A recent newspaper report to the effect that at least 18 outgoing state governors will retire into lives of luxury with generous pension benefits despite mounting debts and unpaid workers’ salaries calla for greater scrutiny and interrogation as to the propriety or otherwise of a pension scheme for governors.
According to the report, the governors, who will hand over to their successors on May 29, 2023, would be leaving behind at least N3.06 trillion debt for the incoming administrations. Data from the Debt Management Office, DMO, indicate the debt figure of these states included N2.27 trillion domestic loans and $1.71 billion foreign borrowing.
The foreign debt is about N787.51 billion, using the exchange rate of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, which was N460.53 per dollar as of May 14, 2023. The debt figure was as of December 2022, which was the latest figure by the DMO.
The outgoing state governors include Nyesom Wike (Rivers), Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta), Udom Emmanuel (Akwa Ibom), Abdullahi Ganduje (Kano), Badaru Abubakar (Jigawa), Bello Matawalle (Zamfara), Ben Ayade (Cross River), Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia), and David Umahi (Ebonyi).
Other outgoing governors who will benefit from the largesse despite huge debts and unpaid workers’ arrears are Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu), Samuel Ortom (Benue), Darius Ishaku (Taraba), Abubakar Bello (Niger), Abubakar Bagudu (Kebbi), Nasir El-Rufai Kaduna), Simon Lalong (Plateau), Aminu Masari (Katsina) and Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto).
The outgoing governors will be completing two terms of eight years in office on May 28, 2023 (except Zamfara’s Matawalle, who lost his re-election attempt), and will be entitled to generous monetary pensions, mansions to be built in locations of their choice, luxury vehicles and domestic as well as security aides, among others, based on laws passed by their houses of assembly.
Current data indicates that the 18 states account for 42.51 per cent of the N5.34 trillion total domestic debt and 38.34 per cent of the $4.46 billion total foreign debt. Also, top domestic debtors include Delta (N304.25 billion), Rivers (N225.51 billion) and Akwa Ibom (N219.27 billion), while top external debtors include Kaduna ($573.74 million), Cross River ($209.53 million) and Enugu ($120.86 million).
Despite N225.51 billion domestic debt and $87.13 million foreign debt, Wike and his deputy, Dr Ipalibo Banigo, will enjoy generous benefits after leaving office as provided in the Rivers State Pensions for Governor and Deputy Governor Law, 2012.
The law provides that three new vehicles should be purchased for former governors, and the vehicles are to be changed every four years. This is in addition to the payment of 100 per cent of their basic salaries, 300 per cent of their annual basic salary for furniture, free medical services and provision for entertainment. Their deputies also enjoy certain perks.
The pension law for former governors and their deputies was enacted by the administration of former governor Rotimi Amaechi and made other provisions such as two choice houses in any area of their choice in Rivers State and Abuja and three cars replaceable every three years for the governor.
The law also provides that 20 per cent, 10 per cent and 10 per cent of the annual salary of the incumbent governor should be earmarked for utility, accommodation maintenance and entertainment, respectively. Wike will be entitled to all these except if he decides otherwise.
Wike, who will be handing over to his party man, Sim Fubara, has been urged by a coalition of civil societies organisations in the state to offset the outstanding workers’ pay before the inauguration of the incoming administration.
In Delta, with N304.25 bilion domestic debt and $58.77 million foreign debt, Okowa is entitled to a furnished duplex in Delta state or any other state in the country; medical treatment for him and members of his immediate family; two vehicles, including a utility vehicle, every two years; two armed policemen and one Department of State Security officer; 15 days’ annual vacation in any place of his choice and other benefits. The deputy governor is also entitled to similar perks.
The Delta State Governor and Deputy Governor Pension Rights and Other Benefits Law, 2005 was signed into law by former governor James Ibori, who ruled the state between 1999 and 2007. The law was later amended in 2009 as the Delta State Governor and Deputy Governor Pension Rights and Other Benefits (Amendment) Law, 2009.
Kano had N122.36 billion and $100.67 million foreign debt. However, Ganduje and his deputy are entitled to 100 per cent of their basic salaries, a six-bedroom house and free medical treatment for themselves and members of their families upon handover on May 29, 2023. The law guiding pension rights for former governors and deputy governors also states that they will get well-equipped offices.
Severance packages and pension for political office holders, particularly, state governors, have been contentious in recent times, owing majorly to the paucity of funds which has led to massive debt pile, and the inability of many governors to pay salaries or even embark on infrastructure development in their entire eight-year tenure. It is, therefore, not only unjustifiable but also an aberration for governors to empty their respective state’s treasury in the guise of severance packages and pension to selves.