State governors “retire” to a permanent life of luxury at the expense of the states some of them ruined. I refer you to The Daily Trust lead story, titled appropriately, BigStory, of May 7, 2023. It should be of more than casual interest to the rest of us. I have borrowed the headline of this column from that headline.
It is a comprehensive story in the best tradition of investigative reporting. It is the story of the monumental scandal in a country where political leaders are habitually long on words but short on doing well by the people. It is a story of greed carried too far at our collective expense. It is an expose of the rot in the system, a rot that arrests our development, a rot that serves the needs of the few who are made wealthy by public office at the expense of the people whose ballot papers put them there in the hope they would commit to state development, poverty reduction and make life less nasty and less brutally short for them. We did not know that things were, and are, this bad in the states. They are, brother.
In announcing the coup that brought Major-General Muhammadu Buhari to power on December 31, 1983, Brigadier Sani Abacha spoke of the profligacy of the ousted civilian administration. He cited this as evidence: “In some states, workers are being owed salary arrears of eight to twelve months…”
When Buhari returned to power as president on May 29, 2015, he found that 27 states owed their civil servants salary arrears of between eight and twelve months. The lots of the pensioners were much worse. He felt for the workers and initiated a policy that permitted him to provide some fund to bail out the states to enable them to clear the salary and pension arrears and subsequently put their financial houses in order.
The state governors happily took the money. For many of them, it was a windfall that validated their belief in miracles. They spent the money, not on clearing the salary and pension arrears but on themselves and their business partners to whom they awarded bogus contracts. The situation did not remain the same; it became much worse.
Buhari leaves office on May 29. I am sure he must be shocked to know that many of the states are still in more critical financial straits than they were eight years ago. Their salary and pension arrears have gone up, not down, with civil servants groaning in penury and pensioners dying in poverty and misery.
This has little to do with the downturn in the national economy. It has everything to do with personal greed, the criminal misallocation of public funds, bogus contracts duly paid for, naked raid on the state treasuries by men with itchy fingers and a convoluted sense of public service that places the welfare of a state governor and his family above that of the people he purports to govern.
Many went in there with tattered pockets and came out stupendously wealthy. This is not just corruption; it is high-handed stealing by men whose conscience has gone south. The situation gets worse from one set of state governors to another because the doctrine of checks and balances in our form of government has been thrashed. No one is looking over their shoulders. The state houses of assembly that should check them are packed by their own appointees who know that it is wrong for the dog to bite the fingers that feed it. Each of them will move from the government house into his new mansions in his state capital and Abuja, complete with new state of the art vehicles, drivers, cooks and stewards and cleaners paid by his state.
Eighteen state governors are leaving office at the end of their tenure in less than ten days. None of them is owed salary arrears and all of them are leaving office with their gratuities and the first payment of their pension in their pockets. In addition, they will leave office with a huge chunk of money from the public coffers as severance pay.
It does not matter to them that they are leaving those who served them for eight years in abject poverty and penury. It does not bother them that in failing to fulfil their primary obligation of making the welfare and the security of the people their first duty in accordance with both the constitution and the demands of human management, they were, to say the least, unfaithful to their oath of office.
Every state government has a pension law for governors and their deputies. The bill is usually initiated by them and passed into law by the state houses of assembly. The pension law obliges the state that a governor had misruled and cheated and impoverished for eight years to continue to take good care of him for the rest of his life.
So, here is the tip of this unsightly iceberg from the findings of the Daily Trust in the story under reference. The perks may differ according to the pocket of each state government but the objective of making a former governor/deputy live a life of luxury is uniform in all the 36 states. The richer a state is, the more generous the perks.
In Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, one state governor whose importance is fuelled by controversies, will benefit from the states pension law of 2012. Under the law, he goes home with three new vehicles, not tokunbo, of course, that will be replaced every four years. He will be paid 100 per cent of his annual basic salary, 300 per cent of his annual basic salary for furniture, free medical care, and enough money for entertainment. In addition, the state must have now built two mansions in Rivers and Abuja for him. There are other mouth-watering perks to show you that being a state governor in Nigeria is the best thing can happen to a man who promised to serve the people but served himself at the expense of the people.
The Lagos State governor’s/deputy governor’s pensions law of 2007, obliges the state government to buy six new cars for a former governor every three years and build a mansion for him in the state and Abuja, costed at the time the law was made at N750 million and one billion Naira respectively. Other perks include 100 per cent of his annual basic salary, three cars, two back up cars, one pilot car every three years. The state house of assembly tampered with this law in 2021 and reduced these and other generous perks. But a former governor of the state still lives in luxury at the expense of the state and the woman who ekes a living by enduring the hardship of roasting plantains by the roadside in the city, come rain, come shine.
Here is a typical instance of a departing state governor adding salt to the injury he inflicted on the people for eight long but empty years of doing nothing save trading on and minding sentiments to his personal benefits. Samuel Ortom, governor of Benue State, a man who has made his name riding on the crest of anti-Fulani sentiments but has run the state down with perhaps the worst case of a motor park tout leadership towards civil servants and pensioners, submitted a bill to the state to continue to continue to live at the expense of the state the people he ruined. No salaries, no pensions, no development. Just a struggle to be relevant in the state and national politics with the mindset of a man who rose from nothing to political leadership. Space does not permit me to give some details of his insolent bill.
Please read the story and learn something of the immorality and the arrogance of our political leaders. A state governor does not retire, he heads for the senate or the executive council of the federation and still enjoys the perks prescribed by the governorship pension law of the state. Ours is the only country on the continent where the people exist for the singular purpose of ministering to the needs of their political leaders.