…Gowon, Shonekan, Abubakar affected too
- SGF cites paucity of funds
The Federal Government yesterday revealed that it has not paid the salaries and allowances of former presidents and heads of state in the last 10 months. Those being owed salaries include Gen. Yakubu Gowon, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, Chief Ernest Shonekan, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the immediate past president of the country.
Shagari is the oldest of the former Heads of State. The 91-year-old was elected president between October 1, 1979 and December 31, 1983. The failure to meet its statutory obligations to these past leaders, the federal government said, was due to paucity of funds arising from the implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) and the non-provision for these salaries in the service wide votes.
These revelations came when the Senate Committee on Federal Character and Inter- Governmental Affairs, visited the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) as part of its oversight functions. A source who spoke on condition of anonymity revealed that the non-payment of former presidents was also due to lack of approval which ought to have been given by President Muhammadu Buhari.
According to the source, payment schedules had severally been sent to the President for his approval to assess funds in the service wide vote for the purpose but all attempts in that direction failed. The SGF, Mr. Babachir Lawal, explained that the former presidents were being owed salaries because of the unavailability of funds in the service wide votes for this purpose.
“There is a department responsible for payment of former Presidents. Presently funds are not available in the service wide votes to do that. We are aware there was a protest in Bayelsa State that the former President (Jonathan) was not paid, but we’ve explained that he’s not the only one affected. “Others affected are inter religious council, traditional rulers’ council and so on. For some reason, we have been writing and writing, but there has been no response.
And there is presently no money to pay them. The budget for this year’s democracy day was N33 million, and we had to do it on credit. We are yet to pay. There are lots of retreats which ought to be organised but there’s no money to do any. The last time we got any release was in August,” Lawal said.
However, the senators who were led by Senator Tijjani Kaura (APC, Zamfara North) kicked against the non-payment of the former presidents, insisting that joint efforts be made between the office of the SGF and the committee towards finding a solution to the problem which they described as unfortunate.
The lawmakers who took turns to slam the SGF over the development, also emphasised the need to draw the attention of the budget office and ministry of finance to the development, with a view to having the problem tackled immediately.
One of the lawmakers who is the Vice Chairman of the committee, Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi, described the non-payment of former presidents as abnormal. “What we have seen here is an abnormality. Before referring any matter to the National Assembly, it is a function of the executive to appropriate funds. Therefore, the SGF should understand that there is something wrong in this office that must be addressed.
“There is no way you can run the expenses of this office without cash backing. We definitely have to draw the attention of the budget office and ministry of finance to the problems,” Hunkuyi said.
The lawmaker also faulted the office of the SGF over replication of 2016 budget details in its 2017 budget proposal. On his part, former Governor of Sokoto State and senator representing Sokoto North, Aliyu Wamakko, also condemned the situation where past leaders cannot access their statutory entitlements after their meritorious service to the fatherland.
“We can understand if former President Jonathan has not been paid because he just left office. But for someone like Shagari, who lives from hand to mouth, it is something I can’t understand.
This development is really unfortunate. It doesn’t indicate seriousness and fairness,” he said. The SGF, who tried to pacify the visibly aggrieved legislators, said his office had a lot of money in its coffers until the introduction of the TSA as a cardinal policy in public finance management in the country. Lawal also blamed the paucity of funds on the alleged increment in the pay package of these past leaders.
“Before the government left office, they jacked up salaries. We told former Presidents Jonathan and Obasanjo that they cannot earn twice what the others were earning. So we told them we wanted to review it, and we did. So they now earn what the others earn as well. “When I came into office, there was N1.5 billion in the account. We had payment of all liabilities which came to 700 million. Then we wrote to the President to return what was left to the TSA. That was how we came back to a zero balance. “It is painful to me because as a person I know all of them (ex- Presidents) personally.
Now, why have we not been able to get the money? We requested for a budget of N700 million complaining, but the President has his way of doing things. “Look around, you’ll see government vehicles breaking down every now and then. Really, I know the challenges the budget office is facing, but the truth is the funds are not just there. In any government, there are certain agencies that must be served first before others. So we have agreed on that. However, we will lean harder on the finance ministry to see that the situation is turned around.
“As SGF I’m getting embarrassed and demeaned by chasing money coming from demands. All MDAs come to me for things to be done, and it is not quite easy, but we try our best. Last year, these political appointees had nothing.
As to assistance, we really need assistance, if not but to retain all what we have budgeted for,” he said. Lawal urged the National Assembly to intervene in the situation by ensuring it approved funds proposed by his office in the 2017 budget to be presented to the National Assembly soon.