AKPABIO: How Not To Be A Senate President

AKPABIO: How Not To Be A Senate President

By Emmanuel Onwubiko

Opinion: In 2019, Mr Omagbitse Barrow wrote that many Nigerians have never really thought seriously about the competencies required to be an effective legislator and using these competencies as the basis for selecting legislators and evaluating their performance.

He then said that in case you have not reflected on this before, here are five core competencies that every effective legislator should possess that are acceptable the world over and align with the three core responsibilities of Representation, Oversight and Legislation:

He listed them but I will borrow three which are  character; communication and courage. On Character, he argued that legislators as the promoters and defenders of the Constitution and the laws of Nigeria must seek to be beyond reproach. They must have very high standards of personal integrity and conduct themselves in a disciplined and ethical manner at all times. On the quality and attribute of strategic Communication, he stated that effective legislators must be good at listening and feeling the pulse of the people, receiving feedback from their constituents, analyzing and synthesizing the information they receive, negotiating, giving feedback to others, articulating their thoughts in writing, and communicating verbally with others. On the third leg which is Courage, his view is that for a citizens to be effective as legislators , they need to have the courage to speak truth to power regardless of whose ox is gored. They must have a clear vision about what they want to achieve, the principles and values they stand for and have the courage to maintain the course, fight the good fight, and leave out the purpose of their lives as legislators.

On the other hand, a foreign scholar Ed Petrick, writing about a certain Western democracy did a piece on October 18th, 2022 and asked: What are the qualities that make a good elected official or legislator?

He asked too, that a good law maker  does not have any of the three “curses” that afflict politics, capitalism, and families: viz -Ego; Self-Enrichment; Abuse of Power.

We are now to reflect on the kind of national legislature that Nigeria now has, which is the lowest we have ever had since Nigeria gained independence in 1960. The National Assembly of 2023 is such that the executive head of government, hijacked the apparatus of election, and railroaded his boys into key offices and now, Nigeria’s legislature is led by stooges of President Bola Tinubu who can’t speak truth to power and who do not have those great attributes aforementioned.

This is so, because, Mr. Godswill Akpabio’s ongoing tenure as Senate President has been marred by a litany of controversies, accusations, and a concerning lack of autonomy within the Nigerian National Assembly.

Because of his history as a two-term governor of Akwa Ibom State, a former minority leader of the Senate, and a minister for four years under President Muhammadu Buhari, Akpabio was expected to have the necessary experience to lead the Senate. However, he soon learned that he needed more to be the first among equals.

The argument over the proposed 40 percent increase in the price of power was his first significant duty. After a lengthy discussion on the subject, the newly elected senators unanimously decided that the federal agencies in charge of the policy should be stopped immediately.

The admirable choice, nonetheless, led to criticism against Akpabio and the 10th Senate after a video clip showing how the decision was made on an extra prayer asking that the nation’s energy regulating authority grant impoverished Nigerians access to air went viral.

Because the senators were laughing before and after the supplementary prayer was taken and accepted, many Nigerians who saw the viral video accused the Akpabio-led red chamber of being callous to the suffering of the people.

Again, Akpabio’s leadership has faced allegations of manipulating the screening process for ministerial nominees. These claims suggest a disregard for due process and transparency in vetting candidates for key government positions. Such manipulation can undermine the integrity of the National Assembly and hinder its role as a check and balance on the executive branch.                      

The Senate had claimed it delayed the commencement of its annual vacation by about 10 days to enable it to screen the ministerial nominees sent for confirmation by President Tinubu. However, Akpabio’s parting words to his colleagues after the screening exercise when he informed them that the National Assembly Management had paid a token to their accounts for their enjoyment during their annual vacation, earning him attacks from within and outside the chambers.

The development came at a time when federal legislators were battling hard to explain their express approval of the $800 million World Bank Loan and the N500 billion Supplementary Budget for President Tinubu, which included a N7 billion package for the National Assembly to make a working environment conducive for the lawmakers.

More troubling is the timing of this revelation, which was deeply concerning, especially in the wake of the controversial ministerial screening process. Some Civil Society Organizations, such as the foremost rights advocacy group, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) expressed concerns over the alleged admission by the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, of the disbursement of funds running into billions of naira to senators for holiday purposes.

