News Commentary On Enactment Of The Law Repealing Pensions For Governors And Deputy Governors In Abia State

... A Commendable Move By Governor Alex Otti

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In one of his popular statements, an American politician and US representative of Massachusetts’s 6th Congressional District since 2015, Seth Moulton posited that: “I believe as a part of governance, all agencies should be reviewing regulations and cleaning up those that may be outdated, redundant, or unnecessary.”

Mr. Moulton seems to have shared the same thoughts with the focused and visionary Governor of Abia State, Dr. Alex Chioma Otti, Officer of the Federal Republic, who is passionate in realizing his dreams of a New Abia. Of course, Governor Otti’s resolve to rewrite the wrongs through setting up of mechanisms and introducing policies that would impact positively on the lives of the people of the State, which is in line with his policy thrust, anchored on creating wealth and lifting the people out of poverty.

It could be recalled that while being inaugurated as the fifth democratically elected Governor of Abia State, Dr. Alex Chioma Otti OFR stated thus:
“Transparency, accountability, and public trust shall be at the centre of everything we do. We will run a responsible and honest government and lead by example. We will not tolerate any form of corruption or stealing of public property. Gratification and kickbacks are totally forbidden in this government.”

It is in keeping to his pledge to be responsive in protecting the scarce resources of the State and re-channel them to a more beneficial ventures, that Governor Alex Otti initiated and forwarded an Executive Bill to the State House of Assembly which sought to abolish the Governors & Deputy Governors Pensions Law No 4 of 2001. For the avoidance of doubt, this Law which has been there since 2001 mandates the State government to pay pensions and other benefits to former Governors and their Deputies.

Upon the receipt of the Executive Bill, the Abia State House of Assembly gave an accelerated hearing and passed into law, H.A.B 11: A Bill for a ‘Law to Repeal The Abia State of Nigeria Governors & Deputy Governors Pensions Law No 4 of 2001 and for other Matters Connected Therewith’ sponsored by the Majority Leader of the House, Hon. Uchenna Kalu.

Accordingly, the House announced the passage of the bill and maintained that after the Governor assents to it, it will be cited as “Abia State State of Nigeria Governors and Deputy Governor Pensions (Repeal) Law 2024 and would be deemed to have come into effect from the 19th day of March 2024. Two days after the passage of the Bill, the Governor, Dr. Alex Otti assented to the Bill and it became Law.

While signing the Bill into Law, Governor Otti said that it was his belief from the outset, that government was not going to continue with the practice of paying pension to former Governors and Deputy Governors in the State even though he would be a beneficiary of the pension in the nearest future, if it is not repealed

Rather, the Governor is of the opinion that the money would have been better used in offsetting the backlog of pension owed Abia retired workers since 2014. In his words, Governor Otti stressed:
“I want to make a few things clear, one is that even before we came onboard a lot of people who had followed our views understand that we were not going to continue with the practice of paying pensions and allowances to this set of former government officials. A lot of people had confronted me to remind me that very soon I will also be a former Governor and I agree completely.”

For Governor Alex Otti, government is not about self interest, hence, repealing the pensions for Governors and Deputy Governors was the right step to take as it is all about good governance and stewardship.

After assented to the Bill, the Governor has used other occasions to re-emphasize the reason behind repealing the obnoxious law. He said it emphatically at a recent IGR retreat, thus: “The policy is not targeted at anyone, it is targeted at good governance, it is targeted at reduction in the cost of governance. And quite frankly, we believe it is the right thing to do. We don’t believe that politics is a business. We believe that people should have things they are doing before coming to serve. And if you have offered yourself to serve, then you should be willing to make the required sacrifices. So, the days of sharing money are over, the days of blood tonic politics are also over. This is the time to make sacrifices for the interest of the State.”

It is important to note that, the repealed Governors and Deputy Governors pensions Law amongst other merits would ensure that the outrageous cost of governance is reduced while the resources of the State would be channeled towards the development of the State.

Come to think of it, there is need to pay workers who were hitherto owed for months and pensioners who, the present administration of Governor Alex Otti is still struggling to defray several months and years of arrears from 2014. So, it is more appropriate for the government to use the funds that would have been used to pay former Governors and their Deputies to pay retired civil servants, who used their most useful lives to serve the State.

Apart from deploying the humongous funds to defraying arrears of pensions, the funds could be used to fix our roads, renovate and remodel schools, retrofit our general hospitals and healthcare centres across various wards in the State. Part of the funds could equally be invested in various youth empowerment programmes of the government including support to Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMSE), among other ventures of government.

It is gratifying to underscore the fact that since the enactment and subsequent signing of the Bill into Law, people of different walks of life have continued to pour encomiums on the man of the moment, His Excellency, Governor Alex Otti.

The latest of those commendations came from a former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR, who visited the Governor recently. Chief Obasanjo commended Governor Alex Otti for his courage in repealing the law and even expressed the hope that other Governors would follow his footstep.

The former President noted that the pensions to the former Governors and Deputies were outrageous while those of ordinary retired workers were owed in Abia from 2014, an action he described as ‘daylight robbery.’ The ex while President said: “What sort of leadership? You came and said there will be an end to that rascality. I congratulate you, I hope that your colleagues will follow your footstep!”

Indeed, Governor Alex Otti deserves commendation for the bold step and doing things differently by ensuring that the unnecessary law was repealed and expunged from our Laws. Kudos to Governor Alex Otti OFR, who has come to change the narratives.

By Divine Nwankwo
Asst. Head, Information and Press
Govt. House, Umuahia.