By Azimazi Momoh Jimoh,
• Shagari, Obasanjo, Jonathan, Babangida owed 10-month arrears
• SGF blames lack of funds
• How two ex-leaders raised their pay by 100%
Nigeria has not paid salaries and other allowances to four former ex-presidents due to lack of funds.
Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal, who disclosed this to visiting members of the Senate Committee on Federal Character and Inter-Governmental Affairs in Abuja, said President Muhammadu Buhari could not approve payments for ex-presidents Shehu Shagari, Olusegun Obasanjo, Goodluck Jonathan and Ibrahim Babangida in the last 10 months due to lack of funds.
The delay in paying ‘pension’ and other benefits to former presidents could deprive the incumbent of the much-needed support of his predecessors as economic downturn and government’s anti-corruption crusade impacts Nigeria’s political landscape.
Giving his own explanation of the development in a chat with the Senate committee led by Tijjani Kaura (APC, Zamfara North), the SGF attributed it to unavailability of funds in the service wide vote for salaries of ex-presidents. Payment schedules were said to have been sent to the President for approval to assess funds in the service wide vote, an emergency fund reserved for special purposes.
“There is a department responsible for payment of former president’ entitlements, Lawal said.
“At present, funds are not available in service wide votes to do that. We are aware there was a protest in Bayelsa State that the former president was not paid, but we’ve explained that he’s not the only one affected.
“Others affected are Inter-Religious Council, Traditional Rulers Council and so on. For some reason, we have been writing and writing, but there has been no response. And there is presently no money to pay them.”
The SGF continued: “The budget for this year’s democracy day was N33 million, and we had to do it on credit; we are yet to pay. There are lots of retreat, which ought to be organised but there’s no money to do any. The last time we got any release was in August.”
The senators were not swayed by the explanation. They insisted that joint efforts be made between the office of the SGF and the committee to find solution to the problem, which they described as “unfortunate.”
The lawmakers stressed the need to draw the attention of the budget office and ministry of finance to the development with a view to having it addressed immediately.
Vice Chairman of the committee, Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi, described the non-payment of former presidents as abnormal.
“What we have seen here is an abnormality. Before referring any matter to the National Assembly, it is a function of the executive to appropriate funds. Therefore, the SGF should understand that there is something wrong in this office that must be addressed.
“There is no way you can run the expenses of this office without cash backing. We definitely have to draw the attention of the budget office and ministry of finance to the problems,” Hunkuyi said.
The lawmaker also faulted the office of the SGF over the replication of 2016 budget details in its 2017 budget proposal.
Also condemning the development, former Governor of Sokoto State, and lawmaker representing Sokoto North in the National Assembly, Senator Aliyu Wamakko, said: “We can understand if former President Goodluck Jonathan has not been paid because he just left office. But for someone like Shagari, who lives from hand to mouth is something I can’t understand. This development is really unfortunate; it doesn’t indicate seriousness, and it doesn’t indicate fairness.”
But attempting to assuage the anger of the lawmakers, the SGF explained: “When I got into this office, there was a lot of money in this account, but there was no TSA (Treasury Single Account).
“Before the government left office, they jacked up salaries. We told former Presidents Jonathan and Obasanjo that they could not earn twice what the others were earning. So we told them we wanted to review it, and we did. So they now earn what the others earn as well.
“When I came into office, there was N1.5 billion in the account. We had payment of all liabilities, which came to N700 million. Then we wrote to the president to return what was left to the TSA. That was how we came back to a zero balance.
“It is painful to me because as a person I know all of them (ex-presidents) personally. Now, why have we not been able to get the money? We requested a budget of N700 million, but the president has his way of doing things.
“Look around, you’ll see government vehicles breaking down every now and then. Really, I know the challenges the budget office is facing, but the truth is the funds are not just there. In any government, there are certain agencies that must be served first before others. So we have agreed on that. However, we will lean harder on the finance ministry to see that the situation is turned around.
“As SGF I’m getting embarrassed and demeaned by chasing money. All MDAs come to me for things to be done, and it is not quite easy, but we try our best.
“Last year, these political appointees had nothing. As to assistance, we really need assistance to retain all that we have budgeted for,” he added.
Lawal also urged the National Assembly to approve funds proposed by his office in the 2017 budget to be submitted soon, saying: “We need your help to defend what is in our budget. This is part of the change agenda, so we must learn to sew our cloth according to the material.