Former governors in the eye of the storm

Posted by News Express | 15 December 2019 | 701 times

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• Orji Uzor Kalu

 

Former governors have never had it so tough in recent times. The emerging political dynamics appears to be rattling the hitherto powerful sets of politicians.

Just when many thought the jailing for corruption of former governors Jolly Nyame, Sen Joshua Dariye, Sen Orji Uzor Kalu indicated how trying the times are for them, the recent judgement against the humongous pensions some of them earn signposts the reality of the times for them.

Although the questionable pension for ex-govenors  have been a dominant public discussion at intervals over the years, the battle between Governor Bello Muhammad Matawalle of Zamfara State and his predecessor, Abdulaziz Yari Abubakar, brought the issue to the fore in this dispensation. Matawalle had accused Yari of paying himself a whopping N360 million from the state’s pension funds while retirees were made to battle the consequences.

However, the recent judgement secured by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) on the issue took the debate to a whole new level.

In a landmark judgement, the Federal High Court in Lagos ordered the federal government to “recover pensions collected by former governors now serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly, and directed the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws permitting former governors and other ex-public officials to collect such pensions.”

The judgment by Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo followed an application for an order of mandamus in suit number FHC/L/CS/1497/2017 filed by SERAP.

SERAP had also written a letter to Mr Malami which read in part: “According to our information, those who reportedly receive double emoluments and large severance benefits from their states include: Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso (Kano); Kabiru Gaya (Kano); Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom); Theodore Orji (Abia); Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa); Sam Egwu (Ebonyi); Shaaba Lafiagi (Kwara); Joshua Dariye (Plateau), and Jonah Jang (Plateau).”

“Others include: Ahmed Sani Yarima (Zamfara); Danjuma Goje (Gombe); Bukar Abba Ibrahim (Yobe); Adamu Aliero (Kebbi); George Akume (Benue); and Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers).”

However it was gathered that at least 22 states starting from Lagos have passed life pensions’ laws for former governors and other ex-public officials.

This recent situation has since sparked a lot of reactions which reflects the ripple effects it would have on the political dynamics of the country.

In Nigeria’s political space, state governors are considered the field marshals. They are regarded as indispensable because of their closeness to the grassroots, which has over time defined them as the single most potent stakeholders in politics, perhaps after the President.

While they were quite influential in previous republics (especially during the 1993 elections when they influenced the choice of running mate in the old Social Democratic Party (SDP), they have proven to be very powerful since 1999, wielding a lot of influence in party affairs and by extension the polity.

While they were crucial in deciding former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s second term bid, the former President has allegedly marshaled the full force of the presidency against governors whom he felt tried to stop his re-election bid at the time. The Obasanjo era was quite trying for governors as it recorded the highest anti-corruption cases against them. However, there was little mention of pensions for governors at the time.

Governors however had a resurgence in the era of Presidents Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan. Besides being their colleagues and within their age brackets, governors at the time largely bankrolled the election of both presidents.

For many pundits, it was during this dispensation that humongous pensions for governors started to emerge.

In January 2017 a media report calculated that ‘‘over N37.36 billion was …expended on servicing 47 former governors in 21 of the nations states as pension payments and provision of houses, staff, and motor vehicles replaceable between three and four years.’’

Even though the pensions were approved by the state assemblies, they were largely regarded as illegal at the time against the backdrop that state laws and the beneficiaries were in breach of the 1999 constitution which defines the remuneration and salaries of public office holders at federal and state levels.

Those who argued against the pension law cited Section 124 in respect of governors, deputy governors and certain other officers specified as follows: ‘‘There shall be paid to the holders of the offices mentioned in [subsection 4] such remuneration and salaries as may be prescribed by a House of Assembly but not exceeding the amount as shall have been determined by the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission.’’

A former minister who also represented Abia State in the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC and was chairman of the RMAFC committee, Chief Emeka Wogu, had said

”anything outside the law that was recommended by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, which is Certain political office holders and judicial officers remuneration act is not in consonance of the law and where it is already prescribed by state Houses of Assembly that means that such laws is in conflict with the federal law.”

The apex socio-cultural organisations in the northern and southern regions of the country  threw their weight behind the court judgment which ordered the recovery of pensions from former governors currently serving as ministers or National Assembly members.

The main northern organisation, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) while expressing support for the judgement, urged the attorney general of the federation and minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) to challenge laws enacted by State Houses of Assembly that are not consistent with the letter and spirit of the Nigerian Constitution.

On its part, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohaneze Ndigbo advocated jail terms for former governors who refuse to comply with the court order on the recovery of the contentious pension.

In same manner, the pan Yoruba organisation, Afenifere described the pension collected by the former governors as a ripoff of the people, stressing that pensioners who served the country for 35years are dying without being paid their pension.

Reacting to the judgement, secretary general of ACF,  Anthony Sani, described the double payment to former governors who are now in government as morally preposterous. He added that ex-governors who served for four years or the maximum eight years should not be entitled to pension.

Sani said, ”ACF has talked about jumbo pay to our public officers, I can say ACF has never been disposed to the idea of not only double payments for ex governors and deputy governors who are now senators or ministers or members of House of Representatives and collecting double remuneration of salaries and pensions that are equivalent to what sitting governors enjoy; it is also opposed to the idea of paying state ex-governors any form of remuneration outside what is provided by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission  (RMAFC),” he said.

