If there was ever any doubt that greed rules in Nigeria, that the only reason many seek high offices is the material gain therein, the gluttony and insensitivity in high places have cleared such. Besides blatant corruption, a perfect illustration of this culture is the sumptuous benefits to which political office holders treat themselves at the citizens’ expense. Now it has gone to such ridiculous levels that it has to be perpetuated for life even when the rest of the people wallow in abject poverty. This is an unbelievable shame.
The Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly has just upped the game by passing into law a self-serving bill sent to it by the Governor of the state, Godswill Akpabio to the effect that he should be entitled inter alia, to N100 million every year as his medical bill. The sum which is to be a part of his pension’s package will be enjoyed by elected former governors and deputy governors.
There are other outrageous provisions in the law which practically subject the people of the state to eternal servitude and make its ex-governors totally dependent on the resources of the state for life. It provides that the person upon ceasing to hold the said office, shall be entitled to “pension for life at a rate equivalent to the salary of the incumbent governor or deputy governor respectively, a new official car and an utility vehicle once in every four years, one personal aide and the provision of adequate security for his person during his lifetime” at the expense of government. Not done, it further makes provision for funds to enable the governor employ a cook, chauffeurs and security guards at a sum of N5 million (or the equivalent of $50,000) per month. And as if the resources of the state are limitless, the governor shall also be entitled to “a befitting house not below a five-bedroom maisonette in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja or Akwa Ibom State;” furniture allowance of 300 per cent of annual basic salary once in every four years; provision of yearly maintenance and fuelling of vehicle allowance of 300 per cent of annual basic salary; yearly utility allowance of 100 per cent of annual basic salary.” When this is added to the remuneration and perks of the incumbent governor and other elected officers and political appointees, the cost of governance will certainly weigh heavily on the resources of the state to the detriment of social services, development and rehabilitation of infrastructure.
Nothing underscores more the culture of insensitivity and impunity that has crept into the public service of Nigeria than this self-serving law. While the standard of living of an average Nigerian deteriorates daily and majority of its citizens have helplessly become hostage to poverty, disease, hunger and insecurity, its public servants and political office holders make outlandish provisions for themselves.
The irony of this repugnant legislation is that it is coming at a time Nigerians are complaining bitterly about the atrocious perks enjoyed by serving political office holders.
And contrary to all expectations, Nigeria is now a victim of her corrupt, inept, clueless and lawless leadership. Her citizens on the other hand have become largely a band of docile and complacent people, who concur in the despoliation of their land by their passive indifference and cold complicity in the face of reckless, arbitrary and ungodly dissipation of their commonwealth.
The audacity of Akpabio’s law is rooted in the docility of his people who know this is wrong and unjust, but will do no more than musing and bemoaning in the closet of their rooms, whereas democracy expects them to do more. They have the right of peaceful protest against the unconscionable law. They have the right to recall all the self-serving stooges masquerading as legislators who participated in the insensitive legislation and above all, they have the right to sentence them into political oblivion by refusing to vote for them or anyone associated with them henceforth.
With this kind of obnoxious legislation in place, the competition for the gubernatorial office will be intensely unhealthier than it had ever been. Candidates will now be ready more than ever to kill and to destroy to get to that office, for the everlasting enjoyment and opulence it offers devoid of sweat and stress.
What should worry Akpabio, in all of this is that he could wittingly or unwittingly be willing for himself a hundred million naira ailment, whose treatment could be worth the sum he got the legislature to allocate to him through the law.
Sadly, Akpabio is not alone in this scandalous and selfish application of scarce resources by state governors. The governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi, former governors Shekarau of Kano State and Bukola Saraki of Kwara State did something similar. Even in Lagos State, Gombe and others, insensitive welfare packages for former governors and deputies are in place. But there is something that makes Akpabio’s case unique and different from all others. The other cases, apart from Rivers State’s, appear to be a one-off payment and mere administrative act of a governor desperate to show appreciation to a benefactor who planted him in office. There is no legislation that gives it perpetuity as it is in Akwa Ibom’s case. Even if this is contestable, none is as elaborate and far-reaching in content and provision as Akpabio’s. He may have set a template, a very rich one that qualifies as a study in selfishness which others may find useful and willing to emulate.
This latest development does not, however, inspire confidence that tomorrow would be better than today even with the youth at the helm of affairs. It seems indeed, with Akpabio and his like, it may be worse. The leaders of yesteryear did not vote so much money for life after office. And yet, they did not steal or were not likely to have stolen as callously, ferociously, brazenly and irresponsibly as the present crop of politicians do.
The ongoing National Conference should determine or review the perks of the past and current state officials since the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission, being the constitutional organ charged with that responsibility appears to have fallen into slumber. The preponderance of opinion is that there should be no further remuneration for any past political office holders; none at all for the kleptomaniacs Nigeria is saddled with who are known to have made enough by graft, for their unborn generations of children.
In the case of Akwa Ibom State, Akpabio must retrace his steps, to shed an already earned reputation as the poster boy for the republic of greed.
• This editorial was written just before Governor Akpabio announced yesterday that he was returning the new law to the State House of Assembly to revert to the old law.