The Delta and Edo State governments have spent over N842m on pensions and benefits for two convicted ex-governors in the last 12 years, findings by Sunday PUNCH have shown.
The two former governors, James Ibori of Delta State and Lucky Igbinedion of Edo State, were convicted for embezzling public funds between 1999 and 2007.
Ibori and Igbinedion had shortly before the end of their tenure signed laws that would guarantee life pensions and several benefits for them and their successors.
Igbinedion stole billions of naira from the state’s treasury and was convicted of money laundering and ordered to return N500m as well as three houses. He was sentenced to six months in prison but given the option of paying a fine of N3.5m through a controversial plea bargain with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in 2008
The former Edo State governor had while in office signed a law which made all former governors entitled to 100 per cent of all allowances of sitting governors.
The SA and personal secretary are not expected to earn less than N350,000 jointly based on the civil service salary structure.
This implies that Igbinedion has earned about N92.4m from the Edo State treasury since leaving office while N50.4m has been spent on his personal aides, bringing the total to N142m.
For former Delta State Governor, Ibori, who served between 1999 and 2007, he signed into law the Delta State Governor and Deputy Governor Pension Rights and Other Benefits Law 2005 which was later amended in 2009.
The law makes provision for an ex-governor to be paid allowances and other benefits which were pegged at N50m per year.
Such perks include one duplex in any city of their choice within Nigeria, one sport utility vehicle and a backup car replaceable every two years, an office with four aides, two security personnel and a monthly salary, among others.
This means that Ibori has earned at least N600m and house modestly estimated to be worth N100m bringing the sum total of funds spent on the former governor at N700m.
Ibori was convicted on February 27, 2012, after pleading guilty to 10 counts of money laundering and conspiracy before a Southwark Crown Court, London for stealing £250m
Defending the payment of the money to Ibori in 2012, the then Commissioner for Information, Mr Chike Ohgeah, said Ibori would continue to be paid yearly until a court nullified his tenure in office
Ogeah said this in reaction to an affidavit deposed to by the EFCC which accused the state government of enriching the ex-governor.
He said, “The truth is that like every other elected governor who had served the state, Ibori was paid his pension entitlement and other benefits alongside his deputy under existing law. The law is the Delta State Governor and Deputy Governor Pension Rights and Other Benefits Law 2005 and the Delta State Governor and Deputy Governor Pension Rights and Other Benefits (Amendment) Law 2009.”
Speaking with our correspondent, the Deputy Director, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, Kolawole Oluwadare, said the pension laws were hidden and several Freedom of Information requests sent to the several states were ignored.
He said, “We found out in the course of our research that those laws are not accessible as they should be. Laws are a matter of public records and people should have them but they are so difficult to get. They may say it is not deliberate but if SERAP cannot get the law, you can imagine what others are facing.
“So, what we did was to write FoI to all the state governors asking if they had pension laws or not and reveal how much has been paid to ex-governors but most of them did not respond and we have gone to court over the matter.”
Oluwadare said there was a need to scrap the pension laws rather than target only those ex-governors who had been convicted.
“Unfortunately, one thing common with all the state laws which is in compliance with Section 124(5)is that all the governors can only be denied benefits if they were impeached from office. So, there is no provision for what happens if a governor is convicted in these states. So, this is why you shouldn’t have those laws in the first place because if we start the argument of ex-convict, some people will still end up earning it. So, these laws shouldn’t exist at all.”
When contacted on the telephone, the Delta State Commissioner for Information, Charles Aniagwu, said he was not conversant with the law and thus could not say if Ibori was still being paid or not.
Responding to a question, he said, “I don’t know, I have not read the law. Go to the House of Assembly. I have not read the law.”
The Spokesman for Edo State Governor, Crusoe Osagie, also said the governor’s cabinet had been dissolved and thus he could not comment on the matter.
However, a former governor in Edo State confirmed to our correspondent that indeed he had been receiving a pension.
“It is true. I have been receiving a pension for the last 10 years based on the law that was signed by Lucky Igbinedion. However, I am not entitled to N100m house like Adams Oshiomhole. I receive just about N7m a year and I think it should be more because once you have been governor, there are certain jobs you cannot do anymore. There is a status you have to maintain,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Speaker of the Edo State House of Assembly, Marcus Onobun, said the Assembly had yet to meet to discuss the possibility of repealing the pension law for ex-governors and their deputies, noting that there were more pressing issues to be tackled.
