Akpabio’s Yahoo Yahoo pension law

Olumide Iyanda

Buzz by Olumide Iyanda Email: oiyanda@yahoo.com Twitter: @mightyng

Olumide-IyandaLegislative rascality reached a new height on Monday, May 26, 2014 when the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, led by Speaker Sam Ikon, hurriedly passed the Amended Pension Bill for Ex-Governors and Ex-Deputy Governors forwarded to the House by incumbent Governor Godswill Akpabio through a May 15 letter with reference number GHU/AKS/S/104/338. The law, which commenced on June 1, 2014, is, to put it mildly, a rip-off of the poor people of one of the wealthiest states in the country.

Make no mistake about it; Akpabio is not the first state chief executive to doctor a pension scheme that guarantees him and his family access to public funds after leaving the Government House. But true to his concept of doing things in an uncommon manner, the man has pulled off a stunt that makes it look as if former Delta State Governor, James Ibori, left office with a vow of poverty.

Perhaps, taking a cue from the soldiers who robbed the country blind, especially in the last 14 years of military rule, Nigerian politicians have had their hands permanently in the public till since the return of democracy in 1999. Even after they leave office, many are guaranteed a lifetime of opulence by the puppets they leave behind as successors who continue to pay royalty to them or an obscene pension law.

Back in 2007, the Lagos State House of Assembly, with Bola Ahmed Tinubu sitting as governor in Alausa, passed a law which entitles a former governor to the same salary paid to the sitting governor, plus 300 per cent of his basic salary as furniture allowance, three cars to be renewed every three years; eight policemen and two State Security Service (SSS) details. After retirement, the governor is to get entertainment, car maintenance, house maintenance, personal assistant and utility allowances all running into GSM number digits.

A similar law was passed in Kwara State in 2010 and signed by then Governor Bukola Saraki. It provides, among other things, annual basic salary for ex-governors and deputies, one residential house each for governors and deputies at any location of their choice in Kwara, and one residential house in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) for any governor who concluded two consecutive terms like Saraki did. The windfall also includes 30 days annual vacation outside Nigeria with 30 days estacode and travel allowances for the governor, three cars for the governor and one pilot and two back-up cars to be replaced every three years en bloc. Free medical treatment for the governor and deputy governor and members of their immediate families; furniture allowance payable every two years en bloc and domestic staff like cook, steward, gardener and others who shall be pensionable were also added to the state’s financial burden.

Two years ago, incumbent Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, signed into law a bill that guarantees him and his deputy, Tele Ikuru, and all those before and after them 100 per cent of their basic salaries, two choice houses in any area of their choice in the state and Abuja, three cars replaceable every three years, 300 per cent funding for any furniture of their choice, 20 per cent funding for utility, 10 per cent funding for entertainment and 10 per cent of same for houses of their choice. They are also to enjoy free medical expenses for themselves and members of their immediate family, domestic staff including a cook, steward, gardener, drivers and others, all of whom shall be pensionable.

Then came Akpabio’s mother of all pension laws, which, according to him, “is to streamline and avoid excesses of finances and to be prudent in the management of our resources.” And how does the state intend to do that? By providing pension for life at a rate equivalent to the salary of the incumbent governor to former governors and deputy governors. The state will also provide a former governor fund to employ a cook, chauffeurs and security guards at a sum not exceeding N5 million per month. A deputy governor will get N2.5 million for the same purpose.

Governors will also be entitled to free medical services for themselves and their spouses at a sum not exceeding N100 million per annum and N50 million for former deputy governors. The law also provides for a befitting accommodation not below a five-bedroom maisonette in either Abuja or Akwa Ibom for a governor. Yearly accommodation allowance of 300 per cent of annual basic salary will be given to a deputy governor. Governor will also receive a severance gratuity of 300 per cent of annual basic salary as of the time he leaves office, among other things.

While signing the law on Wednesday, May 28, Akpabio, a lawyer by training, traced the origin of the law to his predecessor, Victor Attah, saying, “This law was made in the year 2000. It was amended in 2006 and is now amended again in 2014.”

By putting figures to almost all the benefits that would come his way after leaving office in 2015, Akpabio argued that, unlike other laws, nobody can spend extra money “because we are making sure that we cover all the loopholes of financial wastages”.   Like others before it, the amended Akwa Ibom pension law, which also covers those who served in the old Cross Rivers State, is self-serving at best and a scam at worst.

Being an act of the parliament, the poor people of the state are bound to bear the burden as demonstrated by a 2013 Lagos High Court judgment which ordered the state government to pay the retirement benefits and pension to a former Deputy Governor, Mrs. Sinatu Ojikutu, as stipulated by the Public Office Holder (Payment of Pensions) Law 2007, No 11 official gazette of Lagos State.

Anti-corruption agencies may be slapping themselves in the back for busting young scammers with laptops and modems, but a mind-boggling Yahoo Yahoo is taking place in higher places. And that is not God’s will for the people of Akwa Ibom or any other state for that matter.