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Between Oshokomole and Onwa: The Public Officer as true exemplar

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By Tunde Olusunle

I called up a colleague in one of the national newspapers to make an editorial suggestion to him, August 2017. Ayodele Peter Fayose who was governor of Ekiti State at the time, was attending the convocation ceremony of one of his children, at the Covenant University, Otta, Ogun State. Oluwarogbayimika Fayose, graduated with a Second Class Upper degree, and his delighted father could be seen grinning from ear to ear, in photographs which were hoisted on the internet, realtime. You could feel Oshokomole’s* (that is Fayose’s popular alias), sense of accomplishment, as a parent. The younger Fayose was the third of his siblings to graduate from the same alma mater. A fourth member of the family graduated from another university in Nigeria.

I had mooted the idea to that colleague, that a good editorial commentary can be developed around the matter. If a sitting governor, with all the resources and privileges at his disposal, could willingly despatch his child to a Nigerian university, where assistant directors in some ministries, departments and agencies, (MDAs), were sending their wards to universities in Canada, the United Kingdom, (UK) and the United States of America (USA), there were tangible takeaways from that gesture. Crucially, despite the verified challenges of our educational system, quality instruction is still obtainable in our institutions, afterall.

The nation’s anti-graft agencies, from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC), to the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, (ICPC), to the Code of Conduct Bureau, (CCB), are characteristically busiest with reports and case files of civil servants, in the main. This is not excusing thieving public officers across board who are usually assisted by the civil servants, to cook the books, by the way. Such fiscal hauls are invested in physical assets (mainly houses and apartments sprinkled across major Nigerian cities and foreign capitals); raw cash in various foreign denominations, stored in secret vaults and stowed away in all manner of inventive storages; even multimillion dollar trinkets, are routine seizures from greedy civil and public servants.

And what better way  to authenticate the reality of subsisting quality in our educational system, than the continued hunt for, and enlistment of homegrown medical professionals, into the medical systems of foreign countries. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Canada, the UK and the US, are in continuing quest for Nigerian medical professionals, to make assurance doubly sure. Medical doctors and pharmacists were priority, once upon a time. Nurses have joined the list of coveted professionals now, even as there has been a corresponding rise in the enrolment figures for the nursing programme in Nigerian universities.

And talking about the accentuating figures of medical personnel being lured away to other lands, didn’t Nigerian intelligence operatives last August, storm the Sheraton Hotel in Abuja, to disrupt recruitment interviews being conducted by a human resource agency, reportedly on behalf of its client, Saudi Arabia? This was at the height of a faceoff between doctors and the federal government, over inadequate working conditions, notably facilities and emoluments. The first phase of that recruitment exercise for medical doctors, by the way, was conducted in Lagos, days before the Abuja segment. This underscored the burning desire of the Saudi government, to speedily take on their projected new employees. And this was happening at a time Chris Ngige, Nigeria’s minister of labour and employment, affirmed on national television, that the country had an overflow of physicians, and would not be hurt, by the depletion of its ranks, by the outward drift of its medics. This, however, contrasted with the Gestapo-style swoop of the secret police, on Sheraton, Abuja, to halt emigration proceedings, of Nigerian doctors.

The colleague I gave that editorial hint by the way, would later plead with me about his incapacition in the circumstances. He said he would have been thoroughly misconstrued, if he had proposed such a topic at the editorial conference of his organisation. “They will think I’ve been paid if I had broached it at our editorial meeting. The chief executive officer is perpetually breathing down my neck and someone will ask: What is our special interest in Fayose? They won’t see the merit and genuineness in the subject. The newsroom today is not what you left behind, over two decades ago.” I was aghast.

Sunday December 19, 2021, Andrew Ngige, second son of the older Ngige, and his third child, graduated from the School of Medicine of the University of Abuja. Before him, his elder brother, Ralph Chunny Ngige, graduated September 2020, from the College of Medicine, Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu University, Amaku, Awka, Anambra State. Last July, Ngige’s daughter Marilyn, graduated from the College of Medicine, University of Lagos. The Ngige family as it stands, is fully and roundly a family of medical doctors, since the labour minister himself, and his wife, Evelyn, a permanent secretary in the federal ministry of industry, trade and investment, are both medics. And as a delighted Ngige noted, his family is one of wholly “Made in Nigeria” medical doctors.

