There is a myriad of knotty issues to contend with in the evolution of a truly Nigerian state.
Environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa’s book, Prisoners of Jebs, is a microcosm of Nigerian society. The breathtaking satirical book set on an imaginary island profoundly dissects the problems responsible for Nigeria’s epileptic growth and development into real nationhood 63 years after independence. It succinctly portrays the Nigeria of yesteryears and today as an entrapped society.
Saro-Wiwa, in his book, says that Nigeria is a veritable prison, although the prisoners, that is the citizens, are unaware of their prisoner status, or pretend not to know and instead smile gleefully in their state of biting poverty and pain. I doubt if there is a better way to describe the parlous state of the nation amid the economic downturn as a result of the Central Bank of Nigeria’s naira redesign policy. How else would one describe a nation that wastes its abundant, educated, intelligent, vibrant and resourceful manpower? How else would one describe a corruption-ridden nation that is tottering on the edge of the precipice due to visionless leadership?
That Nigeria remains a pitiable nation-in-progress, moving in circles and repeating past mistakes that have kept it in a state of under-development notwithstanding its vast natural and human resources is disappointing. Perhaps, Peter Obi’s transformation from an astute businessman to a towering political figure with revolutionary fervour is the long-awaited antidote to Nigerians’ docility and their uncanny silence over evil and vicious governance in the nation.
It is believed that Obi could be the Lee Kuan Yew of Nigeria, who would turn around the fortunes of our dependent and poverty-stricken state. Many Nigerians believe that he could be the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai, of Nigeria who would turn Nigeria into a city of excellence and productivity, and transform the country from a regional economic centre into an international hub. Obi has been touted as the deliverer Nigerians have been waiting for to turn around Nigeria’s stunted growth and propel the nation to reach the desired developmental goals.
The aforementioned explains the reason for Obi’s soaring political career and popularity in recent times. His emergence in the presidential race under the umbrella of the Labour Party (LP) brought about a revolutionary ‘Obidient’ movement in Nigeria’s political landscape. That the LP has made commendable in-roads to Nigeria’s political power play, which is evident in the success the party recorded in the 25 February and 18 March polls, makes a clear statement: that Obi should be reckoned with, and indeed, taken seriously. More so, for his declared commitment to good governance encapsulated in equity and justice, and all that is of good and best practices in the administration of the Nigerian state.
However, the outcome of the presidential election held on 25 February was in favour of his rival, Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) but Obi claims he won the election and has taken the matter to court, optimistic that the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would be overruled. While we await the judgment of the court on the matter, let us think aloud about some of the nagging problems facing the nation; the issues that need urgent attention and action if Nigeria is to remain united, peaceful and secure as a nation.
Indeed, there is a myriad of knotty issues to contend with in the evolution of a truly Nigerian state. They are well known; ranging from the national question (restructuring) to the unbundling of the largely dubbed fraudulent 1999 Constitution, to a clear lack of equity and justice in the administration of the Nigerian state. There are also those of obnoxious, archaic petroleum and land laws, secular matters, abuse of the federal character principle etc. which need urgent re-gigging. But let us zero in on one critical area the incoming president and legislators should address with patriotic zeal as it affects the very foundation of Nigeria’s growth and development into real nationhood: the fight against corruption.
President Muhammadu Buhari has shown himself incapable of addressing the issue decisively. To think that the fight against corruption was one of his cardinal campaign promises and that he has failed woefully in meeting those promises, even as his tenure ends on 29 May, is unfortunate. Be that as it may, I hope that the next administration would take the fight against the hydra-headed monster seriously. And one of the ways to do this is to address the abuse of public office privileges, especially as it concerns the retirement benefits to former state governors and the stipends of federal legislators.
Shockingly, state governments in collaboration with their condescending legislators see nothing wrong in awarding outrageous pension packages to former governors, while they find it difficult to pay the pensions and gratuities of their retired civil servants who had served the state in different capacities for 35 years. What is it, if not for a seared conscience, that senators at the National Assembly should be earning N13 million quarterly for office runs, with a monthly salary of N1,500,000 while their House of Representatives counterparts are appropriated N8 million for office upkeep and a monthly salary of N1,300,000? This is apart from other juicy legislative perquisites ranging from constituency project fees lavishly released as and when due, and other disbursements under the belly of the river unknown to Nigerians.
A report gives the disturbing annual pension allowances of ex-governors, excluding other humongous allowances, which vary from state to state and range from N5.5 million to as high as N300 million depending on how rich the state is, the number of ex-governors, and the audacity of a sitting governor to influence the state ‘rubber stamp’ legislature to enact pension laws that protect their interest after office.
For instance, in the twilight of his eight-year tenure as governor of Akwa Ibom state, Godswill Akpabio, now a second-term senator, in 2014, signed a law that provides N200 million as annual disbursements to former governors and a pension for life at a rate equivalent to the salary of the incumbent governor. The law also provides for medical services for each ex-governor and spouse at an amount not exceeding N100 million per annum, an official car and a utility vehicle every four years, one personal aide, a cook, chauffeurs, and security guards at a sum not exceeding N5 million per month and N2.5 million.
Similarly, in 2007, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, governor of Lagos state, now president-elect, also signed a pension law that grants benefits to former governors of the state for life. These include two houses (one in Lagos and another in Abuja), six brand new cars replaceable every three years, furniture allowance of 300 per cent of annual salary to be paid every two years, and N2.5 million as monthly pension payments. In Rivers state, the pension law provides 100 per cent of annual basic salaries for ex-governors. Kano state Pension Rights Law 2007 also provides for 100 per cent of annual basic salaries while Kwara state Pension Law 2010 gives a former governor 300 per cent of his salary.
No state in the country is left out in this dastard, self-seeking and corrupt allocation and misappropriation of the state’s funds for self-aggrandisement. Yet, civil servants across the country, on their retirement, after serving for 35 years, are treated to unimaginable sufferings arising from non-remittances of gratuity as well as monthly pensions as and when due. And in some cases, these retirees have to wait for years for the regularisation of their pensions and gratuities. Some of these retirees, unfortunately, have passed on without receiving their hard-earned retirement benefits.
From the foregoing, the incoming administration has the arduous task of fighting corruption by enthroning transparency in government business and abolishing the privileges of public office that makes it easy for officeholders to amass wealth to the detriment of the masses. ◆