He said, “For now, we have not met concerning the scrapping of the pension for ex-governors and their deputies. But if there is anything like that, the press and the public will surely know.
“The challenge is that people look at laws from the surface and they spontaneously react to them. But if they know the details of these laws, they will understand the principle and what it actually seeks to achieve. I cannot tell you that we are against the payment of such pension or in support of it.
“People hear that they get jumbo pay, but the question is how much do ex-governors and their deputies earn in Edo State? But the fact is that we have not sat to discuss the issue because there are more burning and pressing issues that affect the people that we need to quickly deal with by putting the right legislation in place that will create an enabling environment for development.”
Meanwhile, the Leader of the Oppressed Pensioners in Edo State, Osemwenkha Gabriel Osabuohien, has said it is unnecessary to pay former governors and their deputies pension considering what they made while in power.
He alleged that what they allegedly made while in office, both legally and illegally, would last them a lifetime
He said, “It is unnecessary to pay them pensions as what they made either legally or illegally when they were in office will last them for a lifetime. It is also unreasonable at this time of our national life to be paying them pensions.
“The law granting them the right to collect pensions should be repealed. None of them collecting this huge pension will challenge its abolition if contacted because they know what they gained when they were in office
“When they are in power, the public fund is like their own. They control a lot of money. Imagine what they spend during elections. They use state funds to get re-elected and control state funds. People who also need a favour from them bring them money and other gifts. So they are not broke.
“I have not seen any of them who left that office, became broke and suffering. But workers suffer while they are serving and after leaving the civil service. If you study the lifestyle or nature of pensioners, most of them die of deprivation and frustration.
“No one should make a case for any form of payment be it pension or appreciation. There is no former governor or deputy governor that is leaving in abject poverty. Giving them anything additional is unfair to the average Nigerian.
“The average state pensioners have been owed gratuities for the past eight years while the local government pensioners are owned 15-year gratuities. The elderly pensioners have merely been receiving the salary they retired with.”
Speaking with Sunday PUNCH, human rights activist, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), said it was more of a moral issue than a legal one.
He said the best way to stop ex-governors from receiving bogus pensions was to get the various Houses of Assembly to repeal the enabling laws.
Ozekhome said, “Constitutionally, an ex-convict cannot hold public office for life except he is given amnesty or pardon. But that has nothing to do with pension of a governor which is embedded in a state law
“It is clear that it is immoral and unethical for an ex-convict governor to receive pension funds and it is also immoral for an ex-governor whether ex-convict or not, who is now a senator or minister to receive salary and pension at the same time.
“So, the act suffers from moral turpitude but it has no legal or constitutional connotation such as to prevent such a governor from earning such pension. The best way to deal with it is to mount pressure through advocacy or some citizens of the state to press on the House of Assembly to repeal such obnoxious laws. They are not good for the country. They bleed us financially, economically and ethically.”
Lawyer, Jiti Ogunye, said it was tragic for ex-governors who had been convicted for stealing from the state’s treasury to be rewarded with life pensions.
Ogunye, however, noted that there was a need to repeal the pension laws for ex-governors rather than just single out those who are ex-convicts.
The lawyer said, “My substantive view, however, is that this law in all these states ought to be fundamentally modified or repealed all together. If we are going for modification, then the benefits that should be paid should be nominal and symbolic. It makes no sense paying allowances to an ex-governor at the same rate of that of the sitting governor. So, that law has made perpetual governors. All these laws should be repealed
The Executive Director, CSLAC, Auwal Rafsanjani, said, “There is a need to have a review of pension given to political office holders. It is not fair that because you have served as governor for four or eight years, you leave office with humongous packages at a time when salaries are being owed.
“Governors and deputies would have entitlements including cash, cars and houses. I don’t think it is a fair arrangement. There is a need for us to review this law given the fact that the economy cannot sustain it. People who served for 35 years are not being taken care of.”
The Executive Director, Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, Debo Adeniran, said there was a need to amend the laws guiding ex-convicts and political office holders.
The CACOL director stated that till date, legislators who are convicted are allowed to retain their seats like in the case of Senator Joshua Dariye.
Adeniran added, “For the ex-convicts, the law is weak. Even those who are serving, the law does not stop them from serving even if they have been convicted. That is what the legislators ought to have looked at both at the state and federal level whereby any elected official should automatically lose their seats and benefits if they are convicted.
“Morality only suggests that such a thing should not happen and when it does, the people need to press the legislature to ensure that there are morality and sanity.”