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The Okun-for-Governor conundrum in Kogi State

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By Tunde Olusunle

For leaders, statesmen and constituents of the Okun-Yoruba sociocultural bloc in Kogi State, the last few weeks have been characterised by a flurry of consultations and interactions, meetings and engagements. At the core of these dialogues has been the unfulfilled desire of the Okun people of the state which lies ensconced at the very heart of the North Central state, to lead the multicultural geopolity. Created by the administration of Nigeria’s former military President, Ibrahim Babangida on the sixth anniversary of his government, August 27, 1991, Kogi State is a bouquet of curious complexities. It is arguably the very first in the history of geographical reconfigurations in Nigeria, to be “amalgamated” from two different states. While the predominantly Igala-speaking segment was hewn out of the erstwhile Benue State, the Ebira and Okun-Yorubas were sectioned out of the primordial Kwara State. Interestingly, Nigeria’s two largest rivers, the Benue and the Niger, are joined in landmark matrimony in the historic town of Lokoja, capital of the state. Nigeria’s legendary colonial overlord, Lord Lugard once held court in this hitherto pristine address.

Since the inception of the state, the largely Igala-speaking Eastern flank of the state, serially held court in Government House, Lokoja. The Kogi State seat of government is christened Lugard House after the iconic character who, in 1914, oversaw the contentious sewing together of the former Northern and Southern protectorates, to form the controversial entity called Nigeria. Since the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999 for instance, the baton of leadership in Kogi State was serially passed from Abubakar Audu, to Ibrahim Idris and Idris Wada, respectively, from 1999 to 2015, all Igala. This was the trend for 17 years within the period, except for a brief interregnum in 2008, when the courts called for fresh poll between Audu and Idris. Speaker of the House of Assembly at the time, Clarence Olafemi from the Okun stock, held sway for a fleeting three months and conducted the election which returned Ibrahim Idris. It is necessary to mention here that the closest a candidate from Okunland came to the topmost political office in Kogi State, was in 1999 when Arc. Stephen Olorunfemi ran on the ticket of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP). His main challenger was Audu who hoisted the flag of the All Peoples’ Party, (APP) at the time. Olorunfemi put up a robust fight. It was alleged though that some Okun elements surreptitiously aligned with Audu, to shortchange Olorunfemi.

Igalaland was poised for perpetuation in office beyond 2015 when Audu who contested the governorship that year against the incumbent, Idris Wada, of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP), was in clear lead in the election of November that year. Tragically, he died before the results were fully tallied and announced. Yahaya Bello, an Ebira from Kogi Central who came second behind Audu at the primary of the All Progressives Congress, (APC) months earlier, was curiously called up to inherit Audu’s votes! Such weird and incongruous political prescription had no precedence in Nigerian politics. Bello deployed every untoward and unimaginable tactics to return himself into office during the November 2019. His tenure runs out in January 2024, and the process for his succession has begun.

Much against popular expectation that Bello will support the rotation of power to the third largest ethnocultural entity, Okunland, he handpicked his kinsman Ahmed Usman Ododo, at a kangaroo APC governorship primary last April. Bello has been reportedly slammed for obvious nepotism, with Ododo his mentee alleged to be his first cousin. Ododo until he was singularly handpicked by Bello, was the auditor-general for local governments. In concert with his benefactor, he brought intolerable pain and untold hardship to civil servants by irregular salary remittances and criminal mutilation of their paychecks. Senator representing Kogi West, Smart Adeyemi who was conned out of the governorship primary has since proceeded to court to challenge Ododo’s so-called election at the primary, which at best was a sham “selection” exercise.

