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Fake news: Between Rasheed and Oyetola and Mohammed’s recipe

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By Ehichioya Ezomon

Pre-celebration on November 11, 2018, of first anniversary of the Armistice – what is known as “the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month” that ended First World War on November 11, 1918 – John Hubbel Weiss, associate professor of history at Cornell University, in an opinion piece, “WWI ‘fake news’ made truth the first casualty,” published on news.cornell.edu on November 7, 2018, writes that the current notion of “fake news” can be tied back to this period, when the public began mistrusting the press narrative about the real state of the war.
Weiss says: “Widespread mistrust of the press as the purveyor of ‘fake news’ began with the Armistice of 1918. In the case of Germany, the press maintained a triumphalist approach, suppressing stories about the military disasters of the summer of 1918 and running uninterrupted editorials that victory was near. Throughout the war troops, who had just suffered massive losses of men and territory, were dismayed to read optimistic accounts of battles unrecognizable to those that had participated in them. As the saying went, in portraying wars in the press, truth was the first casualty.”
Similarly in an April 22, 2022, article, “The ICRC vs. Fake News: Setting the record straight in the First World War,” published on blogs.icrc.org, researcher, Cédric Cotter, writes, “The term “fake news” has been a constant presence in the media for several years now. The deliberate spread of false information seems to have become one of the great perils of our time. Yet the issue is nothing new.
“In fact, all conflicts give rise to propaganda, in which fake news is mixed in with rumours, information becomes a real weapon of war and the facts seem to be entirely relative. The First World War was no exception and many historians have taken an interest in the spread of rumours about atrocities perpetrated by the enemy, brainwashing and how propaganda was received by civilians at the time.”
The above quotes serve as a backdrop to the topic at hand, which’s the matter of Olawale Rasheed, spokesman to Osun State Governor Ademola Adeleke, allegedly sponsoring “fake news” against Femi Oyetola, son of the Minister of Marine and Blue Economy and former Osun Governor Adegboyega Oyetola, over which the Department of State Services (DSS) has invited Mr Rasheed for interrogation.
Rasheed’s denied the allegation, and promised to make himself available for the DSS investigation. But rather than stick to his bravado, he’s approached the Federal High Court in Osogbo, capital city of Osun State, “for the enforcement of his fundamental human rights,” in an originating summons against the DSS and Femi, seeking three reliefs, including a restraining order on the DSS from “inviting, arresting or detaining him.”
Are Nigerians going to witness a classical case of “The Guilty Are Afraid,” as depicted in a 1957 thriller novel by British writer, James Hadley Chase? The issue surrounding Rasheed borders on “fake news” set on criminal extortion! So, why did he – after denying sponsoring the fake news against the son of his principal’s “political enemy number one” – suddenly develop cold feet, and want the court to stop the DSS from probing the damaging allegation of Femi extorting directors (for what purpose?) in his father’s ministry?
The Nation first reported on March 24 that the DSS invitation to Rasheed followed an Abuja-based blogger’s news report, “claiming that Femi was extorting directors of the Ministry of Marine. Subsequently, the blogger was arrested by operatives of DSS and she reportedly confessed that Rasheed sponsored the report.”
What’s hard in Rasheed honouring the DSS summons to prove his innocence? Unless he’s something to hide, appearing before the DSS would afford him an auspicious moment to confront the blogger, who alleged that he sponsored the “fake news” published on her blog!
Now that the Rasheed “fake news” extortion of Femi is before the Federal High Court in Osogbo, the trial judge should give accelerated hearing to the restraining order on the DSS from inviting, talkless of arresting or detaining Rasheed.
As extortion isn’t a plaything to be bandied – moreso against Femi Oyetola for accusingly perpetrating the act in the ministry that’s on his father’s watch – the court shouldn’t put the public in suspension via unnecessary and frivolous adjournments orchestrated by any of the parties, as the case strikes at the heart of fighting corruption by the Bola Tinubu administration.
The Rasheed episode comes at a time fake news rules the media, particularly social media, which exploits free speech to disinform, misinform, ply falsehood, and flat-out lies ravenously consumed by members of the public, who relish bad news due to envy, or parochial interest.
Fake news is malicious propaganda aimed at damaging the image and reputation of those targeted. Because the average human being wants to read, listen or watch bad news about their neighbour, bad news, laced with fake news, sells like hot cakes. That’s why the “new media” traffics fake news to drive ratings and for monetary gains.
The disadvantages of fake news far outweigh its advantages in terms of unpending lives, and socio-economic and political order that can lead to inevitable consequences, such as family feuds, intra and inter-tribal conflicts, civil strifes and cross-border skirmishes and wars.
Across many countries, fake news have been sowed in attempts to sway votes, and influence the outcomes of elections. An example is the United States of America, where former President Donald Trump falsely claimed he won the 2020 General Election, with his supporters storming the Capitol on January 6, 2021, to disrupt Congress from certifying Joe Biden as President. There’re fears that fake news can scramble the November 2024 poll!
!In Nigeria, fake news almost derailed the 2019 and 2023 presidential elections. The opposition, using social media, made heavy weather of alleged massive electoral malpractice by the ruling party in cahoots with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) – even as they claimed to’ve won the same “flawed” elections – which they failed to prove at the election petitions courts.
