By Ikem Okuhu
The blinding dust raised in the wake of public outcry against plans by the Enugu State Government to upwardly review the gratuities, pensions, allowances and perks it was paying former governors and deputy governors of the state does not appear to be settling any time soon, even as the State House of Assembly had made an announcement to suspend the enabling Bill. Rather than wane, it appears the more the state government and the legislators try to water down the effusive resentment of the people against the now controversial Bill, the more it is exposed to further queries, especially as it bothers on the propriety of the original Law promulgated back in 2007 and amended in 2017.
To be frank, I never anticipated the umbrage that followed the article I wrote on Saturday, March 13, 2021, where I expressed my displeasure against the obnoxious Enugu State Gubernatorial Pension and Gratuity Bill 2021. But it seemed, from the overwhelming collective angst generated just a few hours after I had shared the link to the article on the Social Media, that the silent-but-suffering majority were merely waiting for a stimulus, a trigger of sorts, before pouring their pent-up bitterness out in the media and on the streets.
The Enugu State House of Assembly was very quick in announcing, through the Leader of the House, Ikechukwu Ezeugwu, of the suspension of the controversial Bill, even after appearing to sound tough in the media, twenty-four hours earlier. But before it even announced the withdrawal, young people in the state, under the aegis of Concerned Enugu Youths, had blocked the entrance of the House of Assembly, bearing placards condemning the Bill, denouncing the legislators and making even fresh demands.
It is these fresh demands that interested me and informed this article, the third in four days of restless resistance to a regime of entrenched prebendalism in Enugu State.
In the second article I had written on this issue, I had commended the State Government and members of the State House of Assembly for its decision to suspend the Bill that many concerned people had considered to be wicked, insensitive and flying in the face of ruinous poverty and poor remunerations of the state’s civil servants. I am not about to withdraw that commendation. On the contrary, my intention is to expand the conversation to include the existing Enugu State Gubernatorial Law 2007, as amended in 2017, and which still provides for monthly earnings and allowances for these former governors.
By even attempting to revise upwards, the billions of naira already provided for former governors and their deputies in the Bill said to have been suspended by the House, the message from the State Government to the world was that there is abundance in the state, enough to throw away on enhancing the comfort of its former leaders, all of whom are already living in unearned opulence at the expense of the people. Even with all the efforts of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to recover states assets and monies in the hands of former governors and their cronies, the average former governor still lives in dizzying opulence, secretively pulling cash from nondescript stowed reserves while remaining economically non-productive.
It would have been criminal for the Enugu Government to further reward former leaders in the class referred to above with even more earning. In a State where a Grade Level 06 Civil Servant is paid between N32, 000 and N40,000 per month, only an insensitive government would be talking about enhancing the garage of each former governor at the cost of more than N200 million every three years while also providing a “health allowance” of N12 million annually to them and their wives.
At the base salary of N32,000 per month, that Civil Servant mentioned above would take 36 years before earning what the Government of Enugu had intended to pay a former first lady as health allowance. In a state with no tertiary health facility, what this would have done was fuel medical tourism, exporting the state’s monies to destinations such as Dubai and India, where many of our leaders go for the cure of headaches and certain skin itching discomforts.
But that is the way of prebendalism. As a matter of fact, Richard Joseph, the man who propounded the theory of prebendal politics had the peculiar Nigerian situation in mind when he did so and that was because he had noted the entitled attitude of elected officials (and government workers) towards sharing government revenue among themselves to the point of believing it was even their right to do so.
The people of Enugu State need to sustain the pressure on the government – executive and legislature – to discard, rather than merely suspend the controversial Bill. Although it is believed the use of the word, “suspend” by the House Leader, Ikechukwu Ezeugwu, was merely face-saving, there is every need to sustain the pressure to ensure the Bill is buried, never to be exhumed.
In addition to this, the existing Law that still empowers the government to pay some pensions to the former leaders should be abrogated. Knowing that the state government will very likely not do this on their own, the people should demand for its abrogation, being as it is, illegal, as already pronounced by the National Industrial Court on January 2, 2020.
There are much more compelling needs in the state. Most public primary schools in the state are disgraceful shanties; healthcare facilities are pies in the sky while critical social and economic infrastructure have continued to fuel unmitigated away from the state.
The success achieved in compelling the government to suspend the Bill means discarding the Bill and abrogating the existing Law are possibilities depending on how well the people organize themselves in transporting their repudiation to the relevant authorities.
Okuhu, a former Special Assistant to Governor Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, is a journalist, author, farm entrepreneur, whose most recent book is ‘Pitch: Debunking Marketing’s Strongest Myths’