A subject matter of a letter from the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) to a former number two citizen of the country, Gen. Oladipo Diya is generating reactions from Nigerians regarding its propriety in the prevailing economic situation.
The letter written on December 7, and signed by a Permanent Secretary in the office, Mohammed Bukar for the SGF and addressed to the former Chief of General Staff conveyed a notice of N30m remittance to Diya from the federal government.
The sum, according to the letter, was his earning as car allowance monetization for four years in line with the provisions of the Remuneration of Former Presidents and Heads of State and Other Ancillary Matters Act, 1999.
The letter read in part: “I am directed to inform Your Excellency that the sum of N30,000,000 (thirty million naira only) representing the monetized vehicle allowance (2015 – 2019) has been paid into your bank account in line with the Remuneration of Former Presidents and Heads of State and Other Ancillary Matters Act, 1999.”
However, Sunday Sun sources also indicated that since the remittance is backed by law making available such provision for past heads of State, presidents and their deputies, all the past leaders get same allowance at the same time.
Our findings also indicated that while former deputy presidents or the equivalent, accordingly received N30m as written to Diya, the ex-presidents and former Heads of State pocket N50m for the same car allowance every four years. This is outside other perks of office and pensions they are paid monthly.
With eight past presidents and heads of state, Nigeria ran a bill of N400m for their car allowances this month. The state also spent N120m on the five former vice presidents and chiefs of general staff. That amounts to N520m for their cars alone.
But when Sunday Sun called the SGF’s office, a director that responded on behalf of the office admitted that the letter with its particulars forwarded to him in text message is authentic and from the office.
The Director, Media, Mr. Adebiyi in a phone call said the letter was genuine and from the office. The officer who had asked for some time to get the facts right called back to give the details of the letter. While he said the letter is their document, he however noted that such didn’t go to all past leaders. He stated that it was peculiar to Diya because in the past, he had some problems over his remuneration due to issues of coup plotting and his status in the law. “But after the matter was cleared, his name was gazetted, and because he had not been getting such benefits, he had to be paid the amount. He was the only one that got such letter.”
However, the director could not say much on why the remittance that supposedly should be a backlog indicated 2015-2019 as ordinarily, such payment if a backlog should have been backdated.
Also, our other sources close to the office said such letter was sent to the other past leaders, and defended that it was a lawful remittance and not questionable as the office acted in line with the Act for that.
“What your argument should focus on is if the amount is much because of the economic realties, but the office can’t do anything about it until the law defining the amount payable is reviewed.”
However, in reaction to the development on the necessity of such spending by a government that promises austerity and worse economic times ahead, the former governor of Anambra State, Dr. Emeka Ezeife noted that “without castigating the receiver of the letter, I don’t think it is necessary for the government at this time to spend such amount of money in a period things are difficult in the economy. I think the money is so much for an individual, especially those that don’t need it so much.
“It is such a heavy burden on the economy and actually senseless. Since it is backed by the law, that means the National Assembly has a duty to review such laws and do something about such unnecessary spending by the government.”
In the same vein, a renowned human rights lawyer and activist, Chief Mike Ozekhome, described the expenditure as reckless, insensitive and condemnable. According to him, those in position of authority should have used their discretion to determine the appropriate remuneration package payable to the past heads of state in line with the current economic realities.
His words: “It is most insensitive and uncaring for our leaders to be spending an elephantine sum of about N520 million to buy cars for former heads of state, many of whom were actually military dictators. It is like saying to hell with the masses of the Nigerian people; it is like saying the Nigerian people are only good to vote for these leaders and once they carry out their civic duty of voting, they are forgotten and relegated to the abysmal dustbin of history until the next round of election comes up again. That is not how to operate democracy.
“That is an exclusive, oppressive and repressive democracy. I condemn this largesse in totality. It is not good at all in this period of austerity when Nigerians are suffering and groaning in pains, at a time when a dollar is sold for N198, at a time the potholes on Nigerian roads are giving ways to gullies, at a time when insecurity has become more intense with Boko Haram, at a time an average Nigerian cannot afford two meals in a day, at a time Nigerians have to trek long distances for lack of money to pay for transportation, at a time when petrol which was supposed to sell for N87 a litre is selling between N120 and N350, at a time when Nigeria’s image is sinking lower and lower in the eye of the international community.
“Some governors are already threatening to cut down N18, 000 minimum wage, they are threatening mass retrenchment. Many Nigerians are going to have the bleakest, mournful and darkest Christmas ever of their lives since they came to this mother earth.”
Ozekhome said it had become more imperative for those in government to face the new economic reality and prepare their minds to make the necessary sacrifices in the same way the ordinary Nigerians are being enjoined to make sacrifices for the survival of the country’s economy.
“Even if some people are going to quickly argue that there is a law backing up remuneration for former heads of state, which nobody doubts anyway, they also have to make sacrifices in the same way the common man are being called upon to make sacrifices,” he said.
He, therefore, called on the National Assembly to urgently review the law backing remuneration for former leaders to reflect the prevailing circumstances. “I will suggest an amendment to such provision whether by the act of the National Assembly or an amendment to the constitution. Such provision should be amended to say that they will be paid as circumstances permit. As former heads of state, they have already enjoyed the perquisite of office with their wives, their children, their mistresses, their concubines, their schoolmates, and their political hangers-on. What more do they want? Such law should be amended, if not totally abrogated,” he fumed.