Wike’s legislative messengers and Nigeria’s “pension hell”

Celestine Omehia was governor of Rivers state from May 29 to October 2007 when he was removed by the Supreme Court.

The court had argued that Omehia was not the duly nominated candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and that the person duly nominated was Rotimi Amaechi.

The court therefore made Amaechi the first person to become governor without contesting an election.

Omehia and Amaechi are rumoured to be cousins but Amaechi was not magnanimous in victory. He never treated Omehia as a former governor of the state.

Nyesom Ezenwo Wike was Amaechi’s chief of staff.The two men became sworn enemies during the campaigns leading to the 2015 elections.

Ironically Wike succeeded Amaechi despite shrewd political manipulations. In an apparent bid to spite his predecessor, Wike invited Omehia in 2015, declared him a former governor of the state and directed the state house of assembly to give legislative backing to Omehia’s position as a former governor of Rivers state. The declaration was duly gazetted.

A bumper harvest followed Wike’s declaration of Omehia as a former governor. The sum of N600 million was paid to him as gratuity for serving as governor for less than six months. It was followed with the payment of monthly pension of about N1.2 million to the former governor.

Everything went wrong when Wike lost the bid for the presidential candidate of his party to the professional contestant, Atiku Abubakar. An undeclared war erupted between Wike and Abubakar with Omehia reportedly siding with the former vice president.

Apparently concluding that the friends of his enemies are his enemies, Wike drew the battle line with Omehia. He stripped Omehia of the position of former governor and directed the state house of assembly to give legislative backing to the withdrawal of that right.

The house went as far as ordering Omehia to refund everything paid to him as gratuity and pension. Besides the N600 million paid as gratuity, Omehia had collected monthly pensions for seven years amounting to N96.5 million. He was therefore ordered to refund a total of N696.5 million.

The Rivers State House of Assembly is less than “Wike’s rubber stamp”. The members are Wike’s messengers. The governor sends them on mortifying errands which they run with despicable docility.

This article is not about Omehia’s right as a former governor of Rivers state. That position is indubitable except Wike and his messengers in the state house of assembly can convince the world that no one ruled Rivers state between May 29 and October 2007.

The Supreme Court judgment removing him as governor was about the present and the future not the past. The court never nullified the decisions he made as governor for almost six months.

This article is about the “pension hell” that Nigerian politicians have created for civil servants and the pension royalty bestowed on the ruling class.

Rivers state has a pension and gratuity arrears dating back to seven years. Hapless pensioners are owed a total of N60 billion. These are thousands of people who spent 35 years in the service of the state and now have to wait for seven years to be paid their miserable entitlements.

Even when the governor is “merciful” enough to pay the belated entitlements, the sum given them amounts to starving wages. For spending less than six months as governor of the state, Omehia was handed a princely sum of N600 million as severance package. That is what every former governor of the state gets.

Civil servants retiring on salary grade level 16 after 35 years of service may not get up to N15 million as gratuity. Besides, they have to wait for seven years to get the pittance.

Omehia was on a monthly pension of about N1.2 million which is what four serving civil servants on level 16 get as monthly salaries. All former governors get such princely sums as pension while serving civil servants toil with starving wages. No one even cares about pensioners. They get their pittance if they are lucky enough to survive seven years in “pension hell”.

The story of the gulf between politicians’ pension packages and that of civil servants remind me of the BBC documentary broadcast on May 3, 2021 with the caption “Pension hell”.

The documentary showed the immediate past governor of Zamfara state raking in N10 million monthly in the name of overhead cost as a former governor. That was besides his outrageous pension package.

The former governor got his severance package in the neighbourhood of N1 billion paid upfront before he left office. The man who gave himself such princely treatment left behind a pension debt of N10 billion as starving retired civil servants wait endlessly for their entitlements after serving the state meritoriously for 35 years.

Rivers state is quite generous with retired civil servants. It still pays gratuity even though the pensioners pray to live as long as Methusela to get their entitlements.

Lagos, Nigeria’s richest state has cancelled gratuity for civil servants. With all the excess liquidity from monthly internally generated revenue (IGR) of N43 billion, retired civil servants have to wait for three years to be enrolled in the state pension pay roll, even as gratuity has been cancelled.

The state government is so cruel that it now pays a percentage of workers pension contribution as gratuity. A civil servant who taught technical drawing for 35 years in Lagos state secondary schools and retired in 2018 on grade level 15 was given N2 million from his pension savings as gratuity. He will collect the balance at a monthly pension of N60, 000 for 20 years. If he lives longer than that, he becomes the responsibility of his family.

In the past when Lagos state government obeyed its own laws and handed every retiree his due entitlement, a level 15 officer would retire with a minimum of N12 million from the state government as gratuity. He would be entitled to a minimum of N110, 000 as monthly pension. The good old days are gone. One has to be a politician to get gratuity.

Even as Lagos former governors’ pension has been cut by half, their pension and gratuity remain scandalously opulent.

There are unconfirmed reports that each member of Lagos State House of Assembly gets a severance package or gratuity of N40 million after serving for four years. The state is not too poor to pay the rich.

Nigeria is the world headquarters of poverty because of the skewed income distribution system personified by the “pension hell” created by cruel and heartless politicians.

The chief justice of Nigeria gets N1.2 billion as severance package on retirement. That is what 1, 000 teachers retiring on level 16 get in Lagos state as gratuity.