The Federal Government plans to spend N3.19bn on the pensions and allowances of former Presidents, Heads of State, their deputies, former leaders of the National Assembly and their families in the year 2012.The proposed N3.19bn represents an increase of about N2bn from what was provided for the former rulers in the 2011 Budget.
The government also earmarked a total of N141.7bn for the pensions and gratuities, of retired civil servants, that are not captured in the contributory pension scheme.
The amount contained in the 2012 budget currently before the National Assembly is under Service Wide Votes. Our correspondents report that beneficiaries under this heading will receive a total of N414.4bn for the fiscal year.
The Remuneration for former Presidents, Heads of State Act passed by the National Assembly in November 2010 provides for the remunerations of all former Presidents, Heads of State and their deputies, including the families of former leaders who are late.
Currently, those who benefit from the Act are former Heads of State Gen. Yakubu Gowon; Gen. Muhammadu Buhari; Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar; Gen. Ibrahim Babangida; former head of the Interim National Government, Chief Ernest Shonekan; former President Shehu Shagari; former President Olusegun Obasanjo; their living deputies; and former heads of the National Assembly.
Other beneficiaries are the widow of a late former President, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe; the widows of a former Prime Minister, the late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa; and the widows and families of former Heads of State, General Murtala Muhammed; and Gen. Sani Abacha.
When the N1.2bn bill was presented to the Senate in 2011, the Senate Committee on Federal Character and Intergovernmental Affairs queried the amount, saying that it was too high a price to pay for the comfort of former leaders who presided over the “economic retardation” of the country.
But explanations from the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation showed that there were seven living former Heads of State, five Vice Presidents, six families of deceased leaders and two families of deceased Vice Presidents.
Also, the law provides that government should cater for the needs of the former heads of state whenever they visit Abuja, as well as pay for their use of courier services.
Reacting to the provision, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, Senator Bassey Otu, said the Senate would take a look at the provision and ensure that the former leaders did not get beyond what they deserved.
He said the N3.19bn might be slashed in line with the new posture of government to reduce the cost of governance.
“Rest assured that anything that should be done to bring these budgets to their proper sizes, will be done,” he said.
But the President of Campaign for Democracy, Joe-Okei Odumakin, criticised the increase from N1.2bn to N3.19bn, saying it smacked of insensitivity.
She told one of our correspondents in a telephone interview on Sunday that voting more money for the care of former leaders suggested that the poor would remain poor while those who had misruled the country would continue to grow richer.
She said, “First and foremost, it is extremely outrageous. How can you explain an increase from N1.2bn to N3.19bn? It smacks of insensitivity to the plight of Nigerians. It is sad that this is happening when our citizens are impoverished.
“It means that all the mouthing that the regime will reduce their pay is cosmetic and hypocritical.”
Also, the All Nigeria Peoples Party said the huge budget provision was President Goodluck Jonathan’s way of preparing the ground for when he would leave office.
According to the National Publicity Secretary of the ANPP, Chief Emma Eneukwu, the government has no idea of how to move the country forward.
He said, “We keep on saying it that this government has no human face and that it does not care what happens to the people.
“It was telling Nigerians that it was going to cut expenses, yet, it went ahead to increase the budgetary provision for these leaders.
“This same government told us that the economy would collapse without the removal of petroleum subsidy. It did not tell us that the economy of individual would collapse.
“This government is proving it day-by-day that it is a government that lacks vision and cannot be trusted. Nigerians cannot be deceived forever. One day is for the thief, the rest are for the owners.”