The Nsukka Journalists Foundation (NJF), an NGO comprising mainly veteran journalists from Nsukka cultural zone in Enugu state, has given the state House of Assembly a 90-day ultimatum to repeal the State Gubernatorial Pensions Law 2007, as amended, which provides life pension and other benefits running into billions of naira for former governors and their deputies, or face a court action.
The threat was contained in a communique’ the group issued this Wednesday after an emergency meeting in Nsukka, which was prompted by an attempt by the house to review upward the huge life benefits of former governors and deputy governors and include their spouses as beneficiaries.
The house has “stepped down” its proposed 2021 amendment of the law, but NJF wants the piece of legislation enacted in 2007 and first amended in 2017 to be repealed. It cites court judgements that have outlawed payment of any pension or gratuity to a former governor or his deputy in states like Lagos, Kwara and Zamfara.
In the communique signed by NJF’s chairman Chijioke Amu-Nnadi and eight others, the foundation expressed dismay and “our disappointment in the leadership and membership of the State House of Assembly as well as known and unknown supporters, sponsors and defenders of this bill for not deeming it fit, considering the difficulties faced by civil servants and pensioners in Enugu State, to REPEAL the 2007 Law”.
NJF has become another prominent group in the state that has added its voice to growing calls for the obnoxious law’s repeal.
A public outcry including protests outside the House of Assembly Complex on Tuesday had forced the legislators to suspend the 2021 bill.
Care for all citizens, not a select few
NJF’s outrage dominates the communique part of which reads:
8. We wish to, therefore, urge the Enugu State House of Assembly to quickly repeal the obnoxious law [Enugu State Gubernatorial Pensions Law 2007, as amended in 2017].
9. If this is not done within the next 90 days, the Nsukka Journalists Foundation, whose motto is “Conscience of the People”, shall not hesitate to approach a court of competent jurisdiction, as well as the court of moral conscience and public opinion, to decide on the matter.
10. We wish to enjoin the Enugu State government led by Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi to be conscious of the state of the state’s finances, infrastructure gaps and deficits, and lack of basic amenities like water and electricity, and thus prevail on the House of Assembly to do what is right before man, before the people on whose votes their legitimacy is founded, and before God whose name and grace Enugu State seemingly defers to.
11. We are painfully aware of the need to provide water, better health facilities and services, job opportunities for the teeming youth, better educational facilities, better teaching tools and personnel, among so many urgent needs of the state and her people. We believe that scarce resources ought to be better deployed towards improving these physical, material and social infrastructures. We are also aware that, were this bill ever passed, the medical allowances so provided would only encourage medical tourism and a movement of scarce funds of Enugu State to other places such as Lagos, Abuja and Dubai, considering the poverty of current health facilities and services.
12. We also call on former governors and deputy governors of the state to return whatever benefits they may have received and enjoyed, on account of this anti-people law, to the state’s treasury immediately, following the verdict of the courts.
13. May we reiterate that being a governor is a call to duty, not an award. The state should care for all of its citizens. Those in power should do well to approve and implement laws that will improve the lives of the people, believing that power rests with the people and comes from God.
14. We are, indeed, reminded that a few former governors are still in court over billions of naira and property allegedly misappropriated and acquired during their tenures.
Weaponized poverty and patronage
Earlier, the Concerned Professionals from Enugu, in a statement signed by Chichi Aniagolu and 22 others, said the move is evidence of a “deeper disconnect” between the government and residents.
The bill that would have cost the state N1.7 billion annually is coming “at a time when Enugu state’s economy has been battered by Covid-19; when the state is going through its worst water crisis since 1979 and where there is manifest infrastructural decay in Enugu state; this bill shows a deep insensitivity to Ndi Enugu and a misplaced priority by the political leadership,” the group said. “Thankfully, the State Assembly stepped down this bill following the outcry from all over Ala Igbo. The fact that a bill of this nature made it into the House of Assembly in the first instance is troubling.
“By its historical importance in Ala Igbo, Enugu state is supposed to be the trailblazer and pacesetter in Nigeria and Ala Igbo in particular. Sadly, over the years, the political leadership in Enugu state has maintained an unhelpful culture of rent and elite conspiracy that weaponized poverty and patronage at the expense of people-centred development.
“Today, pensioners in Enugu state are being owed their legitimate pension and the unemployment rate in Enugu is above 50 percent. Other development indices in Enugu show a worrying trend of stagnation and an economy on its knees.”
The group added that the administration of Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi must “wake up to the reality and urgency of the moment” as nothing shows the state has “received more than N280 billion” as federal allocation since 2017.
“The dwindling internally generated revenue and federal allocation to Enugu state require bold and creative thinking to design a clear economic recovery plan for the state in consultation with organized private sector and development partners. This should be the priority,” it said. “We demand greater transparency and accountability in the management of resources. We invite Enugu state to make better use of available communication tools to engage constructively with Ndi Enugu both at home and abroad.”
Nigeria’s respected online newspaper, TheCable.ng, first drew the world’s attention to the implications of the heist Enugu was about to commit. Its report entitled “Former Enugu governors to get 900% of salaries as pension — while retired teachers are being owed” captured the true situation of the state:
At a time retired primary school teachers are being owed their entitlements, the Enugu state government is planning to provide life benefits running into billions of naira for former governors and their deputies.
Last Thursday, the Enugu house of assembly introduced a bill that seeks to provide life pension for ex-governors and their deputies in the state.
The executive bill tagged, ‘Enugu State Gubernatorial Pensions Bill 2021’, covers all former governors and their deputies.
This is happening at a time when some states including Lagos and Kwara are moving to block such life benefits for ex-governors.
Apart from coming amid the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, it will further deplete the resources of the state which has a 58 percent poverty rate, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
Interestingly, the proposed law seeks additional benefits for ex-governors as the state already has a law providing for life pension for ex-governors.
‘So much money till death do us apart’
TheCable obtained a copy of the new bill and found that it appropriates at least 900 percent of a governor’s annual salary as his monetary entitlements every year after leaving office.
Even their wives would get a share of the cake amounting to N12 million as annual medical allowance.
Provisions of the bill cover almost any possible major expenses an ex-governor can incur in his/her life, including financial responsibility for burial.
This is in addition to providing three vehicles to be replaced every four years as well as a personal assistant on salary grade level 14.
Apart from the N12 million provided for a former governor’s wife as annual medical allowance, both ex-governor and ex-first lady will also receive free medical services until death.
There are also similar provisions for a former deputy governor who gets 200 percent of their ABS each for house allowance, vehicle allowance and annual salary for three domestic staff.
He will also be getting two vehicles to be replaced every four years, free medical services for him and his wife as well as N6 million medical allowance for the latter.
Enugu was only able to generate N12.2 billion as revenue in the first half of 2020. How much of that can take care of its four former governors and their deputies? Just how much?
— Reported by Eyeway.ng and TheCable.ng