‘Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.”
There has been a seething cauldron of emotion in the polity over the controversy trailing the payment of N10 million monthly upkeep allowance to the immediate past governor of Zamafara State, Abdul’Aziz Yari. Agitated by the sudden termination of his jumbo severance package, Yari had written a letter to Governor Bello Matawalle seeking his intervention, not minding the dismal plight of the state’s economy and the challenge before the new government.
His letter reads in part: “The law provides, among other entitlements of the former governor, a monthly upkeep allowance of Ten Million Naira (N10, 000,000) only and a pension equivalent to the salary he was receiving while in office.
“Accordingly, you may wish to be informed that since the expiration of my tenure on the 29th of May, 2019, I was only paid the upkeep allowance twice i.e, for the month of June and July while my pension for the month of June has not been paid.
“As the law provides, the pension and upkeep allowance is not in the category of privileges that can be truncated without any justifiable reason, hence the need to request you to kindly direct the settlement of the total backlog of the pension and upkeep as provided by the law.”
What’s more! The state assembly in a swift reaction immediately initiated an amendment of the law that allows the payment of pension and other allowances for former governors and their deputies. According to the lawmakers, the repeal of the bill would save the state a humongous sum of N700 million which would have been expended on the settlement of allowances for these past leaders. Though the speed with which the bill scaled the hurdles of first and second reading, as well as subsequent assent by the governor underscores some political undertone, not a few Nigerians have applauded the action of the lawmakers.
While signing the bill, Governor Matawalle revealed that his predecessor paid himself N360 million as severance allowance before handover. He said Yari allegedly took the money from the state pension funds. According to him, without a repeal of the bill, deputy governors, speakers of the state House of Assembly would have been taken a billion naira annually as upkeep allowance from the state government.
This, he said, was in addition to “two vehicles to be bought by the state government and replaceable after every four years; free medical treatment for former governor and his immediate families and vacation within Nigeria and outside.
“Thirty days vacation within Nigeria or outside Nigeria and a five-bedroom house in any location of the choice of the former governor within the country.”
Matawalle expressed regret that the immediate past administration did not take into account the social and economic realities of the state.
Without a regime change, the ousted All Progressives Congress -led state assembly would have even gladly approved any proposal for an upward review of severance package for the past office holders to be in line with the current economic realities, while the organized labour continues to struggle for the new minimum wage of N30, 000 monthly. For doing nothing, N10 million for Yari’s upkeep is equivalent of monthly take home of over 300 workers based on the approved N30,000 minimum wage. Such an outrageous entitlement, in the opinion of some pundits, is not only inauspicious at this time of harsh economic condition, but also insensitive. But for lack of indignation capacity, the streets of Gusau, the Zamfara State capital, would been seized by protests.
Zamfara is not alone in this saga. Virtually all former office holders across the states of the federation, including members of the National Assembly, are on the pay role of their respective governments. Political analysts have blamed the development on theRevenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission for these abnormalities for failing in its responsibility to monitor the activities of public office holders. Section 70 of the Constitution (as amended) empowers the Commission to determine the salary and allowances of members of the Senate or House of Reps, the same with Section 6 of the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission Act. But it has not been able to exercise control over the relevant government institutions.
For instance, the 8th National Assembly, capitalizing on the section of the constitution, had approved the payment of over N23.7 billion as severance package to the immediate past lawmakers, which many people simply dismissed as a betrayal of the trust reposed in them. The severance gratuity was arrived at by calculating 300 per cent of the lawmakers’ annual basic salaries.
A recent pronouncement by the Court of Appeal in Abuja, described as morally wrong the payment of severance allowances to elected or appointed public office holders. The court through its three-man panel led by Justice Abubakar Yahaya, expressed the opinion in a unanimous judgment delivered on May 20, 2019. Justice Emmanuel Agim, who read the lead judgment, stated that such payment “cannot be justified in the context of our present social realities.
His words: “The political appointees and elected public office holders who do not work as long and as hard as career civil servants quickly get paid huge severance allowances upon leaving office, in addition to the huge wealth they acquired while holding such offices and without having been subjected to any contributory pension schemes.
This is a subsisting judgement Yari has to contend with if he decides to pursue his cause through the law court.
Yari began his political career in 1999 when he served as the Secretary of the then All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) between 1999 and 2003. He was elected Chairman of ANPP, Zamfara State in 2003 and later rose to the position of ANPP National Financial Secretary and served in this position till 2007 when he was elected as member representing Anka/Talata Mafara Federal Constituency from 2007 to 2011. On April 26, 2011, Yari was elected governor of Zamfara State on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party(ANPP). In 2015, he was again re-elected for a second term on the platform of the All Progressive Congress (APC). He succeeded Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi as Chairman of APC Governors’ Forum.