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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Abia, good governance and human rights

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As a philosopher, one statement that makes so much sense to me is that which says that ‘the first step in every initiative is the most important’.

Another one of those philosophies that is endearing to me too is the latin maxim that says: ‘nemo dat quod non habet’, meaning that ‘you can’t give what you don’t have.’

This is exactly because the debate and conversations around the thematic area of good governance can’t be made completely understood without a focus on the capacity, capability and competencies that those engaging in running government ought to possess as their qualitative attributes.

The aforementioned phrases have come into play when out of curiosity, I decided to visit the websites of some states in Nigeria and from what I found out, I must state that a lot of these sub-national governments need to buckle up and do a lot of catching up.

However, a visit to the official website of the government of Abia State gladdens my heart because right from onset any researcher could immediately find the basics on what the government of Dr. Alex Otti is all about. The website begins by welcoming readers and then immediately went on to discuss the central mantra and the strategic mandates of the government under Governor Alex Otti. And there is evidence that the website is progressively updated by the administrator.

It was this organisational and methodical appearance of the website of Abia State that actually conveyed the message that all that we have seen happening in Abia State conform to the good governance standards. Although there are areas that improvements are needed, but from the word go, there is empirical evidence that here is a governor who knows his onions and has a total comprehension of what good governance means in pragmatic and practical application.

Also, most of the programmes rolled out in this dispensation by the Abia State administration have offered us the reality that the promotion and protection of the human rights of the citizens are of higher priority to the current administration in Abia State. I must say that what I have seen in Abia State remind me of what the constitution prescribed for governments both at the national and sub-national levels.

Specifically, the Nigerian constitution in section 16 (2), provides that: “The State shall direct its policy towards ensuring:

(a) the promotion of a planned and balanced economic development;

(b) that the material resources of the nation are harnessed and distributed as best as possible to serve the common good;

(c) that the economic system is not operated in such a manner as to permit the concentration of wealth or the means of production and exchange in the hands of few individuals or of a group; and

(d) that suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pensions, and unemployment, sick benefits and welfare of the disabled are provided for all citizens.”

The above provision of the constitution seems to be the fundamental principle of so much of what is going on in Abia state now. Then a closer analysis of the infrastructural and policy frameworks being put in place by the current administration in Abia State government have motivated us to look at what the United Nations has to say on good governance.

The UN asked, What is good governance? It then explained as follows: “Governance refers to all processes of governing, the institutions, processes and practices through which issues of common concern are decided upon and regulated. Good governance adds a normative or evaluative attribute to the process of governing. From a human rights perspective it refers primarily to the process whereby public institutions conduct public affairs, manage public resources and guarantee the realisation of human rights.”

The UN affiliated research stated that while there is no internationally agreed definition of ‘good governance’, it may span the following topics: full respect of human rights, the rule of law, effective participation, multi-actor partnerships, political pluralism, transparent and accountable processes and institutions, an efficient and effective public sector, legitimacy, access to knowledge, information and education, political empowerment of people, equity, sustainability, and attitudes and values that foster responsibility, solidarity and tolerance.

In summary, the study by the UN which we are citing here concludes that good governance relates to the political and institutional processes and outcomes that are necessary to achieve the goals of development. The true test of ‘good’ governance is the degree to which it delivers on the promise of human rights: civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. The key question is: are the institutions of governance effectively guaranteeing the right to health, adequate housing, sufficient food, quality education, fair justice and personal security?

Key attributes of good governance

The Human Rights Council has identified the key attributes of good governance:

transparency

responsibility

accountability

participation

responsiveness (to the needs of the people)

It then posed the key question of how are good governance and human rights linked?

Good governance and human rights are mutually reinforcing. Human rights standards and principles provide a set of values to guide the work of governments and other political and social actors. They also provide a set of performance standards against which these actors can be held accountable. Moreover, human rights principles inform the content of good governance efforts: they may inform the development of legislative frameworks, policies, programmes, budgetary allocations and other measures. We will therefore begin by providing a blow by blow account of our findings regarding governance at play in Abia State by Governor Alex Otti.