I have known *Onwa,* yes, that is the dominant traditional title by which Ngige is known and revered by his people and friends, across the broad spectrum, even before the formal berth of democratic governance in 1999. He was a founding zonal officer of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP), in the South East. In the course of the cross-country tours and legwork of Olusegun Obasanjo in his quest for the presidential ticket of the PDP, Enugu was a regular hub. Ngige was almost ever present, alongside the Arthur Ezes, JSP Nwokolos, Dubem Onyias and other leaders of the blossoming party, on the Anambra-Enugu stretch, at the time. He indeed vied for the PDP ticket to represent Anambra Central, in the 1999 Senate, but lost.

He would later assume national, even global recognition on account of the controversies which attended the early days of his term in office as governor of Anambra State. Inaugurated on May 29, 2003, there was an attempt to remove him from office by his “political godfathers,” Andy and Chris Uba, less than two months after his assumption of duty. The drama which attended the plot was a phenomenal combination of strong arm tactics by both the state legislature, and the nation’s security officials, led by Raphael Ige, an assistant inspector general of police (IGP), at the time. There was indeed a kidnap saga which kept the chief executive of the state incommunicado, for 12 hours, that July 10, 2003. Ngige fought bravely in the law courts, even physically, to resist every attempt to bully and harangue him.

As parents of children who attended the same secondary school in Abuja, many years ago, Ngige and I saw much more frequently, especially during visiting days, open days, meetings of the parents-teachers association (PTA), and so on. James Bawa Magaji (former deputy governor of Kaduna State); Nkechi Nwaorgu, Ita Enang, (both senators at the time), Stephen Ocheni (former minister of state for labour and employment); Orji Ogbonnaya Orji (executive secretary of the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, (NEITI); Tivlumun Nyitse (chief of staff to the Benue State governor) and the late Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo (former media adviser to erstwhile vice president Atiku Abubakar), were also regular callers at the school’s programmes.

In 2011, Ngige finally achieved his longstanding dream of representing his people in Anambra central senatorial zone, in Nigeria’s parliament, on the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). The party was the principal component of political parties which coalesced in 2013, to constitute the present day All Progressives Congress (APC), to challenge for the presidency, in 2015. Ngige lost the opportunity to return to the senate, but was compensated following his appointment as minister representing Anambra in the federal executive council, (FEC), constituted by President Muhammadu Buhari, November 2015. He was reappointed August 2019, months after Buhari’s reelection, making history as one of the longest serving ministers in post-democratic Nigerian history.

I remember asking Ngige on a visit to his Asokoro, Abuja home sometime in 2019: “Onwa, where are our people we used to attend their visiting days together those days?” “They are all in school, thanks for checking up, my brother Tunde,” he replied. “They must be out there in the States and in Europe,” I followed up. “No o,” he answered. “They are all here. There is nothing wrong with our educational system. I was trained here, you were trained here and you are one of our topmost journalists. My wife was trained here. So why wouldn’t they school here? They will decide where they will undergo their specialist programmes, but let them get that necessary grounding here. Many countries are envious of the human resource quality we contribute to the world here, but we delight in running down what we have.”

The examples of Fayose and Ngige are most apposite. By Nigerian standards, both men are very privileged individuals, they are”big men,” as we would say in popular parlance. Fayose was two-time governor of Ekiti State, having served between 2003 and 2007, before his return, years later. In the case of Ngige, he has held every notable elective and appointive office in Nigeria, except the presidency. He has been governor, senator and now second term minister. Given the humongous resources available to public officers, where the average civil servants can sustain their children and wards in foreign institutions, and procure pricey apartments in their names, it is unlikely that Fayose and Ngige are resource-constrained.

In many instances indeed, the quest for education in environments with relative stability of the academic calendar for the children of the nouveau riche, is but a veiled device for self-aggrandizement, or bragging rights. Certain individuals cherish that vainglorious announcement across the shopping mall or in the course of a telephone conversation, that “my son is in Harvard, and his sister is in Massachusetts.” It wouldn’t matter if some spoilt brats in this bracket, are more of tourists and holidaymakers in their country of domicile, than serious students. As a dispassionate public engager, my summation is that Fayose and Ngige (who are at opposite extremes of the political gulf), have shown faith in our much-maligned educational system, which nonetheless, has continued to produce internationally competitive graduates. Both men by their preferences, are potential inspirations for politically privileged and affluent Nigerians, to explore and utilise the subsisting quality, inherent in our educational system.

