Just before the vainglorious pension bill for ex-governors is pass in Enugu, By Ikem Okuhu

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Open etter to Gov. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, by Ikem Okuhu

To be honest, I wasn't quite surprised when the news reached me that Enugu State Government, under your leadership, was about to make a law whose end was to shell out huge monies in pensions, gratuities and allowances for former office holders, particularly former governors, their deputies and spouses. I was not surprised because it fits perfectly into the long entrenched prebendalism in the management of our affairs, more so as the permutations for 2023 continues to gather steam.

But I must tell you that I was disappointed, gutted and betrayed by the sheer insensitivity of such a generous misprioritisation at a time the state, the country and the entire world are in debilitating economic doldrums; a crushing blow brought upon us by the COVID-19 that has lasted 12 months already. I felt disappointed because, short of adding your name to such inglorious enterprise, there was really no point in making a vast ceremony of your intention to keep compensating your former benefactors, because they have been enjoying immense privileges for years under your watch.

Your Excellency, I recall that in 2017, the Leader of the Enugu State House of Assembly, Hon Ikechukwu Ezugwu, had introduced a Bill for a Law that would provide for lifetime pensions for former governors and their deputies. This Bill, eventually passed in May of the same year, was to provide pensions for all former governors of the State, including those of the old Anambra State. I remember that after its passage, Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Edward Ubosi, was reported to have said that; “the reason for passing this amended bill is to allow citizens of Enugu State, who have served this state as governors in Old Anambra and Old Enugu, to receive a pension. This will make them be like and feel like others and also reap from the benefit of their immense contributions to the development of the present Enugu State.”

Quite a reasonable validation from the Speaker!
Your Excellency sir, if in Enugu State, we already had a Law providing for the payment of pensions and gratuities for former governors and their deputies, what purpose does the new one being processed by the House of Assembly seek to serve, especially knowing that the most recent law in this regard was promulgated during your first term in office in 2017? Does it look like you have analysed the economic barometer and decided that the income of our retired governors, their deputies and spouses have become insufficient given the national and global economic realities, thus the need to make them earn a lot more? If yes, have you analysed the one of the poor workers in the state Civil Service along the same lines?

I am writing this to you with all sense of duty, first as a citizen of the state and second, as someone who was privileged to have worked with you and can reasonably predict the way you think. I am very certain that this article will be misunderstood and deliberately misinterpreted by your several minions as the outburst of one who was left out of the government dining table, but I really do not care anymore. I believe I owe you this debt of telling you the truth and as for my sojourn in your government, I will also tell my story pretty soon.

What, Your Excellency, if I might be allowed to repeat myself, is the importance of this selective new law when your government had an older one for the same purpose dating back four years? I have read some of the provisions of the new law and I am gutted by the sheer insensitivity of its purpose and provisions. Your government will, when this law is passed (as it certainly will), be paying the sum of N12 million to each of our former first ladies as “medical allowance.” You are also going to be providing their husbands with three cars every four years plus other undisclosed sums in gratuities and pensions.

Your Excellency, there are tons of reasons why you should not be seen to be running down this dark road during this time. I am certain that when asked, your defence would be that the Bill for this Law wasn't an Executive Bill but a Private Member's Bill, and so has nothing to do with you. Again, recall that I spent 18 months in your team and I know it would not surprise you that I am aware of the role Hon Ikechukwu Ezugwu plays as a liaison and deal-breaker of sorts between you and the State House of Assembly. I know that he frequented the Government House mostly during critical budget preparations and other testy negotiations that need someone to soften the House. Being from your own Udenu Local Government Area, I am aware that he plays important roles such as introducing Private Bills that has Executive handwriting all over its pages.

Again, I repeat: you should not be seen to be running down this road for these reasons:

Our workers are the most poorly paid in the country. Your Excellency, I wish to take you on a journey of elementary economics. Workers in Enugu State are communicated as the luckiest in this democratic dispensation because, as you often say, they get paid their salaries very regularly. But do you know how much these people are paid? I am aware that the average Grade Level 06 officer in our state earns less than N32,000 each month. This amount is just equivalent to an average sized goat! If you also want to invest it in a barbing salon, it can only buy you two Chaoba electric clippers (and Chaoba is the fake brand!). Assuming you are spending only N500 on food per day and another N500 on transport to work and back, this sum will merely ride you round the month and that means you will have to be going to work naked and you won't even have to recharge your mobile phone. In fact, you wouldn't be able to afford a phone!

Accountants and accounts clerks who would be preparing the salary schedules for these former political office holders would be having heart attacks looking at so much money going out to people whose only claim to such free monies was having been a former governor, former deputy or spouse to any of these.

Your Excellency, let us even look at the N12 million you plan to be paying the wives of former governors and deputies as health allowances. Packaging them as allowances, mean you are committing to paying them these sums each year, whether they fall sick or not. Are you aware that this allowance translates to a whopping N1 million each month? Do you realise that it would take your Grade Level, 06 officer, about three years to earn what a former first lady would be paid as health allowance in just one month?

This is so unjust, so unjustifiable, Your Excellency.

