Opinion: Hope Uzodinma And Repudiation Of Governors’ Jumbo Pension

 

By Mikky Attah

 

Gov Uzodinma

 

In Nigeria, a country where Governors resist paying workers the minimum wage but pass laws for their own jumbo pensions, Uzodinma’s recent action stands out.Many Nigerian politicians would not hesitate to kill an opponent if that would further the politician’s chances of getting into public office. This is particularly true of governorship candidates.

In a number of states, several candidates have, at one time or another experienced assassination attempts, or faced having their residences burnt down. Their supporters also get maimed and killed during election campaigns. In Ogun State stands a stadium named after a businessman/ philanthropist, Dipo Dina. He was shot dead in 2010 just for contesting the governorship. In Lagos, my then neighbour and a man widely referred to as ‘Gentleman’, Funsho Williams was murdered in his home, after he indicated interest in taking a shot at governing Lagos State. Three weeks after Engr Williams was killed, Dr Ayo Daramola, a former World Bank consultant was murdered at his home. He was a governorship aspirant of Ekiti State.

It is certain that the person who kills people so as to become Governor does not do that in order to deliver diligent, selfless service to the people. In the main, people get into high government positions Not Only For What They Can Get, But For All They Can Get!

The Governor of a Nigerian state is a very powerful individual. His access to wealth is astounding. He is both Chief Accountant and Chief Spender of all the resources of state. In fact, funds for the rest two arms of government are not paid independently but are disbursed through him. He can borrow huge funds with both domestic and external facilities- without any intention of repaying. The funds are collected in the name of his state. Governors have access to the ‘ security vote’ , for which there is no requirement that it be accounted for. And once there is a desire to search for “foreign investors”, then estacode is made available on demand to the Governor, for foreign travel and tours. The citizens of a lot of these states however go without salaries for many months. Retired workers often die on queues, waiting to collect their infrequently paid pensions. In all of it, their chief executive leads a lavish lifestyle, whether or not others receive wages, gratuities or pensions.

Meanwhile that aspect, for those governors, is just THE GOOD PART. THE BEST PART COMES AFTER their term in office! It is there many Governors live it up. In an act unknown to human existence; whereby the employee fixes his own salary, allowances and benefits, very many Governors pay themselves jumbo pensions, salaries and allowances. Governors in 26 out of the 36 states of Nigeria have presented executive bills for laws to be passed for their own stupendous jumbo ‘pension’ packages. The law usually covers their deputies; in some cases, it even extends to the principal officers of the state house of assembly. Expectedly, the Governor demands…..EVERYTHING!

A typical Governor’s pension package will look something like this: ‘befitting’ mansions built for them by the state government in their state capital As Well As in Lagos or Abuja, whichever the Governor chooses (minimum specification is a 5 Bedroom maisonette). Furniture allowance for ‘befitting’ furnishing of aforementioned maisonette ( every 4 years, more money must be paid for furnishing). N100 million as gratuity. 100% of current basic salary of the incumbent and deputy i.e. Full Salary for former Governors FOR LIFE. Brand new jeeps and hilux cars , to be replaced every few years (specification: no vehicle less than N15 million in cost). 300% basic salary for car maintenance and 300% of basic salary for utilities. N5 million monthly to pay for a steward, cook, driver, personal aide and security. Female security is required for spouses( or male security, as in the case with spouses of female Deputy Governors!). 100% of basic salary for entertainment. Medical allowances, within the country and overseas for UNSPECIFIED numbers of family members for life . (This applies even to those who have more than one wife!).

Now, apart from seeing to the good health and wellbeing of these Governors all through their lives, their pension packages extend Even Till After Their Deaths! And so you have provisions such as: 300% of basic salary to be paid to next of kin upon the death of a former Governor as ‘Condolence Allowance’. An annual sum of N12 million paid to the widow or widower for life( N6m for the spouse of a Deputy Governor). This is all in addition to the already established rule that the state government bears Full Cost of the burial of a former Governor.

What is also incredible in all this is that the revenue allocation commission, the RMAFC already has something in place for former Governors and chief judges. 300% of basic salary is the severance allowance for governors. The commission also recommends a regular change of one car. Then, the Police force and the DSS provide paid security for former Governors and their deputies. But today, former Governors receive about N10 million monthly, from their various state governments.

It is said of Nigeria that this is the most expensive democracy in the world, with the bulk of expenses going on running costs. One thing that is certain is that the states that pay this jumbo pension to their former Governors rank at the top of the list of states with the highest domestic debts. They also have the highest external debt, of states in Nigeria!

It is shuddering to think of the number of people any of those 26 states would have to cater for, with the number continuously rising. In Imo State for instance, that number is put at 15, running up billions of naira annually, to maintain just those few.

Then came Governor Hope Uzodinma ; only 5 months in the saddle. Just as Nigerians had resigned themselves to their ‘ hopeless’ situation, the Imo State Governor (pleasantly) surprised the nation penultimate week with his new law repealing pensions for former Governors. At this period of dwindling federal allocations and “lockdown” of income generating economic activity, the urgency of this law cannot be over- emphasised.

In a complete reversal of the trend wherein successive Governors simply add clauses to their pension packages, to make for greater luxury, Uzodinma put a stop to it all, in Imo. In repealing the jumbo pensions law, Uzodinma also said something every other educated Nigerian already knew, but which the privileged Governors totally disregarded: that by the constitutional provision, Outgone Governors Are Not Even Entitled To Any Pension! The constitutional minimum for pensions is 10 years in government service; the maximum tenure for an elected governor is 8 years in office. What makes Uzodinma’s new law astonishing is that (a) it is in the interest of the state and ( b) He Himself Stood To Benefit from the law he just repealed! The second factor especially is the basic consideration of many others, when executive bills are to be made. But Uzodinma said it was illegal for former Governors to paid pensions and gratuities. He said he found it ‘indefensible’ that over one third of the budget would be devoted purely to servicing ex Governors and their deputies. Notably, Uzodinma said the jumbo pensions had “led, for a very long time, to a precedence that does not encourage diligence and prudence in service delivery”. Implying that for Imo at least, diligence in service is assured, in governance. Hear, hear.

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