This is no blanket cheque, clean bill of health for our educational system, which is light years away from the impeccable standards of several decades ago. Those were the days when Nigeria was the pilgrimage grounds for the global “Who is Who,” in the academia, arts and culture. The newest Nobel Laureate for literature, Tanzanian born Abdulrasak Gurnah, for instance, was next door to us in Bayero University, Kano (BUK). He taught literature there from 1980 to 1983, at a period when one of the principal benefactors of the career of the Kenyan literary icon, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, David John Cook, was grooming a new generation of writers, at the University of Ilorin. Professors and lecturers in our universities continue to embark on industrial actions, because the provision and standardisation of basic instructional materials like adequate classrooms and lecture theatres; properly stocked and up-to-date laboratories and libraries; appropriate remuneration for staff, and grants for training and research, are either wilfully unavailable or ridiculously minuscule. In some instances, our children have entered universities as youths and graduated as men and women, owing to recurring, indiscriminate closures of the institutions.

The country’s international profile is indeed burnished by the investment of confidence in the various strands of our sociopolitical life, by its own nationals. While Fayose and Ngige and similar Nigerians who have continued to show faith in institutions in our country, we must also see such conviction by our officials, in our healthcare system, for instance. All the years he was president, and despite managing a publicly known diabetic condition, Obasanjo’s medical check ups were conducted either in the State House Clinic, or the National Hospital, Abuja, by indigenous medical professionals. This is contrary to extant practice under Buhari, whose exact medical condition is a mystery, and who has virtually treated every headache or migraine, in Europe, over the past seven years. Yet on an annual basis, robust budgets are approved for the provision of facilities and medicaments, in the  State House Clinic. Minister for Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq, was reported to be expectant a few weeks ago, and desired to have her baby in the US. Nothing can be as much a confidence killer, as when those who should lead by example, fail and falter unashamedly at the starting blocks.

•Tunde Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author, is a Member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE).

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Opinion

Abia repeal of life pensions for ex-govs, deputies: Matters arising (2)

