Friday 15 May 2015

#MustRead: Outrageous Looting Clothed In Legality - by Emmanuel Nwachukwu

As we learn more about the pension benefits state governors have legislated for themselves, one cannot help but wonder how a civilised people would have allowed themselves to be so blatantly robbed by a bunch of marauders.

Leaders of the world’s richest economies will be aghast at the pension packages our governors have legislated for themselves. Even more incredible is how a civilised people would have allowed this to happen unchallenged, in a supposed democracy. There is nowhere in the world where public officials retire on the same salary as the incumbent when they leave office, otherwise you could have a situation where the government would be paying up to five or six individuals full salaries for a role that only one person is performing.

In the United Kingdom for instance, former prime ministers are entitled to just half their salaries when they leave office. Interestingly, Gordon Brown waived his right to this pension package when he left office, considering it to be too generous compared to other public office holders, opting instead for a much reduced pension package. Even the United States, the world’s richest economy, does not pay its former presidents the full salaries of their incumbents. It is not done anywhere in the world.

Even more staggering are the benefits some of these governors have arrogated to themselves – a house in Abuja, another in Lagos, servants, gardeners, a fleet of cars that are changed every three years, a regiment of police and the Department of State Services officers to guard them and their families for life, free medical treatment abroad and a host of other monetised allowances for furniture, cars, utilities and many more allowances that far exceed their salaries. There are no words to describe this greed and banditry. The wickedness of these people is unbelievable, in a country where their fellow countrymen sleep under bridges; where hospitals lack vital equipment; where many pensioners die waiting many years for their meagre pensions to be paid; and civil servants are owed many months in unpaid salaries.

It is foolhardy however to believe that the president-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, can change all of this on his own without the help of the masses. The stakes are high and corruption will fight back in the form of threats of impeachment. Buhari will do well to appeal over the heads of legislators direct to the people and Nigerians on their part must be ready to come out in peaceful demonstrations to force the legislators to change the laws that make this banditry possible.

This callous treatment of the people by a few cannot continue whether at national or state level. It was puzzling reading the account of the embattled Speaker of the Ekiti State House of Assembly narrating how he and his colleagues were each given N200, 000 of state money for transport by the governor when they paid him a visit. This was narrated as if it was normal behaviour. In a sane country the Speaker, his colleagues and the governor will be in prison by now.

Like a pack of wolves to the prey, governors have muscled their way into the Senate in large numbers, no doubt to continue feeding their greed at the nation’s expense. They will yet again collect as senators, all the allowances they will receive as ex-governors. So, in effect, they will be paid double allowances for the same expense; furniture, domestic staff, car allowance and so on, including allowances for accommodation even though they are entitled to free houses in Abuja as ex-governors. In addition, they will be paid as senators a package believed to be in excess of N30m a month, the highest remuneration of any lawmaker in the world. Not even the world’s richest economy, with a GDP 35 times that of Nigeria, pays its legislators this much. Our legislators take home in a month more than twice what permanent secretaries and our army generals receive as gratuity after 35 years of public service.

Being in public office in Nigeria is like winning the lottery. It is no wonder they kill to get into office. If you imagine for one moment a state with four surviving ex-governors, by the time the state finishes paying these individuals and the incumbent, there will be no money left for anyone else. Sadly, these stupendous benefits are believed to be widespread in the public sector and in hundreds of our parastatals, especially revenue generating agencies, where board members arrogate to themselves outrageous benefits and pensions packages. They do it because they can; sheer theft clothed in legality!

Although the searchlight is mainly on the Federal Government, state governments are believed to be the citadel of corruption in Nigeria. The president-elect must resist any attempt by governors to impose ministerial nominees on him. He must use the best people for the job wherever he can find them. Apart from perhaps a few progressive governors, the majority of state governors have served Nigeria poorly. A state like Delta State, for instance, at the height of the oil boom was receiving revenue allocations in excess of $100m a month; revenue allocations that far exceeded the income of many African countries that have to maintain national armies. With the resources at the disposal of oil rich states like Delta, we should have a Dubai or a Singapore in Nigeria. Instead, state funds were squandered between the governors, the state lawmakers, traditional rulers and the so-called elder statesmen who pretend to mean well for Nigeria when all they really care about is their belly. Yet, these governors are feted every day with meaningless awards by their cohorts in the private sector, when they should really be in the dock for the mismanagement of public funds. They build schools they don’t send their children, roads they don’t use and hospitals where people go to die because of lack of equipment.

The mantra of the Nigerian Army as they regained territories previously overrun by Boko Haram is so apt for the whole of Nigeria at this juncture in our history – “NEVER AGAIN”!. This slogan should be embedded in our national flag to depict the change Nigerians expect from the incoming government. We cannot continue a system that exists primarily to serve the interest of the few at the expense of the masses. We cannot have a system of governance that is based on patronage where the best people cannot get access to jobs in the Civil Service because they do not have a ‘godfather’. We must look again at the governance structure and processes in both federal and state tiers of government that make it easy for corruption to strive.

The harrowing plight of the hundreds of women and children that were rescued from the Sambisa Forest was distressing; children that will never know a father or a brother because of a government that was asleep on the wheel.

- Emmanuel Nwachukwu is an international business consultant based in London 

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