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The Federal Government has said it owes
former Presidents and ex-Heads of State including Goodluck Jonathan, Olusegun
Obasanjo and Shehu Shagari allowances since January this year.

This was made know on Thursday when
the members of the Senate Committee of Federal Character and Intergovernmental
Affairs, led by Senator Tijjani Kaura, visited the Office of the Secretary to
the Government of the Federation.

Explaining the reason why the
former heads of government were owed, the SGF, Babachir Lawal, said it was due
to unavailability of funds for the service-wide votes for salaries of
ex-presidents.

Lawal said, “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 and we have
explained that he is not the only one affected.

“Others affected are the
interreligious 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 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.”

A source at the Office of the SGF,
who spoke on condition of anonymity, hinted that the non-payment of former
presidents was due to the lack of approval by President Muhammadu Buhari.

According to the source, payment
schedules have been sent to the President for his approval several times, which
are needed to access funds in the service-wide vote for the purpose, but all
attempts in that direction are to no avail.

The visiting senators, however,
dismissed Lawal’s explanation, insisting that joint efforts should be made
between the Office of the SGF and the committee towards ensuring that the
leaders were paid the arrears.

The lawmakers, who took turns to
slam the SGF over the development, also emphasized the need to draw the
attention of the Budget Office and the Ministry of Finance to the issue, with a
view to having it addressed “immediately.”

The vice-chairman of the committee,
Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi, described the non-payment of the former presidents as
abnormal.

He 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 the Ministry of Finance to the problems.”

Also, Senator Aliyu Wamakko, a
former Governor of Sokoto State, berated the SGF.

“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.”

In an attempt to persuade the
senators, Lawal further explained, “When I got into this office, there was a
lot of money in this (salary) account but there was no TSA.

“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
N1.5bn 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.

“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 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.

“However, 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.

“Last year, these political
appointees had nothing. 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.

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