AKWA IBOM PENSION BILL: WHY AKPABIO IS MY HERO.
When I received the news that, Governor Godswill Akpabio, in response to public outcry, and in spite of the obvious politicization of the whole issue, has requested the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly to expunge 'contentious' sections of the Pension for Governors and Deputy Governors Law, as amended recently and passed by the House on May 26, 2014, I could not, but doff my heart for him. That he has exercised exceptional courage and rare humility to do this, is proof, Akpabio is not only a rare breed leader, but a true democrat who believes, that right or wrong, and power belongs to the people. He has shown how strong he is by actually acting 'weak' on the side of the people, and as the saying goes, bowing to pressure in doing this.
It is pertinent to go over this issue briefly and put it proper perspective. So, what was the hullabaloo?
The media has been awash of recent with a vicious onslaught against Gov. Akpabio on the Akwa Ibom State Governors and Deputy Governors Pension Bill 2014. Although this was an amendment of an existing Governors and Deputy Governors Pension Law, 2006, which was initiated by former Governor Victor Attah, My investigations reveal, the only difference between both Laws is that, Governor Akpabio's version seeks to plug leakages by putting figures to provisions of the Law, thereby having a ceiling, beyond which the State must not spend. Sad to say, the red-eyed opponents pounced upon some provisions of the Bill to lampoon Governor Akpabio as a greedy man.
I listened to Governor Akpabio, who came on Channels TV to clarify issues on the most contentious aspect of the Bill which is on medical services for the former governors and spouse 'at a sum not exceeding N100 million .' Many people think, this money is a pay-out or a hand-out to the former governors. That is far from the truth. Indeed, it is not even money they can draw cash from in person, but money appropriated for the State to pay for medical exigencies that may arise to the limit of 100million per annum. As Governor Akpabio revealed, there had been cases where he has had to pay over 42 million on medical claims alone, and several of such huge sums in a calendar year without control. This informed his move to peg the expenditure profile for medical expenses on the past leaders, so that, Government will not spend endlessly and create room for corruption. This money may even be saved, if by the years' end, the beneficiary never had major health issues, had the Law remained as it were.
Come to think of it, where were all these do-gooders and emergency Public Affairs analysts when the States of Lagos, Rivers, Gombe, Kwara, and Katsina among many others passed their own versions of the Pension for former Governors and Deputy Governor's Law? Why should Akwa Ibom's case become a major crusade to crucify Governor Akpabio?
Why did the Nigeria Bar Association not raise eyebrows over the Lagos State Pensions Law for instance? Compared to Akwa Ibom's version, Lagos provides that a former governor and his family members are entitled to free medicare at State expense. Meaning, if he happens to marry three wives and has 36 children, the State has no choice but to foot all their medical bills for life.
The Lagos law also provides for six vehicles for the ex-governor renewable every 3 years, whereas, Akwa Ibom provided for two, every 4years. A further security sub head stipulates the provision of 3 State Security services agents, eight policemen and one female orderly, which is far in excess of what Akwa Ibom provides for in their version.But nobody raised eyebrows over these stipulations by other states.
Reason Akpabio is the favourite prey of media hounds and attack dogs of Politicians is that, this man, in such a short span in office, has earned his place of honour and fame in the Pantheon of outstanding leaders, with a mixed bag of attributes, comparable only to the vision of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the sagacity of Alhaji Ahmadu Bello and the insight of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. That he was deservingly named NIGERIA'S EMERGING TIGER, by ThisDay Newspapers in January 2000, sticks to mind, and tells in the best, but shortest way possible, the pedigree, achievement and potential of this Lion-hearted leader who has forever altered our perception of good governance, responsible leadership and passion for development. Needless to say, this has attracted the envy and villainy of a few disgruntled persons and political elements. For these hating lots, everything and anything Akpabio does, must be tarnished and his image sullied by all means.
Whatever they contrive, fact remains that, Governor Godswill Akpabio is no doubt the revelation of the current dispensation among the Class 2007-15 Governors Club. Indeed, the Akwa Ibom State governor, who has outperformed our modest expectation from an average governor in Nigeria, has easily become the Poster Boy of Nigeria's dividends of Democracy, especially, in this 15th Anniversary of uninterrupted democratic rule. He simply needs to come to terms with why he has become the 'Punch bag' of hired blackmailers, armchair critics, political opponents and some sections of the compromised Press mediums.
Governor Akpabio deserves kudos, for he has judged our political history well. Aware that, the June 12 annulment has become the single mistake that defined what was otherwise a glittering era under former Military President, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, and that, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo's stellar tenure is blighted only by the alleged Third term agenda, Governor Akpabio is brilliant enough not to allow, Political opponents define his extraordinary tenure with their misrepresentations of a well-intentioned Bill and jaundiced view of the Pension Law be manipulated as a spoil-sport for him. He has acted the Statesman by submitting to a review of the Law. That's why he is my hero. In doing so, Akpabio pointedly noted, 'It is my hope that with the excision of these sections from the amendment, the agents of falsehood would lift their siege on truth and not distract the good people of this state from the task of the Uncommon Transformation of our dear state.'
Speaking further, Akpabio regretted that, 'It is distressing to all patriots in our state that this well-reasoned and thought-out solution to an open-ended law, which common-sense indicates can be subject to abuse, has been cast rather as a problem by fifth columnists in our state.' Is that not the same rigmarole we are having with removal or non-removal of the fuel subsidy? That is matter for another day. I also share, what Akpabio describes as, 'the sense of revulsion of all decent Akwa Ibom people in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly in particular and the entire State in general at these politics of blackmail.' I therefore celebrate Akpabio for the courage of being a listening leader and hearkening to the protests of his people, whatever the incitement and misinformation there was. It is something that other leaders need to learn from.
As one who served at Esit Eket in Akwa Ibom during my service year as a corp member of the NYSC, I knew the people to be the most hospitable I have met, who will spare no effort, in taking adequate care of their leaders who have so selflessly and diligently served them. In my view, no true Akwa Ibom person will kick against their great statesmen retiring into deserved comfortable rest.
Finally, let me confess here that, my visit to Akwa Ibom State, last month, after l left in 2004 at the end of my service year was an adventure, I should say, is akin to having Alice in Wonderland. I was pleasantly amazed at the total revolution in development which is upbeat in that State. My thumbs-up goes to Chief Dr. Godswill Obot Akpabio, CON, who I must confess, has shocked me beyond belief. With his breed, there is hope for our Nation.
Written By Suleiman Ahmed