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The political elite and immoral emoluments

By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
WE must thank DAILY TRUST for concentrating our minds on Monday this week, on the huge sums of money that Nigerian states have continued to pay, as pensions to their former governors.

These sums run into billions of naira, and as the newspaper was quick to point out, these ex-governors, who have become senators or ministers, “are also drawing salaries from public purse as serving senators and  ministers”. It is important to recall that President Muhammadu Buhari himself  recently pointed out that 27 states were struggling to pay salaries, despite collecting N662billion bailout funds from the federal government last year.

All over the country, many of the states have become almost completely insolvent for all intents and purposes, because they are unable to meet the basic responsibility of payment of salaries to their workers. Osun state’s allocation last month was less than N10million! That is a product of all kinds of financial encumbrances that the state has been plunged into by a succession of wasteful governors. The red herring they have often waved about their inability to pay workers salaries has long been the drastic fall in the monthly allocation to Nigerian states, arising from the sharp drop in the price of Nigerian petroleum exports.

Last November, at the end of one of its meetings, the Nigerian Governors Forum claimed that it could no longer pay the N18, 000 national minimum wage that had been signed into law in March 2011. They premised their threat not to pay, on “the poor state of the economy”. Thinking they would get empathy from Nigerians, our governors stated that: “the situation is no longer the same when we were asked to pay N18, 000 minimum wage, when oil price was $126 (per barrel) and we continue paying N18, 000 minimum wage when oil price is $41, while the source of government expenditure is from oil, and we have not seen prospects in the oil industry in the near future”.

Of course, the governors ran into a head stream of opposition immediately, with the Nigerian trade union movement warning that they risked a complete shut down of the country, with plans to stop payment of the national minimum wage. As NLC President Ayuba Wabba warned: “the governors should not think the Nigerian workers do not have the capacity to retrench them…We are not the cause of the problem. When there was excess crude money, the workers did not benefit and so, we cannot bear the brunt. If the governors want us to close down the country, we will do that. What about their outrageous salaries, bloated overhead cost, inflated contracts and others”? Ayuba Wabba forgot to add the unconscionable pensions paid ex-governors!

And this is where the problem lies. We run a state structure located in a class system that prioritizes the comfort of the Nigerian ruling elite. This elite abhors any reference to its parasitic existence on the resources of the country. Their natural response to financial difficulties is to shift the burden of sacrifices on the working people and the poor. Never a reference to the immoral emoluments that they continued to take, even with acute shortage of funds to meet the basic functions of a state. Governors who became fabulously rich after two four year terms in power would still not let go of their states’ funds.

They arm twist complicit and supine Houses of Assembly to approve pensions that allow them live forever on state resources. Bola Tinubu’s Lagos state was one of the earliest to approve these pensions, effectively for Bola Tinubu himself.  The trend was to spread like veldt fire. Bukola Saraki got a similar law for himself in 2010.  And when incumbent governor, Abdulfatai Ahmed ends his tenure a few years down the line, he would draw similar levels of pension. Under the Akwa Ibom law, the “retired Governor” is provided N200m annual pay;

He enjoys a pension for life at a rate equivalent to the salary of the incumbent governor; a new official car and a utility vehicle every four years; one personal aide and provision of adequate security; a cook, chauffeurs and security guards for the governor at a  sum not exceeding N5million per month; free medical services for governor and spouse at an amount not exceeding N100million per annum; a five-bedroom mansion in Abuja and Akwa Ibom plus furniture allowance of 300% of annual basic salary every four years in addition to severance gratuity.

An unsustainable process

This unsustainable process of taking from Nigeria manifests at all levels. For instance, David Mark earns a military pension; he earns pension as former Senate President and collects a salary as an ordinary senator now. At the weekend, the Senate President’s spokesperson, told DAILY TRUST that the pension “…money goes  as scholarship for indigent students”.  He could not see that the “indigent students” won’t have been so, in the first place. The spokesperson forgot to state that his “Oga at the top” has only given a few scholarships so far.

If monies Bukola Saraki took, takes, and continues to take from Kwara state, had been used for development or even allocated for a well-structured, state-sponsored scholarships programme.  Yet, even in death, the Adisa Bakare Educational Endowment Fund (ABEEF), instituted by late General Abdulkareem Adisa, has awarded hundreds of scholarships in Kwara state, without being premised on being clever by a half, through an immoral pension scheme that fleeces Kwara state, despite a paucity of funds! In truth, the APC as the party of power today, owes Nigeria the duty to end the perpetual fleecing of Nigeria by people who have held power in Nigerian states.

