Zamfara Says Goodbye to Locusts

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OKEY IKECHUKWU

The governor and lawmakers of Zamfara State must be commended for standing up to be counted on the side of responsible and civilised leadership. They put an abrupt end to the rampage of political locusts in their land. They also did it with the type of speed needed in addressing a dangerous ailment. The bold step of repealing a thoroughly reprehensible piece of legislation, which allowed former governors and lawmakers to fleece the state for no reason whatsoever is an example that other states of the federation must now be forced to follow. The action of the current leadership of Zamfara State is uncommon in our clime. What obtains, instead, is that primary beneficiaries of a law will never be in the vanguard of those clamoring that it be repealed. But, in this instance, political office holders in Nigeria set out, deliberately, to “shortchange” themselves. That singular act has somehow separated this particular governor and the state legislators from the wave of madness that has taken violent hold of the body politic since the return to democratic rule in 1999.

The rash of bogus “severance package” for former elected officials of a certain stature is one of the many obnoxious legacies of the PDP government in its sixteen years in office. No matter what anyone may say about the painful poor performance of the APC government of today, it must be admitted that the PDP was not exactly leading us anywhere close to 21st century leadership paradigms, before it lost power due to its own bungling. Even today, as opposition party, it is hamstrung by the impunity of little men. No one who looks closely at it will feel that this is a platform with the prospect of leading anyone to the Promised Land. At least not immediately. It lacks internal cohesion, offers no real hope and gives no clear indication of a new national vision. If anything, there are renewed doubts as to whether it has learnt any lessons and is treading a new path. But we are digressing.

The letter from Yari demanding the payment of certain entitlements came from the “Office of the Former Governor.” That is what you find blazoned on the piece of paper conveying the displeasure of the former governor of Zamfara State to the current state government. Is there such an “office”? If yes, who created it? Where is it provided for in the constitution? Who can educate us on whether it is an elective, appointive, or presumptive one? Where can we get a manual on the duties of the occupant of this imaginary office? Who will explain what makes it lawful for a citizen to arrogate to himself a title that presumes to represent a state function? What makes it proper for anyone to put the national Coat of Arms on paper, any paper whatsoever, and use same as the crest for his private correspondence? Should anyone, using such a contrived persona, and who presents himself as having the authority of one who represents an institution of state, not be apprehended? Should an otherwise responsible adult who prints a letter headed paper using our national symbols and who presents himself in the guise of a government functionary after he has left office not be called to order by the security agencies?

Yari’s letter is an attempt by a private citizen to secure personal advantages for himself under false pretenses. It is singed in the usual ink colour used by Nigerian government functionaries of a certain stature, trying to pass itself off as originating from officialdom. But the national outrage generated by the demand for compensation from a state he managed so disastrously as governor drowned out some points of law and national security in the matter. That is perhaps why no one has thought of taking up the former Governor on charges of 419. Meanwhile, this singular fact is a more serious matter than what the former governor said in his letter to the state government, demanding his presumed entitlements.

In writing his successor, Bello Matawalle, former governor Abdul’aziz Yari Abubakar had no doubts in his mind that he was within his rights. So, unfortunately, are many other former governors who collect unmentionable entitlements. Yari was angry that the state had not paid him his pension and monthly upkeep allowances, because he removed himself from the realities of his environment. That his unlawful entitlement should be his priority, requiring an angry letter, in a state where he left no commendable legacies and where he did not perform any miracles in the payment of the paltry entitlements of pensioners while he was in office says a lot.

In fact, his letter of October 17, 2019 titled: “Grant of Pension and other allowances for former governor, former Deputy governor, former speaker and former Deputy Speaker of Zamfara” went so far as to assure the state government that his complaint was pursuant to an amended law. He did not say his role in the law in question. Listen to the former governor: “I wish to humbly draw your attention to the provision of the law on the above subject matter, which was amended and assented to on the 23rd of March 2019. He “made” the law, weeks before leaving office. But his planned channel of largesse ran into troubled waters with the new governor. He overlooked the fact that a law whose provisions decree that a former governor is entitled to a monthly upkeep allowance of N10 million in Zamfara State is criminal. He also forgot that such criminality must be accounted doubly so when the same law prescribes a pension equivalent to the salary the same former governor was receiving while in office.

But, purely on the grounds that he was paid the monthly upkeep allowance of N10 million and a pension equivalent to the salary he was receiving while in office for only two months, he fired a letter demanding for his arrears with indignation. Hear him again: “… you may wish to be informed that since the expiration of my tenure on the 29th of May, 2019, I was only paid the upkeep allowance twice i.e. for the months of June and July, while my pension for the month of June, has not been paid.” Beyond that, the former governor went out of his way to educate his successor that the law (which he hurriedly made before leaving office) does not see the pension and upkeep allowances as privileges that could not be paid, “…hence, the need to request you to kindly direct the settlement of the total backlog of the pension and upkeep as provided by the law.”

But this is not just a Zamfara matter. A quick inventory of the record of other state governments in this regard shows that this is a national malaise. Jigawa lawmakers had justified their own law on the grounds that granting huge severance packages to former office holders was a way of discouraging them from corrupt self-enrichment while in office. Pathetic! Akwa Ibom State under former governor Akpabio provided for an annual pay to ex-governors of N200 million, who was also entitled to pension for life, a new official car and utility-vehicle every four years. This is in addition to one personal aide, adequate security, a cook, chauffeurs and security guards at a sum not exceeding N5m per month. The governor and spouse are also entitled to free medical services for a sum totaling N100m per annum, as well as a five-bedroom mansion in Abuja and Akwa Ibom.

Gombe State offers a N300 million executive pension benefits to its ex-governors. Kwara State gives 300 per cent of salary as furniture allowance to its former governors, two cars and a security car replaceable every three years, a well-furnished five-bedroom duplex, five personal staff, three State Security Services personnel, free medical care among other humongous figures. Edo state is no better, under its Pension Rights of the Governor and Deputy Governor Law of 2007, which gives a former governor a 200 million naira house plus 100% of the salary of the incumbent governor for life. He is also entitled to an officer not above Salary grade level 12 as Special Assistant, a personal secretary not below grade level 10 who shall be selected by the former governor from the public service of Edo State.

Osun state law stipulates that former governors and former deputy governors shall be entitled to pension at the rate equivalent to the incumbent office holder. Lagos State, under its Lagos Pension Law, gives a former governor two houses (one in Lagos and another in Abuja), estimated to cost between N500m and N700m, respectively. This is in addition to six brand new cars every three years, furniture allowance of 300 percent of annual salary every two years, among other frills. Rivers offers 100% percent of annual basic salaries for ex-governor, one house anywhere of his choice in Nigeria, three cars every four years, 300 per cent of annual basic salary every four years for furniture and 10 percent of annual basic salary for house maintenance, among other frills.

Kano State provides for 100% of annual basic salaries for a former governor, a furnished and equipped office, a 6-bedroom residential house, free medical treatment within and outside Nigeria where necessary, two drivers and a provision for a 30- day vacation within and outside Nigeria. We say nothing about other states. We also say nothing about the entitlements of deputy governors and principal officers of the state houses of assembly.

Let us remember that (1) the categories of public office under reference here have their post-service entitlements fully provided for by the revenue mobilization and fiscal allocations commission; (2) they are acting in clear violation of these provisions; (3) most of the beneficiaries of these unlawful hauls rigged elections to get into office; and, finally, (4) Zamfara State has created a commendable precedent for states that take their survival seriously to follow.

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