Before the inauguration of the 10th national assembly and the subsequent emergence of Godswill Akpabio as the president of the senate, a cross-section of the political class was fiercely opposed to his aspiration. Their grouse was how his party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, endorsed him.
Some welcomed the zoning of the position to the South-South region but faulted the extra step of micro-zoning it to an individual.
Another set was solely upset that the then president-elect, Bola Tinubu, influenced the choice of Akpabio. To them, that would amount to an outright hijack of the legislature by the presidency which is antithetical to the principle of separation of powers. Then while others canvassed that the contest should be thrown open for everyone interested, the rest specifically clamored for their various zones as against Akpabio’s South-South. But common to all those categories was the claim of insufficient consultation before settling on Akpabio.
And quite indeed, the agitations caught fire across the country, especially through some sorts of elitist orchestrations. The heat did not only threaten the unity and stability of the party, but it also posed an early distraction for Tinubu’s presidency, as he variously intervened.
But objectively speaking, all those shades of opinion were not misplaced. They were all valid arguments for whatever democracy entails. Even Senator Akpabio who was in the eye of the storm recognized the rights of those aggrieved compatriots. He empathized with them. Openly, he acknowledged the grave implications of the “angst that this zoning arrangement may have caused some aspirants”. Thus he stressed that “for this reason, we are embarking on an extensive reconciliatory move, as well as an enlightenment campaign to brief relevant stakeholders on details of our prospective legislative agenda. We are confident that in the end, we will reconcile all in the overriding interests of our dear nation. We will ensure that the members of the 10th Assembly put aside their differences and focus on activities that are for the common good of the Nigerian people”.
And so vigorously, he reached out to those dissenting voices reminding them that a divided house is a defeated house.
It was this display of political sagacity and a good understanding of the place of reconciliation in democratic governance that set the tone for the eventual outcome and has now offered the prism through which the contest is holistically reviewed, for the records. In other words, Akpabio’s emergence was not just about the party’s endorsement. Certainly, it was not!
To begin with, and ironically, all those diverse agitations were largely not about the public interest, otherwise, why were there no questions, not even one, raised about Akpabio’s eligibility and competence? Nobody countered his agenda with superior ones. None faulted his conduct during the contest. The obsessions merely were with the party’s mode of choosing him and not with national developmental issues.
So, to the discerning mind, what does this startling paradox signify?
It represents an affirmation that Godswill Akpabio is eminently qualified to hold the office of the president of the senate or that as a mortal he may have his shortcomings as no one is perfect, but his pedigree is not in doubt. Among others, Akpabio is a lawyer of repute and a ranking senator. He parades robust political leadership credentials and has no record whatsoever of having been declared unfit to hold public office. Also, he has paid his dues both in the private and public sectors, he is a good party man and comes from a geo-political zone that was yet to produce a president of the senate since 1979.
Then again, Senator Akpabio is a man of exceptional eloquence and charisma who is always ready to tell his own stories with confidence. As such and in his words, modestly: “….I possess the required ranking status and deep legislative experience. These qualities are of competence, vision, patriotism, a deep love for our country, and a thorough understanding of the relationship between the executive and legislature. I believe that my uncommon public sector experience and track records spanning over 24 years where I served at the State Executive Council as Hon. Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy affairs, Governor of a State, Senate Minority Leader, and in the Federal Executive Council as a Hon. Minister, provides me with the unique experience required to drive the legislative agenda of the 10th National Assembly”.
Deliberately, he down-played a part. He was certified worthy and fit to fly the presidential flag of his party before he patriotically withdrew from the race at the venue of the primaries.
Empirically, therefore, it was not an error for anyone to have embraced and supported Akpabio in the first place. His amiable and dynamic personality, democratic leadership attributes, evidence-based performance records, and proven political astuteness were highly irresistible. Put together, they signposted his suitability for the office. And expectedly, no one expressed contrary views to this abridged citation, amidst the criticisms, thus alluding that indeed, Akpabio’s emergence was not all about his party’s endorsement.
Interestingly again, Akpabio’s concise blueprint was quite strategic. It attested to his overall sense of preparedness for the tasks ahead, a profound grasp of the demands of the office as well as a clear understanding that legislature is about good governance and good governance alone.
He had envisioned a 10th senate that would “provide quality, stable and inclusive leadership at the National Assembly with a view to providing robust legislative intervention and making relevant laws for good governance” and also “galvanise a united and virile support base that will provide credible government policies for the advancement of good governance”.
And in response to the dire socio-economic situation in the country, Akpabio’s legislative agenda focussed majorly on revamping the domestic economy. According to him, “we shall ensure that pro-business legislations to create a more conducive environment for businesses to thrive must be designed and implemented; and we must provide legislation that enables support for small and medium-sized enterprises, and helps to reduce the barriers to entry for small businesses. These categories of legislation as well as others that promote the growth of the economy, and help create a more prosperous and vibrant nation must be our priority”.