These pensions that governors have awarded themselves should be ended to free money for vital developments or to just simply pay workers salaries, in states that are mere civil service states. Take Kwara state; one of the more popular statements amongst people in the state is that even if allocations drop to less than five hundred million naira a month, Bukola Saraki’s pension will remain one of the first items of expenditure. And with ever more two-term governors, we might end up with states existing only to pay ex-governors’ pensions, with little left for meaningful development. Surely, Nigerian states have a right to sustainable existence. We cannot afford billionaire pensioner governors, who retire into senate or become ministers, to continue fleecing Nigeria. It is immoral; it is unsustainable and should be ended.

$800m World Bank commitment to North-East rehabilitation

DURING  a courtesy visit to the Borno state Governor, Kashim Shettima, last week, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Fatma Samoura, disclosed that the World Bank was setting aside $800million to support rebuilding of infrastructure, devastated by the Boko Haram insurgency. Samoura said that the World Bank was leveraging the $800million for the region, in response to recovery, rehabilitation, de-mining, waste management and debris processing. The UN visitor pointed out that the Syrian crisis was taking a heavy toll in terms of funding from traditional donors. But there was plan to rev up advocacy and communication to focus more attention to the serious situation in Northeast Nigeria.

The humanitarian response plan for the region has just received 10% funding of only $24million, out of the $248million budgeted for the Northeast in 2016. She added that the UN would support Borno in the work of recovery and rehabilitation for safe return of the 1.8million IDPs to their homes.

The Borno Governor, Kashim Shettima, expressed gratitude to the UN for identifying with Borno, in trying to assist with ending the insurgency, but noted that $800million was grossly inadequate, considering the enormous destruction wrought by the Boko Haram insurgency. Kashim Shettima told Fatma Samoura that: “It is in the interest of humanity to rally round Nigeria against Boko Haram”. Indeed, the world must rally round Nigeria, given the international nature of the links between terror groups. The bombings in Paris have been linked to terror cells that were located in and perpetrated the outrages in Brussels.

Similarly, early this week, even Boko Haram issued a new video that reiterated its loyalty to ISIS and it’s a well-known fact that there are links between insurgency in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region and the jihadi networks in the Sahel and the Maghreb. As we noted on this page two weeks ago, Borno has been at the epicenter of the Boko Haram insurgency and has therefore suffered the most substantial levels of destruction of properties; of the killings and the injuries. The state has lost an estimated 20, 000 people and property damage has been estimated to be about $5.9Billion (about N1.9Trillion).

An estimated 30% of  all  private dwellings in Borno state were destroyed, that  is  about 956, 453 residences. Boko Haram destroyed 201 health centres, and these are mainly primary health clinics, dispensaries and some General Hospitals. And in its crusade against education, the insurgency destroyed 5, 335 classrooms and other school buildings along with the killing of dozens of teachers.

This is the kind of depressing background against which the governor was arguing that the sum of $800million was grossly inadequate for the task at hand for rehabilitation. The fact is that these sums have been dedicated to the entire Northeast region, and would especially be used in Yobe, Adamawa and to a lesser extent  Gombe and  Bauchi. I have travelled extensively and regularly in the Northeast, but most especially in Borno, and I have  seen at first hand, the extent of the destruction wrought by Boko Haram.

I have also seen at close quarters the enormous resources that the state government has committed to ameliorating the circumstances of people at the receiving end of the insurgency and the plans and efforts to rehabilitate the state, in terms of reconstruction; rehabilitation of infrastructure; return of people to their communities; regeneration of economic activities and so on. It is a very costly venture and it is a process that will take many years. The resources of these states  will not be enough; Federal resources will also play a part, but there are contesting issues that must be addressed as well.

The international community needs to put a lot more  resources into the effort to end the insurgency; reclaim communities and rehabilitate infrastructure. There is also long term work that must be carried out in counseling of women, children and victims of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which must be a serious problem into the future. The training of counsellors and sociologists, psychiatrists and psychologists will also be part of a drawn out programmme of community renewal in Borno and Northeast Nigeria.

It’s a long haul and as Governor Kashim Shettima underlined: “It is in the interest of humanity to rally round Nigeria against Boko Haram”. That is the truth of the contemporary international situation.

 

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