Editorial: Hall of Shame for Nigeria’s sleazy double-dipping public officials

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Nothing underscores more the culture of greed, insensitivity and impunity that has crept into the public service of Nigeria than the scenario of multiple remuneration and pension schemes for serving public officers who previously served and pensioned in other capacities. This obnoxious practice involves high office holders such as cabinet ministers, governors, senators, and top military officials, who arrogated themselves outlandish perks that have gone to such ridiculous levels as to be perpetuated for life; even as the standard of living of an average Nigerian deteriorates daily and majority have been taken hostage by abject poverty, disease, hunger and insecurity. Representative democracy which by definition should be of, by, and for the people, seems to have put the worst Nigerians in government. Thus, in what must qualify as the most unconscionable parasitism imaginable, political leaders who begged voters to be entrusted with the management of state affairs would loot and rape public resources not only while in office but even out of office. In a country where governors are struggling to pay workers N34,000 ($50) minimum wage; this gluttony in high places is atrocious in the extreme. It is an unbelievable shame that qualifies as a case study in greed and selfishness.

 

It is comforting that a federal court has ordered affected ex-governors serving as ministers and senators to refund pensions they have collected so far. This is a good starting point to deal with the executive criminality. On the heels of the court decision, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti) and Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto) and other 34 governors urging them to use their “leadership position to urgently disclose details of payment of pensions to former governors and other ex-officials between 1999 and 2019 under your state’s pension law… and to provide the names and number of ex-governors and other ex-officials receiving pensions in your state, and to publicly commit to repealing the law, and to pursue recovery of funds collected under the pension law.” In and out of office, Nigerian governors are on a roller coaster and the nation is now a victim of her corrupt, inept, clueless and lawless leadership.

 

Many state houses of assembly have gone against the recommendations of the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission to approve huge benefits for former governors and other ex-public office holders. Between 1999-2019, some State Houses of Assembly passed into law; bills sent by the State Governors, to the effect that they would be entitled to atrocious perks to address post-service challenges. The packages were such that disengaging public officers, including former governors and their deputies left office not feeling the difference between in and out because their pension packages and privileges of their offices remained intact. Some former governors are now entitled to life pension at a rate equivalent to the salary of the incumbent governor. In addition, they are entitled to a new official car and SUV replaced every four years, personal aide, cook, chauffeurs and adequate security detail at the expense of the state government.

 

Contrary to all expectations, most former governors left office and “retired” to the Senate or were appointed into the cabinet or other departments or agencies, where they continue to earn salaries and perks, in addition to their outlandish pension packages. Immediately affected are five cabinet ministers -Babatunde Fashola (Lagos, Housing and Urban Devt), Senator Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom, Niger Delta), Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers, Transportation), Rauf Aregbesola (Osun, Interior) and Timipre Sylva (Bayelsa, State Petroleum). Third Republic governors -Muhammed Lafiagi (Kwara, 1992-1993) and Isiaka Adeleke (Osun, 1992-1993), also made the endless list of infamy, which features others like Chris Ngige. And as if public resources are limitless, these ex-governors are also entitled to a befitting house not below a five-bedroom mansion in the FCT, Abuja or any place of their choice; allowances for furniture; yearly maintenance, free fuel and utilities. When this is added to the remuneration and perks of ex-governors who are now Senators, the cost of governance weighs heavily on the resources of the nation to the detriment of social services and infrastructural development. The irony of this repugnancy is that it has become pervasive at a time the country is facing the worst economic recession in decades.

 

Former Zamfara Governor, Abdul’aziz Yari’s written request for the payment of his “monthly upkeep allowance of ten million naira only…and a pension equivalent to the salary he was receiving while in office,” triggered created a devastating ripple effect, bringing to public attention and loud condemnation similar obnoxious laws in other states; from rich Lagos and Akwa Ibom, to poor Ekiti, Osun and Katsina. There are more undeserved other holders of high office, including senators Orji Uzor-Kalu and Theodore Orji (Abia), Kassim Shettima (Borno), Sam Egwu (Ebonyi), Danjuma Goje (Gombe) Rochas Okorocha (Imo), Ibrahim Shekarau and Kabiru Gaya(Kano) and Ibrahim Geidam (Yobe).

