Okorocha’s Dagger for His Pensioners

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Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State is one peculiar governor. He is/was an astute businessman, one of the reasons he is verily rich. In his characteristic manner, he flaunts his wealth at you in a manner that makes less endowed people challenge their Chi on why they are poor. His material possessions are often on superlative parade. He basks in the sunshine of his showmanship.

In the build up to the PDP-led presidency in 1999, Okorocha, famously described as Owelle (in an apparent bid to even the traditional status of the late Owelle of Onitsha, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe), had driven his six-door limousine (with a bold OWELLE in gold lettering on the plate number) into the Eagle Square on the night of the PDP convention where the PDP presidential flag bearer was meant to be elected.
Even though he knew he had not even the chance of a dog to be elected, Okorocha made a bang of his entry all the same, what with the exotic grand entry with his outlandish automobile. A pocket of well-kitted Igbo dancers and flutists were on hand as he alighted from the car with a mayoral gait. They hailed and sang Igbo songs indicative of the arrival of a mega political icon. With a swag of contentment and great importance he walked into the mileu of delegates, as the hired dancers and flutists quickly dispersed, having executed a given brief. And that was the end of the show. I am not certain now if he was not the last in that contest.

In 2011, Okorocha resurfaced in the political plain, this time on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). He ran for the governorship of Imo State, challenging the incumbent, Ikedi Ohakim. The election almost ended up inchoate, but Okorocha emerged in a slim victory.

He later dumped APGA and joined the All Progressives Congress (APC), wherein he went into re-election in 2015, after failing to emerge as the party’s presidential candidate. He soon dashed back to contest his re-election as governor and for some time, his victory hung in a balance until, once more, he clinched victory by a hair’s breath.

Okorocha, like many governors, lost his governance steam in his second term. He began to pull further and further apart from those who elected him. He had had a running battle with the civil servants whom the state is owing months of unpaid salaries. But the latest row emerged early last month when he told pensioners owed many months of unpaid pension to sign a form where they will agree to forfeit 60 per cent of what they are owed. And this applies only to pensioners owed not more than thirteen months of unpaid pension. Those owed more months are to write it all off, just like that. There are some retirees owed as many as 36 or more months. A section of the form to be so signed by the retirees clearly provides that, ‘I do hereby release and discharge the Imo State Government and its agents from all past, present and future liability and from all actions, claims and demands in respect of the said accumulated Pension Arrears” The governor, who is also the Chairman of APC Governors Forum explained that the economic crunch in the country is to blame. On another hand, he complained that the Bill of the pensioners keeps swelling, suggesting that it is being manipulated by civil servants. But in all, no reason seems tenable. If there is fraud around the pensioners’ bill, a thorough biometric audit of the roll can filter out the “padded” names.

 

Yes, the economy is bad. Things are rough. But is that why the poor, vulnerable and hapless pensioners will be forced to write off their commonwealth to government? Gov Okorocha obviously exploited the weakness of the pensioners to force down the wicked pill down their throats. Yes, many pensioners who are obviously in a financial fix choicelessly accepted to forfeit 60 per cent of their pension to Okorocha’s government, albeit with loud grumblings and cursing, just so they can get anything to eke out a living. It amounts to wickedness and gross act of insensitivity to take advantage of the financial vulnerability of a people to cheat and deny them their due. It is better they are owed than compelling them to write off their wealth to a profligate government.

By the Okorocha model, huge nonsense has been made of the hope that usually keep pensioners alive and kicking. Many retirees look forward to the money to embark on some projects and keep body and soul together. But Okorocha’s financial wizardry has slashed their pocket and their hopes. What is left of their pension is a soured deal, a pittance that can only make them regret serving government all their lives.
Pray, in the face of the economic crunch, has Okorocha reduced the number of cars in his convoy? Has Okorocha taken a pay cut himself?
Has Okorocha slashed his security vote? Has Okorocha denied himself of the many and excessive gubernatorial appurtenances? Why does he think it is the poor pensioners who had spent their strength and talent serving the state that should champion such dubious sacrifice?

 

To insist on short-paying the pensioners by such huge deficit is tantamount to driving a dagger into their hearts. And lest I forget, did this same Okorocha not, few days ago, engage the network services of two main TV Stations—NTA and Channels TV, to beam live, his Christmas Carol celebration for two days? None of those Live transmission comes cheap. None of the stations charges anything less than N5 million per hour. Thus at such conservative estimate, the state must have doled out nothing less than N60 million to beam the so-called Christmas celebration. Were it not for the needless showmanship, of what immediate benefit is that Live nation-wide broadcast to people in Jigawa, Gombe, Kebbi, Ekiti, Bayelsa or Sokoto etc State? If Okorocha wanted to carry his people along, compelling the state TV station to beam it live should have sufficed. But no, the world must see and savour the splendour of Governor Okorocha, the Owelle himself! Wouldn’t that huge sum have taken care of many pensioners forced to sign away their commonwealth?

