Bayelsa State Governor Seriake Dickson has refused to sign the controversial pension scheme for legislators into law.

Bayelsa State Governor Seriake Dickson may not sign the controversial pension bill passed by the state House of Assembly. Sources said the governor has withheld his assent to the anti-people bill, following the public odium it has generated.

With the criticisms trailing the bill, it is obvious that the legislators farted in their hallowed chamber and the unpleasant smell evaporated into the global space compelling people to attack Bayelsa. But the governor in his wisdom decided to apply a deodorant by withholding his assent. Never in history of the state had a decision emanating from the House of Assembly generated such condemnation.

The governor must have read the pulse of the people. Recently, a group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), advised him against signing the bill. SERAP, in the letter by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oludare, described the action of the lawmakers as an abuse of office.

Many stakeholders consider it self-serving, wicked and greedy for the 24-member House presided over by Speaker Kombowei Benson to have contemplated that bill in a state yearning for development.

In fact, the passage of the life pension bill struck the people like a thunderbolt. The public had no idea that the bill was before the lawmakers until it was passed. It was gathered that the beneficiaries gave what many people had described as a draconian bill a speedy passage.

Many social commentators believe that a state like Bayelsa with humongous developmental challenges, unemployment disaster, rise in criminality and infrastructural deficit should not be debating such bill. Even the civil liberty organisations wondered why such a bill was hastily passed without public hearing.

A peep into a copy of the document titled, Pension Bill for Governors, Deputy Governors and Members of the State House of Assembly, revealed details of its provision. Based on the provisions, a speaker shall be entitled to monthly pension of N500,000; Deputy Speaker N300,000; House Leader and the Whip, N250,000; Deputy Leader N200,000 and other members N100,000.

The bill, which was sponsored by the Leader of the House, Dr. Peter Akpe, specifically provided that former lawmakers, including persons of Bayelsa origin, who served in the old Rivers State House of Assembly, would enjoy life pensions as applicable to former presidents, vice-presidents, governors and deputy governors across the country.

Before the bill, there was Bayelsa State Pensions for Governor and Deputy Governor Law 2003, which made provisions for governors and deputy governors’ pensions only. The current members simply repealed the old law, provided new legislation to include their pensions and enhance those of the governors and deputies.

Section 10 of the new law says: “This law repeals the Bayelsa State Pensions for Governor and Deputy Governor Law”. In the new law a governor’s monthly allowance is valued at 8 per cent of his Annual Basic Salary (ABS); wardrobe allowance, 50 per cent of his ABS; entertainment, 40 per cent of his ABS; transport allowance, 50 per cent of ABS and utilities, 80 per cent of ABS.

A deputy governor’s allowances are monthly basic, 8 per cent; wardrobe, 25 per cent of ABS; entertainment. 20 per cent, transport allowance 30 per cent and utilities 40 per cent. But where the governor and his deputy successfully served second term of eight years, they shall be entitled to 150 per cent of their ABS.

A governor is also entitled to seven bedroom duplex and a three-room boys quarters in any location of his choice in the state. A deputy governor is entitled to one residential five bedroom duplex and a two-room boys quarters in any location of his choice in the state.

While a governor is entitled to two cars and one backup car to be replaced every five years, a deputy governor shall have one Carr and one backup car to be replaced every five years. Also, the state shall maintain three drivers, a cook, a steward and a gardener, who shall be pensionable while the deputy shall have two drivers, a cook and a gardener. The governor is entitled to 60 per cent of ABS for vacation while the deputy has 40 per cent.

While stakeholders glossed over the enhanced post service welfare for governors and their deputies contained in the new bill, they lambasted House of Assembly members for considering themselves pensionable. In fact, the attack against the lawmakers cut across party lines. Members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) and other parties including some appointees of the state government spoke in unison against the bill.

Plethora of write-ups in the social media called down evil upon the lawmakers. Some used unprintable words to described the legislators and wondered why the lawmakers most of whom had done third and forth terms having amassed wealth within the period came up with such legislation. The voices against the lawmakers believe their action is an indication that they insensitive to the plight of the masses.

A known social commentator and scholar, Patterson Ogoun, described the bill as narcissistic and called on the people of the state to reject it. He said: “We have a stake in the governance of Bayelsa state. Now that the State Assembly has undertaken to defraud us through a narcissistic, uncharitable, thoughtless and self-serving pension bill, let us do more by raising our voices for the withdrawal of the bill and take steps to ensure that should the bill go to the State Governor for assent, it is rejected because we don’t want it”.

Also, George Walson referred to the bill as purely eternal evil and borne out of excessive and inordinate desire for accumulation of wealth. “This is a roaring spirit of covetousness, avarice and greed of the highest order. We must not allow Bayelsa State to be enslaved. Our finances must not be wasted. We should be ready to stage a mass protest against them”, he said.

Angered by the bill, the Secretary, of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Oribo Einstein, said apart from Bayelsa such legislation does not exist in other states and raised some posers for the lawmakers.

