A crisis is brewing in Bayelsa State over a bill passed by the House of Assembly approving life pension for all past and current members of the legislature.
It was learnt that stakeholders in the state, including civil society organisations and political parties are preparing to protest.
The House of Assembly had triggered anger last Wednesday when it hurriedly passed the bill sponsored by the Leader of the House, Peter Akpe.
The bill approved N500, 000 post-service monthly pension to a speaker of the assembly, while a deputy speaker will receive N200, 000 and a member N100, 000 .
The swift passage of the bill by the lawmakers without conducting any public hearing angered most indigenes, who accused Governor Seriake Dickson of being the person behind the bill.
They perceive Akpe as a very close ally to the governor, having been a leader of the House. As such, Akpe is said to have sponsored most of the executive bills in the House.
A source at the Government House said the governor may assent to the bill very soon, not minding the protest from the people of the state.
According to the source, Governor Dickson may have been the one who sponsored the bill to assuage the bitter feelings of some party members, including the current Speaker, Benson Konbewie, and Peter Akpe, who lost out in the last election.
While the speaker lost the House of Representatives seat to the All Progressives Congress (APC’s) Preye Oseke for the Southern Ijaw constituency, Akpe lost in the primaries of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and therefore will not be coming back to the House.
The Guardian learnt that to make matter worse, the Government House has been silent over the controversy trailing the passage of the bill, making observers to believe that the governor may sign it soon.
The source said the governor and principal officers of the House had several closed-door meetings before and after the passage of the bill, fueling speculation that the bill is as good as a ‘goal’.
But civil society organisations and the opposition APC are not relenting in their bid to stop the bill with a planned massive but peaceful protest in the state capital, beginning from today.
According to the chairman of the state Civil Liberty Organization (CLO), Nengi James, the bill will not hold as it is against the collective wish of the people.
He described it as draconian, murderous and of no public interest “and so will be resisted not only through public protest but through intellectual discourse and other means possible.”
A former secretary of the CLO and coordinator of the planned protest, Morris Alagoa, said the action was necessary to tell the government that all was not well with the bill.
“You may play to the gallery and even display your ignorance in grand style. Every other Bayelsan seems to be asking why groups, institutions and individuals are silent about the recently/secretly passed lawmakers’ pension bill by the Bayelsa State House of Assembly.
“But I tell you, those waking up three days or more after the roguish bill was passed to ask the question (above) are insincere to themselves and seem to be taking delight in playing to the gallery.
“Except some institutions and groups, I have never seen anything in recent times that has united Bayelsans like this vexing pension for lawmakers, not just on social media, but on the print and electronic media, apart from the state government-owned media outfits for obvious reasons.
“Bayelsans of different walks of life have been venting their disapproval and anger at the action of the lawmakers since the bill was passed. And the condemnation has been total. Bayelsans will march in unison on the streets and roads of Yenagoa against the obnoxious and anti-people bill.
“The electorate are the employers and that is why provision for recall is made in the electoral laws. The coalition does not want any political colouration as far as this is concerned, it is just Bayelsa people rising for Bayelsa.”
Some APC faithful are also planning their own protest on the streets of Yenagoa today.
Though details were sketchy yesterday, the organisers, who do not want their names in print, said the protest would be massive and total
One of the organisers said: “The people need to exercise their right of expression as guaranteed by the constitution and democracy. So, consultations are on.”
A chieftain of the APC, Preye Aganaba, described the bill as self-centered, insensitive, preposterous and a sad reflection of the inordinate desire of the lawmakers for self-enrichment.
Meanwhile, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent an open letter to Governor Dickson, urging him to reject the proposed life pension bill.
The group also asked the governor to use his office as the “trustee of the state’s resources and consistent with your constitutional oath of office, to prevail upon the House to immediately withdraw the self-serving bill.”
SERAP, in a statement by its deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare said: “Public officials have a legal commitment to discharge a public duty truthfully and faithfully. Should you assent to the bill as proposed, SERAP will institute legal proceedings to challenge the legality of the legislation and ensure full compliance with constitutional provisions and Nigeria’s international anti-corruption obligations.
“The bill amounts to an incorrect and improper performance of public functions. It’s clearly an abuse of legislative functions by the lawmakers. Rather than sponsoring bills that would improve access of children in Bayelsa to quality education, the lawmakers are taking advantage of their entrusted public positions to propose a bill to collect large severance benefits.”
According to the organisation, the lawmakers are clearly the major beneficiaries under the proposed legislation. Therefore, by passing the life pension bill, SERAP said, Bayelsa State lawmakers have violated the constitutional and international prohibitions on conflicts of interest.
The letter read in part: “The people of Bayelsa would expect you, as their governor, to use your entrusted public office to act in the public interest, including by rejecting the life pension bill and prevailing upon the House of Assembly to immediately drop the bill.”
The group stressed that conflicts of interest as well as perceptions of such conflicts would undermine public confidence in the integrity and honesty of not only the Bayelsa State House of Assembly but also Dickson’s government, if urgent action was not taken to prevail upon the House to drop the bill.
The Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) cautioned the House of Assembly against the proposed life pension.
If passed, they argued that the new bill would repeal the existing pensions for governor and deputy governor law of 2003.
They called on the state legislature to drop the idea, vowing not to leave any stone unturned in its fight for good governance and accountability forthwith.
In a statement yesterday by its president, Bobboi Kaigama and Secretary General, Musa-Lawal Ozigi, TUC described the development as the height of impunity, insult and a deliberate attempt to widen the scope of fraudulent activities by politicians in the state.