A call to stop multiple pensioners
He was sounding rather urgent. Before I could call for the edition of the Thisday Newspaper in question, Oga was on again. “Abraham, send me your email now now now so that I can scan and forward the publication to you right away.” Before his mail could come, I had caught up with the publication. I understood his point. Some politicians are ripping off the country and my Oga who was 76 last November and with a robust professional history that spanned the commanding heights of the banking and oil industries is very worried.
The main title of the publication – Who Is Serving Who – had a couple of accompanying riders that gave further details. Over all, it was the inappropriateness of multiple pension schemes for serving public officers who previously served and pensioned in other capacities in the country that was at issue. But first, Senator David Alechenu Bonaventure Mark representing Benue South was highlighted for good purpose. While in the military, he served as governor of Niger State between 1984 and 1986 and retired in 1993 as Brigadier-General after serving as communication minister. He has been in the Senate since 1999.
I guess the sponsors of the publication are asking if Senator Mark who is still in active service and being paid for services rendered is entitled to pension and from which quarters since he had been different person at different times. Senator Mark was joined with 20 others and branded ‘Double Dipping Senators’ by the publication. And sensing that not all readers would decode the phrase – Double Dipping Senators – if left hanging without an intensifier, the sponsors went on to explain: “All Senators get an end-of-tenure gratuity every four years. ‘Double Dipping’ Senators also get pensions from their states. In effect, the publishers were saying that Senator David Mark, for instance, who has been in the Senate since 1999 and might have earned end of term gratuity four times over and will be due for a fifth pick in 2019, even as he enjoys other levels of ‘pension’ as an ex-governor, minister and a private investor.
The other ‘double dipping senators’ named were Eyinnaya Abaribe who was deputy governor of Abia State between 1999 and 2003; Godswill Akpabio, Akwa-Ibom State governor 2007-2015; Samuel Egwu, Ebonyi State governor 1999-2007; Danjuma Goje, Gombe State governor 2003-2011; Rabiu Kwankwaso, Kano State governor 1999-2003, 2011-2015; Bukola Saraki, Kwara State governor 2003-2011 and Abdullahi Adamu, Nassara State 1999-2007.
Also on the bill were Jonah Jang Plateau State 2007-2015; Abubakar Danladi, Taraba State deputy governor 2007-2015; Aliyu Wammako Sokoto State 2007-2015; Theodore Orji Abia State governor 2007-2015; George Akume, Benue State 1999-2007; Abiodun Olujimi, Ekiti State deputy governor 2005-2007 and Adamu Aliero, Kebbi State 1999-2007. Joshua Dariye, Plateau State 1999-2007; Bukar Ibrahim, Yobe State 1999-2007; Sanni Yerima, Zamfara State 1999- 2007 and Third Republic governors of Kwara State, Muhammed Lafiagi 1992-1993 and Isiaka Adeleke of Osun State 1992-1993, also made the list.
The publishers were wise enough to include a disclaimer to the effect that “some (of the former governors listed) are currently not receiving state pensions for political, economic and/or administrative reasons. But that is not point. In the 2007 to 2015 dispensation, there was a rash of legislations by State Houses of Assembly across the country to address post-service challenges. The packages were such that disengaging public officers including governors left offices not feeling the difference between in and out because the privileges of their offices remained largely intact.
Essentially, the rules were changed to include public officers who served for only eight years in a national pension scheme that was designed to care for persons who spent all their active years (between 30 and 35 years) serving the state. In most states, the pension schemes entitled the ex-governor to a life salary and other lavish perks such as houses in two locations of choice and operational and status cars that are subject to replacement with age.
The inherent social injustice is most difficult to comprehend. The high office of the governor is not the starting point for the occupant. I mean, the governorship is not for school leavers or hustlers. It is, or should be, for accomplished people who look beyond benefits and privileges that come with it to the huge responsibility and sacrifice of the office. Therefore, to waste scarce state resources on persons who simply migrated from one pinnacle to another and after four or eight years at the latter point is to mock the concept of true reward.
It will still be fine if it is kept at that level. That is, for a governor to retire after eight years and stay in retirement receiving pension till he or she leaves this world altogether. What apparently provoked the publication in reference was the fraud of returning to public service through another door as with the ex-governors, now senators to continue to live off the state in addition to the retirement benefits being paid on account of previous service. Or, is there a part of the enabling labour laws that entitles anybody to a double portion in the public sector pension scheme? Why should a man who is on a humongous pension as ex-governor still receives fat perks of office as a national legislator or any public office holder for that matter?
If a retired and pensioned public officer is not tired and still feels like offering service, he or she should do so free of charge. The highest that can come his or her way is allowance for incidentals, which is nothing close to the current obscene emoluments of the National Assembly members. I cannot even understand why the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is not looking in that direction. If these ex-governors who are now senators have been double dipping as alleged, the EFCC should do everything to recover whatever they have fraudulently earned and remit same to the national treasury to re-jig the sleeping economy.
Let me state that the list of double dippers extends far beyond the National Assembly. The federal cabinet is loaded with double dippers too. For instance, Babatunde Raji Fashola as a private citizen is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), meaning he was not jobless before he became Ahmed Tinubu’s Chief of Staff and later governor of Lagos State. If he is on pension as Ex-governor of Nigeria’s richest state in addition to earnings from his law firm, he has no reason receiving salary as minister of works, housing and power. Same applies to pensioned ex-governors who are on the ambassadorial list or chief executives of federal agencies and departments. In fact, there should be a national drive to retrieve these misapplied resources for better use.
I want to thank my Oga for pointedly bringing this anomaly to my attention. It is good and the way every senior citizen should go in this country. In doing me the mail, Mr Nwanze had dropped a footnote. “These are the types of issues that investigative journalism would need to confirm. If confirmed, (it) should be taken up by the press, labour unions and civil society organisations. I hope that Abraham Ogbodo and Olusegun Adeniyi, two accomplished journalists and their respective organisations will take up the challenge.”
Oga Chike and I had shared platform as members of the Rotary Club of Victoria Island East. This was about two decades ago. I could not keep pace and retired prematurely from Rotary activities but still very much guided by the sound moral principles I imbibed under him and others like Deep Mirani, Johnson Asinugo, Patrick Okpalefe, George Owarieta and Engr Niyi Raji.