The ACF scribe continued,  “This double payment to ex-governors who are now in government is morally preposterous because a governor who served for four years or maximum of eight years should not be entitled to pension let alone any remuneration and perquisites that are same with what sitting governors enjoy. What is more, the ex-governors are often entitled to houses in places of their choice. Some of these houses cost up to a billion naira.

“And so when the court passed the judgement against such practices, it gladdened our hearts precisely because, apart from doing away with the injustice, the stoppage of double payment will reduce cost of governance and the inequality in the society.

“We also share the order of the court to the minister of Justice and attorney general of the federation to the effect that he should challenge such laws that are enacted by the state Houses of Assembly that are not consistent with the letter and spirit of the constitution,” he said.

Sani further recalled that the former minister of Defence, Gen Theophilus Danjuma upbraided Houses of Assembly for conniving with state governors to award jumbo pension and perquisites to governors when they leave office.

“He (Gen Danjuma) called such practice as legal corruption. But nobody cared to listen to the revered statesman. So, while I support the outright stoppage of pension to ex-governors who are in government in other capacities and enjoying salaries of those offices, I am not sure whether it would be right to ask them to refund all they have collected as pension, considering that they collected the pension under state laws that were operational,” he noted.

Similarly, the national publicity secretary of ACF, Muhammad Ibrahim Biu, said the apex northern organisation “abhors illegality in whatever form,  and will therefore subscribe to any court action that will bring sanity into our political system.”

He added, “The pension and other allowances being paid to former political office holders who are now drawing salaries and allowances in their new political offices is, in our opinion, morally wrong and inconsistent with current economic realities.”

Ohaneze Ndigbo, however backed the refund of the contentious pension by the former governors. The assistant national publicity secretary of Igbo socio-cultural group, Comrade Chuks Ibegbu, said ”Yes they should refund it. They have no right to pensions.”

Asked about what should be done if the former governors involved fail to comply, he replied, “they should be jailed.”

Afenifere, the pan Yoruba socio-political organisation, lambasted former governors currently serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly who collect pension from their states, saying its amounts to fraud and extreme criminality.

Spokesman of the association Mr. Yinka Odumakin said that it is highly criminal for any of the governors to continue to rip-off the people.

He stressed that it is an act of corruption, noting that such money should be recovered from them.

He said, ‘’Many of them spent either four or eight years in office. After mismanaging funds, stealing, making money illegally, they then move to the National Assembly, become ministers and continue to collect pensions. They have continued to take advantage of the people, ripping them off. That is corruption. Whereas, pensioners who have served the country for 35years, are dying without being paid their pension.’’

Constitutional lawyer, Mike Ozekhome (SAN) has also condemned the humongous pension, saying

“ I agree that the judgement is a good one because it will free the funds of various states for real development.”

He however believes that in the federal system that each tier of government should be independent, the  state government should be allowed to take decision for themselves and “the federal government cannot dictate to the state.”

But as the spotlight beams on the former governors, they have been distancing themselves from receiving such largesse. Minister of Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs, Senator George Akume has denied ever being paid pension since he left office as former governor of Benue State in 2007.

Akume who subsequently served as Senate Minority leader, said in a statement that the Benue State House of Assembly never enacted a law granting such pay to ex-governors and other public officers.

The statement read “Since the landmark judgment by Justice Oluremi Oguntoyibo of the Federal High Court in Lagos on the issue of ex governor’s pensions last week, I have been inundated with calls from concerned family members, friends and well-wishers.

”My name has appeared in many media platforms as a beneficiary of the bogus and controversial pension package.

“I want to make it abundantly clear that I have not been paid one kobo from such a pension scheme since I left the Governor’s office and won elections to become a Senator from 2007 – 2019. I have also not received the pay since I became a Minister in 2019.

“The plain truth is that the Benue State House of Assembly never enacted a law granting such pay to ex-governors and other public officers. There is therefore no basis in law for such payments to be made to me and they have never been made,” the statement concluded.

Besides, Akume, minister of Transportation and former governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi, has also denied collecting pensions since he left office.

Amaechi, in a tweet said “I have never requested for or collected one kobo as pension from R/State Govt. If offered, I will politely decline & request that the money should be given to Rivers state pensioners. I do not believe that I should receive pension as ex-gov of R/State while serving as a minister.”

Former Senate President, Bukola Saraki who was a former governor of Kwara state and former senator said he stopped collecting the pension after hearing of SERAP’s suit.

“No, I’m not collecting a pension. The moment I saw that SERAP allegation, I wrote to my state to stop my pension,” Saraki was quoted to have said.

Before them, three former governors in President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet had said that they are not receiving pensions from their state governments.

The ministers are Babatunde Fashola (Power, Works and Housing); Chris Ngige (Labour and Employment) and Kayode Fayemi  (former Mines and Steel Development).

It remains to be seen how other former state governors who receive such humungous pensions will react. So far there is no record of an appeal against the judgement. What to look out for also is the execution of the judgement. (Leadership)


Source: News Express

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