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Nigeria is in a healing process despite hardship, Bishop Kukah

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1: I send hearty Easter greetings to all Nigerians. I am sure that many Nigerians are already used to the fact that during the annual celebration of the two most important events in the Christian calendar – Christmas and Easter – I have the practice of writing a national Message in which I reflect on the meaning of the Christ-event for us as a People and Nation. While I am aware that many people look forward to reading my Messages every year, as I have done over the past many years, there are those, I believe, who must be wondering what Bishop Kukah is going to say again, or whether he is not tired of speaking with Buhari now gone. My messages will continue for some time and have nothing to do with whoever is in power.

Every religious leader has an obligation to deliver these Messages to his people. In doing this, I am only joining my voice with that of thousands of Priests and Bishops here and elsewhere.
I know there are many who think that when I speak, I am attacking government or that I am taking sides with some imaginary opposition. Unfortunately, people erroneously believe that God and Caesar do not mix. The truth is that, God is the Creator of All, including Caesar! Caesar’s obligation is to be inspired by the way and will of God and govern according to His will. When those who govern seek the will of God, public service becomes a call to use the resources of state for the good of all.

In keeping with my discipline as a priest of the Catholic Church, I do not carry the partisan flag of any political party or hold brief for or against one set of politicians or another. What I try to do is to highlight the issues facing us as a Nation, provide moral clarity, and offer some policy options from where I stand. From where I stand, I often see missed opportunities, wrong turns likely to lead to cul-de-sacs. I try to differentiate between mistakes of the head and those of the heart. Often, our destination may be the same, but the routes often differ and what I believe I should do in conscience is offer perspectives. I allow for the fact that of course, I could be wrong, but then, Democracy is about letting our voices be heard. While those in power and politicians talk to the people, as a priest, I talk with the people. But when our voices and views are taken together, we can compose a beautiful melody for a united nation. In this way, government’s vision and policy become our vision and policy, thus creating a common threshold of trust. In keeping with the exhortation of St. Paul, we must preach this Gospel, welcome or unwelcome. So, fellow citizens, a very happy Easter to you all.

The great Bishop Fulton Sheen, in his timeless book, Life of Christ, stated that: There are only two philosophies of life. One is the feast and then the hangover, the other, the fast and then the feast. Deferred joys purchased by sacrifices are always the sweetest and most enduring. Against this backdrop, it is easy to see why the Nigerian dream has turned into a nightmare over the years. Our leaders chose the feast rather than the fast. We are today reaping what we sowed yesterday. For over sixty years, our leaders have looked like men in a drunken stupor, staggering, stumbling and fumbling, slurring in speech, with blurred visions searching for the way home. The corruption of the years of a life of immoral and sordid debauchery have spread like a cancer destroying all our vital organs. The result is a state of a hangover that has left our nation comatose. Notwithstanding, Easter is a time to further reflect on the road not taken. It is a time to see if this Golgotha of pain can lead us to the new dawn of the Resurrection. Nigeria can and Nigeria will be great again. Let us ride this tide together in hope.

Many Nigerians are wondering and asking questions such as, what time of day is it? Where are we? How did we get here? Where is here? Where are we going? How long do we still have to travel and are there any map readers to tell us if we are on the right path? Neither I nor anyone can answer all these questions, but together, we can think through them. Let us not all pretend to be ignorant. It is not so much who knows what. It is rather a matter of accepting the challenges, having the honesty to ask the most difficult questions, and holding each other accountable. In this way, the road may be long, but it will be easier to travel together in faith and confidence.

Even though it is not daybreak yet, all of us must agree that the night is far gone. The only reason why I am confident that daybreak may not be too far away is because of my faith in God and the power of the risen Christ. There could not be a better metaphor for addressing the situation we are in now than to turn our attention to the meaning of Easter and the promises that are contained in the meaning of Christianity. St. Paul said: The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light (Rom.13:12). With the risen Christ, we can dispel encircling clouds of doom.

The belief in the resurrection is what sets Christianity apart from other world religions. It was inconceivable, unfathomable, indescribable, preposterous and incomprehensible. How could a dead man rise from the dead? Unfortunately for us, those soldiers who had been stationed at the tomb, men whose careers and life depended on carrying out the task of guarding the tomb confessed that they were like dead men because, at the resurrection, His appearance was like lightening and clothes were as white as snow (Mt. 28:3). The accusers of Jesus and his enemies, rather than seeking trial for them for their negligence became fraudulent conspirators. We hear that: The chief priests met with the elders and gave large sums of money to the soldiers and said, you are to say that the disciples came at night and stole the body while we were asleep (Mt. 28:12-13).

