Former Presidents Goodluck Jonathan, Olusegun Obasanjo, General Ibrahim Babangida, Alhaji Shehu Shagari have not been paid their salaries and allowances since January this year, it was disclosed on Thursday.
The revelation came as a shock to members of the Senate Committee on Federal Character and Inter-Governmental Affairs who visited the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF).
Paucity of funds due to non-approvals by President Muhammadu Buhari was blamed for the inability to pay the entitlements of the former presidents,
Payment schedules were said to have been sent to President Buhari for approval to access funds from the Service Wide Vote to pay the outstanding allowances.
The SGF, Mr Babachir David Lawal, attributed the failure to pay the former leaders their entitlement to the unavailability of funds in Service Wide Votes for salaries of former presidents.
Babachir told the committee members: “There is a department responsible for payment of former Presidents. Presently funds are not available in Service Wide Votes to do that. We are aware that there was a protest in Bayelsa State that former President Goodluck Jonathan was not paid, but we have explained that he is not the only one affected.
“Others affected are the 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 is no money to do any. The last time we got any release was in August.”
The Senator Tijjani Kaura (APC, Zamfara North)-led committee members frowned at the non-payment of the former presidents’ entitlements.
They canvassed joint action between the Office of the SGF and the committee to find an immediate solution to the problem describing the development as “most unfortunate.”
The lawmakers 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 issue addressed immediately.
Vice Chairman of the committee, Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi, described the non-payment of former presidents as abnormal.
Hunkuyi 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.”
A Governor of Sokoto State, Senator Aliyu Wamakko, also criticised the non-payment of former presidents by the office of the SGF.
Wamakko said, “We can understand if former President Goodluck Jonathan has not been 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.”
The SGF who laboured to calm the lawmakers said, “When I got into this office, there was a lot of money on this account, but there was no Treasury Single Account.”
He said, “Before the government left office, they jacked up salaries. We told former President 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 N1.5bn 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 will try our best.
“Last year, these political appointees had nothing. As to assistance, we really need assistance, if not but to retain all that we have budgeted for.”
Babachir urged the National Assembly to intervene by ensuring it approves funds proposed by his office in the 2017 budget to be submitted soon.
“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,” he said.
The committee faulted the office of the SGF over replication of 2016 budget details in its 2017 budget proposal.”