That obnoxious pension law in Zamfara

WHEN the immediate past governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari, dispatched a letter to his successor, Bello Matawalle, wondering at the non-payment of his “pension and upkeep allowance,” he could not have anticipated the level of public outrage that was unleashed when the content was leaked to the media.

In the letter dated October 17 2019, the former governor drew his successor’s attention to a state-specific law that “provides, among other entitlements of the former governor, a monthly upkeep allowance of ten million naira (N10, 000, 000) only and a pension equivalent to the salary he was receiving while in office.” Mr. Yari then went on to call out Governor Matawalle on what appears to be a contravention of the letter of this law, noting that “since the expiration of his tenure on 29th of May 29 2019, I was only paid the upkeep allowance twice, i.e. for the month of June and July while my pension for the month of June has not been paid.” The letter closed with an appeal to Governor Matawalle to “direct the settlement of the total backlog of the pension and upkeep as provided by the law.”

Technically, the former governor is right. There is indeed a law of the state of Zamfara that basically saddles the state with the upkeep, not only of former governors, but also of former deputy governors, former house speakers and former deputy house speakers. In the case of former governors, the upkeep allowance from the state is in addition to having their salaries paid for life by the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC).

But the real question is not whether former Governor Yari is legally in the right (in which case refusing to pay him his pension and upkeep allowance would be tantamount to breaking the law), but whether the law authorising such extravagant entitlements was lawful in the first instance. We think not. The Zamfara law, just like similar laws in other parts of the country, was an eleventh-hour abuse of power in which a governor eagerly sought to cover up an egregious violation with the cloak of the law. But that is not the way law works. Law, to be legitimate, must conform with the sentiment of justice, and the Zamfara law, again, like similar last minute legislations in other parts of the country in which the executive branch connived with the legislature in a naked abuse of power, directly contradicts the spirit of justice.

For, how can it be just or fair that, in the same state where civil servants are being owed a backlog of salaries, former governors, deputy governors and house speakers are paid in excess of N702 million per annum? How is it fair that, even as state pensioners have not been paid for years, and many collapse and die while waiting to be “vetted” on one of those infinitely long and abusive lines that Zamfara and other states in the country use to reward those who have served them for decades, an ex-governor would wallow in unearned sinecures? Why should the same state that cannot muster the resources needed to combat the menace of armed banditry throw away N702 million every year?

The former governor may point out that what he is asking for is not unusual given that the same status quo obtains in many other states across the country. However, a harm is not mitigated when you point out that it is committed by other people. The right thing to do, in such a situation, is to change course, and we are pleased that this is exactly what the Zamfara State House of Assembly has done by going ahead to abolish the law in question. We salute house leader Faruk Dosara, Tukur Tudu, the lawmaker representing Bakura constituency, and the speaker of the house, Nasiru Magarya, for lending their weight to the abrogation of the law. Finally, we urge other state assemblies across the country where such bogus laws are currently in place to emulate the Zamfara State example. No one should be on public charge forever for the privilege of serving the public for a few years.

 

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