Akpabio has no motivation to be different


Many an unflattering adjective has been deployed to describe the vulgarisms of Senate President Godswill Akpabio. None of it matters.

If you thought his predecessor, Ahmad Lawan, was too servile in his dealings with the executive, Akpabio leaves you with no doubt that he would be a lickspittle. In the video his aides made of him attending the plenary session last month, Akpabio’s cap carried an inscription of the Bola Tinubu campaign insignia. For a man who would lead the legislature—a branch of government that presumably servse the democratic function of checking and balancing the excesses of the powerful executive—to show up on his first day at work declaring his fealty to the president, you know he is not ready to even feign autonomy. The only “checks and balances” that will exist is what he can cash to serve his narrow interests.

Take the other instance of him trivialising the ongoing hardship in the country by turning the cry of “Let the poor breathe!” into a joke. His latest thoughtless act before the public glare was him informing his colleagues, amidst all the massive suffering regular Nigerians are being enjoined to patriotically weather, that an undisclosed sum had been sent to their respective bank accounts for them to enjoy their parliamentary recess. When he realised that he had inadvertently exposed their crookedness, he took back his comment with a tactless joke.

While several critics have rightfully pointed out his indecorousness, I am inclined to think that Akpabio’s lack of self-awareness is, in fact, strategic. What if there is a method to this madness? And what if you are not even the target audience of his crassness? When you think about it, Akpabio is too tainted—in every wise—to hold the exalted position he occupies.

Before he became Senate President, people raised genuine concerns that a man with so many corruption allegations hanging around his neck would be so elevated. Yes, corruption allegations are standard for politicians, but the consistency with which they have dogged Akpabio’s career is perversely outstanding. Despite having held one public position in one capacity or the other, he has no distinguished record of achievement that marks him out as a perspicacious leader. Instead, what has trailed every single office he has held are allegations bordering on his cupidity. It is almost impossible to keep up with the lists of mind-boggling financial infractions levelled against him by various agencies and petitioners.  If he could become the number three man in the land despite such weighty moral baggage, what motivation does he have to be different?

In 2015, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission summoned him to explain financial mismanagement amounting to N108bn during his tenure as governor of Akwa Ibom State. Out of that sum, he allegedly withdrew N18bn from the state’s coffers for spurious purposes. He was also accused of using fronts to acquire real estate in prime locations in Lagos and the Federal Capital Territory. Shortly after his case came up with the EFCC, Akpabio began his moves to defect to the All Progressives Congress, the ruling party. He finalised his defection in 2018 and officially became an APC member under—mother of all ironies! —the watch of so-called anti-corruption President Muhammadu Buhari who made him Minister of Niger Delta Affairs. The years he spent in that office were more memorable for the attendant corruption allegations than any notable achievement. In 2020, while still a minister, lawmakers investigated allegations of N40bn fraud perpetrated in the Niger Delta Development Commission, an agency under Akpabio’s watch. In 2021, he was accused of trying to bribe the EFCC chairperson Abdulrasheed Bawa with $350,000. Even if you want to give him the benefit of the doubt, you must still wonder why one man leaves a trail of scandals everywhere he goes.

He has not been in office as Senate President for up to 100 days, but SERAP, a social advocacy group, has already filed a lawsuit against him and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abbas, over “the unlawful plan to spend N40bn on 465 exotic and bulletproof cars for members and principal officials, and N70bn as ‘palliatives’ for new members.” At a time the government asking Nigerians to endure more pains for a vague promise of greater glory that lies ahead, Akpabio and his fellow travelers have no qualms treating themselves to lushness at collective expense.

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Until four months ago, the EFCC still asked Akpabio to report at their Abuja headquarters over some outstanding issues. Of course, he did not show up. His lawyer claimed he had a scheduled medical appointment overseas. In a crazy turn of fate that could only happen in a bewildering country like Nigeria, Akpabio is not only the Senate President, but the Bawa summoned him for questioning is in jail (and will be there for an indeterminable while). In Nigeria, up is always down and down can go in any direction.

For a man like that to have come this far, he must be much more than the fool his critics take him to be. His indiscretions might be off-putting, but they go a long way to reassure those who put him in that office of his pliancy. The day the powers that elevated him detect as much as a whiff of seriousness, a slight shred of resolve, or the emergence of a character that can be (mis-)interpreted as the stirrings of integrity, his case file in the EFCC’s office will miraculously surface. He will be promptly sent to the meat grinder. When a man must survive, he will wear the motley in his brain.

The greatest loser, overall, is Nigeria. It is hard to properly aggregate the extent to the ascent of morally contaminated characters erode confidence in every institution including—or especially—the family. Certain figures in the present administration—from the president whose moral baggage is heavier than what John Bunyan’s Christian hauled around, to the party chair caught on video pocketing dollars, to the various ministerial nominees whose case files are still pending with the EFCC (and other anti-corruption) agencies—entirely undermine the traditional values that our parents and elders taught us. They taught us never to steal because doing so would bring shame to the family name. I am no longer sure any parent in the country still says that with any conviction. Stealing only brings shame if you steal insignificantly. Steal enough, and it will become the basis for which society promotes you to the highest offices. What we call “traditional values” and morals are totally dead in our society.

Akpabio is never going to be different; the truth is that he need not be. He did not become the number three man in the Federal Republic of Gbéwiri by being a rational and moderate human being, so why start now? Who in their right mind changes a method that works? When you compare the lack of self-moderation that makes him make tasteless jokes during the parliamentary sessions to the number of zeroes behind the sums he allegedly stole, you see a pattern of his excessiveness. As Senate President, he will continue to overdo things if it distracts you from noticing that the legislature under him will not achieve anything meaningful but will still be bogged down by scandals.

By already going overboard with his poor composure and projected spendings amidst grueling hardship, you at least know better than to expect any moderation from him. If he disappoints your expectations, you have yourself to blame. You knew how he clowns so why expect anything different?

Go ahead and use up all the harsh adjectives on him, but none of that will ultimately matter. His methods are working for him. He has no reason to be better.


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