There are many things we must suffer at the hands of politicians who claim we elected them to serve, but I thought that offering our life blood to pay their pension was no longer one of the miseries.
How wrong I was. From figures approved by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, in a week’s time, governors and their deputies in 20 states will take home N4.68billion as pension.
The RMAFC said the billions, which make the Enron years Wall Street fat cats look like saints, were part of the statutory one-off payments that the governors will enjoy for the trouble of serving citizens for periods of between four and eight years.
The beneficiaries include governors in many of the 24 states owing salary arrears of four months and above, among other unattended obligations.
They include the governors of Sokoto, Katsina, Adamawa, Jigawa, Plateau, Bauchi, Kebbi and Ebonyi, among others, whose states were named among the wretchedly poor in 2013 by the National Bureau of Statistics. And by poor, the NBS meant that over 70 per cent of citizens in these states could hardly afford a decent meal a day and had no access to clean water, healthcare or education.
On Wednesday, Vice President-elect Professor Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, said, “Our biggest national problem is extreme poverty,” adding that “110 million Nigerians (that’s the equivalent of nearly half of the population of West Africa) are living in extreme poverty.”
Only recently, Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said the country had been borrowing money to pay salaries. Are we also going to be borrowing aggressively to pay the scandalous pensions of a few?
Poverty statistics don’t tell the whole story. But it’s there for you to see; you don’t have to travel to the remote villages in any of the stricken states to see poverty face-to-face. It’s there in the story of the school children in Garki Secondary School, Abuja, who were locked out because their parents could not find N4,000 to pay their fees.
It’s there in the story I heard last week of a pregnant woman with a child on her back who was walking from Dape to Gwarimpa – a distance of about 10km – just to ask her sister for money to pay her medical bill at the Gwarimpa General Hospital, Abuja.
It was there in a banner held aloft by a protester during the 2012 subsidy riots in Abuja, with the following words: “Since politicians insist on eating everything, soon the poor will have nothing but the rich to eat.”
How can a state that is unable to meet its basic obligations to citizens set aside billions of naira to pay the pension of governors and political appointees who are leaving behind empty treasuries?
I thought the matter was dead and buried. Around this time last year, Governor Goodswill Akpabio touched a raw nerve with the public when he leaned on the state House of Assembly to approve a bill, which, among other things, allowed the governor and his deputy to pocket 300 per cent of their basic salary as pension and use up to N100million in annual medical bills.
The bill also provided for up to N5million or $50,000 monthly allowance for the governor’s cooks, chauffeur and security guards. To make the obscenity complete, the state was also to build two houses for the governor – one in Uyo, the state capital, and the second in Abuja. Her Excellency, the governor’s wife, was also to get N12million for being, well, the governor’s wife.
When Akpabio couldn’t convince the public that what he was pressing the House to do was, in fact, a watered down version of the monstrosity provided for in the law, he backed down.
As it has turned out, it was a manoeuver, not surrender.
We knew he was in good company – and could even have the backing of the law – but it was obvious that neither the bad example from other states nor an unconscionable piece of jurisprudence can justify this crime. Because that is what it is – state-sponsored robbery.
If politicians in richer countries have chosen frugal pension – an ex-governor in India, for example, used to earn the Rupee equivalent of N100,000 yearly, before it was raised to N2.8million in 2012 – then I don’t know where our politicians got the idea that they must have our life blood as icing on their life after office cake.
I don’t know how long this is going to continue but I guess it will for as long as citizens permit it. It is not in the hands of the state lawmakers most of whom are in the pockets of their governors. For their part, the governors are happy to leave things the way they are, if they do not add to the heist, on the excuse that they did not make the law.
Those who think the harsh economic times will force a review of the existing unjustifiable pension law need to be reminded that the pension of the governors and their deputies are treated as sacrosanct budget items. They are not subject to falling statutory revenues from Abuja, leakages or sheer stealing which have pauperised many of the states.
And it doesn’t even matter if the governor served only one year before he was removed from office.
That means the N4.68billion pension the governors are taking home to play with have already been provided for. It was part of their states’ budget for 2015; the governors are only waiting for May 29 to receive the credit alert.
If citizens don’t feel sufficiently outraged by this nonsense to demand an immediate change, then they should enjoy their misery. A former governor told me on Wednesday that waiting for the state houses of assembly to change the ridiculous pension law is not an option.
“What the governors do,” he said, “is to give them (the state lawmakers) ‘something’ that guarantees a sumptuous life pension.”
This nonsense must stop.
We don’t have to wait until we have only the rich to eat before we demand change.
Culled from http://leadership.ng/columns/435108/governors-want-to-have-us-for-dinner