-Blank NEWS Online (NIGERIA) –By Julius OWEH:
Nigeria is such a unique country. Its uniqueness springs from the bizarre nature of leadership recruitment. It is a situation of people who ordinarily should not get close to the corridors of power are the very ones actually calling the shots. I am talking of state governors whose patriotic flavor is not as deep as my shirt breast pocket. This bizarre leadership and dispensing of democratic dividends came to the fore last week with the governor of Ekiti State and chairman of Nigerian Governors Forum, Dr Kayode Fayemi telling Nigerians of their plan to poach (borrow) N17tn (seventeen trillion Naira) from the pension funds of workers. It is sad and outlandish that some of the state governors who are not only contributing to the pension funds but also owing workers` pension running into years. According to Fayemi, the money will be used for infrastructural development. This move must be resisted by the organized labour because today`s worker is tomorrow pensioner. The Nigerian Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress must demonstrate strategic leadership and fight this evil.
The Nigeria Union of Pensioners has already kicked against the plan, saying that the state government has no authority over the pension funds. Speaking to the press, the Head of Information of Nigeria Union of Pensioners, Mr Bunmi Ogunkolade berated the illegal Nigerian Governors Forum for even thinking of the idea. Said Ogunkolade: `The governors have no authority over the money. It doesn`t belong to them, so how can they approve a proposal to borrow part of the workers` pensions which many of them (governors) are not contributing to ? Do you know that many of the states are not paying the contributory pension? It shows that they don`t believe in it, so why should they borrow from it. It is not in their power to determine what would happen to that money. No! Their forum is not even recognized by law`.
The truth of the matter is that the concept of governors’ forum as operated in other climes is that of peer review and for the governors to compare notes. The 1999 constitution, the fundamental law that governs the current democratic dispensation does not recognize the governors’ forum. It is very strange that in the Nigerian curious brand of federalism, any group can form association and use it as pressure group for their benefits to the disadvantage of the larger society. That is why university teachers in Nigeria can form national association to arm-twist the federal government and at the same time talking of university autonomy. If the governors are very interested in borrowing money, they can approach the capital market or go to the World Bank. The pension fund is no go area and the message should be drummed into the ears of the state governors. These are governors who are famous for spending money without generating a dime.
The NLC, TUC, the numerous human rights lawyers and the press should come out and fight this evil. We must not allow governors who are notorious for economic laziness and could not think outside the box for funds generation to succeed. If we allow them, the workers would be worst for it. This is a very credible reason for workers throughout the country to go on strike and grind the country to a halt to stop the looming economic disaster.
It really staggers the imagination for governors who are not part of the contributory pension scheme and owing pensioners for years to contemplate dipping their hands into the pension pie. In Delta State where I reside, pensioners are the lucky ones who could get their benefits after five years of retirement. To make matters worse, there are three pension schemes- one for permanent secretaries, consolidated pension payment, local government workers and primary schools teachers, and the state civil servants. A retired local government worker or primary school teacher receives pension benefits thrice that of a civil servant. Instead of the government to correct this contradiction, they are thinking of how to borrow pension funds. Other states are even worse than Delta State in terms of pension payment. This is what workers expect Fayemi and his members of governors’ forum to strategize about.
The federal government should step in and direct the National Pension Commission not to release a kobo to these governors. The law setting up the National Pension Commission makes provisions on how the funds should be properly invested. The idea of state governors borrowing from it is not part of it. We cannot trust the state governors with workers` money. It is very unfortunate that most of the state governors who complained of their inability to pay the national minimum wage should be the ones thinking of borrowing workers` money. The minimum standard of governance we expect from them is to regularly pay pensioners their benefits. The default in pension remittance by some state governors is oozing, repulsive and anti-people and this is where Fayemi should focus his attention.
Some state governors are defending the outlandish pension payments for former governors and deputy governors for serving for eight or four years. Others, more sensible governors are repealing that law and we must commend them for their patriotic stance. Leadership is about service and not selfish and primitive accumulation of wealth to the distress of the people, the owners of electoral sovereignty. Here we are talking of people who used their salad years in the service of the nation- thirty five years of service or sixty years. As Karl Marx would say, workers of the world must unite and they have nothing to lose but their chains. Nigerians workers and lovers of fairness and equity must unite and stop the governors in their tracks to misappropriate the pension funds. The pension funds must remain a safety net for workers in period of need and old age.
- Julius OWEH, a journalist, Asaba, Delta State. 08037768392