculated at the salary of the incumbents. And if the legislature decides to change its leaders every year, we would suddenly find ourselves beholden to each of them in life pensions. And by the way, the list of former presiding officers of the Senate and House of Representatives prior to the emergence of the incumbent officers shows five in eight years for the Senate and five in 12 years for the House of Representatives!
What is more, by the current subsection 6 of Section 84 of the Constitution, the pension for former officers is charged upon the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation, meaning it is a direct charge, not subject to appropriation (that is budgeting). Is this really what the Senate is proposing and is this what the Nigerian people envisaged as an urgency requiring an alteration of its Constitution for?
That this proposal by the Senate was passed on the same occasion senators negatived a proposal to guarantee the financial autonomy of local governments through direct payment of their allocation from the Federation Account is shocking. It raises a weighty moral question on the overriding interest of the senators in this Constitution amendment effort. The proposal is not in any way weighty, urgent or imperative, yet the senators managed to bring it in.
Already, all our legislators get paid what is called “severance allowance” calculated at four times their annual basic salary at the end of each legislative term of four years. And although this severance allowance was envisaged to be paid once in a lifetime, our legislators receive this over and again for as many terms as they complete.
Another concern is that in the practice of “rub my back and I rub yours” peculiar to politics, the state houses of assembly may equally demand that this provision be extended to the state legislatures.
At this rate, one is pained to suggest that the Senate is out of touch with the issues that Nigerians are passionate about. The House of Representatives should therefore save the situation by refusing to concur with the Senate on this.
Effanga, an attorney, is Governance Programme Manager in ActionAid Nigeria and writes from Abuja.
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