The resurrection confirmed that indeed, Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ promised by the prophets for hundreds of years. The event of the resurrection split human history, becoming the marker of time and events. Everything else in human history from took place either before Christ (BC) or after Christ (AD). Consider the following: His birth announced peace to ALL men and women of good will (Lk. 2:14). Salvation is to be found only through him alone. In all the world, there is no other name through which salvation is given (Acts 4:12). It is the reason why at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow and all proclaim that Jesus is Lord (Phil. 2:10). If we Christians take the resurrection of Jesus to heart, then we will appreciate that suffering is a prelude to a better and more rewarding life. It might be argued that Nigerians have suffered enough. True, but the good life is a shifting aspiration with no recede to enable Nigeria rise again. Amen.
The important thing is to make it feasible for every generation to pursue happiness with less stress. We Christians still face the challenge of following Jesus truly.

Millions of people say that they believe in Jesus. Merely calling Jesus Lord is not enough because Jesus said; Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 7:21). Millions of people believe in Jesus, but this is not enough because their perception of Jesus is often flawed. There are those who call him one of the prophets of God. Some call him a good man. Others think He was a teacher who worked miracles and of course, the Jews who considered him a blasphemer because of His claims to being God. However, what people believe about my father is not important. It is what I know about my father that is important. As such, too many Christians are often misled by the perceptions of others who say they believe in Jesus but are not Christians. It is the resurrection that confirmed Jesus as being the Christ, the son of God. Jesus is not the Son of God in a biological sense, but is so in the incarnation, that is, God taking the human form without sin. Had he not risen, he would have been Jesus, a good man who perhaps lived and preached in a particular period of time. The world would have since forgotten of him or remembered him like other good men.

The coming of Jesus was foretold by prophets over seven hundred years before He came. The world expected Him. The only challenge was no one knew when it would be. His place of birth (Bethlehem), circumstances of birth (by a virgin) were foretold. The Lord himself will give you a sign, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, his name shall be Emmanuel (Is. 7:14). The Lord says, Bethlehem, you are one of the smallest towns in Judah, but out of you will come a ruler of Israel (Mic. 5: 1-2). The whole of the book of Isaiah chapter 53 gives a detailed account of the sufferings that would be endured by the Messiah. He is like a lamb led to the slaughter, never uttering a word. He was arrested and sentenced and led off to die and no one cared about his fate… He was placed in a grave with the wicked… the Lord says, it was my will that he should suffer, his death was a sacrifice to bring forgiveness (Is. 53: 7-10). These prophesies were his letter of credence, the proof of the claims that had been made.

Against this backdrop, the early Christians faced a dilemma. Jesus, their Master had died the painful and horrible death meant for criminals. Against the run of play, He had risen indeed as He and the prophets before Him had said He would. The event generates controversies. His bedraggled apostles were still reeling from it all when Jesus says they are to proclaim His message to the whole world (Mt. 28:15). They have neither a headquarters nor do they even have a start-up capital. Jesus tells them to simply depend on the good will of people, but merely eating whatever is set before them (Lk. 10: 8). Their only currency of exchange is faith and peace. Whatever house you enter, let your first words be, ‘Peace to this house’ (Lk. 10:5).

Preaching the resurrected Christ is not merely a statement of a historical fact that has become associated with the Easter celebrations. Easter is about coming to the terms with the complex reality that; God’s ways are not our ways, His thoughts not our thoughts (Is. 55:8). Preaching and bearing witness to the resurrection came with a heavy price for the early Church. The apostles were imprisoned, tortured, flogged, humiliated and killed. As far as confronting the throne of power is concerned, as far as challenging the structures of injustice and abuse of power are concerned, nothing has changed. Today’s Pilate is still firmly on his throne of arrogance, hubris and egotism. The persecution of Christians is still rife all over the world. Much as we try to pretend, persecution is rife in our country through brutal and subtle means whether by outright denials of basic rights or threats and blackmail. In all this, we cling to the words of the great song, Onward Christian soldiers which says, Crowns and thrones may perish, Kingdoms rise and wane, but the Church of Jesus constant will remain. Those who preach a discounted Christianity, focusing on quick solutions, miracles, drama and theatre, claiming that we were not born to suffer, suggesting that we were destined for prosperity, must choose between their cross-less Christianity and a Christ-less cross of human suffering which tyrants often afflict their people. Both have no salvific value.

