By Andy Chukwu
Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State has declined assent to the bill seeking life pension for former lawmakers from the state as proposed and passed by the Bayelsa State House of Assembly last week.
The controversial bill has attracted condemnation from Bayelsans, including civil society groups who were planning a showdown with the lawmakers.
Mr Daniel Iworiso-Markson, the state Commissioner for Information, who said this on Monday, added that the governor had conveyed his decision to decline assent to the bill in a letter to the Speaker of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly on Monday.
He said the governor held consultations with the Assembly members in Toru-Orua, where he explained his reason for rejecting the bill to the lawmakers.
Iworiso-Markson quoted the governor as having said that the bill was inconsistent with Section 124 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.
Dickson said he was of the view that the State Assembly lacked the powers to expand the categories of public servants who should be entitled to pension.
He stressed that he had to withhold assent to the bill because the state, which was bedeviled with a lot of challenges in spite of its low Internally Generated Revenue base and unstable earnings from the oil economy, was the only state in Nigeria to come up with such a bill.
The governor stressed that he was guided in the decision by the principle that government should not be for a select privileged few in the society.
He said the lawmakers and indeed the Nigerian populace would attest to the fact that all the decisions of his administration were guided by the urge “to protect public interest and promote the general good.”
Dickson said, “The provisions of this bill granting pension to members of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly and the extension of same to former members of the Assembly and Bayelsa indigenes who served in the old Rivers State House of Assembly, is inconsistent with Section 124 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.
“I am not convinced about the legality of this bill which seeks to expand the categories of persons entitled to pension. While I agree that the Assembly can adjust the quantum of pension payable to persons entitled to pension, I am not convinced that the House has powers to add to the categories of pensionable public officers.
“Evidently, there is no record of any other state in this country that has expanded the categories of pensionable public officers to include lawmakers. I do not agree that Bayelsa, which is coping with all the myriads of issues and challenges, with our low Internally Generated Revenue base and the unpredictable oil economy, should be the first to initiate this.
“Honourable members of this Assembly, Bayelsans and other Nigerians following our progress as a government would clearly attest to the fact that my entire public service, actions and decisions are marked by what is in the public interest, particularly the interest of the vulnerable, ordinary people. It is in the service of this category of people that in the last seven years, I have, in an unprecedented manner, which only history will record and reward, extended the frontiers of the benefits of purposeful democratic governance.
“It is my philosophy that government should not be for a select few. In the last seven years, my actions and decisions, which have sometimes elicited opposition from the elite who have been feeding fat on the resources of our state, have been marked by this singular disposition of mine.
“And I do not intend at this point to abandon that. Rather, I intend to do more to consolidate on the policies and actions which have been taken to protect the vulnerable. Therefore, I am unable to assent to this bill which in my view aims to expand and consolidate the class interest of a privileged few.”
The governor said the quest to protect the vulnerable against the privileged few inspired the populist programmes of his administration.
These, he said, included the Bayelsa Health Insurance Scheme with over 150, 000 beneficiaries, the Education Trust Fund, local and foreign scholarship programmes, empowerment schemes, support for the aged, the most vulnerable, employment, public housing and a number of other social intervention programmes.
He commended the leadership of the House for the healthy relationship with the executive and the high level of productivity as shown by the high number of bills and motions passed during the period.
Dickson said notwithstanding his decision to decline assent to the bill, he still “holds the Assembly in very high esteem.”
The governor also noted that he had to set up a committee on the contributory pension scheme to make it workable so that interested assembly members and other appointees at the state and local government levels could take advantage of it.