The Speaker, Kwara State House of Assembly, Dr. Ali Ahmad, in this interview with SUCCESS NWOGU justify the enactment of a bill suspending pension for ex-governors and their deputies still holding public offices
The Kwara State lawmakers recently passed a bill which repealed the Pension Act meant to benefit former governors and their deputies. What really informed the action of the House?
There are two former governors in Kwara State who are beneficiaries of the former Act. They are Senator Shaaba Lafiagi and the Senate President, Bukola Saraki. The Senate President has been using his pension for scholarships wards to indigent students. We saw his action as laudable. We held a meeting with him and we explained our intention to stop any former governor, who is drawing the salary as a public officer, from collecting the pension. His favourable response encouraged and inspired us to enact the bill.
What are the contents of the current bill?
The current bill suspends everything that former governors and their deputies enjoy before they are elected or appointed into public offices. The benefits would not be completely erased but stopped during the period that the ex-governors and their deputies serve as public officers. This arrangement affects former Kwara State governors who are, for instance, either elected as senators or appointed as ministers. When the person ceases to be a public officer, he will now write the state that he would like to resume the collection of his pension. The bill also stipulates that if the person has another pension elsewhere, he or she will choose the particular one to enjoy.
Some people are of the opinion that the National Assembly should also enact such law. What is your view on this?
I want the National Assembly to do the same, because we have former generals, including Mr. President, who are currently collecting salaries as public officers in the federal executive and in the National Assembly, apart from the pension they still collect from the military. If there is no law to stop them now, they will end up collecting double pensions after leaving office. The National Assembly should, therefore, enact a law that would bar all public officers at the federal and state levels from enjoying pension while still enjoying salaries as elected public officers or government appointees.
Is it true that the Senate President used your colleagues to pass the pension law to his own advantage but quickly asked you to modify it in order to save him from the attacks coming from a non-governmental organization?
The law was passed in 2011 when Saraki was still the governor of Kwara State. That inspiration actually came from Lagos State.
Why do you think that the State Assembly provided such mouth-watering benefits to former governors and their deputies?
We took a cue from the Bible which stipulates that welfare should be given to former leaders that performed well. If somebody served as a two-term governor and he was not removed on criminal allegations, such a person should be encouraged, as a way of fighting corruption. Such a person will not do anything illegal that would enable him or her to escape living in penury after service. The fact that he is no longer a governor is enough for him to worry about. We also considered the condition of a former governor in the state who was so pauperized to the extent that some people referred to his situation at a point to denigrate the state and the people. So, all these were the thoughts during that time. In order not to repeat that experience for any ex-governor who is not removed and who do not commit any crime, there is a need to make sure that they enjoy some level of comfort until their last days.
Is Saraki going to lose the house and other non-financial benefits he has been enjoying as his pension?
No law, not even criminal laws, operates retroactively. That would be contrary to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So, if we had done that, it would have been illegal and unconstitutional. That would have been punitive and we are not a court. Kwara State is governed by law and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The bill is about recurrent things. The house, which is not recurrent, is still there. If you know the house, it is one little house over there. I am sure that you are not insinuating that his present house was built for him by the present Kwara State Government.
That house is bigger than the Government House. The state could not have built such a house for him. If Kwara State had built that house for Saraki, the state would have gone bankrupt by now. He built that house without the state government support. The house built for him is there behind Flower Gardens.
Saraki has been a public servant after he left medical studies. How could he have amassed such wealth to build that kind of a house?
He was a businessman before he became a public servant. I am sure that Kwara State cannot afford to build that house for Senator Saraki.
Some people are of the view that the new bill was meant to checkmate the ambition of Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed from representing Kwara South Senatorial District after his tenure in 2019. What is your reaction to this?
As a lawyer, I will not be involved in any act of illegality. I can never be part of any law that would target a single individual.
It will apply to the current governor as well as those coming after him.
What will happen if Governor Ahmed refuses to give assent to the bill?
I have not, for one day or night, thought that the governor will not assert the bill; I have not. He is a man of the people. This is a law that is not only legal but morally superb. Any governor will be willing and happy to sign that bill. I am 100 percent sure that the governor will sign it; so, I am not entertaining any fear.
Source: The Punch