We begin with the biggest step the Abia State government did to reduce the cost of governance which is the termination of further payments of pensions and juicy allowances to former Governors and their Deputies.

Governor Alex Otti explained that the recent scrapping of pension for former Governors and their Deputies in the state was not to witch-hunt his predecessors as being misconstrued by some persons, but to reduce the cost of governance.

Otti who spoke during a follow-up retreat for Heads of Ministries Departments and Agencies, MDAs, on strategies to shore up the Internally Generated Revenue, IGR, of the state, maintained that the action was a necessary step to take for the good of the masses.

The Governor said that under his watch, public funds would not be shared among few individuals but equitably deployed to develop the state.

“So, when you saw that we put through our resolve to cut cost of governance by stopping frivolous payments to people who have left government (former Governors and their Deputies), it is because we just believe that the right thing should be done.

“Very soon we will also be former Governors, so the policy is not targeted at anyone, it’s targeted at good governance, it’s targeted at reduction in the cost of governance. And quite frankly, we believe it is the right thing to do.

Not done with establishing the principles of accountability and transparency, the government expressed its commitment to implement a holistic development agenda, saying the economic programme of his administration “is structured to achieve balanced development” of the state.

Governor Alex Otti stated this at the flag-off ceremony of the 11km Nunya-Eluama road in Isuikwuato Local Government, off Enugu Port Harcourt expressway.

The event, which attracted many stakeholders from Isuikwuato, including the former Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt Gen Azubuike Ihejirika, underscored the importance of the abandoned road to the economic growth of the area.

Otti said his government was being “very strategic” in its approach to governance in order to carry every segment of the state along and achieve even development.

He noted that aside from the road reconstruction projects going on simultaneously in Umuahia and Aba, he had entered the rural communities to extend the infrastructure development to them.

The Abia governor explained the necessity for improving the rural infrastructure as location of some ventures were specially suited for the rural communities while some could only thrive in the urban centres.

“For us, every part of Abia is important in the new Abia,” he said, adding that with good infrastructure in the rural areas, farmers would have easy access to the cities to market their produce.

Another aspect of the quality governance is on provision of practical infrastructure in the state and this revolutionary objective has elicited the excitement of the citizens as was recently recorded at the Isuikwuato Local Government.

The media reported that there was excitement in Isuikwuato Local Government Area of Abia State on Tuesday as Governor Alex Otti flagged off the long-awaited construction of an 11.7-kilometer road in the LGA.

Hailing the road’s significance, Hon. Lucky Johnson, representing Isuikwuato State Constituency, called it “the heart of Isuikwuato” and a vital link connecting Enugu State to Port Harcourt and Umuahia.

When completed, the road is expected to reduce travel time and boost the sale of farmers’ agricultural products by enabling easier access to markets in Umuahia and Aba.

The project’s impact is anticipated to extend beyond transportation, with Hon. Johnson pointing to a new fuel station already under construction near the road as a sign of the potential development projects in the LGA.

We in the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) just like most other observers have often expressed surprise how the Abia governor is doing so much projects at the same time when it is self evident that his predecessor left the state in financial tatters.

The Governor of Abia State, Alex Otti, had recently said the State was left in a very bad shape by his predecessor, Okezie Ikpeazu.

Otti said this when he appeared on Channels TV’s Politics Today on Thursday while responding to a question on how he met the state when he assumed office in May, 2023.

“Absolutely, very, very bad shape, but I am not complaining. I have folded my sleeves and I am just dealing with what I met here,” Otti, who was elected on the platform of the Labour Party, LP, said.

He wondered what his predecessor used the money he borrowed for, since there is nothing to show for it.

“My worry is not really about debt, it is about what the debt is used for. If you inherited a debt profile of N34.4 billion by May 29, 2015 and eight years later you ran that debt to about N192.2 billion; I really can’t see anything that you have done with the money, salaries were not being paid, pensioners were being owed, infrastructure was decaying, the place got into ruins, schools were run down completely, hospitals were dilapidated.

“So, the issue is where did the money go? If I am going to take debt, it is going to go into regenerative expenditure. But when you are taking loans and you are running the state into debt, just for consumption, you are not investing in the state; you are not paying salaries; that’s actually what I was talking about,” he said.

