By Anietie Ekong
Even among his political opponents there is a general consensus that Senator Godswill Akpabio has the competence and capacity to preside over the 10th Senate. His towering political profile as a two term Governor of Akwa Ibom State, the Minority Leader of the 8thSenate and a former Minister of the Federal Republic stand him tall as a top contender for the Senate leadership position. By all accounts Senator Akpabio stands shoulder higher than his co-contestants if past achievements in public offices held is anything to go by.
It was the immediate past Governor of Ebonyi State, Engr Dave Umahi who first dropped the hint that Senator Akpabio is the preferred choice for the position of Senate President. According to him he had gone to consult Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu that he was interested in becoming the Senate President, but the then President-elect candidly informed him that he had settled for Senator Akpabio and that he should rather go and team up with the former Senate Minority Leader. Today Engr Umahi is the Chairman of the Stability Group, a group of Senators-elect rooting for Senator Akpabio and Jibrin Barau as Senate President and Deputy, respectively.
Then entered the immediate past Governor of Kano State, Dr Abdullahi Umar Ganduje. “The Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria will come from the South-South and it is no other person than the former Governor of Akwa Ibom State. The uncommon Governor, the Uncommon Minister is going to be the Uncommon President of the Senate. So we have resolved that. I am giving you assurance, we are waiting for the D-Day that he will be the Senate President of Nigeria,” the former Kano State Governor is quoted to have said at an event in Calabar.
If there was any doubts in the minds of the people, it was settled when the National Working Committee of the All Progressives Congress (APC) announced that the party had adopted Senator Senator Akpabio as the consensus candidate for the position of Senate President and Senator Barau as his Deputy. For most political watchers, the adoption of Senator Akpabio was just, fair and equitable for the people of the South-South who had never produced the President of the Senate since 1999 whereas the South-East region had produced five in quick succession between 1999 and 2007.
The endorsements of Senator Akpabio would hardly surprise anyone who had followed his political trajectory in the APC. Ever since he moved to the party in 2018, he has built the party into a formidable front in his native Akwa Ibom State, which before now and since 1999 the Peoples Democratic Party and its members have often claimed is a religion in the State. But not anymore as Senator Akpabio along with other stalwarts have built the APC to challenge the dominance of the PDP in the State with the result that the party in the last general election produced a Senator and some House of Representatives members.
On joining the APC in 2018, Senator Akpabio sacrificed his position as the Senate Minority Leader. In the parliament, he provided robust support for his party’s policies in the parliament till the end of the legislative session in 2019. During the last general elections in Akwa Ibom State, Senator Akpabio sponsored the APC from the ward to the state levels. After he subsumed his presidential ambition to pitch his tent with Asiwaju Tinubu, the former Governor of Akwa Ibom State traversed the country with Asiwaju Tinubu and campaigned so vigorously for the presidential candidate of his party that most people in Akwa Ibom feared he was neglecting his own Senate ambition.
Senator Akpabio took the gospel of Asiwaju to every political ward not just in his Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District, but Akwa Ibom State as a whole. The massive turn out of party supporters which filled the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium with overflow on the day of the flag-off of presidential campaigns in Akwa Ibom State, bore him out in his efforts at mobilizing the State for the APC. Through him, the party has made great inroads into the South-South region as shown in the last election. It is noteworthy that in the last general elections, Senator Akpabio campaigned for himself as much as he did for the presidential candidate of his party and indeed all the candidates of the party which made it possible for the presidential candidate of his party to garner over the 25% required by the constitution.
His adoptions and endorsements then should not surprise anyone. But even beyond the endorsements, Senator Akpabio along with the Stability Group led by Senator Ali Ndume as the Director-General and Engr Dave Umahi as Chairman have worked so hard in actualizing the group’s ambition of delivering both Senator Akpabio and Senator Barau as Senate President and Deputy respectively. They have consulted their colleagues, Governors, Traditional Rulers and other critical stakeholders across the country.
His fellow Senators-elect see in Senator Akpabio a sagacious, visionary and detribalized leader who over the years has etched his name in the minds of the people as a great performer who has delivered creditably in every public service position he has found himself. As Governor of Akwa Ibom State for eight years (2007 – 2015) Chief Godswill Akpabio unleashed a development model never experienced in Nigeria which the people aptly termed “Uncommon Transformation.” The state within the period witnessed unprecedented infrastructural renaissance that a once largely pedestrian and civil service State, became a destination of choice among Nigerians.
As with everything Akpabio, his tenure at the Nigerian Senate also witnessed an unprecedented development as the Red Chambers suspended their rules to make a first term Senator the Minority Leader. Apart from several motions and bills which he sponsored, his constituency projects ranging from construction of roads, community centres, building of healthcare centres, open market stalls, solar powered water and light projects, building of several classroom blocks were paradigm for rural transformation.
His Constituency briefing and empowerment programmes with scholarship to deserving students have remained unmatched till date. Many graduates owe their education not only to the free and compulsory education his administration declared in Akwa Ibom State but also his scholarship scheme which provided financial succour to thousands of students across Akwa Ibom State and beyond.
It was because of the footprints that Senator Akpabio had left on the sands of Akwa Ibom State as Governor and as a Senator that there was a general agreement that his appointment as Minister was widely received as well deserved and the people commended President Buhari for his choice to man the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. And Senator Akpabio did not disappoint.
As Minister he projected the bigger picture and dared where Angels feared to tread. Within one year, in an unprecedented manner, President Muhammadu Buhari had commissioned three life-changing projects in the Niger Delta region under the supervision of Senator Akpabio. First was the NDDC headquarters complex which had been abandoned for 25 years. Presently the Commission operates from its own headquarters building. The President also commissioned the Police Barracks, Special Protection Unit, Base 6 at Omagwa in Ikwere Local Government Area of Rivers State. The project had been abandoned for 10 years. Next was the commissioning of the abandoned 1050 bed hostel project at the University of Uyo to alleviate the plight of students of the institution among countless other projects. These were complimented by the provision of over 100 shelter to widows by Mrs Ekaette Unoma Akpabio through her NGO, the Family Life Enhancement Initiative.
Without sounding immodest, there is no other Senator whether ranking or greenhorn that has impacted their communities and people than Senator Akpabio. Those who have held similar position like him should also put forward their scorecard when they were in office. His sterling leadership qualities and nationalist disposition must have informed the decision of the national leadership of the APC to specifically fish him out for the Senate presidency.
Senator Akpabio comes well prepared for the job. At various fora he has expounded his ideas of what should be the priority of the 10th Senate with him as the presiding officer. He has already identified the stability of the country as an important agenda of the new administration. “We intend to bring stability, as well as to make you proud by putting an end to poverty, insecurity and unemployment through legislations of supervision and strict oversight,” he said.
Under his leadership it will not be business as usual. “I intend to bring a lot of reforms into the Senate, in the ways and manners we do business, to assist the administration to succeed. We will be very thorough in doing everything; we’ll bring about loyalty to the Constitution, we’ll bring about loyalty to Nigerians. We will tackle issues through legislations to empower Nigerians and particularly the youth. The restiveness that we are seeing across the nation, we’ll do our best to make good laws and to assist the administration to bring about policies that will empower the youths of the country.
Ekong, a media aide to Senator Akpabio writes from Abuja.