IDEAS Radio 3 May 2019 

Episode 33: Outgoing packages for elected representatives

Aghogho Oboh: Alright, it’s 14 minutes past 4, and you know what time it is and what to do when it is this time on 99.3 Nigeria Info.  I’m Aghogho Oboh and this is Countdown 2019 and where we’re going to be discussing all the big issues, this is after the elections, counting down to the inauguration ceremony which is this month.  We’re just counting, just a couple of weeks to that event. But a lot of stuff’s been happening as we count down to the inauguration ceremony.

First with the IDEAS segment, Ayo Obe is going to be talking with the Executive Director of the Social Economic Rights Accountability Project, SERAP, Adetokunbo Mumuni, who will be talking to us about lawmakers and executives who are awarding themselves pensions.  The morals behind this and all of that, is what we’re going to be looking at during the IDEAS segment and the Ethics question. 

You can follow the programme on Twitter @Countdown2019NG, @RotimiSankore, @aghoghoobo, @sezekwesili, @NigeriaInfoFM, and @ideasradiong also too, send your questions and tweets there.  If you’ve got questions also and comments on WhatsApp we’ll have those on 08095975805. Ayo Obe, Good evening!

Ayo Obe: Good evening.

AgO: Good evening Adetokunbo Mumuni.

AM: It’s a pleasure being here.

AgO: Good evening Rotimi Sankore.

Rotimi Sankore: Good evening.

AgO: And Good evening Georges Macnobleson-Idowu! I just forgot, I didn’t see you … 

Georges Macnobleson-Idowu: Good evening.

AgO: So we have a full house.

AO: That’s why he’s a good reporter because he’ll be a fly on the wall, and people will be saying things and they won’t know, and he, and they won’t remember that a journalist is present.

AgO: Bienvenu Ayo is, from Paris, ay?

AO: Ooh, oui, bien sur!  Bien sur! Yes, I was away last week.  But, I think that for the last two weeks, we’ve been looking at … not so much looking forward to the inauguration, but we’ve been looking back to what the outgoings have been doing.  And, because to lose an election is one thing, but to have nothing with which to cushion the fall from elected position grace is another thing. And certainly with regard to our outgoing elected legislators there has been an astonishing level of concern for their welfare, and the possible period of unemployment that they may have to spend.  And, it’s not a new thing, but it’s something that really requires us to ask: Does this reflect Integrity? The amounts that, the size of the severance packages that our outgoing lawmakers and our outgoing executives are awarding themselves; do they reflect Integrity? Do they reflect Ethics? Who is Accountable?

You see, yes, we are in a democracy, so we will say that these people are democratically elected, but is that what Democracy is about?  Or does this actually underline for us the possibility that to have a democracy without Integrity, without Ethics and without Accountability is in a way to have no Democracy at all?

To discuss this with me, apart from my co-presenter Rotimi Sankore and Georges, is the Executive Director of the  SERAP, Social Economic Rights and Accountability Project, Adetokunbo Mumuni you’re welcome on IDEAS.

AM: It’s a pleasure being here.

AO: And perhaps you can first of all just give us some background facts, because we saw some huge billions being devoted by the outgoing National Assembly to its own welfare, or to its own outgoings.  We also have the problem of people who were Governors now having other positions, whether as Senators or as Ministers collecting huge amounts. And I just want to put it in context: the other day a Minister in the British Government was sacked for misdemeanour of leaking security matters, and the report was that, although he will continue as a Member of Parliament, his severance package will be £17,000.  Now, I know we will talk about the “is equal to” of pounds, but nonetheless, it gives us … so it’s not that the concept of something to cushion the fall is unknown, but what, in a poor country like, or a country full of poor people as Nigeria is, you know, we have the largest number of people living in poverty, we have huge numbers whose pensions are unpaid, what is the background to this?

AM: Thank you very much.  You see, when amounts as terrible as this … 

AO: As what though, what are the amounts?

AM: For example, you see, to me, I don’t see it in the context of political parties. 

