Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa state has declined assent to the life pension bill for elected office holders as passed by the state house of assembly.
The bill is seeking life pension for present and former lawmakers from Bayelsa state as proposed and passed by the assembly.
The state commissioner for information, Mr. Daniel Iworiso-Markson, quoted the governor as having said that he conveyed the decision to decline assent to the bill in a letter to the Speaker òf the Bayelsa State House òf Assembly on Monday.
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 òf the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.
Governor Dickson 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.
He stressed that he had to withhold assent to the bill because the state which was bedeviled with a lot of challenges in spite of its low internally generated revenue base and unstable earnings from the oil economy was the only state out of Nigeria’s 36 states to come up with such a bill.
The governor stressed that he was guided in the decision by the principle that government should not be for a select class of the privileged in the society, and would not discard it over seven years into his administration.
He said that the lawmakers and indeed the Nigerian populace would attest to the fact that all decisions of his administration were guided by the strong urge to protect the public interest and promote the general good.
He said, “The provisions of this bill granting pension to members of Bayelsa State House òf 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 òf 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.
“Honourable members of this Assembly, Bayelsans and other Nigerians following our progress as a government would clearly attest to the fact that my entire public service, actions and decisions are marked by what is in the public interest, particularly the interest of the vulnerable, ordinary people.
It is in the service of this category of people that in the last seven years and counting, I have in an unprecedented manner which only history will record and reward, extended the frontiers of the benefits of purposeful democratic governance.
“It is my philosophy that government should not be for a select few. In the last seven years, my actions and decisions which have sometimes elicited opposition from the elite who have been feeding fat on the resources of our state, have been marked by this singular disposition of mine.
“And I do not intend at this point to abandon that. Rather I intend to do more and to consolidate on the policies and actions which have been taken to protect the vulnerable.
Therefore, I am unable to assent to this bill which in my view aims to expand and consolidate the class interest of a privileged few.”
He said that the quest to protect the vulnerable against the privileged few inspired the populist programmes òf his administration which include the Bayelsa Health Insurance Scheme with over 150, 000 beneficiaries, the Education Trust Fund, the scholarship programmes that are supporting our young people in their studies both locally and outside the country, the various empowerment programmes, support for the aged, the most vulnerable, massive employment, public housing and a number of other social intervention programmes which are already taking root.
He commended the leadership of the house for the healthy relationship with the executive organ and the high level of productivity as shown by the high number of bills and motions passed during the period insisting that their place in history was guaranteed.
He said that notwithstanding his decision to decline assent to the bill, he still holds the assembly in very high esteem.
The governor also noted that he had to set up a committee on the contributory pension scheme to make it workable so that the assembly members and other appointees at the state and local government levels who are interested can take advantage of it.
The governor urged the assembly members to liaise with the committee adding that if legislative action was required after the work of the committee, he would readily communicate with them.
The Bill for Life Pension for elected office holders listed beneficiaries as all past governors, their deputies and State Assembly members from 1999 to date and those who served during the time Bayelsa was under Rivers state.
In the controversial bill, the provision include benefits to a million naira for governors, N. 5million for deputies, Speaker N. 3million and other Assembly members N. 1million.
The controversial bill sparked off series of protests with a coalition of eleven groups of Bayelsa Elders, Civil Society groups and youth groups led by a former Commissioner for Lands and Housing, Dr. Ayakeme Whiskey queried the passage of the bill and warned the governor against giving his assent.
The coalition, made up of Arch. Amagbe Denzil of the Board of Trustees, Embasara Foundation, Mr. Inuro Wills of the IPA Homeland chapter, the Chairman of Ijaw Elders Forum, Chief Bukazi Etete, the President, Okay Women Connect worldwide, Comrade Rosemary Graham-Naingba,Chief Ayakeme Whisky, Chairman, Media Committee, Embasara Foundation and the Chairman, Bayelsa State Founding Fathers ,Sir Benedict Guembe,described the action of the State Assembly members as the desecration which must not stand.
According to the Elders, “we find the action repugnant to the best interests of Bayelsa state. To carve out pensions as the latest tool for self-enrichment and perpetuation of personal interests is a subversion of the trust of the electorate in whom power resides and the otherwise noble power of law making, by section of the political elite.
“Under Nigerian constitutionalism, pensions are the exclusive preserve of civil servants, not political office holders who are thereby public servants but are not civil servants.
“This new dimension to law making in a state where successive administrations have failed to settle years long backlogs of pension and gratuities to genuine pensioners, who are retirees and mostly senior citizens, show a clear lack of respect for the civil service as a vital institution, an erosion of moral values and a disturbing sense of entitlement amongst political officers. The people of Bayless State do not accept that. ”