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Thursday, 22 February 2024 07:08

[OPINION] Akpabio: A Man for Every New Season - Olusegun Adeniyi

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!

ECOWAS and Vanishing Democracy

 On Monday, military authorities in Guinea dissolved the interim government it had put in place since June 2022.  They pledged to appoint a new administration. We recall that Colonel Mamady Doumbouya toppled President Alpha Conde in September 2021, in a coup hailed by many Guineans. Conde invited it upon himself by forcing through a controversial constitutional amendment that gave him a third term in office. And he brutally crushed the street demonstrations that followed, killing many before he was ousted. Although the military promised to return power to elected civilians by the end of this year, there is nothing to suggest such proposition is still on the cards in Guinea.

However, the latest challenge for the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) is in Senegal where President Macky Sall, whose tenure expires on 2 April, is also playing the sit-tight game. First, he toyed with the idea of a third term that elicited street protests. When that gambit failed, Sall postponed the election scheduled to hold this Sunday, 25 February till December this year. The Constitutional Court in the country has ruled that proposition also illegal. While Sall promised to abide by the court ruling, uncertainties remain about when the election will hold. That ECOWAS is silent about Senegal shows the hypocrisy of the leaders within the subregion. Meanwhile, Sall himself has shown that despite mouthing platitudes, his belief in democracy is driven only by self-interest. And I say this based on a personal encounter I had with him six years ago. Although I did not reveal who secured for me the encounter at the time, I can do so now and the circumstance in which it happened.

In writing my book, ‘Against the Run of Play: How an Incumbent President was Defeated in Nigeria’, I spoke to many of the principal actors, including President Goodluck Jonathan and current President Tinubu. Because he was abroad on self-exile at the time, it was difficult to get the former Bauchi State Governor, Adamu Muazu. Yet, I needed him to clarify certain issues to complete the book, considering he was PDP National Chairman during the 2015 general election. Eventually, we agreed to meet in Dakar, the Senegalese capital where I arrived on the day preceding a special ECOWAS meeting in Abuja on the Gambian presidential election lost by Yahyah Jammeh who decided not to leave office. As it would happen, Muazu had a dinner appointment with President Sall, and I tagged along. Below are excerpts from my December 2017 recollection, ‘Buhari, Sall and Jammeh’s Defiance’ to illustrate the tragedy of Senegal today. 

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…While I do not know much about Sall’s stewardship, it was nonetheless a refreshing time with him until we departed the presidential palace at exactly 1.20am (Nigerian time) which was 12.20am local time in Dakar. He said he would be departing for Abuja by 6.30am for the ECOWAS meeting on the crisis in The Gambia. By then, I had learnt a lot about the mutiny in Cote D’Ivoire where soldiers went on strike last week as well as the attempts by the ECOWAS leaders, including President (Muhammadu) Buhari, to resolve the political crisis in The Gambia.

 Fortunately for me, when Sall was receiving us on arrival, I had been introduced to him as a former presidential spokesman in Nigeria, so he had no reason to be on his guard, as most people usually are when with reporters. That gave me ample opportunity to ask probing questions during dinner without raising any suspicion about my interest. I started by reminding Sall of what he already knows: that whereas the problem in The Gambia may be a challenge for ECOWAS, it is one that his country (Senegal) would have to deal with. He agreed with my summation before also expressing optimism that it would be resolved before January 19 (2018). He was confident that Yahya Jammeh will go because the consequences of doing otherwise would be too much for the Gambian dictator. Already, some of Jammeh’s ministers have started voting with their feet.

 However, Sall is also mindful of old prejudices between the two countries that for a period in history were one (Senegambia), especially when I asked him whether he was ready to offer asylum to Jammeh; having already told me of such a plan and some of the countries that could play host without mentioning Senegal. “I can have him here in Senegal, but I don’t think he will come,” Sall said as he explained the complications of the negotiations to oust Jammeh. “I think he fears what might happen to him when he leaves office, especially with the International Criminal Court that could look into some things that happened under his watch.”

To say that it will not be easy is an understatement given that Jammeh is digging in, and he is not without his own supporters. For instance, The Gambian Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations (UN), Mr. Samsudeen Sarr, recently took to the social media to reiterate his “unflinching support for His Excellency Shiekh Professor Doctor Alhagie Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh Babillimansa” while attacking Senegal that “has always overtly or covertly expressed its compulsion to annex our Anglophone nation into its 8th region.”

 According to Sall, raising the stakes by Jammeh may prove to be no use for him at the end, given that Charles Taylor of Liberia also negotiated his way out of power before he was apprehended three years later under circumstances that were not particularly edifying for Nigeria. The best way out for Jammeh, the Senegalese president argued, was the first option he took to concede the election before reneging. But Sall believes that he and other African leaders have a responsibility to ensure Jammeh’s exit without damage to his country and Senegal will play a decisive role in that direction…

ENDNOTE: President Sall indeed played a very critical role in ECOWAS efforts to force Yahya Jammeh out of Banjul in defence of democracy in the subregion and peace in The Gambia. It is therefore a shame that he would now seek to plunge his own country into avoidable crisis on the altar of inordinate ambition. But the greater challenge is for ECOWAS that must be worried about the state of democracy, anchored on the rule of law, and expressed will of the people within the sub-region.

 

• You can follow me on my X (formerly Twitter) handle, @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com   

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