Yari and The Sign of the Times

The Verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi, Email: olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com

In 2006, Professor Jerry Gana—who started as Minister between 1999 and 2003—served as Political Adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo. But during the period when many of the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) politicians tried to outdo themselves on the ‘Third Term’ agenda, Gana stayed out of the fray. That did not go unnoticed by the then PDP Board of Trustees Chairman, Chief Tony Anenih of blessed memory. At a time like this, it is worth recalling a very instructive conversation between Anenih and Gana which was first published on this page some 13 years ago.

Anenih: You cannot continue to stay on the fence. How can you call yourself the political adviser to the president and not join in this struggle?

Gana: What struggle, Chief? Nobody has told me anything so I wonder what you want me to do.

Anenih: What do you want anybody to tell you? Nobody has told me anything too. I just watch the body language of the president which is what I expect a man of your experience to do.

Gana: Well, at my level, I cannot act on the basis of body language.

With the case filed last week at a Federal High Court in Abakiliki, Ebonyi State by an All Progressives Congress (APC) member seeking to compel the National Assembly to remove constitutional clauses hindering the president and state governors from seeking a third term in office, a new “window of opportunity” has opened for political merchants. We have been on this road before. First, it was with the late General Sani Abacha. Next President Obasanjo. With President Muhammadu Buhari coming out clearly to denounce the campaign, one might be tempted to think this is the end of the matter. In reality, it could just be the beginning of another ‘struggle’.

Let me state from the outset that I believe President Buhari. There is absolutely nothing to suggest he is nursing such an inordinate ambition or that he would succumb to the prodding, if approached. The Abakaliki lawmaker is also quite aware that the case he has taken to court is a waste of time. But he has created a lucrative enterprise for himself and others like him. As it so ever happens, this campaign will soon have a life of its own and people will remember (and reward) the man who ‘started’ it. And that is when government officials will also begin to invent and swear by the ‘body language’ in Aso Rock before the security agencies join the fray.

For sure, those orchestrating the campaign and those that will soon join don’t care about President Buhari. They only care about themselves and what they can get in a society where politicians hardly survive outside government patronage. While we will keep vigilance over this vexatious issue, the same self-serving motivation driving the campaigners is what propelled the trending letter by the former governor of Zamfara State, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari, to his successor, Alhaji Bello Matawalle. Dated 17th October from the ‘Office of the Former Governor’, Yari said the N10 million monthly upkeep allowance, to which he feels entitled, has only been paid twice since he left office. “I wish to humbly draw your attention to the provision of the law on the above subject matter which was amended and assented to on the 23rd of March 2019.  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,” wrote Yari.

For those who may have forgotten, it was under Yari’s watch that thousands of his Zamfara citizens were slaughtered by bandits while employees and pensioners in the state went unpaid for months. Last month, a former Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Abubakar disclosed that over N3 billion was collected by bandits in the state as ransom from relatives of kidnapped victims during the period Yari was governor (from June 2011 to 29th May 2019). The money, according to Abubakar—who chaired a committee set up by the current governor to find solutions to banditry in Zamfara—was collected from 3,672 victims. During those eight years of Yari’s stewardship, a total of 4,983 women were also widowed, 25,050 children orphaned and 190,340 persons displaced as a result of banditry. Herdsmen also lost 2,015 cattle, 141 sheep and goats, 2,600 donkeys and camels to rustlers while 147,800 vehicles, motorcycles and others were burnt at different times and locations within the period.

 Now, Yari—who mismanaged the affairs of Zamfara before putting the blame on ‘fornication’—has the temerity to demand payment of his “entitlements” as a matter of right under the law which he assented to only two months to the end of his tenure. But let’s be fair, Yari is not alone. In 2014, the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly passed an executive bill which guaranteed then Governor (now Minister) Godswill Akpabio about N200 million annually for life. The law, which only ‘upgraded’ the earlier version signed by Akpabio’s predecessor, Obong Victor Atta, also provides for a former governor and his spouse a sum not exceeding N5 million per month to employ domestic staff and free medical services at a sum not exceeding N100 million per annum as well as a befitting accommodation not below a 5-bedroom maisonette in either Abuja or Akwa Ibom. Yet, Akwa Ibom only followed in the tradition of many other states where laws have been passed to erect mansions for former governors and deputies who are also entitled to several vehicles and a retinue of aides aside other perks.

In 2016, the Lagos House of Assembly initiated a bill seeking an amendment to the state’s pension law so it could accommodate both their speaker and deputy. The bill sought for the speaker and his deputy (after office) a residential house at any location of their choice in Lagos State; jumbo furniture allowance – payable every five years; vehicles, including a pilot car; 10 per cent of their annual basic salary as car maintenance allowance and another 10 per cent as entertainment allowance. The speaker and his deputy, according to the bill, were also entitled to domestic staff including cooks, stewards, gardeners, drivers etc. (who themselves would be pensionable) and free medical treatment abroad for themselves and members of their family as well as police orderlies–all for life!

Variants of the law exist in several states in Nigeria today so it is important we put Yari’s letter in proper context. In fact, in what many saw as a quid pro quo agreement over the ‘Dollar video’, the Kano State House of Assembly in May this year approved a jumbo life pension for its speaker and deputy speaker and Governor Abdullahi Ganduje immediately assented.

But back to Zamfara. On Tuesday, the state House of Assembly repealed the controversial law on which Ahmed Sani Yerima, Mahmud Shinkafi and Yari as well as numerous others have been feeding fat at the expense of Zamfara people. It is commendable.

