By Ngozi Ekhator
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent an open letter to Kano State Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, urging him to use his good offices and position to: “publicly reject life pensions and brand-new vehicles for lawmakers bill passed by the Kano State House of Assembly, and to prevail on the members of the House to immediately drop the bill, and to honour their fiduciary duties imposed by the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and Nigeria’s international anti-corruption obligations.”
The organization urged Mr Ganduje to: “prevail on the lawmakers to subordinate their own interests to the public good, live on fair and equal terms with their fellow-citizens, and not to use their legislative powers to convert public resources to their own benefit. Should you assent to the bill as passed, SERAP will take legal action nationally and internationally to hold your government to account and ensure that you uphold the solemn trust committed to you by the people of Kano.
In the letter dated 10 May 2019 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization said: “This bill represents law-making in the interest and personal satisfaction of the lawmakers, which flagrantly offends the principles of legal justice and the rule of law. The lawmakers ought to subordinate their own interests to the welfare of the people of Kano. By passing the life pensions and medical trips abroad bill, the lawmakers have invariably ‘bought at their own sales’, and violated their sacred trust.”
The organization also said: “This bare desire by the lawmakers of the Kano State House of Assembly to pass a bill to award to themselves life pensions, foreign medical trips and brand-new vehicles every four years is oppressive, and violates the obligation of impartiality to the people of Kano they are elected to serve and the ideals of fiduciary government. The bill, proposed by Baffa Baba Dangundi, is a textbook case of diversion of public resources to private purposes.”
The letter read in part: “Rather than passing bills to divert public resources for personal benefits, the lawmakers should pass legislation that will urgently address the chronic problem of over 3 million out-of-school children in Kano (the highest in Nigeria) and ensure immediate payment of outstanding pensions and workers’ salaries, given that your government has already received N21.7 billion from the Paris Club debt refund, and also reportedly received in 2018 N84.2billion from the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC).
“Government is a trust for the benefit of the governed, and members of the Kano State House of Assembly ought to be guardians of justice, general good and public interests. There is indeed a duty on the lawmakers to subordinate their own interests to those they are supposed to serve. But rather than acting as the ‘servants of the people’, the lawmakers have acted in a self-serving way and pushing to enrich themselves at the expense of the people of Kano.
“All public officials including lawmakers must act consistently with the purposes of the governmental trust: the good of the people and the security of their persons, liberty, and property. The purpose of any government–whether federal or state—is to promote the interest of the entire society, in this case, the people of Kano, and not the interests and welfare of a few in the House of Assembly. The lawmakers should pursue the happiness and prosperity of the Kano people with fidelity.”
“If assented to, the bill would lead to a misuse of trust property and threaten to affect the welfare of the people of Kano by diverting public funds from development and provision of access to quality education, clean water and healthcare to the personal benefits of members of the House of Assembly.
“Assenting to the bill would also have serious consequences for the people of Kano and would breach your fiduciary duties including your duty to take reasonable care in the management of public funds and the duty to account. This means that you should strive to work in accordance with the purposes of your offices, and to manage public funds competently and for the public good.
“SERAP therefore urges you to be loyal to the public interest by rejecting the bill and prevailing on the members of Kano State House of Assembly to immediately drop the bill. By doing this, you will follow in the footsteps of your Bayelsa State counterpart, Seriake Dickson, who recently turned down a bill seeking life pension for the state’s serving and former lawmakers.
“Rejecting the bill would also mean you will uphold the solemn trust committed to you by the people of Kano, and the fiduciary duties imposed on your government by the Nigerian Constitution and Nigeria’s international obligations and commitment.
“SERAP notes that the proposed bill gives the presiding officers the privilege to earn life benefits following the expiration of their tenure. In addition, the officers would enjoy medical trips once in 12 months and choice vehicles every four years.”
“According to the bill, ‘There shall be paid pension to person(s) who held office as speaker and deputy speaker equal to the emoluments of a serving speaker and deputy speaker. The speaker and deputy speaker shall, on completion of their terms, be entitled to a grant of pension for life by the state.
“The bill also provides that ‘there shall be provided for the speaker and the deputy speaker a brand-new vehicle to be bought by the state government every four years. There shall be provided for the speaker and the deputy speaker medical expenses either home or abroad depending on the nature of the illness.”