Governorship ticket questers from Okunland, have sought platforms elsewhere to actualize their dreams and aspirations. Three such Okun sons, Dino Melaye, Leke Abejide and Olayinka Braimoh, have picked the governorship tickets of the main opposition party, the PDP; the African Democratic Congress, (ADC) and the Action Alliance, (AA), respectively. While Melaye and Braimoh are from the Kabba-Bunu/Ijumu federal constituency, Abejide is from Yagba federal constituency. He is the incumbent representative of the constituency in the House of Representatives. All three gentlemen have been on the field in preceding weeks paying homages to royalties, interacting with stakeholders, visiting opinion moulders and holding townhall meetings across the far-flung 21 local government areas of the state. The three candidates come with peculiar competencies and differing qualities. The curriculum vitae of each one of them, transcends by a million miles, the colourless and provincial profile of Bello’s protege. All three of them are pursuing their quests with uncommon verve and determination.

The Igala of Kogi East cannot bear the possibility of exclusion from the topmost office in the state for another four, nay eight possible years. Despite having had two deputy governors from their ranks, Simon Achuba and Edward Onoja respectively under Yahaya Bello, Igala people believe they have been wilfully relegated to “second class citizenship” in the sociopolitical scheme. There are over half a dozen Igala governorship candidates for the November 11, 2023 poll, notably: Okeme Adejoh, (Labour Party); Omale Samson Agada, (Young Peoples’ Party) and Musa Salihu Mubarak, (New Nigeria Peoples’ Party). Others include Arkigofa Musa Abdulazeez, (All Peoples’ Grand Alliance); Murtala Yakubu Ajaka, a businessman and philanthropist, (Social Democratic Party) and Usman Onyibe Jibrin, a former Chief of Naval Staff, (Accord Party).

Before the February and March 2023 general elections, many of these political parties would not have been given a chance in an election in Nigeria. Upsets by newcomers like the Labour Party and the New Nigeria Peoples’ Party, however, have demonstrated the capacity for electoral upset, by mass movements. And despite this multiplicity and diversity of governorship candidates from the same ethnic stock, the Igala people are famous for setting aside individual interests and vaulting egos, if they must fight a common cause. It has been proposed that they can be rallied under the same umbrella by the topmost traditional leader in Igalaland, the Atta Igala. Herein lies the challenge for Okunland which has not had venerated, leadership rallying points in over a decade. The legendary Sunday Bolorunduro Awoniyi, CON and Silas Bamidele Daniyan, CON, respectively, were the fulcrum of Okun leadership in their time.

Not giving up, Okun leaders have been engaging very robustly in recent weeks. Between Saturday June 3, and Sunday June 4, 2023, Okun Think Tank, (OTT), the intellectual arm of the Okun Development Association, (ODA), was locked in marathon meetings. The issue at hand is how to ensure that Okunland goes to the November poll as a harmonious, unified house. Okunland shouldn’t miss out on this bright chance to lead from Lugard House, for the first time in the 32 years of the creation of the state. The two-day OTT meeting was co-chaired by Major General Julius Oshanupin and Chief Bayo Ojo, SAN, CON. It was attended among others by the President of the ODA, Attorney Femi Mokikan; Professors Joash Amupitan, SAN, and Mike Ikupolati; Drs David Atte and Toyin Akanle. Ambassador Rotimi Akenson; Colonel Tunde Fagbemi; Air Commodore Kunle Obayemi; Dr Tunde Arosanyin and Chief Femi Melefa, were also present. After hours of deliberations on Sunday June 3, the OTT meeting resolved to invite all three Okun candidates and the genuinely embittered Smart Adeyemi to a meeting scheduled for 11am next day, Sunday June 4.

Melaye, Abejide, Braimoh and Adeyemi turned up punctually. The sitting saluted their love for Okunland, and their courage to “chest out,” to use Oshanupin’s military expression, at a time like this to fly the Okun banner in the quest for Lugard House. The OTT leaders reminded them that Okun people cannot go to battle as a split entity, but as a solid bloc. While acknowledging their fiscal and physical exertions thus far, the OTT encouraged them to cultivate rapprochement between themselves even as it will be imperative for Okunland to narrow down to just one candidate in the coming weeks. That is if they, Okun people, are to stand a chance of putting up a good fight.

