Edo: A Bitter Controversy Over Ex-governors’ Pension Scheme

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Adibe Emenyonu, in Benin City, writes on the clash between some civil society groups in Edo State and the youth wing of All Progressives Congress over a bill amending pension rights for the immediate past governor and his deputy

Mr Godwin Obaseki has basked in the excitement of his new office since his inauguration as governor of Edo Sate, until last Tuesday when members of civil society groups and youths loyal to the ruling All Progressives Congress clashed on the streets of Benin City, the state capital. The incident tended to spoil the fun for the new governor.
At the end of the fracas, many were injured, vehicles were smashed, some lost cell phones and other belongings. Property worth millions of naira were destroyed in the pandemonium.

Controversial Bill
Edo State House of Assembly had on November 6 passed a bill approving the construction of a residential building worth N200 million as pension benefit for the immediate past governor of the state, Adams Oshiomhole. The Assembly also approved a house worth N100 million for the immediate past deputy governor, Dr Pius Odubu.

The bill, titled “A bill for a law to amend the 2007 Pension Rights of the Governor and Deputy Governor Law,” was approved by the lawmakers at the committee of the whole.
The amendment to the pension rights of the governor and deputy was for Oshiomhole and his deputy to own residential buildings worth N200 million and N100 million, respectively, in any location of their choice in Nigeria.

The bill, which has the subhead title, “provision of a house”, proposes “a house in a location of choice in Nigeria of the governor provided that the total cost of building the house shall not be in excess of 200 million Naira while 100 million Naira is for the deputy governor.”

Other benefits to be enjoyed by the governor and his deputy are a pension for life at a rate equivalent to 100 percent of their last annual salaries in addition to an officer not above salary grade level 12 as special assistant, and a personal secretary not below grade level 10 who shall be selected by the former governor from the public service of Edo State. He is also entitled to two cooks, two armed policemen as security, three vehicles to be bought by the state government and liable to be replaced every five years, three drivers who shall be selected by the former governor and paid by the state government as well as free medical treatment for the governor and his immediate family.

In a similar vein, the deputy governor would be entitled to 100 percent of his last annual salary as pension, a personal staff not above salary grade level 12 as special assistant, a personal secretary not below grade level 09 who shall be selected by the former deputy governor from the public service of the state, a cook, and two policemen as security. Also approved for him include two vehicles to be bought by the state government and liable to be replaced every five years, two drivers who shall be selected by the former deputy governor and paid by the state government and free medical treatment for him and his immediate family.

Clash
The bill triggered a clash of last Tuesday between the civil society organisations and the APC youths. In the estimation of members of the civil society groups, the still, which is still awaiting Obaseki’s accent, is anti-people.

Members of civil society organisations converged on the National Museum complex within the Kings Square, otherwise known as Ring Road, Benin City, in the early hours of Tuesday from where they walked to the House of Assembly to lodge their grievances before the lawmakers.

However, shortly after they gathered in front of the Anthony Enahoro Legislative Complex, the APC youths in their hundreds, in a counter protest, swooped on them and chased them out, branding the action of members of the CSOs as anti-government. The youths alleged that the protest by the CSOs was sponsored by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party in the state.

Surprisingly, as the confusion lasted, armed policemen deployed to the assembly complex watched helplessly as the two parties engaged themselves in a free-for-all. The fracas lasted for several hours.
The situation, however, calmed when the two groups parted ways, with members of the CSOs diverting towards Sakponba road, while the youths of APC stationed themselves in front of the legislative complex chanting songs in solidarity with the state government.

But before then, vehicles had been destroyed, banners with bold inscriptions, such as “Edo People Say No To Bogus Pension Package For Ex-Governors and Deputies”, had been torn to shreds, and loud speaker boxes for the public address system had been damaged. Those who tried to take snapshots of the melee were threatened and assaulted by the protesters, with their phones and other personal effects confiscated.

