The Akwa Ibom state Peoples Democratic Party-dominated House of Assembly, on May 26, approved a jumbo severance and pension package for the state governor and his/her deputy on leaving office. The life pension for ex-governor and deputy would be the equivalent of the annual salaries of the incumbents. A governor whose term is up would be entitled to a “severance gratuity” 300 % of his annual basic salary.
Besides, he would be guaranteed free medical care for himself and wife worth not less than N100 million a year; his deputy would get half that amount. Again, an ex-governor is assured N5 million a month to hire a cook, drivers and guards while the deputy governor would get N2.5 million. Other provisions of the pension law include a “befitting accommodation” not below a 5-bedroom house in Abuja or Akwa Ibom for the ex-governor and his deputy would receive an accommodation allowance 300 % of his annual basic salary.
Not unexpectedly, news of this hefty pension package has been greeted with shock and condemnation in the state and across the country. Rights group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has described it as “immoral, unfair,…unreasonable and a rip-off on a large scale”. It cannot understand why a former governor would continue to enjoy “a steady stream of public funds” while hundreds of thousand pensioners go unpaid.“The governor cannot lawfully give to himself a steady stream of public funds for life at a time millions of pensioners, including Akwa Ibom’s, face cuts in their pensions and remain in poverty without any state support. This initiative obviously undermines the professed fight against corruption by the President Goodluck Jonathan government,” SERAP Executive Director Adetokunbo Mumuni said in a statement.
SERAP has said it all. It is morally wrong for a governor whose expensive lifestyle has been wholly financed by the tax payer’s money to continue to enjoy the same perquisites of office in private life, more so if the governor did nothing to improve the wellbeing of his people while in office. This is not to talk of the huge amounts of public money many former governors might have helped themselves to while in office.
Finance and coordinating minister of the economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, over the weekend, named Akwa Ibom among the top 10 states that received N1.6 trillion from the federation account in 2013 alone. Gov. Akpabio’s state got N260bn, the highest. “What do our states and local governments do with the resources they get?” she asked. Without directly accusing state governors of stealing public funds, she lamented that “people seldom ask what the state governments are doing to develop the country.”
Gov. Akpabio must have deadened his conscience to have railroaded the House of Assembly to pass that obnoxious bill. He is noted for his generosity to religious bodies and musicians he invites to the state to perform for him but cannot pay the N18, 000 national minimum wage his government made a show of approving in 2012. The self serving nature of this law is not in doubt. The governor is in the last lap of his two term tenure and would like to continue to live a life of opulence out of office, paid for by workers whom he cannot pay a meager N18,000.
We appeal to the governor’s sense of proportion, if he still has it, in this matter and in the interest of justice and fairness, we urge him not hurry to sign the new legislation. A good name, they say, is much more valuable than wealth. The governor should think more of leaving office with a good name than a life of comfort outside office.