By Jibrin Ibrahim
The letter from former Governor Yari to the current governor of his state complaining that he had only been paid his pension twice since leaving office five months ago and requesting immediate payment of this made Nigerians furious. The most annoying aspect is that Yari was not paying retirees their pensions regularly when in power and left a N6 billion backlog of unpaid pensions, creating the condition for hundreds of elderly people who had served their State to die in penury because he did not think it was a priority to pay them. Nonetheless, as one of the richest Nigerians today, he thought it was normal to insist on being paid his own regularly. This type of behaviour poses a serious question: Are all current and former Nigerian governors mad? After years of siphoning state funds without accountability, why do so many of them stampede state houses of assembly to pass laws providing them pensions for life at rates that are clearly unsustainable for the states, who are forced to stop paying workers and pensioners so that the money could be used to pay them?
This week, I spent three days queuing at the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) office in Abuja participating in a verification exercise to prove that I spent my career teaching students at Ahmadu Bello University. The humiliation we went through was humbling – the demand for original documents from nearly forty years ago, the decision of PTAD not to recognise the 2001 verification in which so many people died in long queues. As I watched the Zamfara saga unfold, I felt a bit lucky, PTAD pays me my pension every month and I succeeded in passing the verification examination yesterday afternoon, so hurray, I am once again a verified pensioner. I also felt that the exercise makes sense for the simple reason that PTAD has had an embarrassing history of mega looting of its funds by officials of the Agency.
As I reflected on governors and pensions, I wondered why they should feel entitled to pension for life because they spent four or eight years in what is supposed to be public service. Why do they not know that being a governor is not a professional career and therefore it makes no sense to demand for pension for this. The most amazing thing for me is that those who passed laws for the biggest pensions for themselves were at the same time those most guilty of not paying pensions to the public servants that had served their states and are suffering in their old age. My conclusion is that these governors are the most wicked people on earth because they take pension they do not need and when in power they refused to pay the elderly who are dying because they do not get the money they need. Yes, they are wicked, callous, heartless, unthinking and uncaring people. This is what I read from the way Nigerians celebrated the decision of the Zamfara State House of Assembly to annul the pension for former governors and speakers.
Unfortunately for me, I am a social scientist, so I cannot end this discourse by arguing, as I have done above, that these former governors are wicked and callous. When the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly passed into law a controversial bill which made humongous retirement provisions for former governors, deputy governors and their spouses five years ago, the law was not even discussed. The executive bill was passed into law within 24 hours after it was received by the state parliament. There was no public hearing and no debate on it, and clearly the Assembly was a mere rubber stamp. There was absolutely no discussion leading to the decision to pay N200 million annually to ex-governors and their deputies. In addition, the Akwa Ibom Governors and Deputy Governors Pension Law 2014 makes it mandatory for ex-governors and deputies to enjoy pension for life at a rate equivalent to the salary of the incumbent governor/deputy governor respectively. A new official car and a sports utility vehicle every four years; one personal aide and provision of adequate security; a cook, chauffeurs and security guards for the ex-governor at a sum not exceeding N5 million per month and N2.5 million for the ex-deputy governor, are the other benefits they are expected to enjoy. The law also provides for a furniture allowance of 300 per cent of their annual basic salary every four years, in addition to severance gratuity and a medical allowance not exceeding N12 million per annum for the spouse of an ex-governor, provided that such a spouse was married to the governor at the time he or she was in office. N2.2 million goes to ex-governors as entertainment allowance, while N2.1 million goes to ex-deputies. To cap it all, the state is mandated to bear the burial expenses of an ex-governor and pay condolence equivalent to the amount of basic salary of the incumbent governor.
The problem, therefore, is that laws are passed without discussions and debate, so the opportunity to show the wickedness in them does not even arise. There were however allegations that some of the State’s former governors were never paid, while others were, so the basic principle of the rule of law did not apply. It is also interesting that in the Zamfara case, as well, some former governors were paid, while others were not. Many State laws are, therefore, applied in a very arbitrary manner.
The chairman of the ruling party, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, also got a law granting him a huge pension before leaving office. The State Government had to build two houses for the former governor and his deputy at N300 million each. Edo State arguably has the highest number of living former civilian governors – Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, Professor Oserheimen Osunbor and lately, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. As a former labour leader, Oshiomhole knew that according to the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, a political office holder is entitled to 300 per cent basic salary only as severance allowance. It is really unbelievable that as former labour leader, he refused to pay pensions in Edo State and increased his own pension just before leaving office.
Most of the retired governors/deputies are currently entitled to salaries in the Senate or in the federal cabinet. The immorality of receiving such huge pensions, while still occupying very well remunerated political positions is a discussion we must have in this country. Nigerians should begin to make clear demands to stop this practice of milking the state while in power and continuing to do so even after leaving office. According to a Vanguard investigation (November 23, 2017), over N37.367 billion was expended on servicing 47 former governors from 21 of the nation’s states in pension payments and provision of houses, staff and motor vehicles that are replaceable between three and four years. The newspaper added that payment of pension to former governors over a four-year cycle are highest in Bauchi, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, and Lagos States, with former governors drawing N23.18 billion, N2.795 billion, N2.043 billion and N1.606 billion respectively over four years.
The political reality in Nigeria today is that state governors are so powerful that no one ever questions the stupid, corrupt and immoral things they do. When Yari wrote to demand that he be paid, he must have been upset that he was being denied his rights. I believe no one would have ever told him that for eight years, he was denying state pensioners their rights. That his action was totally against the Constitution and against religious injunctions. Maybe now he might begin to think about his own terrible behaviour. As long as power continues to be exercised without accountability at the state level, “wickedness” by governors would continue to grow.
A professor of Political Science and development consultant/expert, Jibrin Ibrahim is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development, and Chair of the Editorial Board of PREMIUM TIMES.