Contrition is a better virtue in government than hubris, and governance of such quality realises the humanity of leadership.
This is one way to characterise the radical about-face by the Akwa Ibom state Governor, Godswill Akpabio, when he announced Tuesday that he would repeal the controversial pension law that gave ex-governors and deputies who had served the state – with their wives – a humongous pension bill and other benefits.
When it was announced after the state house of assembly ingloriously passed it into law, it raised a dust of disgust among many Nigerians, including stake holders in the state. It was characterised as a signal of alienation between the well-heeled political elite and the masses. And this indignation was justified. It had pegged a limit of N100 million as medical allowances for each ex-governor with the spouse for a year and N50 million a year for the deputies and their spouses.
In responding to the groundswell of criticism, Governor Akpabio said, “Truth has been under siege and today I have decided that we should lift the evil siege by proposing to the House of Assembly that the parts of the amendment putting a N100 million ceiling on medical treatment of former governors and former deputy governors respectively be expunged from the amendment.”
He stated further that, “Let it revert to the open-ended situation inherent in the law, before the amendment.” This pirouette can be seen as an act of bowing to pressure. But it must be commended for its act of courage and sensitivity to public sentiment.
We commend members of the public who roundly condemned the pension package compelling a rethink on the law. This is the way democracy should work.
Governance is not about perfection. It is about a listening ear. We have seen governments since the inception of this democracy make decisions and swagger over them in spite of the public’s lack of ease with its moral roots and philosophical perspective.
We must add that as in the case of Governor Akpabio and for others in political office, prevention is better than cure. They should involve more consultations rooted in the popular pulse before making some decisions of this sensitive character in order to avoid the embarrassment of popular censure.
The extant law to which Governor Akpabio seeks to return is also flawed, and it gives ex-governors with greed in their eyes the opportunity to pursue claims that may even exceed the controversial N100 million. Any governor with contempt for the purity of public funds or the dignity of his appending signature could sign off on any bill even amounting to N150 million.
It is interesting that the law passed then without any public uproar. It was perhaps because the public did not imbue such law with the fear that our politicians could abuse them once out of office. But that anxiety continues to dog a wild and spendthrift political elite.
Governor Akpabio noted also that, “I will further advise, in observance of the articles of faith guiding the discharge of the office of governor that, through extant circulars, a medical insurance scheme be put in place for that authentic and proper management of the medical treatment of former governors and deputy governors and their spouses in order to ensure that the open-ended nature of the law is not abused.”
This is also right. But law is one thing and its adherence quite another and much depends on the integrity of its executors.
We must note that while umbrage dogged the footsteps of Akwa Ibom over the controversial pension package, we know that quite a few states in the country have pensions that are elitist and alienating. Few ex-governors and deputies can claim they do not have such highfalutin benefits today.
The more fundamental question is: why all these benefits if the purpose of governance is service? And that is a question to ponder not only in Akwa Ibom but all over our political class in Nigeria.