HURIWA made a strong call that if Senator Akpabio doesn’t want the people of Nigeria to think aloud about the cash largesse he announced for Senators, then let him surrender to the ICPC immediately for investigation. Failure to do so should be taken as an affront to constitutionalism and therefore should be impeached or recalled by his constituents.

The Rights group described the Senate under the leadership of Godwin Akpabio as sleepy, rudderless, cash-conscious, unpatriotic, and anti-poor just as it warned Nigerians to be ready for a long-drawn battle to safeguard democracy because as it is, the legislature and the Judiciary are now both captives and political hostages of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

HURIWA’s statement further criticized the opacity of the screening procedure, likening it to an exclusive secret society enlistment program, despite being televised. The association questioned the transparency of the entire process and raised concerns about undue influence from the executive arm of the government.

Perhaps one of the most unsettling accusations of Akpabio’s leadership of the National Assembly is the alleged “romance” with the Executive arm. Such allegations raise concerns about the undue influence of external figures on the National Assembly’s leadership, potentially compromising its autonomy and integrity.

While some view these allegations as mere political rhetoric, others argue that they represent a deeper problem within the Nigerian political landscape. Accusations of a “romance” with the executive arm are significant for several reasons.

First, they raise concerns about the true independence of the National Assembly. If the leader of the Senate is perceived to be closely aligned with the President, it can cast doubt on the legislature’s ability to act as a check and balance on the executive branch.

Furthermore, such allegations can erode public trust in the democratic process. If citizens believe that Senate leadership is determined by backroom deals rather than democratic principles, it can lead to disillusionment and disengagement from the political system.

Another critical issue has been the creation of instability within the Senate through the appointment of committee leaders. By allegedly marginalizing some ranking senators in the chairmanship and vice chairmanship of influential committees, Akpabio has sowed seeds of discord among his peers. This discord can lead to inefficiency and hinder the legislative process.

The creation of instability within the Senate is significant due to its potential impact on legislative effectiveness. A cohesive and united Senate is more likely to make informed decisions and pass meaningful legislation. Discord and infighting can hinder the ability of the National Assembly to address critical issues and fulfill its legislative responsibilities.

Furthermore, allegations of favoritism in committee assignments can undermine the principles of merit and competence, which should guide such decisions. If committee leadership positions are not based on qualifications and experience, it can compromise the quality of legislative work.

Beyond these specific allegations, in recent times Senator Ali Ndume, who is also the Chief Whip of the Senate has raised concerns about Akpabio’s leadership style, accusing him of insensitivity, unreliability, and a penchant for joking inappropriately that have left some questioning his suitability for the position of Senate President. These claims suggest that leadership qualities are essential to ensuring the smooth functioning of the National Assembly.

Specifically, on Monday, in the lead-up to an impending Senators’ retooling retreat, the Nigerian Senate was embroiled in a fresh controversy triggered by a parliamentary blunder made by Senate President Godswill Akpabio.

This alleged blunder has culminated in a dramatic showdown within the Senate, unveiling an escalating conflict between Akpabio and Senate Chief Whip Ali Ndume. This internal strife has evolved just four months after the inauguration of the 10th National Assembly, where Ndume played a pivotal role in Akpabio’s rise to Senate President.

The roots of this animosity can be traced back to an incident two months prior, when Ndume publicly declared that some Senators were contemplating drastic action against Akpabio. This was in response to Akpabio’s inadvertent revelation that Senators had received a ‘holiday allowance’ in their bank accounts, sparking public outrage due to the economic challenges faced by many Nigerians. Senator Ndume defended the allowance as a standard practice for Senators and criticized Akpabio for misrepresenting the situation.

The recent feud erupted during a Senate session, approximately 10 minutes after it commenced, when Ndume raised a point of order. He sought to address an error in a motion presented by Senator Summaila Kawu, which omitted the motion’s title. Citing Senate Order 51, Ndume emphasized the importance of rectifying any errors observed during proceedings. He stated that adherence to rules and procedures was vital, declaring that “nobody is too big to learn.”