However, since this law is replicated in a majority of the 36 states, we can understand the challenge of credible elections in Nigeria. Why would politicians not kill when they have humongous privileges to seek or defend? And why would Senators, including a notorious woman-beater, not initiate death penalty legislation for “hate speech” which could then imply anything that calls public officials to account? With such a callous, rapacious and burdensome elite in and out of office, why do we continue to talk about reforms to reduce/eliminate violence in our elections? Are we not deceiving ourselves?

The wider implication is that over the next decades, burdened by copious retirement benefits for an average of four to six former governors, several of the states will be groaning in bankruptcy just to show ‘gratitude’ to their yesterday’s men. It is therefore understandable why those politicians who have no such direct access to wealth are leading campaigns that would also afford them a few crumbs from the public till. So, how do we connect the judicial antics in Abakaliki to Yari’s letter? They are both driven by a transactional ethos with scant regard for the welfare of the populace.

In Nigeria, there are always beneficiaries of the system who urge the incumbent, any person that is, not to hand over at the end of their tenure. Sadly, it is a thriving industry that has its own experts who have become important political players and money men. It is from this motley crowd of greedy, acquisitive demons that some of our governors are recruited. So, it is no surprise that even when they come to power on the pretext to serve, at the end of the day, their most enduring legacy is almost always a law that compels us to serve them for the rest of their lives.

If our democracy is to survive, we must disempower them and their agents, including those who seek to procure court orders to truncate our democracy.

A Proposal for Public Schools

Can Nigerian authorities, as a pilot scheme, allow alumni associations to run some of our public schools for a specific period to see if it could help halt the decline of the educational sector in the country?

That was the question posed by the former Chairperson of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mrs Ifueko Omoigui Okauru, on Tuesday in Abuja at a townhall on improving transparency and accountability in basic education in Nigeria. Organised by the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation (SMYF), in collaboration with the MacArthur Foundation to mark World Anti-corruption Day, the theme for the session came by way of a question: “When was the last time a health inspector visited your child’s school?” An investigative report by Cable News on the 2017 health crisis at Queens College provided the case study.

In addition to Omoigui-Okauru—who, aside several other commitments, is the current President of the Queens College Alumni Association—speakers included the Country Director, WaterAid Nigeria, Dr Chichi Aniagolu-Okoye, the UBEC Director of Social Mobilization, Alhaji Bello Kagara, Director of Basic and Secondary Education, Federal Ministry of Education, Mrs Binta Abdulkadir, Programme Officer, Cable Newspaper Journalism Foundation, Ms Abiose Adams, Deputy Director and MacArthur Foundation, Mr Dayo Olaide with the SMYF Director of Public Policy Initiative, Mr Amara Nwankpa as moderator. In attendance at the session—which interrogated how stakeholders can act collectively to improve education outcomes nationwide—were key stakeholders in the education sector, teachers and over 80 students from secondary schools in Abuja.

Although Queens College was used as a case study for the event, the incident that led to the unfortunate death of those three young girls, according to Omoigui-Okauru, is symptomatic of the challenge of public school administration in the country, “The lack of accountability in school health management is a collective indictment and directing blame exclusively at one person or institution will not solve the problem,” she said while calling for collective action to ensure increased accountability and transparency in school health management.

Omoigui-Okauru, who revealed that she has met the Education Minister, Mallam Adamu Adamu to discuss wide-ranging issues on public school management in Nigeria said “the Queens College Old Girls Association has made a proposal to the federal government to take over the administration and management of the school for a pilot period of three years. The school can be permanently turned over to the association if government is satisfied with the management after the pilot period.”

If we are to revamp public school in Nigeria, this is an idea worth considering.


Congratulations Nwuneli, Ihedioha

Respected social entrepreneur and my good friend, Mrs Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli, was last week appointed to the Board of Trustees of the Rockefeller Foundation along with Dr. Agnes Binagwaho from Rwanda. “It is a pleasure to welcome Agnes and Ndidi to our Board of Trustees. As the Foundation works to lift up the most vulnerable people in communities around the world, their deep global development expertise and longstanding commitment to improving lives will be invaluable to the organization,” said Board Chair, Richard D. Parsons who added: “Agnes and Ndidi have demonstrated and been recognized for their dedication and leadership in global health and agriculture, respectively, which are core areas of the Foundation’s work.”

The Rockefeller Foundation which “advances new frontiers of science, data, and innovation to solve global challenges related to health, food, power, and economic mobility”, gives out an annual grant of $173 million and has assets totalling $4.1 billion. Nwuneli, according to Dr. Rajiv J. Shah, President of The Rockefeller Foundation, “has worked with the public and private sectors to champion solutions that have improved the lives of vulnerable people in Nigeria and around the world.”

It is interesting that at a period when many Nigerians would rather dwell on the misfortune of those being accused of running afoul of the law in foreign countries, critical institutions in these same countries are recognising and rewarding some of our compatriots for their intellect, resourcefulness and integrity. Just a few days ago, my younger brother, Obinna Ihedioha was appointed the Deputy Managing Director for the United Kingdom Nigeria Infrastructure Advisory Facility (UKNAIF).

Implemented through the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DfID), UKNIAF is a key component of their Nigeria’s Business Plan. By helping to relax certain constraints, UKNIAF will play a critical role in the efforts by the UK government to support inclusive growth in Nigeria. Prior to this appointment, Obinna was a Senior Vice President and Senior Portfolio Manager with the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA).

To both Ndidi and Obinna, my congratulations.