Eniola Akinkuotu and Ovie Okpare
The Delta State Government paid former Governor James Ibori N250m while he was in jail in the United Kingdom between 2012 and 2016,an investigation has revealed.
It will be recalled that Ibori was convicted on February 27 2012, after pleading guilty to 10 counts of money laundering and conspiracy to defraud at a Southwark Crown Court, London.
It was learnt that Ibori, who was accused of stealing over £250m, was entitled to life pension being a former governor of the oil-rich state.
The ex-governor, who served between 1999 and 2007, was able to sign into law the Delta State Governor and Deputy Governor Pension Rights and Other Benefits Law 2005 which was later amended in 2009.
The law makes provision for an ex-governor to be paid N50m per year among other perks.
Defending the payment of the money to Ibori in 2012, the then Commissioner for Information, Mr. Chike Ohgeah, said Ibori would continue to be paid N50m until a court nullified his tenure in office.
Ogeah said this in reaction to an affidavit deposed to by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission which accused the state government of enriching the ex-governor.
He said, “The truth is that like every other elected governor who had served the state, Ibori was paid his pension entitlement and other benefits alongside his deputy under existing law. The law is the Delta State Governor and Deputy Governor Pension Rights and Other Benefits Law 2005 and the Delta State Governor and Deputy Governor Pension Rights and Other Benefits (Amendment) Law 2009.”
Calculations by one of our correspondents showed that for the five years Ibori spent in the UK prison, he was paid N250m by the state government.
Delta State is one of the states in the country currently struggling to pay salaries and which received bailout fund from the Federal Government.
According to a report on the bailout funds monitoring of states conducted by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, in February 2016, Delta State had N36, 417,217, 601.53 as total debt value accrued from staff salaries and emoluments. The state was granted N10, 936, 799, 299 as bailout fund from the Federal Government.
Speaking with one of our correspondents on Saturday, human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), said the matter was a structural problem and it would be unfair to single out Ibori.
Falana explained that several states including those who could not pay salaries, were paying pensions to ex-governors who had also looted their state treasuries.
He said, “The matter goes beyond Ibori because he is not the only ex-governor collecting the pension. The law in Delta State does not say an ex-governor should stop receiving pay if he is convicted.
“The matter shows the failure of the Nigerian system. I am not defending Ibori but I don’t think he should be singled out. Pension for ex-governors should be scrapped completely.”
Meanwhile, the Delta State Government on Saturday said it was legal for it to honour the laws of the state by paying severance packages and other entitlements ascribed to former governors and deputies including Ibori.
The state government said it would be flouting the law if it decided not to pay the former governor.
Speaking through his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Charles Aniagwu, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa said on Saturday that if the state government was owing Ibori his severance package, the government would clear the backlogs as clearly stipulated by law.
“If Ibori is entitled to pension by law, we will not take it away from him because that will be breaching the law . Even if he is owed, it is sure that he deserves the entitlements.’’
He also added that Ibori contributed meaningfully to the infrastructural development of the state and laid the foundation upon which successive governments were building on. (Punchng.com)