 

One of the poster children of this criminality is former Senate President, David Mark (Benue South), first elected to the Senate in 1999. While in the military, Mark served as Niger governor (1984 and 1986) and retired in 1993 as Brigadier-General after serving as Communication Minister. It is standard operating procedure that all Senators get an end-of-tenure gratuity every four years. Double Dipping Senators also get pensions from their states. This begs the question: since Mark has been different persons at different times; and is still in active service earning his salary as a sitting Senator; is he entitled to pension and from which quarters?

 

Mark is not alone. Other double-dipping Senators include: former Senate President Bukola Saraki, (Kwara 2003-2011); Godswill Akpabio, (Akwa-Ibom, 2007-2015); Rabiu Kwankwaso, (Kano 1999-2003 & 2011-2015); Joshua Dariye (Plateau 1999-2007); Jonah Jang (Plateau 2007-2015); Abdullahi Adamu (Nassarawa 1999-2007); Aliyu Wammako (Sokoto 2007-2015); Bukar Ibrahim (Yobe 1999-2007); Theodore Orji (Abia 2007-2015); George Akume (Benue, 1999-2007); Adamu Aliero (Kebbi 1999-2007); Samuel Egwu (Ebonyi 1999-2007); Danjuma Goje (Gombe 2003-2011); Sanni Yerima (Zamfara 1999- 2007); Abubakar Danladi (Taraba deputy governor 2007-2015); Eyinnaya Abaribe (Abia deputy governor 1999- 2003) and Abiodun Olujimi, (Ekiti deputy governor 2005-2007).

 

As ex-governor of Nigeria’s richest state, Fashola has a pension, in addition to earnings from his law firm. It is just unconscionable that he should be earning a salary as Minister of Works, Housing and Power. There are hundreds of thousands of double-dipping public office holders like former Education Minister and now Rivers State Governor, Nysom Wike, who are stealing the nation blind. The inherent social injustice wherein ex-governors enjoy lavish, humongous pension packages and continue to enjoy fat perks of office as federal lawmakers or cabinet ministers is most difficult to comprehend. In fact, the anti-graft agencies should launch a public campaign to recover all the misappropriated funds from these double-dipping public officials, including pensioned ex-governors who are now ambassadors or head of federal departments and agencies.

 

There is nothing in the labor laws of Nigeria that allows for such waste of scarce public resources on people who simply migrated through a revolving door from one position to another after four or eight years. Even if one concedes the right of a governor to retire and receive a pension till death; to concomitantly earn a salary, while receiving pension is to mock the concept of true reward. This reckless squandermania practically subjects the Nigerian people to eternal servitude and make its public officials totally dependent on the national treasury for life. The audacity of this impunity is rooted in the docility of the Nigerian people; who know this is wrong and unjust but do no more than bemoan in the closet of their rooms, whereas democracy expects them to do more. Nigerians have become a band of docile and complacent people, who concur in the despoliation of their land by their passive indifference and cold complicity in the face of reckless, arbitrary and ungodly dissipation of their commonwealth.

 

With this kind of obnoxious double-dipping, candidates for public office are ready more than ever to kill and to destroy to get to that office, for the everlasting enjoyment and opulence it offers devoid of sweat and stress. What should worry Nigerian politicians and office holders, in all of this is that they could wittingly or unwittingly be setting a wrong precedence that does not, however, inspire confidence that tomorrow would be better than today even with a change at the helm of affairs. It seems indeed, with Buhari and the APC, it may be worse. The leaders of yesteryear did not vote so much money for life after office. And yet, they did not steal or were not likely to have stolen as callously, ferociously, brazenly and irresponsibly as the present crop of politicians do.

 

At both federal and state levels, public resources are, year in, year out, allocated to former heads of state, former chief justices, Senator, House Reps, governors - indeed all sorts of people who have only been allowed by providence and the grace of the people, to hold high office. All these point to an unpardonable character deficiency among the Nigerian political leadership and the elite in general. It speaks for a deep-seated lack of compassion and shame that any Nigerian in leadership position can expropriate for himself and his family these huge sums of money amidst the misery in the country.

 

Certainly, every Nigerian must strengthen this democracy by protecting it from ravaging locusts that public officials have become. Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari must order the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), being the constitutional organ charged with that responsibility, to undertake a review of the perks of past and current public holders. There should be no further remuneration; none at all for the kleptomaniacs Nigeria is saddled with who are known to have stolen more than enough for their unborn generations of children. In the case of the greedy double-dipping office holders, they must retrace their steps as poster children for the republic of greed by refunding their pensions or be enrolled into a “Hall of Shame” by the citizens.