Prebendalism is not a shortcut to populism. I took 18 months to study your political philosophy and strategy. It bothers on what I have worked hard to summarise in two words – representative prebendalism and by this, I mean the selection from across the state, of privileged people who are entitled to sharing government resources among themselves, for and on behalf of the people they represent. You have also garnished this by surrounding yourself and closely associating with political family trees, convincing yourself they are and will continue to be, enough to perpetuate your political influence and philosophy in the state. It is this prebendalism that has continued to make you recycle the same entitled group, rewarding them with huge patronage in exchange for good testimonials, especially as the battle for who replaces you as governor and who goes to Senate for Enugu North in 2023 are concerned.

You were an insurance salesman all your life pre-2003 and in your calculation, you need to constantly renew your policies with the elite of Enugu State to be sure they'd perpetually be enamoured of you and therefore give their blessings (on behalf of the rest of us of course) for every dream and vision of yours no matter how toxic such might be to the general wellbeing.

It is this prebendalism that has continued to make you recycle the same entitled group, rewarding them with huge patronage in exchange for good testimonials, especially as the battle for who replaces you as governor and who goes to Senate for Enugu North in 2023 are concerned.

This strategy has worked very well for you: it got you the governorship of the state against all odds in 2015; it got you endorsed by everyone and everything, souls and spirits, in the state all through the years. But I am not sure it will lead you to the destination you are currently designing for yourself. Strategists would tell you there's no need changing a winning formula, but the beginning of the end of empires have mostly been occasioned by not refreshing hitherto very effective strategies to meet emerging dynamics. Caesar's Rome fell for this reason; Napoleon's France perished for same reason and as recently as 1945, Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime met its dénouement because, although the strategy he unleashed on the world in 1939, at the onset of the First World War, was novel, unconventional and effective, by 1945, the world already had the antidote that effectively neutralised his quest for world conquest.

You need to begin to speak to the people through other means than these old empire-sovereigns.

Enugu State cannot afford it. I do not know which numbers you rely on for your economic analytics and policies, but you cannot deny knowing that Enugu State is not in the best financial stead to sustain this regime of profligacy masquerading as pensions for former governors. A report released by the National Bureau of Statistics had claimed the state grossed only N31 billion in internally generated revenue for the year 2019. I am sure this hasn't significantly changed since then and if you place it side-by-side the projected spending of N169 billion for year 2021, the precarious nature of the state's economy becomes searingly clear.

While your government is working hard to create needless spending apertures, some other states in better financial steads have initiated moves to close such self-inflicted resource drains. The Lags State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, initiated plans to stop such frivolous payments back in 2020. The population of Lagos far outstrips that of Enugu and its IGR of nearly N400 billion dwarfs that of Enugu (N31 billion). Yet, cost-containment in this area is worrying Lagos while in Enugu, government officials have not only been bragging about how this regime has to continue, but are making fresh laws to widen the associated prebendaries. Commissioner for Information, Chidi Aroh had, prior to the fresh Bill, told This Day in November 2020 that Enugu had no plans to stop paying former governors, famously saying that, “States are not a secondary school together. If Lagos State says they are scrapping their pensions for governors that is their position. If Kwara has said that, it is their own position.”

Only the commissioner understands what he meant by this rather arrogant response and I hope he wasn't suggesting that Enugu is a truant state that is entitled to waste its time while others made progress.

Enugu State is reeling in debt. According to a report by Business A.M., Enugu State is one of the states encumbered by domestic and foreign debt. According to the Debt Management Office (DMO), Enugu State, along with 25 other “generous states” indulging in this unpopular pensions' payments are owing a total o N4 trillion locally and internationally.

I could not get the share of the state government of this debt, but the figure is so dizzying you wonder why a government with such burden would be regularly reviewing upwards, the allowances of its former governors and their wives. In other words, we are actually borrowing money to pay people we are not owing!

Your pension and gratuity liabilities are staggering. Your Excellency, during the 18 months I spent in your service, pensioners in the state held a couple of protest marches in Enugu. Meetings were also held with these retired, tired old men and women during which promises were made towards the payment of outstanding gratuities and pension arrears, some dating back to the administration of Chimaroke Nnamani. The eldest man in my Umuezediko village in Nguru Nsukka, Onyishi Ekete Eze, was one of those that was being asked to frequent Enugu for these meetings. I also met Mrs Perpetua Ozioko, a woman who had taught me in my primary school days attending such meetings. These are just two names I could remember that became regular financial burdens, as I had to bear the costs of their feeding and transportation back to Nsukka after each meeting.

I have been speaking to Onyishi Ekete Eze and there has not been any indication he has received his arears of pension.

Ekete is in his 90s. He lost his son in February 2021 and has no other source of income. But for the financial contributions of some of us, it would have been impossible for him to find reason to continue living. But this is a man who served the Enugu State Government until retirement. A handful people that were in office for only eight years (less than a quarter of the years invested by these neglected patriots) are being prioritized over those who gave all their youth and intellect to the service of the state.

There is no way anyone can justify the new (and even the old) pension and gratuities for these former governors and their deputies. In the local Nsukka parlance, it amounts to pouring water into pots already filled to the brim, in an environment replete with empty pots.

I know of the permutations towards 2013. I know all the calculations. But Your Excellency sir, let everything not become politics. For a minute, stand back from yourself and examine your environment from a disinterested point of view, especially away from the deafening din of the retinue of professional praise singers around you. You would realise how cruel and insensitive some of your policies are. The plan to enhance the pay of your predecessors is one of them.

I know I cannot stop you from towing an already decided path. But I can at least speak out. For posterity.

Thank you, Truly yours
Ikem Okuhu

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