Another fascinating story about the government of Abia State is what the government is doing in the area of providing economic empowerment to the women of Abia State, the Governor Alex Otti of Abia State says he has approved immediate disbursement of N100,000 interest free-loan to Abia women entrepreneurs among other operators of small and medium enterprises in rural communities.

This is as he said that his administration had shown unprecedented regard for women as four women occupy very sensitive portfolios in his cabinet; while 17 out of 24 Permanent Secretaries in the state are women.

Otti who stated this in his good will message to Abia women as they mark the 2024 International Women’s Day, said his administration would continue to pursue women advancement.

“This is in fulfillment of our campaign promise to empower our women in building their businesses at the grassroots and help to create wealth across the state. No less than 50 persons per ward are expected to receive the sum of N100,000, each,” Otti said.

Otti in the message signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Kazie Uko, restated his commitment to empower more women in the state.

Speaking on the theme of this year’s IWD, “Inspire Inclusion”, Governor Otti said his government had been deliberate about empowering women “through improved budgetary allocation to the various sectors that have direct implications on the welfare and well-being of the women and the girl child as well as appointment of women to strategic positions in government.”

“Here, in Abia State, our administration is highly gender sensitive and this has seen to the increased number of women appointed into the State Executive Council and Ministries, Departments, and Agencies of government.

“It is worthy of note that women occupy strategic positions in health, education , agriculture and poverty alleviation in the State Executive Council, while out of the total 24 Permanent Secretaries in the state, 17 of them are women. This is unprecedented in the history of the state civil service.

“Our administration has also demonstrated commitment in the payment of counterpart fund for the Nigeria for Women Project (NFWP); a project that seeks to support improved livelihoods for women in targeted areas of Abia and Nigeria, by influencing social norms related to gender equality, promoting social inclusion and establishing institutional platforms that improve women’s access to critical life, business and technical skills,” Governor Otti enumerated in a statement issued from his office.”

One other key step that needed to be taken is to do whatever is administratively possible, to reduce the burdens of taxation on the people given the high unemployment rate in the state and everything must be done to keep social services of healthcare, educational empowerment, security of lives and property and promoting harmony amongst the different communities that make up Abia State should be accorded the highest priority just as the restructuring and revamping of the industrial schemes in Aba to reposition that great town to regain her frontline role as the leader in commerce and trade in the West African region should be sustainably enforced and implemented.

Our dear Ariaria International Market must be totally upgraded and flooding is a key environmental degradation that needs to be frontally tackled. The state should observe zero-tolerance to procurement corruption and block all avenues for leakages that encourage corruption and bad governance. I recommend that the Federal Government should accord Abia State a special provision of ecological funds so it can very well confront the challenges being posed by environmental issues of erosion and flooding.

The plan to eliminate touting in Abia State should be logically implemented to enhance human rights and rule of law. Let the state government of Abia work out partnership with credible private sector organisations, the religious communities and town unions to mainstream the provision of social services to reach the grassroots. We also observed that the state assembly is comparatively independent and this is good. Let the welfare and wellbeing of workers and especially teachers of our children be of the highest priority. Teachers in rural areas should be motivated with good enough incentives so the will give out their best to children at the grassroots.

Abia State must continue to carry out deliberate and intentional policies to reduce the cost of governance and it must be made abundantly clear to all public office holders that their appointments and or elections are not opportunities for pecuniary benefits or for cruising around in foreign made exotic SUVs but they should take their involvement in leadership at the three Arms of government of Abia State as a rare privilege and call to give selfless service.

Those in public office and the good people of Abia State should be adequately informed on why each person should always ask ‘what can I do to make the state better and not what can I gain from the state?’ One model of this lifestyle is the founder of UNUBIKO FOUNDATION: Chief James Ume. I recommend that citizens especially those amongst the highly privileged class should emulate the charitable works being done for Abia people by this foundation that is incidentally based in Abuja.

Emmanuel Onwubiko is the head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and was NATIONAL COMMISSIONER OF THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.

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