Something very funny and equally ridiculous, yet mischievous and dangerous is currently happening in my beloved State, Bayelsa.
I don’t know what exactly is responsible for the phenomenon I am about to explain to us. I don’t know if there is something in the air or water in the State that could be blamed for it or (to take it extremely far) if it’s some sort of diabolical influence that has bewitched my people into the state I will depict for us later.
In the meantime, however, suffice to say there is presently some sort of collective delirium in Bayelsa State. I do not remember any other time that a large number of people have been deceived or allowed themselves to accept a lie staring at them starkly like the present drama surrounding the decision of the Governor Henry Seriake Dickson to withhold assent to an Executive Bill that proposes a Pension for the leaders of the Executive branch of government and the Members of the State House of Assembly, entitled “PENSION BILL FOR GOVERNORS, DEPUTY GOVERNORS AND MEMBERS OF THE STATE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY 2019”.
For the sake of absolute clarity let me start by reproducing the provisions of very first section of the Bill, section (1). It reads, “any indigene that has served as GOVERNOR, DEPUTY GOVERNOR or Member of the House of Assembly of Bayelsa or the Old Rivers State shall be entitled to a Pension for life as provided by this law.”(Emphasis mine)
At this juncture I implore you to pause a little bit to take another look at the words I have highlighted in the above cited provisions of the Bill, namely “Governor” and “Deputy Governor”. As you read on, I want you to have those two words at the back of your minds because it is only by doing so that we can put this discuss in its proper perspective and understand the reason for the alarm I raised in my opening sentence.
Having said that, at this point, I want to assume that there are still some people who are not familiar with the drama surrounding the Bayelsa Pension Bill for Governors, Deputy Governors and Members of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly 2019. So on the basis of that assumption I want to take you through a brief overview of the matter.
Last week out of the blues, the Bayelsa State social media space was inundated with reports from members of the Social Media team of the State Government and some principal officers about a Bill in the floor of the House that provides pension for the Governor, Deputy Governor and Assembly members. While members of the public were still trying to clean their eyes to be sure that they have seen clearly and are not mistaken about what they have read, they got more reports from the same sources that the bill – that was just read in the House for the very first time that day – has already been passed by the Kombowei Benson led 24 member Bayelsa State House of Assembly. With this announcement came many justifications and high praise for the bill from the same set of mostly young people who broke the news. But things did not go exactly as planned as Bayelsans from all walks of life took to the Social media to express their unequivocal opposition to the bill and called on the Governor to withhold assent to it.
A huge percentage of the people’s anger was directed at the House of Assembly and the Leader of the House and named sponsor of the Bill, Dr Peter Akpe who is also a member representing the Governor’s Constituency in the House. I remember imploring Bayelsans not to crucify Pastor Akpe giving that the said Bill is an Executive Bill that emanated from the Executive and not his private member bill. My exact words were “I know many would want to crucify Dr Peter Akpe for being the named sponsor of the Pensions Bill that gives the Governor, Deputy Governor and Assembly people pension for life.
However, I want you to know that as Leader of the House, a vast majority of the Bills he presents or ‘sponsors’ are not his but the Executive’s. It is the duty of the Leader of the House to sponsor Executive Bills.
So before you vent your hanger on Pastor Akpe know that he is only the messenger who carried the bad Law to the House and had the dishonour to be named as its sponsor.
Therefore, in closing, even though I believe that he should have had the moral courage to not sponsor this bill – especially given the fact that he is not even returning to the House and ordinarily should have nothing to fear – if my little knowledge of legislative proceedings is anything to go by, then he is not the author of that law and should not be crucified for it.
If you have beef with the Law, you know the head of the Executive branch of government in Bayelsa State where Executive Bills emanate from.”
My plea obviously fell on deaf ears because Bayelsans were very angry at the Assembly members for having the effrontery to dare to make a law that pays them pension to the tune of Five Hundred thousand Naira for Speaker, Three Hundred Thousand Naira for Deputy Speaker, Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira for the Leader and Chief Whip of the House and One Hundred thousand Naira for members of the Assembly.
It is therefore not surprising that before long ordinary Bayelsans and the Civil Society began to plan protest matches to the Assembly to get them to abrogate the bill they have passed.
I still remember writing via my Facebook timeline to advise those opposed to the Bill to realise that contrary to what its supporters may say there is no Pension Law in the land for the Governor, Deputy and Assembly members until the Governor signs the bill. I therefore urged them to direct all pressures at the Governor rather than the Assembly that has already done what they deemed fit to serve their interest while pleasing the Restoration Government.
It was during this time that I saw the open letter written by SERAP to the Governor urging him to withhold assent to the Bill at the same time Bayelsa State was trending on Twitter with people everywhere condemning the bill and ridiculing the lawmakers.
It was therefore not much of a surprise to me when reports started trickling in on the eve of various planned massive Anti-Pension Law protests, that the Governor has declined assent to the bill citing its inconsistency with Section 124 of the Constitution of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended and aim “to expand and consolidate the class interest of a privileged few.” as reasons for his decision.