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By Ehichioya Ezomon

While most Nigerians still clink wine glasses in toast to Abia State Governor Alex Otti for belling the monstrous cat of life pensions for former governors and deputy governors, three Abia ex-governors have punctuated Dr Otti’s enviable limelight, by denying drawing pensions, and the accompanying perquisites of office.
Under the repealed law, former governors and deputies were to be paid lifetime salaries; get houses in Abia and Abuja; receive 100 per cent of annual basic salaries of the incumbent governor and deputy; get two brand-new vehicles worth N20 million every four years; and have three police officers and two operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS), and cooks, stewards, drivers, and gardeners.
The denial by immediate past Governor Okezie Ikpeazu (2015-2023) came on March 20 – a day before Otti signed into law the bill repealing the pensions. A statement by Dr Ikpeazu’s chief press secretary, Onyebuchi Ememanka, refuted reports “mischievously couched to give the false impression” that Ikpeazu’s among former governors receiving pensions from Abia State.
Ememanka stated: “Dr Okezie Ikpeazu wishes to make it abundantly clear that since after handing over the reins of power as Governor of Abia State on May 29, 2023, he has neither requested for, nor received from the Abia State Government, any dime under any guise whatsoever, and has no intentions of doing so.
“Former Governor Ikpeazu has since moved on with his life and is currently engaged in other areas of interest to him and advises the Abia State Government and her various organs to face the business of governance and desist from engaging in needless media sensationalism. The general public should be properly guided, please.”
Former Senator and ex-Governor Theodore Orji (2007-2015) also debunked claims of benefiting from the pension largesse, saying on March 21 that, “he hasn’t received any pension, he hasn’t asked for it, and he’s not interested in it.” Orji spoke via his former chief liaison officer, Hon. Ifeanyi Umere.
Umere said: “Nobody should link Senator Orji with the said pension law because nobody has paid him any pension after leaving office as Governor. He transited from Governor to Senate and he made it a point of morality that he will not, and he didn’t ask for any pension or question anybody about it because he is not interested in it. He didn’t receive any pension from Okezie Ikpeazu and he didn’t pay anybody, too.”
And Sen. and former Governor Orji Uzor Kalu (1999-2007) – whose government established the pension law in 2001 – said he didn’t receive any pensions since 2007. One of Kalu’s aides was quoted: “As a former governor of the state, T. A. Orji did not pay him (Kalu) a dime as pension, and Okezie Ikpeazu continued in the same manner.”
Recall that Dr Kalu, fielding questions from journalists at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA) in Abuja on February 20, 2017, distanced himself from the 108 ex-governors that a national daily claimed were “living off their states through pensions and other entitlements.”
As reported by Vanguard on February 21, 2017, Kalu said he hadn’t received “any payment, entitlements or privileges of any sort from his successors (Sen. Orji and Dr. Ikpeazu), adding that the Abia State government had “withheld and refused to pay his pensions and entitlements, making him the only ex-governor in the 36 states that does not receive pension.”
Kalu said on leaving government on May 29, 2007, he left behind “all the government vehicles and every other thing that belonged to the government,” and that, “none of the privileges, like security details or vehicles that accrue to former governors has been extended to him.”
Asked if he’s broke because of non-payment, and his next line of action, Kalu said: “It is not about being broke or not. The pension law of the state did not exclude me from being paid as expected. In fact, it is illegal, according to the law, to deny one his rights and privileges.”
Also reacting to the abolished pension benefits, former Deputy Governor Ude Chukwu, under the Ikpeazu regime, said: “Nobody has given me a dime. I am aware of the law. For me, it (the law) is as good as not being there. If all past governors said they have not been paid anything, what is the essence of the existence of the law?”
Relatedly, former Lagos State Governor and ex-minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola (SAN), has revealed that his monthly pension is N577,000, after eight years in office (2007-2015). Mr Fashola, appearing on ARISE TV programme, ‘Perspectives,’ on January 20, said:
“The benefit I get, I think, is a N577,000 monthly pension from Lagos State. So, in spite of all the stories that we got several billions of money (after leaving office), I’ve come out to deny that repeatedly. Well, I don’t know how long it lasts, but all I know is that I get N577,000 per month consistently,” without stating if he’d enjoyed the “full package” pre and post-effort by the Lagos State House of Assembly (LGHA) to halve the pensions in 2021.
The poser: If Otti’s predecessors in office denied receiving any pensions, why the Labour Party (LP) governor’s bravado to sign into law the pensions repeal bill passed by the Abia State House of Assembly (ABHA)? Was it to score political points by painting black Dr Ikpeazu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Sen. Orji (PDP), and Sen. Kalu of All Progressives Congress (APC)?
