By NBF News

No more pension for past military leaders
By Emmanuel Ogala
March 12, 2010 04:21AM
Ever since the current political debacle began 23 November last year, when President Umaru Yar'Adua was evacuated to Saudi Arabia, Nigerians have made it clear that they do not want a military intervention. The Senate pointedly increased the tempo of such calls yesterday.

Former Generals, Yakubu Gowon, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, and others who illegally took over the reins of government in Nigeria, have been excluded from a pension scheme designed to honour past leaders.

This was the consequence of a bill that the Senate passed into law yesterday. The thrust of the bill is to ensure that only democratically elected former presidents benefit from the pension package for former leaders. The bill also amends Decree 32 of 1999 and automatically excludes all former military heads of state who usurped power through the barrel of the gun.

'This is to discourage other unconstitutional means of getting into power,' David Mark, the senate president, said. 'The only way recognised by the constitution is through (the) ballot and not the barrel of a gun.'

Ernest Shonekan, who headed an interim government that was later declared illegal by a Lagos High Court, is also affected by the law.

Enhanced pension package
Currently, the constitution provides pension for only the president and the vice president, which, according to the 1999 Constitution, would be equivalent to the salary of the incumbent president.

However, the new law introduces the chief justice of Nigeria, the senate president and his deputy, and the speaker and his deputy, into the league of past leaders to benefit from the pension.

But leaders who leave office by impeachment, or those who were forced out of office for breach of any provision of the 1999 Constitution, are not eligible for the remunerations contained in this bill.

The legislature also increased the pension that eligible former presidents currently earn.

It added an upkeep allowance to the pension entitlement of the president and vice president as stipulated in Section 84(5) of the 1999 Constitution. The entitlement is expected to be reviewed upwards from time to time, but subject to the approval of the National Assembly.

There is also a provision in the bill which entitles the family of deceased ex-presidents and vice presidents to an annual payment for the upkeep of their spouses and education of their children up to university level. However, this spousal upkeep allowance will cease the moment the last spouse of the deceased passes on.

The law, however, restricts anyone eligible for the perk who has held two offices to only enjoying the benefits for one.

'Any person who has held two or more public offices shall be entitled to only the benefits accruing under this act to the highest of those offices which he has held in order of national precedence,' the act read.

This legislation was passed by the last session of the National Assembly and presented to the then president, Olusegun Obasanjo, for approval. However, due to unexplained reasons, the former president did not sign the act into law.

The bill was therefore re-presented to the current session of the National Assembly for passage and representation to the president.

NEXT had on January 4 reported the plan by the Senate to review the pay of all former leaders. In the initial plan, the former leaders' package would have been increased from N250 million proposed in the 2010 budget to about N2 billion This was said by the chairman of the House of Representatives committee on appropriation, Ayo Adeseun.

According to him, the money was meant to take care of the former leaders' pension, medicare, yearly vacation abroad, offices and general maintenance. This is besides the N500,000 each of the former leaders is reportedly paid whenever they attend the Council of State meeting, which is held periodically.

Under the old deal, those who would have benefited were Yakubu Gowon (1966-1975), Olusegun Obasanjo (1975-1979 and 1999-2007), Shehu Shagari (1979-1983), Muhammadu Buhari (1983-1985), and Ibrahim Babangida (1985-1993). The others were Ernest Shonekan (Aug 1993-November 17, 1993), and Abdulsalam Abubakar (1998-1999).

Mr. Adeosun had defended the action then by saying, 'We think we should review the allocation to about N2 billion. This money is meant to take care of their accommodation, vehicles, medical expenses and other allowances. These are people who have served this nation and they should be properly taken care of.'

The matter of welfare
Allocations for former leaders' welfare began in 2005, when a total of N140 million was set aside for them in that year's budget. Subsequently, the following allocations were made – N105 million (2006); N24 million (2008); and N250 million (2009). However, no allocation was made in the 2007 budget. It may have been integrated into another item under the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).

Until 2008 when the allocation was brought under the office of the SGF, it was treated under the Presidency or State House.

The emolument is different from that of the sitting president, who takes home N3.5 million annually. The president also earns various allowances.