The saying, usually, is: Who bells the cat? The story is told that rats met one day and the agenda was how to put a halt to the havoc the cat was wreaking in the rats’ midst. Suggestions after suggestions were considered before the rats, in their collective wisdom, decided on the one that appeared to them the most suitable: They will get hold of a bell and fix it on the cat’s neck so that any time this enemy approaches, the jingling of the bell on its neck will send an alert to the rats to vamoose and go into hiding. Good idea but who will execute this plan? Who bells the cat? Which of the rats will undertake this very dangerous assignment? Your guess is as good as mine!
So, “who bells the cat?” is a hypothetical question; that is, a question whose answer is already known a priori! The answer is: No dare to do, pure and simple! So the problem is bound to persist and the rats will have to continue their perilous enslavement to the cat or fall upon their various devises to escape its rampage. Because there was no rat bold enough to undertake the assignment of belling the cat or, better still, because there was no possible way any rat could have undertaken the assignment without coming to grief, the cat problem persists till date for rats and their generations.
If belling the cat is difficult for rats, reining-in our greedy, gluttonous, rapacious, do-nothing, and good-for-nothing politicians by the hapless and helpless citizenry is no less hazardous, herculean and a mountain to climb. We have talked and yelled but the deaf and dumb politicians would not yield. Impunity is the name of the game. Nigerian leaders take their own people for granted. Worse, they treat them as chattel. Who will arrest the politicians? They control the security forces! Who will call them to order? They are the ones who issue orders that must be obeyed!
Think or talk of the law: They write and un-write the law and then ride roughshod over it. They are law unto themselves! To complete the cycle, they have made the Judiciary their footstool!
But thank God for little mercies, the cat of rapacious, asinine and insane political leaders has been belled in the most unexpected quarters – Zamfara State. The PDP governor there – a governor, I must say, by fortuitous circumstances that we are all familiar with – working in tandem with, again, a fortuitous PDP-controlled House of Assembly – has repealed a law which gives humongous retirement or upkeep allowance to former governors (and deputy governors?) in the state. In some states, other categories of ex-political leaders have also wangled their way into these freebies – or are about to.
Immediate past APC governor of Zamfara, Abdullaziz Yari Abubakar, quoting the law, thought he was on high moral ground when he demanded the payment of N10million monthly upkeep allowance and a pension equivalent to the salary he was earning as governor from the incumbent. He had been paid the N10m for June and July but his so-called pension for June had not been paid. Responding, the state has now repealed the law in question, stating that
Zamfara lacks the resources for now to pay. It should not only be “for now”; it should, in fact, be forever!
Yari had reportedly paid himself N300million severance package as he left office, in addition to other perquisites like state-of-the-art limousines, houses in choice places, etc. To be sure, Yari is not alone in this rip-off of state resources. If anything, it is the standard practice all over the country. Yari may even be modest if you get to know what other ex-Governors awarded themselves. I don’t have the facts but I have heard it said that this obscene and patently corrupt practice originated from Lagos. I stand to be corrected.
So many things are wrong with former Governors awarding themselves freebies on their way out of office. One: While in office, they got everything free. Free accommodation, free feeding, free transportation, free medicare, free air, free water, free everything for themselves, their families, friends, and hangers-on. Two: They got paid their salaries as and when due. Three: They awarded themselves security votes in hundreds of millions of Naira monthly.
This is never audited and they applied it as they wished. Four: They presided over the state budget, always in billions of Naira every month, which they applied or misapplied as they desired. Five: Evidence is that they did not perform satisfactorily but wasted huge resources with little or nothing to show for it. So, even the job they were given to do and for which they were given immense perquisites, remunerations and resources, they did not discharge satisfactorily. Six: There is hardly a state of the Federation that is not neck deep in debts, both foreign and local.
This is the legacy that the ex-Governors have left for their states. In some of the states, the debts cannot be fully paid in the next 50 years. Therefore, none of the states is even in a position to pay the freebies the ex-Governors have awarded themselves. Seven: Many of the ex-Governors were selfish and self-centred in awarding themselves the allowances and pensions. Ask them what they gave to the deputy governor, the legislators and other political appointees.
Many of the ex-Governors only took care of themselves while leaving the others high and dry or with peanuts at the very best. Eight: Many ex-Governors collecting these humongous allowances from their states collect other benefits elsewhere. We all know many of them have made the Senate their retirement nest, where they also collect mouth-watering salaries, allowances, oversight bribes and constituency project largesse. Many who are not in the Senate are party leaders and Ministers where they also feed fat on State resources. Nine: Civil servants who worked all their life, 35 years, etc. do not get a fraction of what these ex-Governors award themselves. To make matters worse, we have seen pensioners collapsing, fainting and dying on the queue to collect their own peanuts.
Many die before their entitlements, meagre as they are, are paid. Ten: Just for being in office for four or eight years, these set of people want the State to serve them for life. They want to maintain a lifestyle of the nouveau riche at the detriment of the collective aspiration, social and economic well-being of their people. They are so selfish and mindlessly-bigoted they can’t see how pig-headed and untenable their action is, especially in the face of dwindling resources made worse by burgeoning people’s needs and expectations.
Now that Zamfara has belled the cat, let the other states of the federation follow suit. This is one issue civil society and Labour, if their leaders are not the cretins that many say they now are, must fight and see to its logical conclusion.
Bola Bolawole, firstname.lastname@example.org, 07052631058