Perhaps, Otti wanted to fulfil a campaign promise, and guard against any governor resurrecting the dead law in future. Signing the law on March 21, Otti stated: “Even before this new law came into place, a lot of people, who have followed our views in the national discuss (discourse), understand that we were not going to continue the practice of paying pensions and allowances to this set of former government officials.”
That said, pensions for former governors and deputy governors aren’t “illegal,” as the issue is perceived in the public. What Nigerians detest and question is the morality of and insensitivity in awarding huge severance pay, lifetime pensions, allowances and material benefits to former governors and deputies.
Some former governors-turned senators or ministers also receive emoluments in a couple of places: pensions from their states, and salaries and allowances from the National Assembly (NASS) or the Executive, against the rules that exempt farming as the only avenue to possibly earn extra pay, while boosting the country’s food production and security.
In 2023, some members of NASS were enticed by the mouth-watering pension packages for federal and state executives, and proposed same for the President and Deputy President of the Senate, and Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives – an incentive for State Houses of Assembly to follow suit. But the bill was shot down due to public outcry.
In the oft-quoted Lagos High Court judgment of November 26, 2019, in suit no: FHC/L/CS/1497/2017, filed by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo queried the legality or validity of pensions for former governors and deputy governors, but pushed the burden of discovery to the Attorney General of the Federation.
Justice Oguntoyinbo had differed from the position of then Attorney General Abubakar Malami (SAN) that, “the States’ laws duly passed cannot be challenged,” and said, “I do not agree with this line of argument by the Attorney General that he cannot challenge the States’ pension laws for former governors.”
“In my humble view, the AG should be interested in the legality or validity of any law in Nigeria and how such laws affect or will affect Nigerians, being the Chief Law Officer of the Federation,” the judge said, and then gave the following commands:
“AN ORDER of mandamus compelling and directing the Attorney General, AG, to urgently identify former governors and their deputies collecting pensions from their states and to seek full recovery of public funds from those involved.
“AN ORDER of mandamus compelling and directing the AG to urgently institute appropriate legal actions to challenge the legality of states’ laws permitting former governors, serving as senators and ministers to enjoy governors’ emoluments while drawing normal salaries and allowances in their new political offices.”
Based on the orders, SERAP asked President Bola Tinubu, in a letter on March 23, “to immediately obey,” to recover pensions collected by former governors, and to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws permitting those involved to collect such “outrageous pensions.”
Equally instructive is an Appeal Court ruling, in suit no. CA/A/810/2017, against the Kogi State Government seeking pensions and severance packages in the state, which’s referenced by Alex Enumah in an opinion piece, “Pension Laws for Ex-Govs: The Abia Example,” published by THISDAY on March 31, as follows:
“The court held that the fact that elected public office holders and political appointees were paid huge amounts of money as monthly salaries and other forms of allowances while in office makes it morally wrong for them to demand pensions, gratuities or severance allowances for holding such an office for four to eight years as the case may be.
“The three-man panel of the appellate court, which had Justice Emmanuel Agim, Justice Abubakar Datti Yahaya and Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson, submitted that it amounted to gross social injustice, and unjustified in the context of the nation’s present social realities.
“The lead judgment, which was delivered by Justice Agim (now JSC), said it was wicked and morally wrong for political office holders and political appointees, who helped themselves to public funds while in office, to claim entitlement to pension and severance allowances.
“He submitted that it was wrong for political appointees and elected public office holders, who do not work as long and as hard as career civil servants to quickly get paid huge severance allowances upon leaving office, in addition to the huge wealth they acquired while holding such offices and without having been subjected to any contributory pension schemes.”
So, controversies trail pensions for former governors and deputies not for being “illegal” but because they’re overbloated, and a huge drain on the lean resources of many states, which owe months and even years of backlogs to retirees, some of who spent over 35 years in service and retired into penury, as their pensions are withheld by governors, who are “qualified” for hefty pensions and adds-on for life, and even pay themselves upfront part of the packages before they leave office.
It’s reassuring though that former Governors Ikpeazu, Orji and Kalu have denied receiving pensions, and challenged Otti’s sweeping statement that, “we were not going to continue the practice of paying pensions and allowances to this set of former government officials.” But can hundreds of other former governors – accused of drawing huge pensions and entitlements from their states – emulate the Abia trio by disavowing the allegations against them? The ball, as they say, is in their court!

