Despite being in hiding from the law by virtue of a controversial court injunction, Peter Odili, a former Governor of Rivers State, who the EFCC says “misappropriated billions of naira” while he was governor, is about to be made even richer through a state legislation.
The proposed legislation is courtesy of a bill tagged the “Rivers State Public Office Holders (Payment of Pension) Bill 2012”, which is currently before the Rivers State House of Assembly. It is meant for the benefit of former governors and their deputies who completed their term in office.
Should the bill be passed, Mr. Odili would be given two houses in any area of his choice in Abuja and Rivers State.
Also, presuming that Mr. Odili acts like the conventional Nigerian politician, he would choose a house in the rich exclusive areas of Maitama or Guzape in Abuja, where a house can cost as much as 400million naira. A similar house in the highbrow GRA area of Port-Harcourt, where Mr. Odili can also choose, costs just under the same amount.
If the controversial bill is passed, Mr. Odili’s two houses alone, could be enough to pay the salaries of 3300 Rivers State civil servants for a whole year at the current minimum wage of N19, 400.
Not just Houses
It is not just posh houses that the state legislators propose as gifts for Mr. Odili and co. The former governor would also receive three brand new cars that would be replaced every three years. Other material benefits include 100 per cent of the basic salary of the incumbent governor, 300 per cent of basic salary as furniture allowance, 20 per cent for utilities and 10 per cent for entertainment.
Aside the financial benefits that Mr. Odili would be getting, and despite that Nigeria is heavily under-policed with one police officer to 800 people, Mr. Odili would get eight police officers for personal and domestic security; another two officers of the Nigerian secret police, the State Security Service; and domestic staff including a steward, gardeners, cooks, and drivers to be paid from the state account.
Hiding from prosecution
With the fear that he would be arrested and prosecuted for corruption by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) after his second and last tenure as governor, Mr. Odili, in February, 2007, approached the Federal High Court in Abuja for an injunction restraining the anti-graft commission from arresting him.
As governor, Mr. Odili, who is married to a Justice of the Nigerian Supreme Court, Mary Odili, was granted immunity from arrests or prosecution for any crime; courtesy of Section 308 of the Nigerian constitution.
On March 23, 2007, two months before losing his constitutional immunity, the Rivers State politician got another injunction, this time, a court-granted immunity. Ibrahim Buba granted Mr. Odili’s prayers, giving him a perpetual injunction from arrest or prosecution by the EFCC.
The commission had investigated Mr. Odili and found him culpable for large scale corruption. According to an interim report by the EFCC, “over 100 billion Naira of Rivers State funds have been diverted by the Governor, Dr. Odili”.
An EFCC source involved with the investigation told Premium Times that “Odili stole just as much as (James) Ibori [convicted former Governor of Delta State]; he just knows how to play his game by lying low.”
The Perpetual Injunction
Despite the injunction however, Mr. Odili still feared for his prosecution and so proceeded to the court again to demand an enforcement of the injunction.
On March 5, 2008, Mr. Buba, despite EFCC objection, again granted Mr. Odili’s wish. In a landmark ruling, which was described as bizarre by the Human Rights watch, the court ruled as follows: “The subsisting judgment of March 2007 by this court is binding on all parties. Therefore there is a perpetual injunction restraining the EFCC from arresting, detaining and arraigning Odili on the basis of his tenure as governor based on the purported investigation.”
Since that ruling, the EFCC has been unable to prosecute Mr. Odili. Though the commission said it would appeal the ruling after several complaints by Nigerians and the International Community, it is not clear if the commission has done so.
Wilson Uwujaren, the commission’s spokesman answered our reporter’s call and said he would return the call. He did not do so nor respond to subsequent text messages as at the time of filing this report.
Speaker defends bill
Even if Mr. Odili is eventually convicted of stealing state funds, he would still enjoy the largesse proposed by the state parliament.
“The bill is for those Governors and deputy governors who served out their terms without being impeached,” said Udede Jim-Opiki, the press secretary to the speaker of the Rivers State House of assembly, Otelemaba Amachree.
When asked if it was fair for any former governor who is indicted or convicted of corruption to enjoy such benefits, Mr. Jim-Opiki said “it can be amended and somebody else can go to court.”
The assembly speaker’s spokesperson however emphasized repeatedly that “the essence of the bill is to stop acts of corruption.”
“It is to help them know that after they leave office, the state will still take care of their welfare,” he said.
The Nigerian constitution under Section 124, subsection 5 gives state houses of assembly the power to make provisions for pension and gratuity of former governors and their deputies.
It’s Amaechi’s bill
Though Peter Odili will be a major beneficiary of this largesse, he did not propose it. The proposal was done by the incumbent governor, Rotimi Amaechi.
Premium Times learnt that, Mr. Amaechi, who served as the speaker of the Assembly during the tenure of Mr. Odili as governor, is hell bent on ensuring the passage of the bill.
“Governor Amaechi wants to safeguard his future, he wants to ensure that he still enjoys much of what he is enjoying now when he leaves office,” a close ally of the governor, who does not want his name mentioned for fear of losing political patronage, said.
Mr. Jim -Opiki, who confirmed that the bill was an executive bill, also stated that the bill would prevent corruption as “they (Governors and deputies) don’t need to bother about their hereafter after leaving office.”
Efforts to reach Mr. Amaechi were unsuccessful as Ibim Semenitari, the state information commissioner did not answer or return calls made to her telephone.
She also did not respond to text messages. Mrs. Semenitari’s father, Gabriel Toby, a former deputy governor of the state, will also benefit from the law.
It is not clear if Rufus Ada George, who was governor odf the state between 1992 and 1993, would benefit because his tenure was truncated by the military.