ABUJA—THE Presidency revealed yesterday that in the last 10 months, the federal government has not paid the salaries and allowances of all former Presidents in the country.
They include 91-year-old Alhaji Shehu Shagari; Chief Olusegun Obasanjo; Dr Goodluck Jonathan; former Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida; General Abdulsalami Abubakar; General Yakubu Gowon and Chief Ernest Shonekan.
These was revealed to senators yesterday when the Senate Committee on Federal Character and Inter-Governmental Affairs, led by Senator Tijjani Kaura (APC, Zamfara North) visited the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Dr David Babachir Lawal.
A source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the non-payment of former Presidents was due to President Muhammadu Buhari’s failure to give approval. The source also said the payment schedule had severally been sent for the President’s approval to assess funds in the service wide vote for the purpose, adding that all attempts in that direction were to no avail.
The SGF attributed the non-payment of the former leaders to the unavailability of funds in service wide votes for salaries of ex-Presidents.
He said: “There is a department responsible for payment of former President. At present, funds are not available in service wide votes to do that. ‘’We are aware there was a protest in Bayelsa State that the former President 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 reasons, we have been writing and writing, but there has been no response. And there is currently 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 retreat which ought to be organised but there’s no money to do any. The last time we got any release was in August.” But reacting to the development, the senators kicked against the non-payment of the former Presidents, and insisted that joint efforts be made between the office of the SGF and the committee towards finding a solution to the problem they described as unfortunate.
The lawmakers, who expressed their dismay over the development, also emphasized the need to draw the attention of the Budget Office and Ministry of Finance to the development, with a view to addressing the issue immediately.
Vice chairman of the committee, Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi, who described the situation as abnormal, said: “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.”
Also speaking, Senator Aliyu Wammako, Sokoto North, who kicked against the non-payment of former President’s by the office of the SGF, said: “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 is something I can’t understand. This development is really unfortunate; It doesn’t indicate seriousness, and it doesn’t indicate fairness.” In an attempt to persuade the senators who expressed outright disappointment at the development, the SGF explained: “When I got into this office, there was a lot of money in this account, but there was no TSA. “Before the government left office, they jerked 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 N700 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 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 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 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.
Babachir Lawal also urged the National Assembly to intervene by ensuring it approves funds proposed by his office in the 2017 budget to be submitted soon, saying “What is in our budget, we need your help to defend it. This is part of the change agenda, so we must learn to sew our cloth according to the material.”