Mr Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria

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Opinion

Abia repeal of life pensions for ex-govs, deputies: Matters arising (1)

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By Ehichioya Ezomon

Abia State Governor Alex Otti’s the rave of the moment among his peer governors, and most Nigerians, for “infrastructural development,” and particularly for signing into law a Bill passed by the Abia State House of Assembly (ABHA) to repeal life pensions for former governors and deputy governors of the state.
Under the repealed law, former governors and deputies were paid lifetime salaries, and got houses in Abia and Abuja, prompting ex-Head of State and former President Olusegun Obasanjo – on a visit to Dr Otti to commend his novel move – to describe the life pension laws by state governors as “rascality” and “acts of daylight robbery,” and urged other governors to emulate the Otti example.
But did retired Gen. Obasanjo, Ph.D, also send similar entreaty to President Bola Tinubu and the National Assembly (NASS), to repeal pensions and entitlements for former presidents, vice presidents and heads of state? Or only former governors and deputies should curb their appetite for free money and materials after “retirement” from government?
Obasanjo’s advocacy should touch all former elected or appointed executive officeholders, as we shouldn’t have a “special breed” of Nigerians: former military heads of state, presidents, vice presidents, governors and deputy governors, who enjoy government’s freebies, and live in luxuries at the expense of toiling Nigerians in need of the bare essentials of life.
It’s as well to recall that in a valedictory session of the Federal Executive Council at the State House, Abuja, on May 24, 2023, then Vice President Yemi Osinbajo called for an upward review of pensions for former presidents and vice presidents.
Osinbajo, referencing President Muhammadu Buhari’s “personal integrity,” said: “Part of the problem with that is that sometimes, you and I end up getting the very short end of the stick. If you look at the laws today, our retirement benefits, yours (Buhari) will be N350,000 a month by law and mine will be N250,000 per month.
“Those, of course, as you can imagine, are very tiny amounts of money. And I think that one of the things that we must do is to, perhaps, see how we can amend that law so that I will not come to you in Daura (Buhari’s hometown in Katsina State) and ask for some of your bulls to sell in order to survive.”
As Sunday PUNCH findings, first reported on May 28, 2023, indicate, “severance packages for Buhari and Osinbajo, state governors and other political appointees leaving office in 2023 might cost the country about N63.45bn,” adding that, as stipulated by the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Allocation Commission (RMAFC), “President Buhari will get a severance pay of N10.54m, which is 300 per cent of his annual basic salary, while Vice-President Osinbajo will receive N9.09m.”
In a manner of, “What a man can do, a woman can do it, and even better,” then First Lady, Mrs Aisha Buhari, also solicited increased out-of-office benefits for ex-presidents and vice presidents, and for the incorporation of former first ladies “among the beneficiaries.” She spoke on May 25, 2023, in Abuja, at the launch of a book, ‘The Journey of a Military Wife,’ written by Mrs Vickie Irabor, wife of then Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Lucky Irabor (retd).
Mrs Buhari’s plea: “The Federal Government should consider us as people that need help not as magic makers. And on the privileges given to the former presidents of Nigeria, they should do more. It is still not enough considering what people go through in that house (Presidential Villa). And at the same time, I want them to incorporate women, the former first ladies, among the beneficiaries.”
Many Nigerians have lent voices to the Otti gesture, especially coming at an time of economic strangulation of the average and below-average citizens since the advent of the Tinubu administration, following the withdrawal of subsidy on petrol, and floating the Naira, which’s crashed against major foreign currencies, and sent inflation and the cost of living sky-high.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked President Tinubu to swiftly obey a court judgment, which orders the Federal Government to recover pensions collected by former governors, and to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws permitting those involved to collect such “outrageous pensions.”
Following a SERAP suit no: FHC/L/CS/1497/2017, Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo in a 20-page judgment on November 26, 2019, granted “AN ORDER of mandamus compelling and directing the Attorney General, AG, to urgently identify former governors and their deputies collecting pensions from their states and to seek full recovery of public funds from those involved.”
“Justice Oguntoyinbo also granted ‘AN ORDER of mandamus compelling and directing the AG to urgently institute appropriate legal actions to challenge the legality of states’ laws permitting former governors, serving as senators and ministers to enjoy governors’ emoluments while drawing normal salaries and allowances in their new political offices.'”
Then Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), had argued that “the States’ laws duly passed cannot be challenged.” But Justice Oguntoyinbo differed, saying, “I do not agree with this line of argument by the Attorney General that he cannot challenge the States’ pension laws for former governors.”
“In my humble view, the AG should be interested in the legality or validity of any law in Nigeria and how such laws affect or will affect Nigerians, being the Chief Law Officer of the Federation,” the judge said, adding, “I have considered SERAP’s arguments that it is concerned about the attendant consequences that are manifesting on the public workers and pensioners of the states who have been refused salaries and pensions running into several months on the excuse of non-availability of state resources to pay them.”
Justice Oguntoyinbo didn’t expressly pronounce on the legality of awarding life pensions to former governors and deputy governors. Perhaps, the plaintiff, SERAP, didn’t include that in its averments and prayers. Which somehow left the judge to push the responsibility to the Attorney General – “being the Chief Law Officer of the Federation” – of finding out the “legality or validity of any law in Nigeria and how such laws affect or will affect Nigerians.”
But the National Industrial Court – as posted on the African Law eJournal on March 25, 2020 – had ruled that pensions for former governors and deputy governors are legal, as nothing in the amended 1999 Constitution of Nigeria precludes or prevents state houses of assembly from enacting laws to give such benefits to former state chief executives.
Michael Dugeri of University of Ottawa, Canada, posted the court’s ruling in the case of Incorporated Trustees of Human Development Initiatives & 39 Others v. Governor of Abia State & 73 Others, which borders on “legal validity of state pensions laws for political office holders in Nigeria.”
“The National Industrial Court, in this case, was invited to determine the question of whether any law, especially by the State Houses of Assembly, that stipulates pension of such public officials already covered by the constitutional mandate of the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation & Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), is ultra vires, null and void. The Court answered in the negative,” the report said.
Yet, as first reported by Vanguard on March 24, SERAP, while noting inaction by the Buhari administration on the Justice Oguntoyinbo judgment, urges President Tinubu, in a March 23 letter by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, “to emulate the good example of Governor Otti by urgently obeying the judgment.”
“Unless the judgment is immediately obeyed, former governors and their deputies, including those now serving as ministers in your administration and members of the National Assembly who receive pensions, would continue to evade justice for their actions,” SERAP says.
“Immediately obeying the judgment would show the sovereignty of the rule of law in Nigeria and go a long way in protecting the integrity of the country’s legal system. Obeying the judgment would also show you (Tinubu) as a defender of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended), the rule of law, and public interest within government,” SERAP adds.
SERAP lists former governors, “who continue to collect double emoluments and large severance benefits” from 22 states, including Lagos, Akwa Ibom, Edo, Delta, Ekiti, Kano, Gombe, Yobe, Borno, Bauchi, Abia, Imo, Bayelsa, Oyo, Osun, Kwara, Ondo, Ebonyi, Rivers, Niger, Kogi, and Katsina.
As reported by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on March 20, the Abia pensions repeal law isn’t the first, as a few states had moved to abolish the law, but “many states showed nonchalant attitude toward doing so.” Still, the “Abia State Governors and Deputy Governors’ (Repeal) Law 2024,” which took effect immediately on Thursday, March 21, 2024, after Governor Otti signed it, forecloses former governors and deputy governors earning pensions.
But did the Abia repealed pensions law include other perquisites of office, which make the pensions per se to look like pocket money for a boarding-house student, who doesn’t really need extra money, as their parents or guardians have settled accommodation, feeding and provisions for them?
This and more will be explored in part 2 of the series, amid denial by two former governors of Abia State, Sen. Theodore Orji and Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, of receiving pensions since they left office, even as Governor Otti continues to enjoy the limelight of abolishing pensions for former governors and deputy governors of Abia State!