Since the Governor withheld his assent to the bill, there has been a masterful effort by the Governor and his handlers to extricate and isolate the Executives and to place all blame for this Bill squarely and entirely on the doorsteps of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly with Dr Peter Akpe and possibly the outgoing Speaker and other members of the House to be the fall guys for the entire affair. This much could be deciphered from the headline and general diction of the Press Statement released by the Governor’s media Aide, Fidelis Soriwei announcing the Governor’s decision to decline assent to the bill. The headline screamed “Governor Dickson Declines Assent to Bill Seeking Pension for former Bayelsa Legislators”. Do you still remember the title of the Bill and the words I highlighted and asked you to pause to remember to put this discuss in its proper perspective?
Before this statement there was a similar post from members of the Bayelsa State Government Social Media Team that reads “Breaking News!!! Gov Dickson Declines Assent to Bill Seeking Life Pension for Former Bayelsa State Legislators.”
Some people have hailed the Governor’s decision to decline assent to the bill. However others have continued to lampoon the Assembly members. One of the most iconic disses was from the respected Ijaw leader Joseph Evah of the Ijaw Monitoring Group, who is seen in a video interview proposing the whooping of the Assembly members he called “Cowboy Politicians”.
In all of the public outcry before and after the Governor declined assent to the bill, I am yet to see anyone calling out the Executive who are the sponsors and the real source of the bill. That is the unexplainable phenomenon I referred to in my opening sentence. It seems someone cast a spell on everyone to forget or just ignore the role of the executive in this whole mess.
At this point, I implore you to once more pause and reflect on the title of this obnoxious and contentious bill that I highlighted above. Remember the Bill was for the Governor, Deputy Governor and the Assembly members? So why is no one talking about the fact that the EXECUTIVE BILL in question was not only meant for the Assembly members but also has the Governor and Deputy Governor as senior named beneficiaries? Isn’t because people are ignorant of the content of the Bill or the Governor’s handlers have succeeded in isolating his office from the mess and pushed the Assembly members to the forefront since the shit hit the pan? Or are Bayelsans aware of the fact that this Executive Bill was initiated by the Executive to benefit its honchos and the Assembly members but are more angry at the Assembly members for not having the good sense to see this anti-people law for what it is and reject it at First Reading? Perhaps Bayelsans are expressing their anger solely at the Assembly because they have for long perceived the House as a rubber stamp that exists solely do pander to and do the bidding of the Restoration Administration.
Nonetheless, for the sake of posterity and in order to set the record straight I want to drag the attention of all Bayelsans to two facts about that Bill that we should not ignore or forget in a hurry.
The first of these two facts to specially note and give deeper thought is the point that section 10 of the Bill under review says that “This Law repeals the Bayelsa State Pensions for Governor and Deputy Governor Law, 2003.” Do you see what I am saying? What this means is that there is already a 2003 Law that provides Pension for the office of Governor and Deputy Governor that a vast majority of Bayelsans have never heard of, let alone know about. This Law hoped to repeal or better put amend the said 2003 Law. Thus the decision of the Governor to decline assent to this 2019 Law preserves the former in its current form.
I am of the opinion that beyond the euphoria of defeating the self-serving Law, Bayelsans should search for, read and demand for the abrogation of the Bayelsa State Pensions for Governor and Deputy Governor Law, 2003.
This is because there is presently no reason whatsoever for any public office holder in Bayelsa from the Governor (past and present) to appointed Local Government Officials to receive any form of pension from the State. The level of backwardness in the state despite the huge human and material resources in the state requires that those who have presides over thus far should apologize to the state and its people for squandering many opportunities to make her great.
So the next and most important phase in the struggle to check the excesses of public office holders in Bayelsa State is to push for the abolishment of the 2003 pension Law. This call is even in sync with Governor Dickson’s advertised reason for declining assent to the 2019 Bill. According to the aforementioned statement from Fidelis Soriwei the Governor was quoted by the Commissioner for Information Daniel Iworiso Markson to have said “It is my philosophy that government should not be for a select few. In the last seven years, my actions and decisions which have sometimes elicited opposition from the elite who have been feeding fat on the resources of our State, have been marked by this singular disposition of mine.” The time has come for the Governor to prove his anti-oligarchic credentials by transmitting another Executive Bill to the Assembly that repeals the 2003 pension for Governor and Deputy Governor which fits perfectly into an instrument that transfers the resources of the State to a select few to feed fat at the expense of others.
My call for the abrogation of the 2003 Law is inspired by my conviction that aside being a source of additional financial burden to the State, the knowledge of its existence increases the premium politicians would place on seizing State power by all means. The knowledge that by becoming Governor of Bayelsa State, one is made for life would increase the maniacal zeal with which politicians would fight to capture the office of Governor. Little wonder Governorship elections in Bayelsa State have been characterised by warlike violence and bloodbath. So if for nothing else, for the sake of developing a viable and virile democratic culture, the Assembly has to abrogate the 2003 Pension Law for Governors and Deputy Governors.
