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QUESTION: Was Saraki right to award scholarships with his ‘dubious’ pension? Well…


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Bukola Saraki Pension

Congratulations to the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP)! It has succeeded in proving to us all that advocacy does work.

Last month, SERAP accused former governors who are currently senators or ministers of dubiously earning N40 billion by drawing payments based on retirement and pension laws they crafted while in office.

It specifically named Bukola Saraki, Senate President; Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso (Kano), Kabiru Gaya (Kano), Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom),Theodore Orji (Abia), Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa), Sam Egwu (Ebonyi), Shaaba Lafiagi (Kwara) as some of the culprits.
It also asked Abubakar Malami, Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, to institute legal action against them to recover the money.
However, on Tuesday, Saraki said he had stopped receiving pension in Kwara. “No, I’m not collecting pension; the moment I saw that allegation, I wrote to my state to stop my pension,” he said at a NAN forum in Abuja.

Not yet satisfied, SERAP asked Saraki to donate his past pensions to charity or refund the sum total to the public treasury.

It was a statement the Kwara State chapter of the All Progressives Congress did not find funny; it immediately tweeted media reports of Saraki’s use of his pension to award scholarship to students.

In once instance, two best graduating students for Unilorin’s faculty of law, received a N500,000 scholarship courtesy of the Abubakar Bukola Saraki Pension Scholarship Scheme (ABSPSS). And in another, Saraki offered postgraduate scholarships to 73 indigenes who graduated with first class degrees from various universities in the country. Although the worth of each scholarship was not stated, he said earlier that he had donated N45illion to the project.

Therefore, to APC Kwara, there is no issue: Saraki never touched the money in the first place, so case closed. Just like that? Well… not without debating the propriety of the scheme itself.

NO OFFENCE COMMITTED

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APC is not alone in its position that there’s nothing more to discuss. The law entitling Saraki to pension in Kwara came into force after it scaled all legislative hurdles. So, in a way, the Senate President can’t be blamed for a law he didn’t make but only assented to.

He has also not made personal use of the money — or so we have been made to believe. How then can SERAP, or anyone else for that matter, ask him to refund all the pension he has received since 2011 or donate it to charity?

Saraki is busy touching dozens of lives; with the scholarship scheme funded from the pension, scores of brilliant but indigent students have found succour.

Truly, like APC said, this pension controversy is absolutely a moral rather than legal matter.

OFFENCE COMMITTED — ROBBING PETER TO PAY PAUL

First, what exactly is a pension? It is a fund into which a sum of money is added during an employee’s employment years, and from which payments are drawn to support the person’s retirement from work in the form of periodic payments.

In the real sense, can an ex-governor-turned-senator claim to have retired from public life? Is it appropriate to receive salary as senator while simultaneously receiving pension as a former governor? Would it have been possible for a civil servant, having retired from a federal agency, to receive pension while simultaneously collecting salary from another? If the latter scenario cannot happen, why should the former?

In any case, Saraki’s pension was paid from public funds, and no individual outside a government should decide how its funds are spent? Collecting dubious pension to fund scholarships is like robbing Peter to pay Paul. That moral argument can’t be won by Saraki and the Kwara APC.

WORTH OF THE PENSION

Kwara’s 2010 pension law gives a former governor two cars and a security car replaceable every three years, a well-furnished five-bedroom duplex, furniture allowance of 300 per cent of his salary, five personal staff, three SSS, free medical care for the governor and the deputy, 30 percent of salary for car maintenance, 20 per cent for utility, 10 percent for entertainment, 10 per cent for house maintenance.

Based on the approved ‘Remuneration Package for Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders’ prepared by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), a state governor currently earns an annual salary of N11.5 million per annum.

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When the maths is done based on all the percentages in the afore-stated pension, the sum total is a huge amount of money — too much for one person to expend on a scholarship on behalf of the public.

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