TWO incidents happened last week, though at different locations, but both are related. One happened in Abuja and the other, also related to Abuja, happened in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.
The revelation made by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Babachir David Lawal, that the Federal Government has failed to pay the allowances and salaries of the living former presidents and Heads of State, should come as a rude shock to many. It, indeed, hit the senators who were on oversight duty at the SGFs office when the revelation was made.
Babachir had told members of the Senate Committee on Federal Character and Inter-Governmental Affairs headed by Senator Tijjani Kaura that the Federal Government has, in the last 10 months, been unable to pay the former presidents and Heads of State, including former President Shehu Shagari; former Heads of State, General Yakubu Gowon and General Ibrahim Babangida; President Olusegun Obasanjo; former President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and other former leaders, including General Abdulsalami Abubakar and former Head of Interim National Government, Chief Ernest Shonekan.
That incident happened on the heels of a similar development, which involved the national football team, the Super Eagles, which played the Algerian National Team at the Uyo Stadium, Akwa Ibom State.
Many Nigerians who turned up at the Akwa Ibom Airport on Sunday, November 13, were shocked to see the boys loitering around the departure halls of the airport and the reason adduced was that the Nigerian Football Federation was unable to procure chattered flights to Abuja for the victorious players. Many had wondered why none of the numerous presidential jets lying fallow in Abuja could not be deployed to Uyo to give the players a sense that the nation actually cares about them.
But if anyone is in doubt that Nigeria actually does not care about its heroes, past and present, the confirmation from Babachir should wipe out such doubts. His lamentations were many before the Senate Committee but those versed in the art of governance know that the excuses lay flat in the face of reason.
Hear Babachir: “There is a department responsible for the payment of former President. Presently, funds are not available in service wide votes to do that. We are aware there was a protest in Bayelsa State that the former president was not paid, but we’ve explained that he’s not the only one affected.
He further lamented: “When I got into this office, there was a lot of money in this account, but there was no TSA. Before the government left office, they jacked up salaries. We told former President Jonathan and Obasanjo that they cannot earn twice what the others were earning. So we told them we wanted to review it, and we did. So they now earn what the others earn as well.
“When I came into office, there was N1.5bn in the account. We had payment of all liabilities, which came to N700m. Then we wrote to the president to return what was left to the TSA. That was how we came back to a zero balance.
“It is painful to me, because as a person, I know all of them (ex-presidents) personally. Now, why have we not been able to get the money? We requested for a budget of N700m complaining, but the president has his way of doing things…
“As SGF, I’m getting embarrassed and demeaned by chasing money coming from demands. All MDAS come to me for things to be done, and it is not quite easy, but we try our best. Last year, these political appointees had nothing. As to assistance, we really need assistance, if not but to retain all what we have budgeted for.”
But the Senators did not mince words in telling Babchir that what was wrong had no other description. How else do you incentivise those in office against corruption if they are not guaranteed that their entitlements would be paid after office?
The vice chairman of the committee, Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi, who described the development as abnormal said: “What we have seen here is an abnormality. Before referring any matter to the National Assembly, it is a function of the executive to appropriate funds. Therefore, the SGF should understand that there is something wrong in this office that must be addressed.
“There is no way you can run the expenses of this office without cash backing. We definitely have to draw the attention of the budget office and ministry of finance to the problems.”
Former governor of Sokoto State, Senator, Aliyu Wammako, vehemently protested the development, saying that it was confounding to the senators.
He said: “We can understand if former President Jonathan has not being paid because he just left office. But for someone like Shagari, who lives from hand to mouth, it is something I can’t understand. This development is really unfortunate; it doesn’t indicate seriousness, and it doesn’t indicate fairness.”
The government has attributed the developments above to recession. But the same recession has allowed many MDAs commit over N100 billion to the purchase of brand new vehicles, which only help to develop foreign economies.