He said: “No state in Nigeria has such law. Have you seen where an employee determine his benefits rather than the employer? Why the accelerated hearing/passage if not for self-serving reason? Have you seen where two years of service is pensionable?

“Why didn’t they pass a Disability Pension or social pension law? The least pensionable service years for US congressmen is five years and 62 years of age, or 50 years of age and 24 years of service. The UK parliament spent two good years in discussing parliamentary pension benefits. This is unacceptable. It is called legislative robbery.

“Please, certainly not in Bayelsa with an already acclaimed overbearing wage bill, threatening security challenges, absolute blackout for over seven years, non promotion of legitimate civil servants, non-payment of pensionable elders, stoppage of students bursary, excessive taxation of civil servants salaries, multiple taxation of micro-businesses, and already overblown and luxurious lifestyle of lawmakers”.

Also, the Ijaw Youths Council (IYC) rejected the bill and asked Speaker Kombowei Benson to have a rethink. The Speaker of the IYC Mobile Parliament, Eldred Pogonyo, insisted that the lawmakers should stop an attempt to forge an alien law in the state.

Pogo yo said the bill was only drafted with myopic, parochial, inordinate, selfish ambition and ulterior motives. He said: “The mere thought of the legislators, to contemplate such draconian cum inhuman act against Bayelsans after riding on the back of the people to position of affluence and authority is indeed an affront to the people.

“The legislature has failed to make laws that will better promote the Bayelsa Business community as friendly to attract investors, laws that protect our ravaged environment, laws that will create the enabling environment for young Bayelsans to meet their full potential, laws that provides social security for the common people, laws that protect the interest, safety/well-being of our people, laws that will prompt IOC’s to establish their operational base here in Bayelsa, as well as, laws that safeguards the sanctity of our collective patrimony cum Treasury for generations unborn.

“Our elected legislators, who ordinarily, are supposed to be the direct bridge of the people to government, as the sole symbol of a representative democracy, to wittingly carry on such unholy act, that parallels the yearnings of their constituents without due consultation, is a joke taken too far, which goes to shows their level of insatiable greed, high handedness and utter disrespect of the people they are elected to protect.

Indeed, the state chapter of the APC kicked against the bill. The party said completely rejected the idea describing the bill as unjust, ungodly and self-serving. The State Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mr. Doifie Buokoribo, said it was unsympathetic for members of the House of Assembly to seek to enhance their own lives at the expense of the vast majority of Bayelsa people living in pain and penury.

Buokoribo described the bill as an unspeakable crime against the people.

He said the party was making efforts to enthrone a regime of better life for the people of Bayelsa.

Buokoribo added: “ And we have led a robust opposition to the current system of anti-people governance in the state for close to eight years. Regarding this latest move by the House of Assembly, we again say that the idea is avaricious, wicked, and insensitive. By proposing such a law, the lawmakers have merely portrayed themselves as a people who feel no concern for the feelings of their suffering constituents.

“They have once again confirmed that they are in cahoots with the executive in the serial impoverishment of the people of Bayelsa State. APC advises the legislature to withdraw the obnoxious pension bill and avoid the appalling crime against the people of Bayelsa State.

“In the event of the legislature’s refusal to heed this solemn advice, we appeal to Governor Henry Seriake Dickson, if he is still in touch with his essential humanity, to refuse assent to the pension bill when it is transmitted to him.

Also, a founding member of the APC, Preye Aganaba, took a swipe at the lawmakers and appealed to Dickson to reject the pension bill. He described the Life Pension Bill as self-centred, insensitive, preposterous and a sad reflection of the inordinate desire of the lawmakers for self-enrichment.

He said: “The outrage shown by the people of the state against the rapacious bill is an indication of the total rejection of a bill that serves no purpose than enrich the pockets of a select few but impoverish the lives of thousands of Bayelsans.

“The passing of the bill by the Bayelsa state House of Assembly, unfolds a new chapter on the insatiable greed of the Bayelsa State legislative arm. Among all the laws passed by the House since the inception of the current Assembly, the preferential Life Pension Bill, is the most controversial and insensitive”, he said.

Aganaba called for a complete reversal of the life pension bill and asked the lawmakers to imitate President Muhammadu Buhari by evolving palliatives to improve the standard of living of the people.

He said: “It is sad that at a time the Federal Government under the leadership of President Muhamudu Buhari is putting in place palliatives to improve the standard of living for citizens of the country, the Bayelsa State House of Assembly is still in the business of passing retrogressive bills with no incentive for the people they claim to represent.

“It is outrageous that a state government, which found the payment of workers salaries a major challenge, a situation which led to the now famous ‘half of half’ salary, is planning to give assent to a bill to pay a whopping sum of money to the lawmakers as pension.

“This is nothing more than an exploitative, mercenary plot to further plunge Bayelsans into bottom line poverty. The Governor of Bayelsa state, Seriake Dickson, as a matter of paramount importance, should refuse assent to the bill.

“It is the only way to assuage the anger of Bayelsans, who are ready to take to the streets in protest of the covetous bill that is a harbinger of poverty to the state”.