If a Governor or Deputy Governor serves the state meritoriously and creditably, he or she would not need a State pension to subsist after government for well meaning Bayelsans and friends of the State would endow funds to take care of them if they need public support to live after office. If a Governor creates wealth for the greatest number of Bayelsans in his/her tenure in office, he/she would not have to fear about living in penury after office. If a Governor creates a functional state with functional public institutions like effective health care, education and transportation systems as well as other public goods like power, good roads and social security, such a person won’t fear about life after office.
Besides the office of Governor, Deputy Governor and public life in general should not be occupied by unproductive people who cannot fend for themselves in and out of office but would want to turn themselves into liabilities for the State during and after their terms.
Moreso, the earnings of a Governor and/or Deputy Governor are too high for anyone who can properly manage the affairs of a state to squander after leaving office.
It is with this conviction that I am calling on Governor Dickson to live up to his claim that “…I intend to do more and to consolidate on the policies and actions which have been taken to protect the vulnerable. Therefore, I am unable to assent to this bill which in my view aims to expand and consolidate the class interest of a privileged few.” The 2003 Pension Law for Governor and Deputy Governor caters for, expands and consolidates the class interest of the very privileged few who have the rare benefit of being Governor and Deputy Governor of the State.
The second and most important point I want to highlight with this piece which underscores the problem I described as very funny and equally ridiculous, yet mischievous in my opening sentence is the fact that the Pension Bill for Governors, Deputy Governors and Assembly Members, 2019, which I must reiterate was an Executive Bill, was written preponderantly to benefit the Governor and Deputy Governor of the State. So whereas it provided Five Hundred Thousand Naira for the highest office holder in the Assembly and One hundred Thousand Naira for members, it actually provided very mouth watering largess for the Governor and Deputy Governor. Let’s take a closer look at what the law was going to give to the two heads of the Executive.
According to the segment of the Bill entitled “SCHEDULE PENSION ALLOWANCE FOR GOVERNOR AND DEPUTY GOVERNOR”, the monthly allowance for Governor and Deputy shall be as follows: The Governor’s Monthly Basic shall be be 8 per cent of his Annual Basic Salary (ABS); Wardrobe Allowance, 50 per cent of his ABS; Entertainment, 40 per cent of his ABS; Transport Allowance, 50 per cent of ABS and Utilities, 80 per cent of ABS.
A Deputy Governor on the other hand is entitled to Monthly Basic, 8 per cent; Wardrobe, 25 per cent of ABS; Entertainment. 20 per cent, Transport Allowance 30 per cent and Utilities 40 per cent.
The law also added that where the Governor and his Deputy successfully served second term of eight years -as Governor Dickson and his Deputy – they shall be entitled to 150 per cent of their ABS.
It must be added that the above mouth watering pay package for the Governor and Deputy Governor is not static; as the Bill provides that the above amounts “shall be reviewed from time to time to reflect 100 percent of the Annual Basis Salary (ABS) incumbent Governor or Deputy as provided by the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission. What this means in simple terms is that a former Governor and Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State would receive the same salary as any incumbent Governor and Deputy Governor at all times. But that’s not all.
According to the Bill a Governor is also entitled to a residential 7 bedroom duplex accommodation and a three-room boys quarters in any location of his choice in the state. A Deputy Governor on the other hand is entitled to one residential five bedroom duplex and a two-room boys quarters in any location of his choice in the state.
There is more! In terms of transportation, former Governor of Bayelsa is also entitled to two cars and one backup car to be replaced every five years, while a Deputy Governor shall have one Car and one backup car to be replaced every five years.
The bill also compels the State to provide the Governor with three Drivers, a Cook, a Steward and a Gardener, who shall be pensionable while the deputy shall have two Drivers, a Cook and a Gardener who shall also be pensionable.
The governor is entitled to 60 per cent of ABS for vacation while the deputy has 40 per cent.
What all of the above show is that the Pension Bill for Governors, Deputy Governors and Members of the State House of Assembly 2019 is a bill that was designed to pamper and cater for Governors and Deputy Governors of Bayelsa State from the time they leave office to the day they die. It is essentially an Executive Bill aimed to serve the interest of the heads of the Executive branch of government for the rest of their lives after office. It only threw a crumbs to the Legislative branch.
It is against this backdrop that I have wondered why Bayelsans and friends of Bayelsa that have expressed anger, dismay and opposition to this ill-fated bill have ignored the Executive branch that initiated this bill that gives it a whole lot of bounties to unleash all their anger on the Bayelsa State House of Assembly who were to receive the paltry sums. This is what I find to be funny, mischievous and dangerous.
We cannot justifiably express our righteous indignation at the Assembly for passing a Bill sent to it by the Executive, which gives it crumbs and gives the latter a life of luxury without identifying and speaking of the ignoble role of the Executive in this entire fiasco.
In closing I must reemphasize that Bayelsans should not bask in the euphoria of getting the Governor to decline assent to the 2019 bill which should not exist in the first place if the Executive had not initiated it. All efforts should now be put into getting the Assembly to abrogate the 2003 Law. After all, as I have shown above, the Governor’s statement indicates that he is in support of such a move.
Fortune God’sSon Alfred, Political Scientist writes from Yenagoa. You can follow him on Twitter via @HRFKingFGA