Federal Government is owing monthly allowances for former Presidents and ex-Heads of State since January this year.
Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal disclosed this in Abuja yesterday. This was while hosting the Senate Committee of Federal Character and Intergovernmental Affairs.
The SGF lamented unavailability of funds as the reasons government has not paid the former heads of government including Goodluck Jonathan, Olusegun Obasanjo and Shehu Shagari.
“There is a department responsible for the payment of former Presidents. Presently, funds are not available in service-wide vote to do that. We are aware there was a protest in Bayelsa State that the former President Jonathan was not paid but we have explained that he is 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 N33m and we had to do it on credit; we have 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.”
Senators Slam SGF
However, the senators disagreed with the explanation as they berated the SGF over the development.
According to vice-chairman of the committee, Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi, the non-payment of the former presidents is 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 the Ministry of Finance to the problems.”
Another member of the committee, Senator Aliyu Wamakko also bemoaned the situation.
“We can understand if former President Goodluck Jonathan has not being 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 it doesn’t indicate fairness.”
The lawmakers emphasised the need to draw the attention of the Budget Office and the Ministry of Finance to the issue. They also proposed joint efforts between the Office of the SGF and the committee to ensure prompt payment of the leaders.
SGF Promises Turnaround
Babachir Lawal in response said he is embarrassed by the situation and promise to make amends as soon as possible.
“We will lean harder on the finance ministry to see that the situation is turned around. As the SGF, I’m getting embarrassed and demeaned by chasing money coming from demands. All the MDAs come to me for things to be done and it is not quite easy, but we will try our best.
“When I got into this office, there was a lot of money in this (salary) account but there was no TSA.”
“When I came into office, there was N1.5bn in the account. We had payment of all liabilities, which came to 700m. Then, we wrote to the President to return what was left to the TSA. That was how we came back to a zero balance.”
“Before the previous 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.”
“It is painful to me because, as a person, I know all of the ex-presidents personally. Now, why have we not been able to get the money? We requested a budget of N700m 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 that 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.”
“Last year, these political appointees had nothing.”
Calls For Support
Meanwhile, Lawal called on the National Assembly to approve funds proposed by his office in the 2017 budget to be submitted soon.
“We need your help to defend what is in our budget. This is part of the change agenda, so we must learn to sew our cloth according to the material.”
“As for assistance, we really need assistance, if not but to retain all what we have budgeted for.”
The entitlements of former presidents, heads of state and vice-presidents/Chief of General staff had a budgetary provision of N2.3bn for 2016.
The same amount was also budgeted for 2013 and 2014 and 2015 fiscal periods.
The amount is captured under the service-wide vote.