Similarly, his 10th Senate would seek to “develop and promote innovative bills that will enhance revenue generation while exercising effective oversight function on government expenditure”.
Evidently, please, has Senator Akpabio not subtly warned that anything that is not good governance-oriented would have no place in the business of this senate?
Furthermore, Akpabio’s vast experience in public leadership substantially shaped his agenda. His commitment to upholding some legislative gains and progressive features of the preceding assemblies underscores his conviction that governance is about the people and that government is a continuum. For instance, he resolved to “sustain the January to December budget circle” which he noted that “the ninth Assembly had worked so hard to achieve”. Also, while the 9th Senate was christened the “senate that works for Nigerians”, Akpabio is ambitious to lead a 10th senate that “serves as a true voice of the people”.
Again, while the 8th and 9th senates made efforts at entrenching transparency in the affairs of the institution, resulting in the eventual disclosure of the national assembly budget details, Akpabio hinted that his leadership would be “also deeply committed to promoting transparency and accountability: values that we believe must be at the heart of everything that is done in the Senate”. Then to advance the bipartisan feature of the 9th Senate, he would “establish Bipartisan Parliamentary Network on issues of national interest supported by our party’s/members’ vision”.
Now again, are these not pointers that it takes a transformational leader to celebrate and propagate the transformational deeds of another leader? This is yet another area that Godswill Akpabio distinguished himself.
Notably also, Akpabio’s passion for a peaceful and stable polity coupled with knowledge of the governance deficits created by the 1999 constitution, perhaps explains his determination to also consolidate the collaboration between the legislature and the other arms of government, for national development. For emphasis, the Nigerian president is the most powerful in the world by the 1999 constitution. You can only challenge his powers and influence in principle but not in practice!
Nevertheless, Akpabio was overtly precise in purposing a national assembly that would work harmoniously with Bola Tinubu’s presidency, without compromising the relative independence of the parliament. Hear him: “We want him (Tinubu) to replicate what has happened in Lagos in the last 24 years of democracy to cover the rest of the country. Particularly, we are challenged by the economy. We want to see serious improvement in the IGR of the nation to enable us to repay our loan facilities. We want to see more foreign direct investment in the country. We will support him through favorable legislation to ensure Nigeria remains investment-friendly and a business destination in Africa”.
Akpabio campaigned with this mindset. He was explicit and did not pretend about it. Please, how else does one describe courage? Meanwhile, his agenda equally emphasized, “innovative bills that will enhance revenue generation while exercising effective oversight function on government expenditure”. And again, asserting the relative authorities of the legislature, he declared that “regular and extensive oversight of government spending to ensure that public funds are being used effectively and efficiently must be conducted”.
Then quite instructively, Akpabio worked his way to victory. As highlighted earlier, he did not go to sleep having secured the corporate endorsement of his party and other stakeholders across party lines. He did not allow the ‘anointing’ to get into his head. He took no one for granted and left nothing to chance. He relentlessly went about the contest as though all those mounted oppositions to his preference by the party would eventually play out.
He ran a robust campaign built on a broad-based support network. He aggressively marketed himself and his agenda. Resiliently and consistently, he demonstrated that every single senator-elect was as important as the other, irrespective of the political party. He variously visited the leaderships of other parties for support. And once again, his shrewdness in reaching out to the aggrieved colleagues was a masterstroke.
Equally pivotal was Akpabio’s pragmatism in seeking to foster a sense of camaraderie among his colleagues which would create a consciousness for national unity and inclusiveness in governance and also opportunities for peer review towards integrated national development.
This found expression in his other action plans, some of which are to: “support members in bill and motion drafting, presentation of legislative arguments, legislative briefs and a general understanding of parliamentary practices and procedures; support our members to develop legislative agenda, constituency work-plan, and integrated representation model; institute Annual Parliamentary Stability Group Summit (APSGS) to strategize, review and develop action guidelines for greater virile and stable national assembly; and pursue and lobby (where necessary) for the rights and privileges of our members.”
Again, a question: who would not garner massive votes with these appealing propositions?
So by inference, the fore-going factors cumulatively translated to the ballots whose figures indicated that partisan, religious, and regional barriers were demolished. Remarkably also, nobody was prevented from contesting. Yes, the senators-elect conventionally, freely, and popularly conferred legitimacy on Akpabio, thus confirming that their choice was predicated on his nationalistic disposition, wide acceptability, and compelling agenda. It was not necessarily about the party’s endorsement. Put differently, the process was unquestionably transparent.
Therefore given Akpabio’s outstanding personality and his inspiring blueprint, this senate nay the 10th national assembly, will impact meaningfully the lives of the people, and then of course, Nigeria is the ultimate beneficiary. But this happens only when everyone through their elected representatives gets involved by offering timely and useful information in addition to asking relevant questions. For it is only by trust and cooperation that we can take full ownership of this senate and uncommonly transform it as our “true voice”.
Egbo is a reputation management expert