By Ochereome Nnanna
IT started like a joke when news made the rounds that some states were planning to pay pension to their elected ex-governors. The trend started in Kwara and since then, others like Lagos, Gombe and Kebbi have followed suit.
The one that is currently causing heated public debate is the Rivers State Governor and Deputy Governor Pension and Fringe Benefits Bill 2012. It has already been passed by the state House of Assembly and signed into law by Governor Chibuike Amaechi.
It provides that governors who successfully serve two terms should be provided with houses in any part of Rivers State and Abuja, while Deputies will be entitled to a house in Rivers. They will also be entitled to pension for life equivalent to the basic salary of a sitting governor/deputy, three cars replaceable every year with full complements of domestic and security staff, all paid by the state government. In other words, they will retire into a life of relative comfort and security at the expense of the state, provided: (a) they were not impeached from office and (b) they were not found guilty of any infraction of the 1999 Constitution which they swore to uphold.
The law has an interesting, albeit brief history.
It was sponsored by Chidi Lloyd on February 22, 2012. He said it was “God” who sent him to do so. The 32 members of the House deliberated on it. Thirty of them led by the Speaker of the House, Otelemaba Amachree supported it, saying it would stop such office holders from stealing. But two others, namely Victor Ihunwo (PH) and Kelechi Nwogu (Omuma) kicked against it, saying it was “anti-people” and their constituents were not for it.
Though it had a smooth passage on the floor of the House, groups outside the legislature are spoiling for war. For instance, the state chapter of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners, NUP, the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Rivers State Chapter and the Niger Delta Citizens and Budget Platform, NDCBP, say they will have none of it. Even though the executive branch did not sponsor it, the government is concerned that it is attracting unsavoury public attention to it.
As far as I am concerned, the law attempts to provide the answer to the much vexed question: How do we guard against public officers, especially the Chief Executive of a state and his Deputy yielding to the temptation of stealing public funds to protect themselves from poverty after the glory years in power? How do we ensure that honest occupants of these coveted seats do not become bad in fear of a bleak future after power? How do we ensure that one does not have to be a multi-millionaire before contesting for governor or deputy governor; and more importantly, how do we prevent people of simple means from coming out of power now turned into multi-billionaires through graft?
It is true that no pension or gratuity will stop thieves from stealing, but at least it will reassure those who won’t steal that the state will cover them. But these questions are relevant based on experience.
For instance, the late Dr Michael Okpara, Premier of the defunct Eastern Region and the late Sir Ahmadu Bello, Premier of the defunct Northern Region were not rich when they emerged regional premiers. They served their people with all their strength, enriched many party leaders but took nothing for themselves. They built housing estates but took none for themselves. In fact, it was not until 1982 when Okpara returned from exile that a group of friends built a modest country home for him in Ohuhu, Umuahia. And it was not until 1986 when the late Air Commodore Emeka Omeruah was Military Governor of old Anambra State that he allocated a plot to Okpara’s family at the Independence Layout, Enugu. But for these acts of benevolence, their families would continue to wallow in want after their fathers served the people with distinction. Should we not provide for those who serve us well as a matter of entitlement rather than leaving them at the mercy of their successors who might choose to marginalise them on political grounds?
Amaechi himself boasts to anyone who cares to listen that he has no house of his own anywhere in the world. I personally don’t believe it, but it is a claim that is verifiable. Assuming it is true, is it too much for such a person (who would have handled over two trillion naira by the end of his eight years in office) to look forward to minimum guaranteed comfort as an entitlement? The law makes it clear that anyone found guilty of infringement of the constitution would be disqualified.
I am strongly in support of giving our leaders guaranteed minimum comfort after office, provided the extravagance is pared down. I am not too sure if the range of benefits is not too elaborate. What does an ex-governor need a house in Abuja for? He can always use the state lodges any time in Lagos and Abuja. Building a house in Abuja means it has to be in a highbrow area with maintenance cost implications. And three cars replaceable every year? I know that top retired military officers replace their retirees’ cars every four years. Why not go for this model?
We must find a way to look after those who served us as presidents and governors meritoriously and without blemish. We should insure against destitution for those who won’t steal, even if they choose to go back to their humble careers (as teachers, doctors, lawyers, journalists or farmers) after service.
Occupants of high public office should always bear in mind that their days in power are numbered from the day they are sworn-in. They should abide by the golden rule: Do not live a lifestyle in public office which you cannot sustain when you rejoin civilian society.
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