Abdulaziz Yari, please let Governor Matawalle be

First it makes you want to laugh, then it makes you angry. You could even weep if you think of the poor unpaid pensioners in Zamfara State of Nigeria. It is the hilarious  headline “You can not stop my N10m monthly allowance,” credited to Zamfara State past Governor Abdulaziz Yari. Yari wrote his successor Bello Matawalle a preposterous letter protesting that he had been paid this “upkeep allowance” for only June and July and should be paid the outstanding backlog and the current months. Yari cited a law amended by his rubber stamp State House of Assembly and assented into law by himself in March 2019, a bare two months before his tenure ended. Abdulazeez Yari is a Governor whose tenure of Zamfara State will be remembered by the fact that during the period, over 3,500 poor rural citizens were killed by armed bandits, over 8,200 persons injured, and over 500 villages devastated and destroyed. All this happened while Yari was basking in galactic abodes in Abuja, Lagos, and Port Harcourt, swashbuckling as the ubiquitous Chairman of the Nigerian Governor’s Forum.

Even there, former Governor Yari has a running battle with the EFCC which has alleged that he owns a $3 million hotel being built n Lagos with funds misappropriated from the London-Paris Club refunds. The EFCC further accused Yari of diverting N500 million to pay off a personal bank loan. The seizure of Yari’s assets, and the freezing of his accounts by the Attorney General of the Federation and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission was only in September stopped by an order of a Federal High Court which urged all parties in the case to stay action and await the court’s decision. Yari has sued citing infringement of his rights as a human being, and asking that the EFCC removes it red marking on hi property. The cases are pending.

It is against this backdrop that Yari’s scandalous letter to his successor was made public. Yari wrote on a headed paper inscribed with the coat of arms and the banner OFFICE OF THE FORMER GOVERNOR OF ZAMFARA STATE. You would think it was the stationery from his old office that was simply modified. No Governor should utilize such headed paper. In modesty, headed paper for every out-of-office politician should carry just the name and where available, the national honours.

As Yari became more boisterous in attacking his successor, lawmakers in the same House of Assembly that ruled that poor thief Jangebe’s hand be amputated for stealing, and it was, passed a resolution abolishing the payment of pension and other allowances to the state’s former governors and their deputies. The State Governor Mutawalle promptly assented to it. The ‘abolished’ law also affected ex-speakers of the house of assembly and their deputies.

The Zamfara drama is unique given the tragedies that affected poor rural folk through much of Yari’s tenure. The whole country sympathizes with the new Governor Matawalle who though was aided by Yari’s failure to organize his ruling party for the 2019 election came into office with candour, clarity of vision and effervescence to Governance in Zamfara State. Using homegrown traditional approaches, he dined with the bandits and with blunt truth in persuasion, secured their willful abandonment of violence. Suddenly, peace has begun to reign in Zamfara and gradually, the confidence of the State’s progressive folks is being restored. Matawalle who threatened to order the arrest of Yari told Nigerians that two days to his departure in May, Yari paid himself a whopping pension of N350m. Zamfara State media space is presently awash with documents and bank statements that allege further that together with this payment of pension to self, the outgoing Governor in his last two days disbursed a total of N1.9 billion out of a pension fund of N2 billion, bringing in to the dragnet of the profligacy, as it appears, several prominent public officers who served his government. It is disgraceful.

The Zamfara pension scandal has brought to focus and public discourse, the whole issue of payment of pension to Governors as they leave office. The sordid phenomenon is nationwide. Many state governors burdened by this morbid emolument, simply ignore it and decide not to pay their predecessors. Even when a departing governor anoints a puppet for a successor, this sore thumb often sparks off conflict within a few months, expanding to legal tussles and political skirmishes throughout the new tenure. In Zamfara’s case, we can expect to see Yari engaging Matawalle in rough political tackles for all of the latter’s stay in office. The public continues to express its angst sadly to deaf ears. In a recent publication, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project SERAP, published a detailed exposé of pension and benefit accruals to former Governors of all the states. SERAP decried the manipulation of the political process such that enables former governors to retire to the Senate.

Nigeria is in a fix. Sooner or later, the bubble will burst. The 1999 Constitution in section 124( 5) as amended is very clear on pension to former Governors and their Deputies. It is a lawful benefit, that must comply with the determined fixtures of the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC). Sadly the same Constitution proceeds to confer powers on the State Assemblies to further determine additional emoluments which in the end, accumulate over the RMAFC limit – to the outrageous amount that former Governor Yari is losing his peace over. Unfortunately Governor Yari can and will win back his pension in a court of law if he chooses to go that way, because his pension is provided for in the Constitution. The circuitous justice system will enable him live well on his contested earnings for years, even the term of his natural life, and the legal tussles just linger. What Matawalle ought to do is to determine the amount as approved by the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission, and discount it from the total that Yari has helped himself to. This, the Zamfara State Assembly can help him do for all others before Yari.

In this all consuming nationwide phenomenon, each case is as bad as the respective State revenue and the immoral determination of its leadership. One can proceed from there to the State and National Assemblies where lawmakers have made legal, what for all practical purposes, is truly, treasury looting. They call it emoluments, constituency allowance, pension and gratuity. It is the first legalized theft of public funds that many had hoped President Muhammadu Buhari would challenge, but alas.  With the Legislature as beneficiaries of the default, Buhari’s hands are tied. And with this ideology of corruption this firmly in place, it is only natural that the civil service responds with budget padding and the ghost worker salary scam, the military responding with costly security lapses that open the floodgates for slush funds in military spending. It is the reason we have Boko Haram, farmer – herder clashes, banditry, and kidnapping, and roguish nongovernmental aid agencies. Corruption is the one pivot around which all our national ills are tethered.a

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