Ordinarily, the recent Bill on Amendment of Governors and Deputy Governors Pension Law passed by Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly which received Governor Godswill Akpabio’s assent ought not to have hugged the headlines or even attract the media umbrage if the action was taken in another state other than Akwa Ibom. We say this taking into cognizance that similar laws have been passed by other States’ legislatures in the country and yet they did not attract media hysteria and opprobrium that the one done in Akwa Ibom is currently eliciting.
It is worth pointing out that those criticizing the amended law should do so from a position of knowledge and not from the point of ignorance of the facts as contained in the law. For the avoidance of doubts, the law is never meant to enrich any former governor or deputy governor as being insinuatedby a section of the media. It is common knowledge that the media hoopla that greeted the amended pension law stemmed from misunderstanding of the facts on ground and further amplified by the virulent opposition in the state that will never see anything good in Akpabio’s administration. In fact, the drama over the pension law cannot be divorced from the 2015 politics in the state. We shall return to this theme shortly in the article.
It will be recalled that since his assumption of office as the executive governor of the oil-rich state seven years ago, Chief Godswill Akpabio has run a highly focused and people-oriented administration. No doubt, Akwa Ibom under the able leadership of Akpabio has witnessed uncommon infrastructural transformation never seen before in the state and even in the country. For instance, Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State Capital and other towns in the state have been transformed with modern well paved roads. The education and health sectors have been revolutionized with state of the art equipments and infrastructure. Health and education are virtually free in Akwa Ibom. Even non-indigenes also enjoy these facilities without discrimination. Many Akwa Ibom citizens are doing their post-graduate studies in Ivy League universities in Europe and America under the state scholarship scheme.
Under Akpabio’s exemplary leadership, the state has become a major tourist destination. Uyo now hosts most local and international fora by both private and public agencies and institutions. The Uyo Airport has witnessed much traffic as a result of influx of visitors to the state known for its beauty, ambience, hospitality and security.
In acknowledgement of Akpabio’s achievements in office, he has been decorated with several awards both in Nigeria and outside the country. Prominent Nigerians and the media have individually and collectively concurred that Akpabio is a great achiever. These awards are already in the public domain that there is no need here to start naming them. Moreover space constraint will not even permit itemization of such numerous awards.
Akpabio has become so popular that everything he does attracts media attention. The Akwa Ibom helmsman is a newsmaker any day and he has thegift of the gab. As an orator, Akpabio thrills his audience without end with jokes and anecdotes that keep them captivated. His philanthropic spirit knows no bounds. He is at home with the rich and the poor. Akpabio is highly detribalized and treats all with respect and dignity. It is being expected that after serving his state meritoriously for eight years, Akpabio would contest for the senate in 2015 as his people are urging him to do in view of his superlative performance in the state. Surely come 2015, Akpabio would be in the senate courtesy of his people. Even the undue attacks by the opposition will not derail it.
It is, therefore, unfortunate that the amended pension law in the state has been largely misunderstood and even misinterpreted by a section of the media. The law as explained by the Speaker of Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Hon. Sam Ikon, is not a new law. The law was first enacted in 2000 by former governor, Obong Victor Attah, and was later amended by the same administration in 2006. Ikon also explained that the latest amendment to the law was due to a lacuna in the old law which was open-ended on several provisions particularly medical expenses for former governors and deputy governors. As a result of this lacuna, Ikon continues, the House decided to put a ceiling to the medical expenses of the affected political office holders. The Speaker further observed that experience showed that former governors and deputy governors could expend several hundreds of millions of naira on medical bills without infringing on the provisions of the law hence the amendment.
With the latest amendment, an expenditure ceiling of N100 million for medical treatment for former governors and N50 million for former deputy governors has been put in place. Ikon explained that the money can only be paid directly to the health institutions involved in the medicare of the respective persons and are not accessed by or paid to former governors or former deputy governors directly as being bandied in the media. If a governor or a deputy governor is not ill, this law cannot be activated and the money cannot be spent. In order words, the medical allowance cannot be paid to the governors or the deputy governors. The allotted medicalexpenditure is like a health insurance cover that only the healthcare providercan be paid from.
The only innovation in the new law, according to the Speaker, is that N1 million is provided in the law as monthly medical allowance for surviving spouses of former governors. Besides, the law provides that a former governor should be entitled to at least one unit of a 5-bedroom house in Uyo or Abuja and 300 percent annual basic salary as rent for former deputy governor in addition to salaries and allowances for their personal aides. The law also states that former governors can get 300 percent of the basic salary of incumbent governor for yearly maintenance and fuel allowance as stipulated by the Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Allocation Commission(RMFAC).
With these explanations from the Speaker of Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, it is obvious that Akwa Ibom State has not done what other states in the federation have not done in respect of pension for ex-governors and deputy governors and stipulated aides. The only difference is that Akwa Ibom own was ab initio very much misunderstood, misinterpreted and sensationalized.
Indeed, what the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly has done is not different from what Rivers State House of Assembly did in 2012 under the watch of Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. That of Rivers State hugged the headlines then but not as sensationalized like the one of Akwa IbomState.
The misunderstanding of the pension law by a section of the media is quite unfortunate. The new pension law which intends to streamline existing one and close the gap for siphoning of state funds should be commended and not vilified. This amendment does not call for the bashing and pillorying of a performing governor or members of the State House of Assembly for doing what is right by putting a ceiling to what has been a drain pipe for public funds. Therefore, the media hysteria that attended the law is uncalled for.
Before Governor Godswill Obot Akpabio is crucified for no just cause, let the pension law of all states in the country as relates to the governors and deputy governors be made public for a detailed comparative analysis. Isolating one state for condemnation is not right in a democratic dispensation more so when it is a mere amendment to an existing law and meant to save costs. Let media practitioners be circumspect in their criticisms and do so from point of knowledge and understanding of the issues involved. They owe the public a duty to give them the right and correct information on any issue in discourse.
As members of the fourth estate of the realm, journalists should always verify their facts before publishing. Even public commentators are not immune from this fact check procedure either. Therefore let it be stated clearly that the Akwa Ibom State amended pension law for governors and deputy governors is not meant to enrich the political officer holders as being reported in the media.
Written By Joseph Okon
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