The presidency struggled on Thursday to defend why former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan were forced to take pay cuts while their older other contemporaries were also being owed 10 months salary arrears.
Addressing a team of visiting lawmakers who were on a working visit, the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF) acknowledged that former Presidents Goodluck Jonathan, Olusegun Obasanjo, General Ibrahim Babangida, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, and others had not been paid their salaries by the Federal Government since January this year.
This revelation which came as a rude shock to lawmakers on the committee of Federal Character and Inter-Governmental Affairs, was unearthed when they queried the delay in payment of emoluments to former Heads of State.
Ripples Nigeria reliably gathered that the non-payment of former presidents is as a result of lack of approval which ought to be given by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Sources said that payment schedule had severally been sent for the President’s approval to assess funds in the service wide vote for the purpose, but all attempts in that direction were to no avail.
Giving his own version of explanation into why former Presidents were owed by the Federal Government, the SGF, Babachir David Lawal, attributed same to the unavailability of funds in service wide votes for salaries of ex-presidents.
Lawal said: “There is a Department responsible for payment of former Presidents. Presently funds 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.”
However, the Senators who were not swayed by the explanation, kicked against the non-payment of the former Presidents and also insisted that joint efforts be made between the office of the SGF and the committee towards finding a solution to the problem which they described as unfortunate.
The lawmakers who took turns to slam the SGF over the development, also emphasized the need to draw the attention of the Budget Office and Ministry of Finance to the development with a view to having same addressed immediately.
One of the lawmakers who is the 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,” Senator Hunkuyi said.
On his path, former Governor of Sokoto state and lawmaker representing Sokoto North in the Senate, Senator Aliyu Wamakko, kicked vehemently against the non-payment of former Presidents by the office of the SGF.
“We can understand if former president Goodluck Jonathan has not being 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,” he said.
Attempting to persuade the lawmakers who expressed outright disappointment at the development, the SGF explained: “When I got into this office, there was a lot of money in this account, but there was no TSA.”
“Before the government left office, they jacked up salaries. We told former President Jonathan and Obasanjo that they cannot 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 700 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.