Reps-prescribed life pension and its inherent crassness by Ugochukwu Ugwuanyi

magine that a man diligently serves the fatherland for 35 years, contributing a specified sum out of his salary to become his pension when the feebleness of old age sets in. Yet, at the end of the day, he gets pittance out of such accumulated life saving. It even eludes him at other times as he endures harrowing experiences just to lay hold on same. Many of his peers lose their lives in the process of pursuing this due which should ordinarily be theirs effortlessly.

Also allow your imagination to capture the case of soldiers who usually get caught up in the grim and grisly milieu of warfare, subjecting themselves to the mercies of bullets, wild life and the tyranny of the elements, yet they hardly enjoy retirement benefits befitting of what the nation took from them. If they don’t die in wait of their pension, they die trying to collect same which most times gets stolen as in the case of the Police Pension scam. Yet, these are people who had invested 35 years of difficult service to the fatherland.

Having imagined the foregoing, can these instances be in any way correlated with what obtains in the conditions of service of a Senate President, Deputy Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives or Deputy Speaker? Even though, these positions are highly placed to the extent that they are rated third, fourth, fifth and sixth when it comes to protocol, it can be strongly argued that the actual work done by those occupying these positions cannot be equated to that executed by a civil servant or an average police officer. How can it be when even the number of days they take as recess is more that the ones they spend working for the nation?

The most unfortunate aspect is that while what civil servants are expected to ultimately enjoy is supposed to be a fragment of their earnings which is being held in trust for them, the principal lawmakers would, so to speak, be reaping from where they did not sow. Going by the proposed amendment, they would simply be reaping from our Common Till until they die. Given that they did not sow with a part of their salary and that the labour they exerted is one that is akin to energy spent on feeding, why then would they want to reap like and possibly above those who actually sowed?

While the place of the legislative arm of government in the nation’s democracy cannot be undermined, that does not warrant those leading both chambers of the National Assembly to be placed on life pension. It is the height of insensitivity for them to arrogate to themselves a perk which will by far surpass what the unsung majority of civil and public servants who lasted more hence gave more in service to the fatherland would ever dream of getting.

This forms one of the reasons Nigerians were incensed and embarrased when the members of the House of Representatives smuggled in, while amending 71 clauses in the 1999 Constitution last Wednesday, life pension for the four top members of the National Assembly provided they were not impeached from office. It is worrisome that as much as 252 members who adopted the amendments out of the 261 House members present at the sitting couldn’t see anything wrong in this particular alteration. It appears the lawmakers whose number exceeded the mandatory two-third vote (240 of the 360-members) were blinded by the 70 other amendments which appeared altruistic. Yet that cannot be an excuse as they actually knew what they were doing.

Anyone who is a keen observer of developments in our country must have seen this coming when governors started awarding mouth-watering life pensions to themselves and their deputies using their state houses of assembly. Although, the principal members of the National Assembly had coveted the life benefit enjoyed by their counterparts in the executive arm of government, they only needed the move by greedy governors who use their state assemblies to guarantee an outlandish lifestyle for themselves once out of office, to sate their long-nursed avarice.

But if we allowed well-padded severance packages for those in charge of the Executive arm because we wouldn’t want fear of life after office to lure them into dipping their hands into the cookie jar that is under their care, what reasons would make us do same for the principal officers in the Legislature? Perhaps, it will be to encourage them into passing bills without waiting to be lobbied financially. But should that be the case, then should we be ready to pay life pensions to all members of the National Assembly because, the last time I checked, a bill is not passed into law by just the votes of the Speaker and his deputy alone. This actually brings to the fore the dangerous precedent these guys are setting for our country.

But then we refuse to be deceived. This issue of life pension may have been pre-planned in such a manner that the case of the principal officers of the National Assembly would be a test-run. One that would later open the floodgates and provide basis for the entire federal lawmakers to demand and secure life pensions for themselves. How more callous can these people be? While they are yet to satisfactorily debunk the allegation that as much as 25 per cent of our national budget overhead goes into servicing them, they still have the temerity to scheme a life pension for their principal officers and possibly the remaining 465 of them. They should really consider themselves blessed operating in an environment like ours where the citizenry are nonchallant about the misdeeds of those in government.

Nonetheless, we should remember that before the reps members get what they are seeking, we still have Speakers and Deputy Speakers of the various state houses of assembly to contend with.

Since these proposed amendments to the 1999 Constitution will hold no water until they get the nod of at least two-third of the 36 houses of assembly in the country, I can bet my left foot that the principal officers of the state legislatures would also want to be a partaker of what their seniors at the federal level are seeking to enjoy. Abi na dem go carry last?

Of course, they wouldn’t, since a look at both left and right directions spurs them on. By this I mean that when they cast their eyes towards their governors; they see a reason to award themselves juicy severance packages just as they spot when they look towards the direction of the National Assembly. One keeps wondering how the Fintiris of this world would behold an opportunity like this and allow it to pass them by.

To say the least, what the House of Representatives members are seeking is inordinate and self-serving. The Speaker, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal and his colleagues have got the admiration of a great majority of Nigerians owing to the way they have been comporting themselves of late. They have also been widely appreciated for standing with the masses in opposing unpopular decisions of government. They should be wise enough not to allow this controversial life pension which is being widely criticized by Nigerians to take the shine off them in the twillight of their term as lawmakers.

The House of Senate which is believed to be dominated by more mature minds should not allow members of the lower chamber to pooh pooh all the gains of this National Assembly with an amendment that flies in the face of reason or rhyme. They should know that a good number of Nigerians are still of the highly-plausible opinion that lawmakers should be engaged by the Nigerian state on a part-time basis. This life pension aberration would therefore make that particular line of argument to become more popular among Nigerians.

They should for Christ sakes allow the pervasive poverty ravaging the country to lead them into freeing up the money they want as life pension for government to use in pursuing policies that would fight poverty and unemployment. Their desire for this life pension after all the wealth they accumulated as lawmakers alongside the fact that they are paid off at the end of their tenure in the National Assembly show how insatiable man’s quest for material things are. It is also an indication that even when they succeed in getting the said life pension, that wouldn’t remove the Oliver Twist in them. Little wonder the Wise Man described it all as vanity.

Let’s deliberate more on this subject through the twitter handle @ugsylvester