Elsewhere in the federal capital city, the Kogi Central and West Forum for Equity and Justice jointly chaired by Professor Nuhu Yaqub, OON, and Comrade Jibril Olu Yusuf, equally met Sunday June 4, on the same issue of the imperative of power shift to Okunland. Attendees included: Professors Yusuf Ozigi Aliu; (Mrs) Angela Okatahi and Emily Alemika; Senator Mohammed Ohiare; Alhaji Isa Omolori, and Attorney Justina Abanida. There were also Drs Femi Ajisafe and Matthew Keyi, Hon Sola Adedoyin and Hon Rufus Aiyenigba, among others. The trio of the Okun governorship candidates were also invited to that session. A rational section of Kogi Central where Yahaya Bello and his nominee Usman Ododo come from, believe it is only fair and reasonable that Kogi West produces the next governor. They are historically mindful of the facts that Ebiraland produced a governor in old Kwara State in the Second Republic, Adamu Atta, and a deputy governor, Usman Abatemi, before that era was torpedoed by the military December 31, 1983. Unconfirmed reports allude to a measure of opacity in the conduct of the engagement which allegedly skewed the outcome of the meeting in favour of a predetermined candidate.

As it turned out, the various high level meetings on the Okun governorship issue thus far, have analysed similar issues. These include: competence; capacity; public perception; public service experience; width and acceptability of political party, as well as “liabilities” by way of controversies and misgivings in the public space. Given the place of fiscal capacity in Nigerian politics, the issue of solvency was also considered. For now, Melaye, Abejide and Braimoh are holding their grounds, each fancying his prospects at the coming poll. Conversations, lobbying, realignment, coalitions are, however, expected to continue and develop in the days and weeks ahead. This is to help Okunland put forward and support a broadly acceptable candidate for the governorship. He must be that person who, all things considered, is able to “sleep bare-chested beneath the sky view of the chill and freeze, of numbing harmattan,” as a famous Yoruba proverb says. All things considered, such a candidate must tick the boxes and be capable of bringing home to Okunland, the coveted trophy.

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

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Opinion

White Lion is everywhere, but blind, frustrated critics won’t find him

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Yahaya Bello
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As an indigene of Kogi State from Ijumu Local Government, I am always concerned about any issue that has to do with Kogi State’s affairs and I do my best to be involved, even if modestly, in her development. I love my state and I love my people, without necessarily compromising my patriotism to Nigeria, my country.

For some time now, I have come to notice that certain dark interests, often political, like to project all that is negative about Kogi State with a glee that is symptomatic of zonked-out analysts.

The latest half-witted article by Tunde Olusunle on Kogi State and its immediate past Governor, Yahaya Bello, portrays the journalist as seemingly away with the fairies. I will hold forth about it in a bit.

I am not a member of the APC nor a beneficiary of Yahaya Bello’s political largesse while in office. In fact, I’m not a politician in the real sense of the word. I’m an entrepreneur.

The best selling comic play titled ‘Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again’ authored by Professor Olawale Gladstone Emmanuel Rotimi and published in 1977 best captures how to describe Tunde Olusunle as related to his recent article titled ‘Abeg, Where Is “White Lion?”‘

One would have assumed that at his age with decades of professional experience, he would have been circumspect about certain issues. Even if he wished to satisfy his paymasters who must have contracted him to pen trash about his state or an individual, he would have made an attempt not to fritter away whatever little honour he had left.

I know that the country is hard and some individuals whose best lives are behind them would crunch even on faeces just to survive another day, especially those in the category of pretending that all is still well with them when they are actually floundering financially – a typical tragedy of living in the illusion of past glory. That’s quite understandable.

The precis of Olusunle’s uninformed article is that it is a worthless vituperation of a frustrated and failed political wannabe whose attempts at political relevance in Kogi State have met with catastrophic denouement. I don’t want to bore the reader with bouquets of unsupported asseverations imputed by Olusunle against Yahaya Bello. Investing valuable time in such would be counter-productive. I just want to address the obvious elements of insanity in the article.

During the 2023 presidential election, a lot of the people who unleashed negative propaganda against candidate Bola Ahmed Tinubu did so out of implacable personal hatred for the man.