AO: No, no no …

AM: To me, the parties are six …

AO: Equal opportunity offenders … 

AM: …   Six, one party is six, the other party to me is half a dozen.  So I can’t see any difference, because if you look at a breakdown of the states, you see that the PDP states, APC states are in this.  For instance, for example in Anambra State, one legislator who is leaving will collect N73.78 million 

AO: No, one Legislator?

AM: Yes, in Anambra State.

AO: Or 17 legislators?

AM: No, 17 legislators will go home with N73.78 million.  Plateau State, 16 legis … lawmakers will go home with  N69.44 million.  In Edo State in the South South, 15 lawmakers will get N65.1 million.  In Adamawa State and Akwa Ibom States about 14 non-returning lawmakers will get N60.76 million.  We can go down like that, you will see that what we have cut across the parties.  Now, the next question we should ask ourselves is: How justifiable are these pays?  The Nigerian worker, the majority of the Nigerian workers, is still talking about N30,000.00 per month.

AO: Minimum monthly wage.

AM: Minimum monthly allowance.

AO: Wage.  Wage for work done.  Not that … It’s important that we say “for work done”, because we are talking about people who have been paid for the work that they did as Governors or as legislators … 

AM: And to me they benefited since!

AO: … and they are now going to be paid for the work that they are not going to be doing, so it’s an important distinction.

AM: Very very very well.  So, I look at the Ethics and the morality of these payments.  Is this payment ethical? Is it morally sound? Now, I know that there is United Nations Convention against Corruption, one of the principles that is so evident in that convention is that  people that have political powers must not place themselves in a position of deliberate conflict of interest. When you now appropriate the money that should belong to the Nigerian people in a manner as to personally benefit whilst you are in the office or whilst you have left the place, you have simply used the benefit of being in the place to now start awarding or assigning this type of money to yourself, to me that is unethical, that is morally reprehensible.  And again, if you look at the life of the general Nigerian, the average Nigerian, is this amount justifiable?

AO: Well, I think that, just to play the Devil’s advocate for a bit: because you know, in the case of High Court judges, or Court of Appeal or Supreme Court judges, they are made to understand that upon retirement, not only will they be paid properly when they are in a job, but also on retirement, they will also be paid properly, and the objective of those payments (which are not quite up to probably what our legislators enjoy, but nonetheless  are quite handsome by ordinary standards), is so that they will not feel that they have to do anything that compromises the dignity or integrity of their position in order to provide for an old age which they fear may leave them exposed to the vagaries of economic cold winds. So they pay, so judges are paid properly and their pensions and their accommodation after is also guaranteed. Now, our legislators and our governors: don’t we want them also, to feel, … to elevate themselves above their personal concerns when they are making laws and so on, and therefore, shouldn’t we make them also know that they are going to be comfortable when they go?

AM:  No, what I see in it is that … Let us look at the first notion, or the first idea regarding what makes pension desirable.  One would have worked for a state or for the federal government almost to the end of his productive life.

AO: You mean that that’s … between a judge who is working compared to a four year legislator?

AM: Yes, for example, a judge, before he retires, if it’s High Court Judge, it’s 65.  Supreme Court, Court of Appeal Judge, is 70. Now, those are the ages that one would have passed his prime, so that at the end of the day, you don’t say he should start struggling again.

AO: I see.

AM: That is the point.  But for instance a legislator who was in office, elected for let me say maximum sixteen years or twenty years.  If the legislator that we’re talking about enters the position at the age of 25, 16 + 25 will give us … 

AO: They can still go out and work, that’s what you’re saying?

AM: Exactly, that is the point.  So we cannot be comparing what we know with the judiciary with what we know with this set of legislators or the executive members of government.

AO: But then what is the sanction?  Because you know, you have in the one state you have the Governor sitting there saying: “I have a pension request, my dear legislator friends”, and the legislators are saying “We also have a Pension Bill my dear Governor friend”, so it’s a real case of one hand washing, that’s what it appears … 

AM: That’s what it is!

AO: And, so where is the sanction, because we voters seem to just feel that: Well, that’s what we should expect?  There’s no sanction from us!