Mr Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria

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Dickson Tarkighir at 55: A study in doggdness

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Dickson Tarkighir
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By Tunde Olusunle

Many of his kinsmen and friends had a good laugh the day he was inaugurated into the eighth assembly of the House of Representatives, June 2015. Most probably unsure how to pronounce his surname, the Clerk of the “green chambers” as the lower deck of the national parliament is described, opted for a spontaneous improvisation.
Rather than set his tongue against his teeth, the Clerk after correctly pronouncing his first names settled for a simpler *Takiri!* By some coincidence, Tivlumun Nyitse my brother from our university days and cousin to *Takiri* and I watched the live telecast of that ceremony together. We had a very sumptuous laugh and called to congratulate him later that day. We reaffirmed he would have to don his new “baptismal necklace” for times to come and could hear his guffaw in the background. He took it in good spirits and has never made a fuss about it.

Dickson Dominic Tarkighir on that occasion was inaugurated as Member Representing Makurdi/Guma federal constituency of Benue State. I have been privileged over time to have met and developed relationships with sections of the Benue State middle class and political elite. I had encountered the amiable George Akume, (incumbent Secretary to the Government of the Federation), and the departed Ogirri Ajene his deputy, when they both governed the state between 1999 and 2007. Governors, (and their deputies when assigned), regularly had engagements in the State House where I functioned from under the Olusegun Obasanjo/Atiku Abubakar government. As “groundsmen” in Aso Villa, there was always the possibility of meeting dignitaries at that level. They were equally delighted to have you as a “strategic ally.” I’m also a friend of the affable Gabriel Torwua Suswam who succeeded Akume as governor in 2007 and Samuel Ioraer Ortom who took over from Suswam in 2015.

Four friends have also impacted my integration into Benue State where I’ve developed a broad network of friendships and acquaintances. Nyitse, my classmate since my first day in the University of Ilorin who is presently an associate professor of journalism has been most catalytic in this regard. He served as Permanent Secretary in the Benue State civil service for about 10 years and commands quite some respect in the Benue system. Through Tony Olofu, a retired Assistant Inspector General of Police, (AIG) with whom I went through the National Youth Service Corps, (NYSC) in Imo State between 1985 and 1986, I’ve also made friends from that sociocultural space. Shiaondo Aarga, alumnus of the University of Ilorin like Nyitse and I who also retired Permanent Secretary in Benue State, has also aided my acculturation. Shima Ayati was my colleague in the Obasanjo/Atiku government and we remain best of friends today.

I met Dickson Tarkighir through Tivlumun Nyitse when Nyitse was Permanent Secretary, Government House Administration, (PS-GHA) in the Suswam administration, almost two decades ago. Tarkighir was Managing Director of *Triggar and Gibbons Ltd,* an advertising and logistics support service company which was foraging for business opportunities in Benue State. I was a regular face in Benue State those years because I had a consultancy liaison with the government. Tarkighir’s outfit may rightly be described as the precursor of electronic billboards in Benue State. Tarkighir had successfully experimented with the concept in Kaduna and found new grounds in his home state. Nyitse’s office was the engine room of the Suswam administration which processed the governor’s instructions and conveyances to the various ministries, departments and agencies, (MDAs). The personable, outgoing Tarkighir was a regular caller in Government House, Makurdi ensuring alignment between the vision of government and the electronic copies that were displayed for public consumption.

A multitasking entrepreneur, Tarkighir had previously setup *Dasnett Mobile Services Ltd,* with the coming to be of GSM services to Nigeria over 20 years ago. He impacted the entertainment space of Makurdi the Benue State capital by establishing a classy, integrated nightclub and services outfit. Located at the very heart of Makurdi, he christened it *District 4 Lounge.* Its ancillaries included a functional restaurant and a bakery. He developed it into perhaps the most sought-after hangout in the city, a preferred destination for high octane visitors to the state, previously pampered ostensibly, by mouthwatering options in bigger cities. Tarkighir is a notably hands-on executive whose presence and subtle guidance of his staff on reminds of the doting style of Ken Calebs-Olumhense, the iconic proprietor of *Niteshift* those good old days in Lagos.