Earlier on in his administration (2015-2023), there’s a series of fake news about President Muhammadu Buhari’s incapacitation, and death while on medical treatments abroad, and the cloning of a “Jubril of Sudan” as his replacement at the Aso Rock Villa seat of power in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city. Also, President Tinubu – even as a candidate – reportedly died several times overseas, and/or underwent periodic procedures to replace “batteries that keep him alive.”
During the 2023 campaigns, fake news purveyors not only “manipulated and distorted videos and speeches” attributed to Tinubu, but also predicted that he won’t be sworn-in as President, as the Military would takeover at his inauguration; and as President, he won’t dare to visit any country for fear of arrest over alleged drugs offences. But Tinubu’s inaugurated on May 29, 2023, and has visited several countries around the globe thereafter.
Yet, ahead of the next general election in 2027, fake news saturates the polity, this time to undermine and demarket government’s diverse strategies – already showing encouraging signs – designed to ameliorate the economic pains admittedly inflicted on the citizens following Tinubu’s removal of fuel subsidy and floating of the Naira.
Social media “remains the platforms of choice for the purveyors of fake news, anti-state groups, anarchists, secessionists, terrorists and bandits,” says Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s former Minister of Information, who recalls that while in government, his ministry uncovered 476 online publications dedicated to spreading fake news against the Buhari administration.
Mohammed, the Managing Partner of Bruit Costard, a lobbyist and public relations firm, spoke lately in Lagos at an event to mark the 90th birthday anniversary of Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, entitled, “The Media in the Age of Disinformation,” as first reported on March 23 by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
Noting the far-reaching consequences of fake news, disinformation and misinformation, Mohammed, an advocate of social media regulation, says “fake news has become exponential through the use of Artificial Intelligence and deep learning techniques to create highly realistic fake or manipulated videos, audio recordings or images.”
“The consequences of disinformation and misinformation are far-reaching,” Mohammed says. “They undermine democratic processes, sow discord within communities, and pose significant threats to public health and safety. Today, even the media is at the risk of losing its credibility because of the proliferation of fake news on social media.
“Therefore, the media, as custodians of the public trust, must take decisive action to combat the scourge of disinformation and misinformation,” and “prioritise the integrity of information over profit motives and take proactive measures to detect and remove harmful content from their platforms.”
To arrest the disturbing trend, Mohammed recommends that social media platforms and other intermediaries amplifying disinformation and misinformation should be held responsible, and be checkmated “through robust regulatory frameworks to curb the spread of false information while safeguarding freedom of expression.”
In terms of targeting individuals, Mohammed shares how “fake news” – alleging he’d stolen $1.3bn from the coffers of the Ministry of Information (between 2015-2018) and stashed it overseas – nearly ruined his 40-year-old marriage. The gist in a nutshell: Mohammed, on an official assignment in Lagos in 2018, retired to his house, and to bed. But his wife woke him up past midnight, “as there were some serious issues to discuss.”
“I could not fathom what was that urgent or serious to warrant being woken up at this time of the night,” Mohammed says, adding that the accusation from his wife was “a bombshell” narrated to him in Yoruba language, but roughly translated thus:
“Daddy (wife addressing him), death can come knocking at any moment, please let me also, as your wife, be a signatory to your overseas account in ‘Ali Financial,’ which contains 1.3 billion dollars.”
Mohammed says he didn’t believe his wife could take, hook, line, and sinker the fake story in circulation, crediting humongous sums of money in overseas accounts to government functionaries/ministers under President Buhari’s administration.
“I spent the next two hours or so, sweating to convince my wife that there is no iota of truth in the allegation,” he says. “I had to fetch a calculator and reproduce the Federal Appropriation Act for 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 in the middle of the night and explain to her why it is simply preposterous for me to have 1.3 billion dollars in a foreign account.
“I explained to her that there is no year my capital budget exceeded N5 billion, which then, at about N400 to a dollar, was just 12.5 million dollars. I explained that, even if I managed to divert every kobo of it to my personal account, it will take at least, 104 years to save the sum of 1.3 billion dollars being peddled that I stole.”
Mohammed adds: “My wife insisted that the whole world believed the story and that her friends had as a result, besieged her with all kinds of requests. She said every effort on her part to deny the existence of this foreign account only succeeded in depicting her in the minds of her friends as a selfish, greedy and uncaring friend. Is my wife truly convinced of my innocence? The answer is in the wind!”
To the question at hand: Many Nigerians have suffered Mohammed’s kind of experience from fake news purveyors! Is Femi Oyetola about to bear the brunt of fake news reportedly engineered by Olawale Rasheed now standing accused in the eyes of the public and the courts? Can Rasheed free himself from the reported fake news against Femi?
In any case, Rasheed – and others in his shoes – should beware, as going forward, there maybe no hiding place for purveyors of fake news, as several countries have regulated – and many others, including Nigeria, are making moves to regulate – social media activities within the bounds of law, with or without infringement on citizens’ rights to free speech. A word is enough for the wise!

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

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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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