In all, Okorocha must work towards living a good and commendable memory in the minds of those who elected him. To treat them with such dictatorial attitude of take-it-or-leave-it, smacks of the ways of the old order. Yet, it is doubly out of sync for a government that promised to better the living standard of Nigerians to not only fail to improve their livelihood, but rather also rob them of their hopes and their wealth.

Canticles…

The Unfinished Businesses of 2016

Happy New Year, my brother. I hope you had a wonderful yuletide
holiday? I pray that this new year will launch us into a glorious
experience.

Amen. But I hope we can really make as much progress as we are wished.

What kind of pessimism is that? This is a new year and everybody basks in the euphoria of great hope and …

(cuts in) I am a realist. I deal with facts. I do not just swim with
the mass hysteria of  wishful thinking. Look, unless we address our
yesterday, we cannot guaranty our today or even tomorrow.

I don’t understand you. What are you driving at?

I am not driving at anything . I am only saying that unless we deal
with the unfinished businesses of the previous year, we cannot be seen as making any meaningful progress as a people this year.

Unfinished businesses? What businesses? Look, we must put the past
behind us and match forward. Nobody runs a race and keeps looking back and expects to win.  You must allow 2016 to go peacefully and let’s embrace 2017 with a fresh heart and hands.

I am sorry. I disagree with you. If we do not do enough review, we are likely to make the same mistakes that were made in 2016. And how can you ask me what the unfinished businesses are as if you are not in this country. Pray, all the allegations of budget padding as presented by Hon Jibrin Abdulmumin against the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara and the House leadership, have they been dealt with? Did anybody in government comment on the matter? Was it all fluke? With all the facts supposedly presented by Abdulmumin, what has the EFCC or any government official done or said about it?

Indeed, that is one of the unfinished businesses of 2016. And it is
even more so because, soon, the National Assembly will resume and the whole routine of Appropriation process will begin again. Will there or won’t there be padding in this year’s budget?

Look, Abdulmumin was suffering from Diarrhea of the mouth. He only
wanted to put sand-sand in people’s garri.  Can’t you see that was why he was isolated and dealt with without anyone coming to his rescue or defence? My brother, I think Abdulmumin was merely belly-aching because he was removed from a juicy position he used to occupy.

Are you saying there was no substance to all that he said? Why didn’t
the EFCC at least clear the air? The silence across board, appears
conspiratorial. Ok, What about the trial of the senate president, Dr Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal for false assets declaration? Is that not one of the unfinished businesses of 2016? Pray, what has become of that case? These days, nobody is hearing of the matter again. With the frequent hobnobbing of Mr President and the Senate President, it appears the CCT trial has now been put aside.

So you are not happy that Mr President is now happy and interacting
with  Saraki?

That’s not the point. I am asking about the charges against him. Have
they been traded away for the emerging chummy relationship? Were the charges dropped? Or has he been acquitted? Was it not this same Saraki that was going to court everyday? What has become of the case?

Don’t take Panadol for another person’s headache. It is a legal
process. The wheel of justice grinds slowly but surely.

Hmmmm, I think something is wrong somewhere. With the way things are turning out, that wheel of justice may never roll until Buhari leaves office.  Slowly but surely indeed!

You cannot stampede the judiciary.

Ok, So what about the accusation against Babachir Lawal, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) There are not many questions to ask. Did he award contract to his own firm or not? The N200 million proceed from the contract that found its way into his own company’s bank account is for what? That’s another unfinished business. Or is the wheel of justice also grinding slowly but surely on this matter?
Is it not straightforward enough that it is a clear case of acute
corruption?

My brother, calm down. There is something called Due Process. The
President has asked the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) to
probe the matter and submit its report. Just wait, the report will
soon be ready.

And that is the problem? Why was the AGF the one asked to probe the
SGF? Is the AGF the police of EFCC or DSS? Can’t you see something
fishy there? And for crying out loud, why is the report taking forever
to be submitted? Is it a research project?

Did you not read that the SGF is already being replaced in some
crucial government committees? Is that not indicative that Mr
President is not willing to allow this matter swept under the
notorious carpet?

Well, Nigerians are waiting to see how it all pans out, the same way
they are waiting to see the end of the prosecution of the accused
judges whose homes were raided last October. And they hope it won’t
all turn out to be like the case of Hon Farouk Lawan who demanded and received bribe in foreign currency, two years ago; who admitted even receiving the bribe from Femi Otedola, so the House report on his Forte Oil will be tweaked to favour him (Otedola). The whistle was
blown by Otedola with incontrovertible evidences. But till today,
nobody knows how that case ended or where it is hanging. You see why I say we must deal with all the low hanging fruits of 2016? Yes, we must!

Hmmmm. Never forget that government is a continuum.

Yes, but for the blacksmith to get the required shape, he must hit the
iron when it is red hot. I won’t say more than that. Those who have
ears, let them hear.