AM: You see, we should … I think what should happen is that Nigerians should start discussing this thing, because it is … to me, it’s almost in all states where legislators and governors gang up to offer themselves …   

AO: Gang up is the word!

AM: Yes, to offer themselves this type of amount, so I think we have to have a discussion around this thing.   To see, let’s look at the morality of all these payments, proposed payments, and let, I think there is the National Salaries and Wages Commission that should look at all these things critically, so that Nigerians don’t get short-changed at any point in time.  That to me is very very crucial.

AO: But in a Federation, should this be a matter for a national decision?  And let’s not forget that in some parts of the country it’s quite cheap to live, in other parts of the country you pay an arm and a leg before you can even get a two room boys’ quarters!

AM: That’s true, but I think there should be a national average.  Even if you want to make payment to people that have served … yes, we should have something like a national, let’s say below which, you cannot go above this, you can go below this, so that to me makes sense …

AO: But then how does that square with the idea of Federal government and the independence of States?

AM: Well you see, what I see is that … you see if there’s nothing like a national average, any state can say we want to pay our own legislators anyhow, and  that to me will make it too dangerous for the system. That’s the point that must be made.

AO: Ok, and I think we also have to look at the fact that not only do these states, many of them, are either in arrears of the payment of pensions, they are not even paying salaries some of them, despite being bailed out by the Federal Government, and one kind of wonders what the legislators and the representatives of the executive who award themselves these kinds of sums feel about that position; that they happily watch workers queuing up under – and literally the hot sun – to claim their pensions, some of them expiring on the line, having to come and prove that they’re still alive and all these other hurdles that they have to jump through.  And on the other hand we have these people who – as you say – not only are they not out of their productive lives, they are also very well connected, so if it comes to getting contracts and other things from which they can make money, if it comes to even being appointed, because in some cases we have people who were governors who are now ministers, or who go to the legislature. I mean, we’ve actually talked about the Senate as a retirement home for some former Governors, although some former Governors are not going to be able to retire to the Senate as they had hoped, but they are not going to be feeling the pinch financially in any way at all.

AM: Yes, because of the position they had occupied, so they are not in the same categories like other Nigerians.  Let us face it. A former governor that had occupied a position for eight years, cannot compare with any other Nigerian.  That’s sincerely the position. So I think we should start discussion. Let’s have a national average of what is payable that makes economic sense in view of  the realities of life of Nigerians. You can’t say you are our legislator or our former Governor, and you will be living out of this world, compared to the life that Nigerians in your state live.  For example, about three days ago was the May Day. A lot of workers and pensioners were reeling out the litany of woes that they face. Salaries had not been paid for some 30 months. Pensions, arrears had not been paid.  So what then is the position? So I think we should start having a discussion to talk about a national average, below this you cannot go, but higher up there, you cannot go.

AO: Ok, I want to thank you very much Adetokunbo for your insights into the IDEAS, and we know what IDEAS stands for:  Integrity, Democracy, Ethics and Accountability, in this issue of huge pension payments and severance allowances, and that’s not talking about some governors get houses, cars, every … every … at regular intervals.

RS: When we come back after the break, we need to, for the main programme, we need to look into it in more detail, because it is …  the devil is in the detail. We can then see actually how dastardly … 

AO: Or not.

RS: Well it’s extremely dastardly what these people are doing.  I mean … like he said, we need to have a big discussion on it, and it is how dastardly it is that will drive that discussion.  I mean we need to nullify this thing. It’s not a question of complaining, we actually need to nullify. It’s just criminal. I mean, what will happen after 30 years of democracy, when we have thousands of these people?

AO: Well, I mean but this is actually … 

AM: The point you have made makes complete sense.

AO: But the point is, has anybody run on a platform of: I am going to tackle this?  It’s just not a campaign point. It’s something that after the elections have been won or lost, we all start to groan about it, but I think that the point that Adetokunbo Mumuni makes is that … the conversation … because the conversation had been going on, we’ve been groaning since 19 … since  2003, the question now is that beyond groaning, the discussion about what to actually do.