Governor Gabriel Suswam took special note of Tarkighir’s exertions and innovative strides and engaged him as Senior Special Assistant, (SSA) on Industries, in 2009. He was reappointed in 2011 following Suswam’s reelection. Tarkighir resigned his appointment in 2014 to contest for a seat in the federal parliament. He dared unfamiliar grounds in his quest for the House of Representatives office when he defected from the better established Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP), to the fledgling All Progressives Congress, (APC). He triumphed at the polls as part of the countrywide *tsunami* which displaced the PDP from the centre of national politics at the 2015 general elections. It seemed well advised therefore that he took the gamble of defection to and running on the platform of the APC.

Despite being a first timer in the congress, Tarkighir was proactive. First, he was keen on learning the ropes. He was listed to serve in nearly a dozen committees of the parliament which was good for requisite exposure. He was in the appropriation; defence; petroleum (downstream); population; navy; health services; Niger Delta affairs; inter-parliamentary; integration in Africa and the ECOWAS parliament committees in the House. With the hindsight of creeping unemployment in the country, he advised that the 25,000 ghost workers discovered by the federal government at the time, be replaced with genuine job seekers. He imposed upon himself the responsibility of unearthing vacancies in MDAs and assisting his primary constituents wherever he could. He soon donned the alias of “Mr Employment” amongst his constituents as attestation to his efforts.

Tarkighir sponsored several bills and motions. Agonised by the ravaging Fulani incursions into his state for example, he sought the creation of a cattle ranching department in the federal ministry of agriculture. He also sponsored bills on healthcare; internet security; need for special attention for hydroelectric power producing areas, among others. His motions encompassed those requesting support for his flood-devastated constituency; the need for the rehabilitation of the Makurdi-Gboko federal highway and the imperative for the declaration of a state of emergency on deadly attacks by herdsmen across the country. Tarkighir prosecuted a plethora of projects in his constituency for the betterment of the lives of his people.

Solar-powered street lights; electric transformers; boreholes; sewing machines; cassava processing equipment; submersible pumps; bicycles; tricycles and laptops were some of the life-improving accessories he availed his constituents. Medical outreaches were organised for mass enlightenment, even as skills acquisition programmes were also prosecuted. Tarkighir equally facilitated the completion of the *Akaakuma* dam, and the construction of residential quarters for the divisional police officer in *Gbajimba* within his constituency, and a primary school in *Ngban* in *Guma* local government area. Tarkighir didn’t win reelection in 2019. He refocused on his core entrepreneurship concerns always never forgetting the adage about charity beginning at home. He rehabilitated and expanded his *District 4* model through which he rescued a few more youths from the hungry streets. “I’ve been there, Oga Tunde,” he tells me about his experiences growing up, his mien suddenly sobering. “It’s not easy out there.” Dickson Tarkighir won the Makurdi/Guma federal constituency seat at the 2023 polls and has since returned to the 10th Assembly of the House of Representatives.

He was born April 12, 1969 in Makurdi and attended St. Thomas Primary School, *Ibume* between 1976 and 1981. He proceeded to *Nongov* Community Secondary School in *Tse-Kyo,* in *Guma* LGA. He obtained a bachelors degree in business administration from the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State in 2003. He thereafter consolidated his thirst for knowledge in this specialty by earning a masters also in business administration from the Ahmadu Bello University, (ABU), Zaria, in 2008. An indomitable quester for new vistas, he previously cut his career dentition with Mojo Electronics, Umuahia, Abia State, between 1988 and 1991. He also worked in the Kaduna station of the now defunct *Okada* airlines from 1992 to 1995. These were cross-country toughening experiences which have profited his worldview.

Tarkighir chairs the House of Representatives Committee on “Constituency Outreach,” created early in the life of the Fourth Republic in 2003. Among other responsibilities the committee exercises supervisory oversight on the implementation of Zonal Intervention Projects, (ZIP) by members, and addresses the interests of congressmen. In the ranking of House committees in the order of importance, Tarkighir’s brief is adjudged a “Grade A” outfit. He is reportedly the first parliamentarian from the north central geopolitical zone to chair his present brief. Tarkighir speaks impeccable Hausa which privileges him in our still largely parochial ethno-politics. He is happily married and blessed with children.

Tunde Olusunle, PhD, is a Fellow of the Association of Nigerian Authors, (FANA)

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