Akpabio: A Man For Every New Season

By Olusegun Adeniyi

An interesting piece by Olusegun Adeniyi on Akpabio’s double standards and how politicians think Nigerians suffer from collective amnesia. Enjoy:

Godswill Akpabio (then Akwa Ibom State Governor) once stated that only the re-election of President Goodluck Jonathan could guarantee peace in Nigeria. At an​ interdenominational ​church service beamed live on the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) network on 2 January 2015, he declared: “As a PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) chieftain, I have found the solution to the peace we are seeking in Nigeria. That solution is the election of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan for a second term in office. When you do that, you would show that you are not a religious bigot. When you do that, you would show that you are not an ethnic jingoist and that you believe in the unity of this country.”

Of course, we know Jonathan lost the presidential election that year. But Akpabio won his bid to be a Senator. Ordinarily, by their Standing Rules at the time, positions of Principal Officers were reserved only for ranking senators. But on the strength of his previous position as chairman of PDP Governors Forum and the depth of his pocket, the Senate broke their own rule to accommodate Akpabio as Minority Leader. The hope was that he would help to rebuild PDP as a robust opposition platform to counter the excesses of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). The hope was misplaced.

Two years into his tenure as Minority Leader, Akpabio resigned from the PDP to join the APC and offered a perfect excuse. “The first thing you need to know about the APC, from the point of view of leadership, I am quite impressed the president has kept his integrity intact. He has been able to improve the image of Nigeria and restore a lot of respect to Nigeria from the international community,” Akpabio said while heaping praises on then President Muhammadu Buhari who later offered him a ministerial appointment after losing his Senate re-election bid. “I am joining the APC to stabilize the government and to assist the government to create employment opportunities for Nigerians so that we can fight the twin brother to corruption, which is poverty.”

We are aware that Akpabio has been fighting poverty with his garrulous and ostentatious lifestyle for almost two decades. Incidentally, on 23 February 2018, while presenting the Special Achievement Award conferred on then Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor by the Silverbird Group in Lagos, Akpabio commended Godwin Emefiele for maintaining the global integrity of the apex bank and stability of Naira, describing him as “a humble and silent achiever”. Now, after being enabled to the office of Senate President by the current President Bola Tinubu, Akpabio is singing a different tune.

During a thanksgiving service in Rivers State on Sunday, Akpabio compared the economy left by Buhari for Tinubu to a spoof. “Nigeria was like a foam inside a pail. As the foam has filled the pail you think that it was water. The economic situation was tricky. By the time you push your hands (inside), you will only touch water towards the bottom. So, the kind of economic mess we were in, a lot of people do not understand.”

After dissing the ‘anti-corruption’ president under whom he was a minister, Akpabio descended on Emefiele. “We don’t even know what to charge the former Central Bank governor (Emefiele) with. Whether to charge him for putting foam on top of the pail or to charge him for printing notes without income. I don’t know what we will charge him with,” Akpabio said, raising questions about the credibility of the ongoing court case if they are still trying to frame the alleged crime. “What we know is that we are here today because of the actions and policies that they (Buhari administration) took, and we recognise that, but we are now battling to ensure that Nigerians can sleep with their eyes closed and have three square meals on their tables.”

A Man for All Seasons’ is a British historical drama that celebrates the life of Sir Thomas More, the 16th century Chancellor of England who chose death (he was beheaded) to helping Henry VIII achieve his diabolical aim to jilt his wife for another in a desperate bid for a male child. If that popular drama depicts someone whose moral strength did not bend even in the face of death, then what do you call a man like Akpabio? The only phrase that comes to mind is a man for every new season. That has been the story of the ‘Uncommon transformer’ who for the past 22 years has been a ‘government pikin’—a man whose livelihood has depended on political office: Commissioner, Governor, Senator, Minister and now Senate President!

While endorsing Tuesday’s decision to probe how the N30 trillion Ways and Means CBN loans approved by the last Senate was spent by the Buhari administration, Akpabio said “The food and security crises confronting the nation now are traceable to the way and manner the said Ways and Means were given, collected and spent.” Akpabio may be right but how does such a probe bring down the price of garri in the market or help in halting the depreciation that has rendered the Naira almost of no value?

We know that, like all previous probes, it will serve no useful purpose beyond buying time for the government while Nigerians are regaled with tales. Besides, was Akpabio, who has dismissed those protesting the rising cost of living in the country as “sponsored protesters”, not part of the Buhari administration? Does the president need people who can help him find solutions to our mounting economic challenges or those who are good only at inventing self-serving excuses?

For those who may have forgotten, under Buhari, Akpabio was an all-powerful Minister of Niger Delta. He came up with the idea of an Interim Management Committee (IMC) arrangement at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) – whose members he kept sacking while practically running the show so that nobody would “kill the forensic audit”. In the ‘Off the mic’ drama involving one of his henchmen, it was Akpabio who admitted before a House of Representatives committee chaired by the current Internal Affairs Minister, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo that our lawmakers are also contractors while inadvertently indicting himself in the process: “I just told you that we have records to show that most of the contracts in NDDC are given out to members of the National Assembly, but you don’t know about it, the two chairmen can explain to you. I was a member of the NDDC committee; so, I know about it.”

In a milieu where politics has become a vehicle to secure power and privilege (rather than advance the public good) and public office merely provides access for the control of resources, it is no surprise that people like Akpabio thrive. He is of course not alone on this, so I do not begrudge him his good fortune. But those whose palm-kernels were cracked for them by a benevolent spirit, to borrow from the eternal wisdom of Chinua Achebe, should not insult our collective intelligence. By virtue of his current office, Akpabio is one of the few people with unhindered access to President Tinubu. If this is what he says publicly at a time like this, one can only imagine what he is telling the man in private moments.

Let me break it down for the Akpabios of this world who may not be aware of the current situation in Nigeria. If, going by the World Bank parameters, living in extreme poverty means surviving on less than $1.90 (now more than N3000) per day, and minimum wage still stands at N30,000, one can then imagine what many Nigerians are going through. As of last year March, when the situation was not even this bad, a World Bank report revealed that “as many as 4 in 10 Nigerians live below the national poverty line.” Several households in the country, the report added, had to adopt “dangerous coping strategies, including reducing education and scaling back food consumption, which could have negative long-run consequences for their human capital.” 

That report was based on the reality of 2022 when Akpabio was still a minister under Buhari. Today, things are far worse. The removal of fuel subsidy and floating of the Naira have combined to push basic necessities beyond the reach of most Nigerians. With daily hikes in the cost of staple foods, essential drugs, transportation costs, school fees, house rent etc. at a time when there seems to be no bottom to Naira’s depreciating value, millions of Nigerians are groaning under an unprecedented level of misery. Nothing depicts our dire situation more aptly than the trending video of a crowd of women rushing to scoop from a pot of rice being cooked by a food vendor, almost like animals. Therefore, if the president listens only to people like Akpabio, how would he understand how dire the situation is for most Nigerians today?

Let me also be clear here. Buhari and Emefiele deserve all the opprobrium anybody can heap on them for mismanaging our economy. That is not my issue with Akpabio. But not all of us suffer from the Nigerian malaise of collective amnesia. A country where an enabler of every sitting president like Akpabio is a source of state wisdom cannot but end as a basket case. It is therefore no surprise that in a bid to address the fast-depreciating value of the Naira, Tinubu’s henchmen have reduced monetary policy to chasing BDC operators around the streets of Abuja with guns!

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