Condemnation
Speaking on behalf the CSOs, some of their leaders, Omobude Agho and Osaze Edigin, condemned the action of the APC youths whom they alleged were unleashed on the peaceful protesters by the state government. They described the incident as an attempt to murder democracy in the state.

Omobude said, “These were people protesting without even broom. You saw how they destroyed cars; we just rushed some of our injured members to the hospital. I was beaten mercilessly and many other comrades were beaten mercilessly. We were shocked to see some members of the past government in a blue Mercedes Benz driving giving them (youths) instructions. We saw some people we recognised very clearly. We know them. They are politicians whose wives and children are not in this state. They are not even in this country. I think our democracy has eventually been murdered.

“No matter what they do, we want to send a clear message to members of the state House of Assembly and the governor of Edo State that we will not give up. The fight will continue, we shall employ all means to continue this fight and resist the obnoxious policy of Edo State Government.”

On the alleged sponsorship by the opposition PDP, Omobude said, “I am shocked if anybody says we are sponsored by the PDP because you can see that among us are even card carrying members of the APC. It is not about the party that anybody belongs, it is about the policy and how it affects the people of Edo State; whether you are APC or PDP does not matter. I stand to say that I am not a member of any political party and I am not willing to become to one because, for me, the APC and the PDP are the same. Given the opportunity both parties will perpetuate the same.”

On his part, Edigin said, “This state belongs to all of us, if we don’t say the truth now our children’s children will suffer it. I don’t expect a responsible government to use thugs on law abiding citizens; it is not done in a democratic setting and we are disappointed with members of the state House of Assembly. This is not the end of this fight, we are going to go ahead and when we come back they will know that power truly belongs to the people.”

He urged “Edo youths to wake up now and rescue the state from the hands of rascals and thugs.”
The CSOs also demanded a total reversal of what they described as “Obnoxious Pension Bill” and its amendments in the interest of Edo people, demanding that the Assembly should spend time on legislating on matters of improvement and development of the state and its people.
“We have in the interest of the people and in consultation with them giving the Edo State House of Assembly a seven-day ultimatum to reverse the ill-motivated and anti-people bill,” the CSOs stated.

Allegation
Speaking also, the leader of the APC youth group, Joseph Amufua, said they were aware that some persons were protesting against the pension benefits to the former governors and their deputies. He said they decided to come in and make it known to Edo people that those protesting against the bill were being sponsored by the PDP and to say they welcomed the pension benefits for Oshiomhole and Odubu.

Amufua stated, “We also want Edo people to know that this issue is not about Oshiomhole, it is about successive governments to come, some of the protesters can even be governors tomorrow, that our APC ex-governor deserves even more considering the giant strides of the Oshiomhole’s administration in the state.”

Reaction
The state government, in its reaction, described the allegations by the CSOs as malicious and one that was devoid of any iota of truth.
According to a statement by the acting chief press secretary to the governor, Mr. John Mayaki, “Suffice to say that this government is too decent and responsible to engage in anti-democratic means of sponsoring hoodlums to attack citizens which we swore to protect. This administration is too decent and focused on delivering democratic dividends to the people and will not condescend so low by resorting to violence.

“We recognise the rights and freedom of citizens to express their opinions on public issues and would not do anything to infringe on that. We believe in popular participation, engagement and in the tenets of democracy. There is no iota of truth in the report as government will not in any way attempt to gag the people’s freedom of expression, association and movement as enshrined in the constitution.”

The government’s reaction notwithstanding, it appears the passage of the Pension Bill by the lawmakers does not go down well with some members of the APC. Speaking during a radio programme, the publicity secretary of APC in Edo State, Godwin Erhahon, condemned the action of the lawmakers, saying the bill will not stand the test of time.

Erhahon said the bill was ill-timed because of the current economic recession in the country. According to him, the Assembly should have concentrated their energy on making laws and bringing suggestions that can help the state overcome the present economic challenges rather that promulgating laws to spend scarce resources on just two persons.`