By Elizabeth Chukwuma
For much of last week and now, the Bayelsa state Lawmakers have been on the news for passing a bill that would put them on the pension list of the state Civil Servants for life. They had expected Seriake Dickson, the state governor, to assent to the bill giving their close working relationships over the years. they got it wrong. they got it wrong as Dickson, was not ready to pander to their demands.
Under the proposed life pension bill for the Lawmakers in the state, past and present speakers will go home with a monthly package of N500, 000.00, Deputy Speakers, N200,000.24 and the other members, N100,000.00. The greedy Lawmakers, who are described as inconsiderate to the suffering of the people , according to sources had wanted to equate themselves with former Presidents, military Heads of state, governors and Deputy governors , across the states of the Federation who are on the government pension list.
Political watchers believe that the bill was bound to fail from the onset . This is because it was a bill meant to serve the selfish interest of the Legislators and not the people of the state. The Value News finding shows that the bill had received wide condemnations both within and outside the state, with a call on the state governor not to assent to it. They saw the Bayelsa state legislators as setting a bad precedent for other state legislators to follow suit to arm-twist their governors to assent to it if such a bill should be sent to them.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, was the first to fire the shot. The group in a letter to the governor had enjoined him not to sign the bill which it considered as ”incorrect and improper performance of public functions” by the lawmakers. It noted that ”rather sponsoring bills that would benefit the people of the state , the lawmakers are taking advantage of their privilaged position s to ”propose a bill to collect large severance packages”.
The group which could not hide its feelings had averred that by passing such a self serving bill, the ”Bayelsa state House of Assembly members have violated the Constitutional and International prohibitions on conflicts interests”.
Appealing to the governor to reject the bill, SERAP said ,it is the only way he could win himself back to the heart of the people who had lost hope on the legislators role of making laws for the good governance of the state. They urged the governor to use his position to prevail upon the House to drop the proposed bill to avoid throwing the state into a Constitutional crisis that might spread to other states and thus create economic crisis for the country.
Dickson, the Bayelsa governor, may have known the legal implications of assenting to the obnoxious proposed life pension bill for the legislators that he had pitched his tent with the people by turning his back on it. Perhaps, to avoid incurring the anger of the legislators to his Executive bills, the governor was said to have conveyed the decision to decline assent to the proposed legislators bill to the House Speaker on Monday, April 29, 2019.
Given the seriousness of the matter, he was said to have held consultations with several opinion leaders n the state including the Assembly members in Toru-Orua, his home town, where he was said to giving them reasons why he could not sign the bill. He was said to have made the lawmakers to understand that the proposed bill was ”inconsistent with section 124 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended , of the Federal of Nigeria.
He was said to have also drawn it to their ears that they lack the powers to ”expand the categories of public servants who would be entitled to pensions in the country. An aggrieved Bayelsa state governor said he had to withdraw his assent to the bill because the state is ”bedeviled with a lot of challenges which the monthly allocations from the Federation accounts could not solve. He noted that the financial situation of the state was made worse because of its low internal revenue generation despite being a major oil producing state and therefore could not accommodate such extra-expenditure.
The governor who could not hide his feelings said he was ”guided in the decision not to assent to the bill by the principle that ”government should not be for a selected Class of the privilaged few in the society”. He could not understand why Bayelsa Hose , could be the one , out of the 36 states House of Assembly that could come up with such a bill, that had received wide condemnation.
Note that in the over the last seven years, Dickson, has not allowed the dictates of his office had not allowed the dictates of his office to blindfold him from fulfilling his electioneering Campaign promises to the people as he had initiated populist policies that would benefit the larger society such as Health Insurance Scheme, where over 150,000 people had so far benefited, Education Trust Fund, Scholarship programmes that are supporting tertiary Institutions students both within and outside country and other Empowerment Schemes to support the old people, vulnerable people , provision of Housing including massive employment to reduce the level of unemployment in the state as well as other social intervention programmes which , political Observers said are already gaining root in the state.
The governor may have provided a soft landing for the House of Assembly members when he asked them to ”liaise with the Committee on the Contributory Pension Scheme , which he had set up” if they are interested of benefiting from the scheme including other political appointees, at both state and local government levels. He may have assured them that if legislative action was required after the Committee might have concluded its assignment , he would readily communicate with them, an indication that he might bow to pressures from the Assembly quarters to meet their demand over the proposed pension bill.