Today, things are hard. Really very hard in Nigeria. I see it on the faces of our people every day. We are in one of the most difficult phases of our national life. But we are not alone. However, I am optimistic that our country will heal from the scars of hunger and destitution that the wounds of physical and psychological violence will heal. But first, we Christians must wake up to our duties and responsibilities of what it is to be Christian as an individual, a family, a community or in public life. There are tough times ahead. Politics alone will not change the fate of our country, neither will all the right economic policies or positive ratings by the world’s agencies. We need to do more. Nigeria has lost its soul and the evidence lies before us all. The mindless corruption and debauchery in high places is merely a symptom of a deeper rot. It is not the real disease. We must recover our lost soul. Christians cannot discount our high moral values simply because, this is Nigeria and, things are hard or everyone is doing this or that. With nothing but the moral force of faith in the risen Jesus, 11 semi-illiterate men, pursued by the roman authorities, finally converted the empire itself. If you doubt the force of true believers, think again. Not by power nor by might, but by my spirit, the Lord says.

The evil that we see around us is a consequence not a cause. We have relied on tools of social sciences to create all kinds of doomsday scenarios about the impending end of Nigeria. In the 90s, the pessimists told us that we were on the road to Rwanda. Time passed and we never got to Rwanda. Then the experts wrote so many opinion and editorial articles claiming that rather than Rwanda, we were heading for Somalia. We have arrived at none of these destinations not due to poor map reading but due to superficial and scaremongering reading of history and analysis of social dynamics of society. Faith renews a people and a nation. St Paul said it all: To have faith is to be sure of the things that we hope for, to be certain about the things we cannot see……No one can please God without faith (Heb. 11: 1, 6). I leave you with four points to ponder on.

First, the federal government must come up with a robust template for how it wishes to reverse and put us on a path of national healing. This must include a deliberate policy of inclusion that will drastically end the immoral culture of nepotism. The government must design a more comprehensive and wide-ranging method of recruitment that is transparent as a means of generating patriotism and reversing the ugly face of feudalism and prebendalism.
There is need for a clear communications strategy that will serve to inspire and create time-lines of expectations of results from policies. There is need for clarity over questions of the Who, What, When, and How national set goals are to be attained and who can be held accountable. This will take us away from the current Communications-by-announcement-of-appointments policies as if this is all that government is doing.

Second, the notion of rejigging the security architecture is a hackneyed cliché that is now at best, an oxymoron. It is difficult to fathom our current situation regarding the ubiquity of the military in our national life. It is impossible to explain how we can say we are in a civilian Democracy with the military literally looking like an army of occupation with an octopussean spread across all the 36 states and Abuja. This has very serious consequences both for its professionalism, its integrity and perceived role in protecting society. No other person than the immediate past Chief of Defense Staff, General Lucky Irabor who recently referred to the military as facing the dilemma of what he called, see finish. It is now difficult to say whether the persistence of insecurity is a cause or a consequence of military ubiquity. Trillions of Naira continue to go into bottomless pits with little measurable benefits. Our military’s professionalism cannot be diluted by the recruitment of hunters, vigilante groups and other unprofessional and untrained groups. This is not sustainable because it leaves the military open to ridicule and perceptions of surrender. Fighting insecurity is now an enterprise. I believe our security men and women can defeat these criminals in a matter of months. All we hear and see are fingers pointing to the top. No, this must end. The alternative is too frightening to contemplate. The time was yesterday, but today is still possible.

Third, it is cheering to hear that the President has announced that kidnapping and banditry are now to be treated as acts of terrorism. If so, we need to see a relentless and implacable plan to end this menace with a definite date line for bringing these terrorists to their knees, no matter what it will take. Without a timeline for eliminating these evil, despicable, malevolent and execrable demons from among us, our future as a people will be imperiled. I commend the government over its promise to stop paying ransom to bandits and kidnappers. However, merely going to the forest and returning with victims leaves the government open to suspicion from citizens. The government needs to show results of a well co-ordinated plan and time lines to bring back all citizens in captivity and give us back our country.

Fourth, I encourage the President to continue on the path of probity, to take further steps to cut down the overbearing costs of governance and to put in place more comprehensive plans towards achieving both food and physical security across our nation. Merely distributing money through already corruption riddled structures is not enough and diminishes the dignity of our citizens. No one needs to line up to receive aid when we are not in a war. Give our people back their farms and develop a comprehensive agricultural plan to put our country back on the path of honour and human dignity. May our blessed Mother who stood by the cross of Her son, watched Him die and laid to rest and rejoiced to see Him rise, intercede for our dear country. Nigeria must embrace the blessings of the risen Christ so as to heal again.

 

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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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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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