During a plenary on May 25, 2023, the Benue state house of assembly passed a lifetime maintenance bill for former elected governors and their deputies in the state into law.
Titled ‘bill for a law to make provisions for the maintenance of former governors of the state and their deputies for other matters connected thereto’, it is expected to cover all governors and their deputies democratically elected since 1999.
Since Benue was created in 1976, it has had three democratically elected governors: George Akume, Gabriel Suswam and Samuel Ortom.
News360 Info understands that the lifetime pension bill was forwarded to the state house of assembly in April 2023 and was passed by the lawmakers and assented the same day by Ortom — four days to the end of his eight-year tenure.
‘Expensive monthly stipend, 2 SUVs’: Inside Ortom’s initiated law
In a copy noted, the law states that the elected governor and their deputies will be entitled to a monthly stipend equivalent to the basic salary of a serving/incumbent governor and its deputy in the state.
The law provides that the ‘monthly stipend’ be charged from the states Consolidated Revenue Funds (CRF).
A CRF is a fund generated by the states from pay-as-you-earn tax (PAYE), direct assessment, road taxes, and revenues from some ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs).
That means the law prioritises the payment of the monthly stipend to the ex-governors and their deputies against other expenses like salaries, pensions and gratuity of the citizens.
The state government is also mandated to avail the former governors with six personal staff including one personal assistant, two drivers, two cleaners and one cook, while a former deputy governor will enjoy three personal staff including one personal assistant, one driver and one cleaner.
The law also provides that all former governors are entitled to N25 million and N15 million to the former deputies as maintenance allowance every four years.
The law also stipulates that a former governor will be entitled to two official SUV cars of his status “and one official SUV car of his status as former deputy governor”.
It was revealed that the law does not state or place a cap on the amount to be expended on the utility vehicles.
Others include “provision of security personnel on a 24hrs guard on surveillance as the former governor directs in his lifetime, coverage of yearly medical expenses, a replacement of vehicles every four years with new ones of same quality and status and six personal staff for the governor to be paid by the state”.
Unpaid workers’ salary, pension
As at May 2, 2023, workers in the state are reportedly owed between 10 to 11 months salary while pensioners are owed 38 months pensions.
Earlier in the month, members of the Benue state house of assembly also suspended plenary over six months’ salary arrears and allowances.
During the flagging off of the state’s Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS), Ortom apologised to retirees and workers of the state over the inability of successive governments to find a lasting solution to the backlog of unpaid pensions in the state.
The outgoing governor added that the huge pension liabilities he inherited were one of the unpleasant realities his administration had been battling.
“The pension problem was competing for attention with the humanitarian crisis arising from the perennial herder’s attacks as well as other challenges of development and governance,” Ortom said.
Ortom asking for lifetime pension but leaving behind N141 billion state debt profile
According to the country’s Debt Management Office (DMO), as of December 2022, Benue has a debt profile of N141.3 billion. This makes the state 13th most indebted state in Nigeria.
The state’s internally generated revenue (IGR) is not also pleasing.
A fact sheet by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reveals that Benue accrued N12.6 billion to its IGR account in 2021, N10.5 billion in 2020 and N17.2 billion in 2019.