Akpabio, however, staunchly rejected Ndume’s request, insisting that once issues were ruled upon, they could not be revisited. Senator Sunday Karimi attempted to support Ndume’s argument with another point of order, but both Senators were swiftly ruled out of order by Akpabio. The tension culminated in Deputy Senate President Jibrin Barau invoking Order 16 to enforce the rule, necessitating a substantive motion for the correction or review of previous decisions, a ruling promptly upheld by Akpabio.

Ndume, undeterred, invoked another point of order, Order 54, to demand correction of the perceived error. However, Akpabio again ruled him out of order. This impasse led to an infuriated Ndume storming out of the chamber. Senators convened a closed-door session amidst the uproar, and Ndume later returned after receiving a call indicating that the Senate had moved into a closed session.

Another snag that has hit Akpabio’s controversial leadership has been the conspicuous consumption by members of the National Assembly. The purchase of lavish cars, often financed by taxpayers, has garnered criticism from the public.

In response to this, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has taken legal action against alleged involvement of the Senate President Godswill Akpabio and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abbas in plans to spend N40 billion on 465 luxury and bulletproof cars for members and officials, as well as an additional N70 billion as palliatives for new members. SERAP is seeking a court order to compel Akpabio and Abbas to revise the Supplementary Appropriation Act 2022 to reduce the National Assembly’s budget by N110 billion in line with the current economic situation.

SERAP argues that public officials, including lawmakers, owe a fiduciary duty to the citizenry, and the proposed expenditure is excessive, particularly in light of the already allocated N281 billion in the 2023 National Assembly budget and the N30.17 billion for “inauguration expenses” for new members.

Yet, another bone of contention is the controversial practice of former governors, now serving as senators, receiving double salaries. With the exception of the former Ogun State governor, Gbenga Daniels, it has been reported that these ex-governors collect salaries from both the National Assembly and their respective state governments. This raises ethical and financial concerns, suggesting a misuse of public resources.

To address these issues and salvage the reputation of the National Assembly, a set of comprehensive reforms is imperative. The process of choosing Senate leadership should be transparent and democratic, free from external influences. Competitive elections will ensure that leaders truly represent the will of the members.

Lawmakers should exercise fiscal prudence and prioritize public funds for the betterment of their constituents. Extravagant purchases, particularly when funded by public money, should be replaced with judicious budgetary decisions.

The contentious practice of awarding double salaries to ex-governors now serving as senators must be abolished. Uniform compensation should be provided to all senators in accordance with established legal frameworks.

The National Assembly must bolster its oversight functions to ensure that public funds are judiciously employed for the people’s welfare. Robust accountability mechanisms are pivotal to prevent financial mismanagement.

Lawmakers should engage actively with their constituents, gaining insights into their needs and concerns. Public input should become an integral part of legislative decisions to truly reflect the interests of the Nigerian people. Internal disputes and conflicts within the Senate leadership must be amicably resolved, promoting a harmonious front to serve the Nigerian populace more effectively.

Godswill Akpabio’s ongoing controversial tenure as Senate President has seen a plethora of accusations, discord, and allegations of misconduct. Addressing these multifaceted issues is imperative to restore the National Assembly’s reputation and ensure its role as a transparent, accountable, and independent legislative body. Reforms in leadership selection, adherence to due process, merit-based committee appointments, and the demonstration of essential leadership qualities are essential for a more efficient and functional National Assembly that can better serve the Nigerian people.

In conclusion, the allegations and controversies surrounding Godswill Akpabio’s leadership have cast a shadow over the National Assembly’s integrity and effectiveness. Addressing these issues through comprehensive reforms is vital to restore public trust, promote transparency, and ensure that the legislative body fulfills its role as a check and balance on the executive branch.

Will a man who came into office through the backdoor bring about these legislative reforms? This is same as expecting a Camel to pass through the eye of a needle.  Nigeria’s democracy is therefore imperilled since we have a crippled national and state legislative bodies that have no moral rights to provide effective oversight functions on how the other branches and arms of government perform their Constitutional roles.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *