By Abdullah Abdulganiy
Fellow Kwarans, while you are on the street, hustling on both sides to make ends meet, do you know that some men are doing virtually nothing but are ‘cashing out’ — to use the street lingo — on a monthly basis? They just sit at home, and ‘manna’ drawn from Kwara treasury fall on them. This time around, it is no looted monies, but ‘(il)legally-backed’ cool cash alongside mouthwatering and jumbo packages.
Who are they? You want to know them? They are the ex-governors and their deputies. Same set of people who dragged Kwara into the cesspit it is today, but are living large on her suffocating treasury. You can see the schools they left for us. The shambolic health system. The death traps in the name of roads. You can also add to the list.
When most of them held sway, it was party after party, rocking the streets while Kwara couldn’t breathe. It appears these men and their cohorts, who manned the State Assembly over the years, are not done with us yet. They’ve long ago created a ‘legitimate’ conduit pipe in the name of eternal pension for themselves to continue milking the scanty resources available to the state.
“But these men had served the state, and are entitled to be cared for and rewarded,” some people may want to argue. Yes, no denying that. However, they are biting more than they can chew at the expense of the state. Not to forget what these same men did to retired civil servants regarding their pensions and gratuities. At least, he who comes to equity must come with clean hands.
While pensioners toil to get their entitlements, and many have died as a result of backlog of unpaid pensions, ex-governors and their deputies, without ‘wahala’ get ‘freebies’ financed by the state.
According to the Kwara State Pension Law, ex-governors and their deputies “shall be entitled to a pension for life at the rate equivalent to the annual basic salary of the incumbent and other benefits as provided by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission. The pension shall include: furnished 5-bedroom duplex, 300% for furniture replaceable every four years; free medical treatment for Governor and Deputy Governor and their immediate families; car maintenance; drivers (pensionable); house maintenance; and two cars for the Governor in addition to one pilot car to be replaced every three years.”
That’s it. You also opened your mouth? That’s how they have been shortchanging Kwara through the instrument of the law, overseen by their puppets at the State Assembly. Is the law therefore not an ass? For the record, Kwara’s allocation from FAAC ranges between 3 and 4 billion naira per month, a pittance when compared to some other states. Similarly, its internally generated revenue is also very low.
More disturbing is that about 70 per cent of these funds accrued to the state is used to pay salaries, given that the state is civil servants dominated. The remaining 30 per cent goes to executing projects and other miscellaneous – which of course is punctured by looting, misappropriation and kickbacks; a reason the state has been wobbling on all developmental fronts.
Amid this ugly scenario, ex-governors and their deputies still get humongous severance allowances and packages completely financed from the state’s treasury. Are we not in for doom? Can the state continue like this?
Shockingly, two of these past governors assumed another political office at the National Assembly, and benefitted from double pay at a go. They enjoyed the severance packages accrued to being an ex-governor and got their entitlements as senator. Though the 8th Assembly in Kwara State later stopped this double benefit, Saraki and Lafiagi had ‘cashed out’ for years through it.
Repealing this law is, of course, an avenue by which the state could cut costs and maximize earnings. The law is not only obnoxious, but also unpatriotic. In Zamfara, for instance, Governor Bello Matawalle has shown a very good example by daring former Governor AbdulAziz Yari who refused to pay a backlog of pensions of local government workers, primary school teachers and state civil servants amounting to about N10 billion, but is concerned about the payment of his own N10 million monthly pay as pension.
He’s coming to equity but with soiled hands. Ironies. Same is what I expect to be done in Kwara State. The pension law should be reviewed immediately. Those who are responsible for our woes cannot continue to get massive benefits from the state.
Newbie lawmakers and misplaced priorities
Whilst an issue of great significance like the above is at hand, it’s pathetic that the greenhorns at the Kwara State House of Assembly have been looking the other way. A leading civil society organization in Kwara State, ENetSUD had prevailed on the Assembly for long to repeal this obnoxious eternal pension law and adopt only the 300 per cent severance allowance provided for by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission Act, but it has fallen on deaf ears over time.
To learn that the Speaker of the self-serving Assembly reportedly hid the document sent by the CSO from his colleagues is stinking. If anything, the Assembly is just confirming the conspiracy theory that it is a department of the executive, waiting to be ordered around before taking any step.
For instance, when the allegations of the diversion of N300 million LG funds was flying around, the House kept mute until an order came from the governor. Is the Speaker a Personal Assistant to the Governor? If so, His Excellency should help us prevail on him to stop hiding the document.
Since their assumption, these lawmakers have only given preference to bills sponsored within their caucus alone. All bills passed by the Assembly are the ones sponsored by lawmakers alone. The only bill they refused to pass since the last one year is the one sponsored by a civil society organization: FOI Bill. That’s to show perhaps how coveted they are.
More disturbing is that in the face of all these, the Assembly is embarking on a lot of misplaced priorities with the same energy they could have used in reviewing the Pension Law and the FOI Bill.
A poorly written statement from the Assembly on the proceedings of last Thursday’s plenary indicated that a lawmaker raised a motion for the erection of bridges in the city of Ilorin, and the House concluded that the Governor consider the inclusion of pedestrian overhead bridges in the capital projects, to be located in some areas of the state.
This is a ‘copy and paste’ idea that fails to put into consideration the environmental context of Kwara State. Which road in Kwara needs an overhead bridge? Bridges are mounted on highways with at least three lanes.
Perhaps, what these lawmakers should have called for is the resuscitation of Traffic lights and construction of bumps to slow down vehicles on busy roads. This will not only minimize the rate at which accidents occur on roads, but also reduce collision between vehicles. Bridges in Kwara State is a misplaced priority.
To even see that most of the elements who poured a barrage of criticisms on former governor, Bukola Saraki for erecting an overhead bridge at Post Office, and dismissed it as baseless are the ones pushing for the inclusion of pedestrian bridges in Kwara is baffling.
In fact, where are we going to get the funds to get the bridges fixed from, in the face of meagre financial resources? Backlogs of unpaid salaries of local government workers are on ground, lawmakers are talking about bridges. People are hungry, our JJCs in the House are talking about bridges that people may not even use. Many of these useless bridges abound in Lagos, because they emanated from thoughtlessness.
What is expected of these lawmakers is to brainstorm on how to cut governance cost and not adding unnecessary burdens on the executive.
Kwara of our dream is possible!
In the meantime, I will always add the following to my opinion articles as my own little effort and advocacy.
Pass FOI Bill. Repeal Eternal Pension Law for Ex-Governors and their Deputies.
Abdullah is a sociologist and writer. Email: [email protected]. Contact Number: 08090637356.