I remember hearing someone joke that the Queen of England cannot be charged with a crime nor even arrested because all public prosecution is done “in the name of Her Majesty”, effectively making at least one person in the United Kingdom legally above the law. Back here in Nigeria, the Queen’s immunity makes me think of the legal armed robbers, licensed murderers, and now, the lawful lawbreakers. Unfortunately, the last set cannot truly be called lawbreakers as the law is whatever they say it is.
While President Buhari flew a presidential jet to the United Kingdom on a private visit, and Nigerians bickered whether all Boko Haram fighters are multimillionaires, a gang of lawmakers in Nigeria’s least populated state decided to endow themselves with pensions for life after their four-year tenure. That state, Bayelsa, also happens to be one of Nigeria’s richest states, yet, with all the trappings of systemic poverty and unemployment.
To give some context to any non-Nigerian reading this article, Nigeria runs a three-level, supposedly federal structure consisting of Federal, State, and Local Governments. Each State Government mirrors the federal level by having a three-arm structure that comprises the Executive Branch (Governor and appointed cabinet), the Legislature (House Speaker and other elected legislators), and the Judiciary (Chief Judge and other judges). The Legislature is responsible for making laws by passing bills subject to endorsement (“assent”) by the elected Governor. In Bayelsa State, the law makers passed a bill commanding the State Government to pay all past lawmakers a monthly pension ranging from ₦100,000 – ₦500,000 until each former lawmaker dies.
Let’s now juxtapose this payment with an “average” civil servant who devotes his or her working life to the Bayelsa State Government. Whereas a law maker is elected (or rigged in) for a four-year tenure, a civil servant who joins the Civil Service early enough, will spend thirty-five years in active duty. When such a person retires, usually near or at the age of 60, the person’s monthly pension is unlikely to be anywhere near ₦100,000. Given Nigeria’s relatively low life expectancy and the vagaries of everyday suffering, few of those retirees are likely to live up to 80 years. Compare this with a random, low-ranked, single-term legislator who spends only four years in office and leaves the legislature at the age of 44. With this bill, if such a person were to live up to 80 years, he or she will pocket ₦43.2 million (over ₦200 million for a former speaker) as cumulative pension for two years of seat warming. This is in addition to a lump sum paid at the expiry of a tenure, and millions in salaries, sitting allowances, and “constituency projects”.
Under what system is this travesty right? Is it legal? Of course, it is, and herein lies a fundamental problem with Nigerian jurisprudence. Why should I be the one to determine and approve my renumeration? Sadly, the same problem exists at the federal level (National Assembly) where the power of the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) to fix remunerations of legislators is thwarted by the lawmakers who conjure fantabulous allowances for themselves instead of focusing on making laws that will make life easier for Nigerians groaning under economic hardship. Lawmakers giving themselves blank cheques is a mockery of the democratic process, even as their gluttonous actions explain the proclivity of Nigerian politicians to rape the electoral process in order to get a seat at the sharing table.
I am glad that Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State vetoed the incestuous bill passed by his state’s legislature as it would have been a disappointment if he had played ball with his lawmakers in legally robbing Bayelsans despite the public opprobrium. While I suspect that the bill might have been part of some “settlement scheme” between power brokers in the state to compensate certain losers in the last elections, Governor Dickson made good use of his gatekeeper role in rejecting the bill. Political headwinds should never be a reason to legally defraud the people of Bayelsa. Let common-sense prevail!
Image Credit: lawandculture.org