What started as a rude joke later became a reality. The rumour was rife but people took it for granted. In the first place at a time when Nigerians are still debating how some state governments will be able to pay the new minimum wage, it is simply unthinkable that a state House of Assembly will have time to debate such inanities as pension for retiring House members. By June some members of that State’s legislature will be retiring either because they chose not to seek reelection, elected into another office or simply got defeated in the last general election. The Assembly says such persons will be entitled to some form of pension. Or what we in this part of the world call “severance package”!
What we are familiar with therefore is some kind of gratuity for such retirees. A lump sum paid to retiring political officials according to their position. In this instance, it is for the soon-to-be former members of the Assembly. The hues and cry from far and wide following the passage of the Bill by the Bayelsa Assembly must have forced the state Governor, Seriake Dickson to heed public outcry and declined assent to the bill that sought life pension for the state lawmakers.
The 24-member legislature dominated by 22 Peoples Democratic Party, PDP members on April 24 hurriedly passed the proposed pension Bill for current and past members. The Bill proposed a monthly pension of N100,000 for members while the Speaker and Deputy Speaker will be entitled to N500,000 and N200,000, respectively. But the state Commissioner for Information, Mr Daniel Iworiso-Markson, quoted the governor as having said that he conveyed the decision to withhold assent to the Bill in a letter to the Speaker of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly on Monday.
According to him, the governor held consultations with the Assembly members in his country home of Toru-Orua, where he explained his reason for declining assent.
Iworiso-Markson quoted the governor as having said that the bill was inconsistent with Section 124 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended. The governor said that he was of the view that the State Assembly lacked the powers to expand the categories of public servants who should be entitled to pension.
“The provisions of this Bill granting pension to members of Bayelsa State House of Assembly and the extension of same to former members of the Assembly and Bayelsa indigenes who served in the Old Rivers State House of Assembly, is inconsistent with Section 124 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended. I am not convinced about the legality of this Bill which seeks to expand the categories of persons entitled to pension.
“While I agree that the Assembly can adjust the quantum of pension payable to persons entitled to pension, I am not convinced that the House has powers to add to the categories of pensionable public officers. Evidently, there is no record of any other state in this country that has expanded the categories of pensionable public officers to include lawmakers.
“I do not agree that Bayelsa which is coping with all the myriads of issues and challenges, with our low Internally Generated Revenue base and the unpredictable oil economy, should be the first to initiate this,” Dickson said.
Of course, in matters like this, opposition elements including civil society members have since pilloried the mainstream politicians in the state. This is clearly an own goal but such a goal that does not just make sense. The Assembly members through that bills present the state as one not knowing what to do with money. They even included every legislator that has ever represented the state or part of the state in any state level legislature including before the state was created.
Just look at the impunity and the level of “thoroughness” employed just to satisfy all layers of stakeholders.
It’s like Bayelsa knows not what to do with their money. We are surprised that a state rated as one of the worst in terms of unemployment in the country entertains the luxury of dashing money to whom it pleases. Our legislature should realize that they are part of government too. They should think up laws that can make the state richer and bring development to the people not just looking for how to line their own pockets “legally” simply because they make laws. We condemn this uninformed attempt by the Assembly and commend the state governor for turning his back on the Bill. Hopefully the Assembly will not push any further.