The Oshiomhole Golden Handshake — A Pension Package Too Far

Nigeria has been dealt a bad hand and it appears she was doomed to fail from the start. She is the offspring of a forced marriage, perhaps the bride (typically the one getting the raw deal) having to give up her true love, placed a curse on the child. We Africans are passionate like that — African culture is rich in experiences based on human interaction, colored by the gamut of emotional reactions that are expressed seemingly without check. Africans love, hate, fight, play, share and deny with almost equivalent passion. The curse? Bad leadership. This would not become apparent until almost half a century later when the country gained independence from Great Britain and the Crown. In the 56 years since independence, a period which should have ushered a country rich and brimming with potential into an epoch of prosperity, the country has achieved less than it achieved in the 46 years before that.

What makes this even more apparent is the fact that it cuts across board regardless of type of government, background of leaders, political inclination/association and even tier of government. Nigerian leaders are a special breed who see themselves as rulers to be feted and served. In recent time with democracy now taking hold, they get power through the ballot box and then proceed to act as though they came to power by divine right. They abandon their promises to the people and instead focus on feathering own nest as well as those of their cronies. Limited by the Constitution, they realize they won’t have this position forever and therefore devise means to acquire wealth while in power, ranging from outright looting of the treasury to making deals and acquiring government assets through proxies. Regardless of their backgrounds before riding into power in a blaze of glory, they are determined that they and their generations unborn will never know poverty going forward.

What is more despicable however is that their avarice knows no bound. Despite helping themselves to a massive slice of the pie while in office, Nigeria’s elected leaders want to continue living off the state beyond their term(s) in office. This is particularly peculiar to state governors across Nigeria with almost no exception, see here for details. Multi-million Naira homes, cars to be changed periodically for life, domestic staff and so on are some of the perks enjoyed by governors after completing 4–8 years in power. This is perpetuated by laws passed by the representatives of the people in the various state houses of assembly, who clearly are out of touch with the people and simply offering quid pro quo as they are wont to do. These are states unable to pay salaries of those still on the government payroll let alone pensioners, yet they are willing to provide huge severance packages and pensions to governors who have already bled the state dry.

The recent case of Adams Oshiomhole is especially galling. The former comrade (he was a Trade Union leader before becoming governor) who almost everyone had expected to be a shining example of a servant leader, turned out to be cast in the same mould. Despite railing against corruption and waste by government officials in his previous life fighting for workers’ rights, Oshiomhole became an embodiment of what he castigated when he became governor. He thoroughly enjoyed a life of flamboyance while in office and it appears he enjoyed it so thoroughly, he is determined to continue in that vein now he has handed over. The Edo State House of Assembly recently passed a bill to enhance the pension package for the governor and his deputy, see report here. Oshiomhole is to receive a N200Million residential property, several benefits akin to what he had as governor and the icing on the cake, his salary for life. This is in return for EIGHT years of “service” as governor. This enhancement bill is meant to be signed into law by the new governor Godwin Obaseki.

Edo state is not a wealthy state by any means, it is right bang in the middle in terms of FAAC allocations, much closer to the state with lowest allocation than to those in the top 10, see August 2016 FAAC report here for reference. Its Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) was in the top 5 for 2015, but that can be misleading as 4th placed Ogun state pulled in almost double Edo’s IGR, see here. To make matters worse, Edo state debt has gone from $31.7Million at 31 December 2008 (see here) to $179.5Million at 30 June 2016 (see here). One is hard pushed to see what Oshiomhole did with all that money in terms of development for the state and brings to sharp focus why the former Finance Minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala blocked Edo state from accessing further loans.

Against this backdrop of waste and profligacy, this is a state where pensioners are currently owed up to 4 years of pension payments (see Oshiomhole’s own admission here). It is unconscionable that under such circumstances, Oshiomhole and his deputy are due to receive such significant benefits and pensions for life. Elderly people who gave dedicated service to their fatherland are being forced to go through indignities to receive their dues and many have died while going through this.

Heartbreaking.

Nigeria has a Pension Reform Act which was signed into law in 2004 and then amended in 2014, see here. That Act provides for pension for all Nigerian workers in both public and private sector with exemption of the Judiciary (because that is expressly stated in Section 291 of the Constitution) and the Armed Forces, intelligence and secret services of the federation. Therefore, elected officials should be treated in accordance with that Act. No state government has the legal standing to make a law that contravenes the Pension Reform Act 2004 and 2014. A state may pass a law to provide a severance package at the end of term in office, however that should be one-time payment that is reflective of the remuneration earned while in office, not a N200Million house and 3 cars replaced every 5 years!

This enhancement bill must not be signed by Governor Obaseki. The Edo people should make their voices heard in unmistakable terms that this is unacceptable and not their will. This pushback should not be restricted to Edo state alone, it is time that the people across the nation take back their mandates and ensure that such provisions in different states are walked back and such laws repealed. ALL elected officials should be treated in accordance with the Pension Reform Act going forward. The Attorney-General of Federation should also do his job and enforce the law.

Nigeria still has a chance to break this curse of bad leadership……but it requires her own offsprings to stand up to reject it. We are a respectful people as Africans are wont to be, but we are a people who value fairness, equity and dignity of service. The era of monkey working and baboon chopping is over…..time to get this country on track supporting the people and not just a privileged few.

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