In what would, otherwise, have been another dreary week in which one sad report pushed another off the pages of Nigerian newspapers, the report that the Federal High Court in Lagos has ordered the Attorney-General of the Federation, AGF, to recover pension funds claimed by former state governors while serving as Senators and Ministers from their states after leaving office as governors.
The Governors involved are Kwakwanso (Kano), Gaya (Kano), Akpabio (Akwa Ibom), Orji (Abia), Adamu (Nasarawa), Egwu (Ebonyi), Lafiagi (Kwara), Dariye (Plateau), Jang (Plateau), Yerima (Zamfara), Goje (Gombe), Ibrahim (Yobe), Aliero (Kebbi), Akume (Benue), Amaechi (Rivers), Aregbesola (Osun) and Fashola, Tinubu (Lagos).
What is striking about the list of names is the spread. From the richest (Lagos, Rivers, Akwa Ibom) to some of the poorest (Gombe, Plateau and Yobe) the state has been placed in a position where irrespective of what is funded or whether workers and other pensioners are paid their entitlements, a few powerful individuals had used their position as Governors to arm-twist their State Houses of Assembly to make them comfortable for life - no matter how long they live. A Governor who finishes his second term before the age of 50, can draw funds from the state for the next forty years if he lives to be 90. Meanwhile, all his successors still alive would also be collecting huge sums from the public treasury. Nobody needs a doctorate in Mathematics to figure out that over time, an increasing percentage of public revenue will be needed to pay these selfish politicians who shamelessly milk their states and impoverish them for personal gain. And, if anybody wants to know why Nigeria will never develop like Singapore, Malaysia or even South Africa, all he needs to know is that there are no pension laws like these anywhere else in the world. Nigerian politicians, irrespective of whether members of All Progressives Congress, APC, or Peoples Democratic Party, PDP are united in this scandalous abuse of power. Lagos State, a so-called Progressive State, started it. Others merely copied what the "Centre of Excellence" had laid down as a precedent. We all know who the first beneficiary was. Now, two former Governors are collecting shocking sums of money from the state.
What makes the issue a serious economic matter is the fact that the scam is not sustainable in the long-term for most of the states which had been bullied into passing those laws. Lagos might continue to muddle through. But states depending heavily on oil revenue and the hooked on monthly allocation might find themselves in trouble as global crude oil prices continue to slide as the world increasingly moves away from fossil fuel. The rising number of electric cars and the change to solar and alternate sources of power generation portend a bleak future for Nigeria - unless we can diversify our economy quickly to avert the calamity that will result from our addiction to crude oil revenue.
"Against stupidity [of Nigerians], the gods themselves struggle in vain." - Frederick von Schiller, 1759-1805. Vanguard Book of Quotations.
That addiction is unlikely to end soon. All our short and medium term economic projections still begin with the assumption that 2.3 million barrels per day of crude will be exported - despite two known facts. First, we had been using the same estimate for the last eight years without ever achieving them. Commonsense would dictate that we stopped doing the same thing which had resulted in failure every year since 2013. Second, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, had been pegging our export quota at less than 2 million barrels per day for the last three years and for next year as well. All the studies, undertaken by OPEC, point to a continuous decline in global demand for crude oil for several years into the future. Nigeria, as the weakest member of OPEC is in no position to exceed its quota without dire consequences. One then is at a loss to discover where and how the selfish Governors and the stupid state legislators expect to find the rising cost of paying so many ex-Governors. Neither the Governors instigating the pension laws nor the legislators passing them have thought beyond the next few years into the future. The Nigerian political leader generally lacks foresight; his span of attention seldom goes beyond the next election. Certainly, nobody in Akwa Ibom State considered the fact that Akpabio could live to 90 and be on the state's payroll for 30 years. That shows how stupid our politicians can get.
Dariye presents a more amazing demonstration of the lack of sense among Nigerian politicians. The man, after collecting salary as Senator and pension simultaneously as ex-Governor has been jailed for embezzling state's funds. To the best of my knowledge, there is nothing in the state's pension law which strips him of the pension despite that revelation. Thus, we have an ex-Governor who was found guilty of embezzling public funds still collecting pension from the public purse. Even the village idiot can understand from all these why Nigerian states can never develop like states in other countries and why Nigeria itself will remain backward for generations to come.
Finally, there is another issue involved in all these - equity in income distribution. Nigeria has the widest gap between the rich and the poor of all major countries of the world. The pension scam for ex-Governors merely makes the situation worse. As the incumbent Zamfara State Governor observed while refusing to pay N10 million to his predecessor - Yari - a situation in which the state is owing workers and real pensioners hundreds of millions of naira, mostly inherited from Yari, it makes no sense to pay the former Governor. If the state cannot pay everybody, then it should pay nobody - including ex-Governors. Nothing can be fairer than that. But, most states pay the ex-Governor upfront and starve their workers. That is the Nigerian politician in his true colours!!!
LAST LINE: An ex-Governor collecting N10 million per month takes home at least N120 million a year. Can the Federal Internal Revenue Service, FIRS, and the States' Revenue Services tell Nigerians how much tax the ex-Governors paid on their bogus incomes? Tax dodging is a crime as everybody knows. Perhaps, if the Federal Government can at least hold the ex-Governors on charges of tax-evasion and force them to vomit what they swallowed. No state House of Assembly can shield its own ex-Governor from prosecution for tax delinquency. That is certain.
One way or another, we must grip these people and make them pay back something to the treasury. We owe it a duty to ourselves.