Post-Service Welfare For Governors

Posted: July 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

Guardian|amebo

Critical objections in some quarters to the Rivers State Public Office Holders (Payment of Pension) Bill and the recent signing of same into law by Governor Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State are understandable in the light of unjust awards of state resources by public officials to themselves, even after their tenure. Rivers may be a current example; but the story is virtually the same in other states. The penchant of governors to persuade state Houses of Assembly to make laws awarding juicy terminal benefits to them has only extended the frontiers of official corruption and, understandably, breed mistrust by the governed in many highly placed public officials. This is unfortunate.

In Rivers, the new law mandates the state to provide two houses for a past governor in any place of his choice in Abuja and in the state. By the law, he is also entitled to three cars that would be replaced every three years; 300 per cent funding for any furniture of his choice, 20 per cent of funding for utilities, 10 per cent for entertainment and free medical care for self and immediate family. Security details would include two officials of State Security Service (SSS), eight policemen for personal/domestic security with a complement of cook, steward, gardener and other benefits.

Individuals, civil society groups and political opposition have variously criticised the law as “rip-off” and obnoxious. For instance, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) believes it would “mortgage the state forever”, while arguing that the thrust of any law should be the promotion of people’s welfare, to reduce their suffering as humanly possible. The groups do have a right to protest, as the jumbo awards are totally inconsistent with the economic and social conditions of the people of Rivers State.

What is happening in Rivers in the name of welfare scheme for governors and their deputies in post-service life is more or less a replication of schemes by Gombe, Imo and Lagos states among others. For instance, Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha built a guest house for his immediate predecessor, Ikedi Ohakim, in his (Ohakim) local council area; packaged similar gestures for other former governors – Achike Udenwa, Evan Enwerem and the late Sam Mbakwe – and defended the action as being “informed by provisions of the law.”

In reality, these perquisites amount to legalising unjust enrichment at the expense of the state, more so as the persons involved received more than adequate remuneration during their tenure. It is worthy of note that most civil servants devoted to their duty for 20 or more years are, upon retirement, not entitled to even a fraction of what the governors award to themselves, a situation that encourages the do-or-die approach to elective offices. Besides, where is the service doctrine of political leadership if officials only use their positions to acquire wealth? In effect, the governors’ action is an open exhibition of corruptive tendencies and insensitivity to the plight of a large section of their constituencies. Leaders should be concerned with improving the lot of their people. The laws being passed ought to provide yardsticks for beneficiaries to meet certain conditions for full pension packages.

In principle, supporting the welfare of governors and their deputies out of office is not wrong. What is objectionable are obscene packages for them that only raise an already high cost of governance. Besides, many of the officers involved do not deserve any special reward, having failed to perform creditably while in office.

It is illogical to hold that an all-encompassing welfare scheme for state chief executives would ensure their commitment to duty and serve as insurance against temptations to loot state’s coffers. Service to the people should be the watchword of governors.

The global political terrain is blessed with lofty examples of key players who left office without publicly-funded homes to retire into; or resources to lean on at the detriment of the poor in the society – the Bill Clintons, Collin Powells, and Tony Blairs of this world and a host of others. Local ‘Oliver Twist’ political elite here have lessons to learn from these personalities, not by acquiring stupendous wealth and political power, and now endless luxury life, without much to show for the opportunity to serve humanity.

State and federal legislatures ought not to be mere rubber stamps of dubious decisions in favour of the chief executives at the expense of the people. The political system is in dire need of men of conscience and integrity whose goal is the promotion of the greatest good for the greatest number of citizens. More importantly, the country should avoid a bandwagon effect of obscene welfare schemes for public office holders.

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