I am writing these lines in Buena Park, California, USA, but I spent the Easter weekend in Ilorin, attending my sister’s wedding ceremony. The main issue of discussion during my visit was a controversial “Pension Bill” for the governor and deputy in Kwara State which is already a subject of public sitting in the state House of Assembly. The State Public Office Holders (Payment of Pension) Bill, as they come, is one of the most controversial draft Bills ever to pass through the House. Incidentally, it is presented as “a private member’s Bill”, sponsored by my own representative in the Assembly, Ishola Fulani, whose better known acumen is not exactly the legislative. But nobody is fooled by the “private” tag, given how houses of assembly are tightly on a leash held by governors in Nigeria; it is clear that in the Kwara “governor’s pension” Bill, we have a classic of the voice of Jacob and hand of Esau!
The Bill, as is, has already passed a second reading in the House, and it deals with annual salary, allowances and fringe benefits for governor/deputy; after leaving office, they would be entitled to accommodation, free transport, 300% furniture and house maintenance allowances. Similarly, the two will enjoy domestic staff, free medical care for their immediate families, security, personal assistants, car maintenance allowance, entertainment and 20% utility allowance. Kwara State is also expected to build a house for the governor in any location he chooses in Nigeria AND Abuja, and the poor state will finance a 30-day annual vacation outside Nigeria for the governor and family with corresponding estacode and travel allowances, furniture payable every year, a fleet of six cars with security details and eleven SSS/police escorts, just like a sitting governor! What makes it even more curious, is that the Bill takes effect from 1999, and is to be enjoyed only by a governor that has done two terms; effectively, it is a Bill being perfected to ensure that Bukola Saraki, out of office, remains a perpetual governor, since he is the only person that meets the criteria set for the enjoyment of these privileges on the back of Kwara State forever!
Expectedly, the draft Bill has been the source of outcry, with the Kwara State chapter of the Nigeria Bar Association attending the public session held by the house of assembly as well as a coalition of NGOs and the CNPP. The brouhaha around the Bill has come at a time when the opposition is beginning to stir, for the first time in a long time, in the state. This followed a meeting convened by the Tafidan Ilorin, Doctor Amuda Aluko, under the aegis of the Kwara State Stakeholders Forum, to break the silence of the graveyard that has cast an authoritarian and hopeless pall on the politics of Kwara as well as the near-complete dominance of political and by extension, economic life, by the Saraki dynasty. According to information I gathered in Ilorin, the Tafida sent out one hundred invitations, but three hundred people from all parts of the state turned up on the day, all united by the feeling that Kwara should find a new lease of political life. Of course nothing is smooth for opposition politics in Kwara: it is fractious; often opportunistic; quite compromised and regularly available to the highest bidder and in Kwara, the group that controls lucre is the Saraki dynasty!
But back to the Pension Bill; it is clear as day light, that Bukola Saraki is the chief beneficiary and the invincible manipulator of the process. And if passed as is, he will live as governor forever, on the resources of the state. Of course our governor/deputy should have a decent pension, but it is absurd to pass a Bill in just the interest of an individual, as the Bill attempts to. Absurd provisions such as a house in Abuja and a convoy of cars/retinue of security men merely uphold delusions of still being in power. And why start with Bukola Saraki, as if others were not governors before him? The privilege to serve must not morph into almost a birthright. A governor in the saddle for eight years, for good and bad, should not burden the state into the future. Bukola Saraki will be less than 50 years old when he leaves power next year. It means Kwara State will support a life of luxuries into the future despite the tremendous opportunities that have accrued to him during eight years of power. Clearly, that Pension Bill is unacceptable and it rubs salt into wound for the people of Kwara State. The proper thing is for His Excellency to direct his sidekicks in the Assembly to quietly drop the absolutely immodest package that is being cooked up for him. It is very unpopular and people are genuinely disgusted with the deepening impunity at the heart of the process of governance. Politically, Kwara State resembles a conquered territory and the draft gubernatorial Pension Bill just underscores that annoying caricature!