Akwa Ibom State Governor, Chief Godswill Akpabio, yesterday promised to send a proposal to the state House of Assembly to expunge aspects of the amendment to the Governors and Deputy Governors Pension Law which put a N100m ceiling and a N50m ceiling on the medical treatment of former governors and former deputy governors respectively.
Akpabio, in a statement entitled: ‘The siege of truth’, frowned at the condemnation of the amendment as well as the vilification of members of the Akwa Ibom House of Assembly for what he described as gross misunderstanding of the intention of the amendment of the law.
He slammed critics of the amendment, who he said have resorted to misinforming the public for political reasons.
“In the last few weeks, truth has come under siege by agents of falsehood in Akwa Ibom State. The good people of Akwa Ibom State have been unfortunately subjected to the cruelest and most unkind political gimmickry in the history of our state over the amendment of a sixteen-year-old law. This tidal wave of propaganda, misinformation, lies, falsehood, mischief and cynicism, we fear, may already have sucked in some unsuspecting members of the public who lack the ability to appreciate the salient points of this law and its ennobling attributes,” the governor said.
“Regrettably, one of the best-kept secrets in the political scene in Nigeria is that in Akwa Ibom State some politicians do not circumscribe their activities within the limits of morality and decorum. Some of them can abase the most hallowed and sacred things for their selfish advantages. The present matter is a case in point.”
Akpabio explained that the Governors and Deputy Governors Pension Law was “first enacted in 1998 as the Special Grant (Former Chief Executives) Edict. It was amended in 1999 by the Special Grant (Former Chief Executives (Amendment) Edict of 1999) and was retained in Cap. 122 Laws of Akwa Ibom State 2000. It was amended in 2002 by the Governors and Deputy Governors Pension Law 2002, which was later repealed by the Governors and Deputy Governors Pension Law 2006 assented to by my predecessor in office on 26th April 2007.”
Setting the records straight, he said in the course of its implementation, “we noticed a lacuna in the 2007 law, particularly on account of its open-endedness in the provisions relating to the medical expenses and provision of funds for the employment of domestic staff for the former Governors and Deputy Governors.”
In addition, he said “working with the House of Assembly, we sought to protect the law from abuse by putting a ceiling on the medical expenses for the treatment of these senior citizens of Akwa Ibom State. The ceiling, which was pegged at N100 million per annum for former Governors and N50 million per annum for former Deputy Governors, was never meant to be given either in part or in whole to anybody at any time for any reason. It was meant to be paid to health institutions involved in the treatment of the former Governors or former Deputy Governors and their spouses. It was, therefore, deliberate falsehood and organized misinformation to claim that the said money will be paid to former Governors or Deputy Governors every year.
“This has never been the practice and the amendment has added nothing to give credence to this obviously politicized orchestration,” he explained.
Continuing, he pointed out that “former governors, deputy governors and their spouses, who were not sick were not to receive a dime from the fund. These sums, which were for the Governors and the Deputy Governor’s medical treatment, suffered the most bashing from a mischievous vocal minority who sought to reap political capital out of it. In their frenzied desperation, they even claimed that the law was made for my personal benefit. They lost sight of the fact that I am not among the beneficiaries as I am not on pension.”
“The other sickening claim was that we excluded some categories of eligible former Deputy Governors and Governors. This is absolutely incorrect. Since the Governors and Deputy Governors Pension Law 2006 referred to above, a new eligibility provision beyond just being a former Governor or Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State origin was introduced by the last administration whereby certain persons who served in these two offices and who would otherwise have benefited from the pension, were excluded on account of resignation otherwise than on health grounds, impeachment or holding office for a period less than three years. Section 3 of the 2006 version of the Law attests to this, and this provision, retained in section 3 of the 2014 version of the Law has attracted unsavory comments as though it was a new provision just inserted,” he stated.
Akpabio therefore expressed disappointment over the public outcry that greeted the law, saying that opponents of the law were out to blackmail his administration.
“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. I share 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.
He however said; “I believe in the Akwa Ibom project as evidenced in my work in the state. I am under oath to protect the constitution of this great country, and this I have done to the best of my abilities. I am obligated by the mandate given to me by the good people of my state to do good to all manner of people and I have not been found wanting in this responsibility. This amendment was undertaken, with the patriotic understanding of the House of Assembly, in fulfilment of these articles of faith.”