The hatred in their speeches and writings was so clear. It was aggressive hatred without substance. It was so bad that some people were praying for him to die! Many fake prophecies from agitated prophets saturated traditional and social media on a daily basis. But the man weathered all the storms, beat them silly and eventually emerged as Nigeria’s President.

Not that his detractors have stopped, but they have been decimated significantly by the shame they bear consequent upon his victory. Former President Muhammadu Buhari also suffered the same fate.

Buhari would be the first presidential candidate in Nigeria to read his own obituary while still alive. A sitting Governor then, Ayodele Fayose, took front-page advertorials in major newspapers in the country and added Buhari’s picture to the list of Nigeria’s dead presidents and heads of state.

He claimed that Buhari might not last even one year in office. Therefore, why burden the country with such a walking vegetable? The hatred was that bad! Buhari went ahead to complete eight years in office and departed healthier and younger than he came in.

Yahaya Bello is the latest victim of deliberate personal hatred and relentless blackmail by his detractors and those he has trumped in the slick, yet complex terrains of Kogi State politics. A lot of political cavilers in Kogi State have yet to come to terms with the divine intervention that produced Yahaya Bello in 2016.

Kogi’s ethnopolitical warlords who have arrogated to themselves the permanent mandate to govern the confluence state found themselves suddenly vanquished by higher terrestrial forces beyond human comprehension. They could not believe that Yahaya Bello, from where he came, could be such a candidate for divine benevolence.

They rebelled and kicked. From day one, they chose blackmail and crude propaganda as weapons of foul warfare. For these ignoble characters and their ubiquitous social media goons, every woman who suffered a miscarriage did so because of Yahaya Bello. If their dogs died, it was Yahaya Bello. If they failed to prepare well for an election and lost, Yahaya Bello was their ready scapegoat. It was a loathsome circle of certainty.

The hatred in Olusunle’s baseless article is poorly disguised, if at all. Authentic professional journalists base their submissions on hard, indubitable facts. They do not orchestrate a bum steer, as the Americans would say. But this is what someone who, to all intents and purposes, should be a respected veteran in the field of journalism has chosen to do for survival stipends.

His claims that Yahaya Bello is in hiding are particularly spurious and nauseating. I live in Abuja and I can confirm that Yahaya Bello has been in his Zone 4 residence for a long time. He has been seen observing Taraweeh and receiving guests for Iftar throughout the Ramadan period. He goes to the Mosque for Jumat prayers every Friday.

For goodness sake, the man left Abuja for Okene to celebrate Eid in the full glare of thousands of Kogites, and entertained hundreds of Muslim faithful and his political associates for Sallah before returning to Abuja two days later. He even travelled to Lagos to pay homage to President Bola Tinubu for the Eid-el Fitr celebrations. What a way to hide!

Olusunle claims that Yahaya Bello is on the run and hiding under a bed. My question is “For what in particular?” Security agencies are not the types to base their investigations and arrests on phoney allegations as all those raised in Olusunle’s mucky script are.

They don’t pay attention to hideous misinformation being peddled by discombobulated political midgets in desperate search for long-lost relevance.

Olusunle seems to be suffering from nomenclature attachment syndrome. Psychologists have impressed on us from time immemorial that a person’s name is more than just identification.

They have educated us that when we hear our names, it triggers a unique psychological response. In this case, we may be dealing with a syndrome called pervasive egosyntonic sadistic behaviour.

In Yoruba language, Olusunle means “Olu has burnt the house”. And the Yoruba say “orukọ ọmọ lo n ro ọmọ”, meaning a child’s name influences his/her behaviour.

But if Olu must burn anybody’s house, he should choose his father’s house to burn, not another person’s house of honour. Meanwhile, Kogi State is a house that no jackass can burn down.

Exacerbated insanity defines the character of purveyors of allegations that cannot be substantiated. To answer your question, writer Olusunle, White Lion is everywhere, going about his normal activities, and discerning Nigerians are aware. But blind, frustrated critics won’t find him.

– Olorunfemi Obadofin Braimoh, a security consultant and public affairs analyst, wrote from Abuja.

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Opinion

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

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Map of Abia State
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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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