In Defence of Akpabio

01 Apr 2013

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Emma Okah argues that if the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party desires a way out of its many crises, then the PDP Governors’ Forum is the way to go

Everywhere the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) attempts to hold a reconciliation meeting, as a trend, the outcome would either be a walk-out or total shunning of such a meeting by some of its governors. What makes it stink is that every political party in Nigeria at the moment relies on its governors to win the next election.

It was the foothold the PDP secured in 1998 in the local council elections that gave it the leeway to win the 1999 general election and it is the number of states that it controlled that has given it the electoral advantage over the opposition  ever since. This is why experts said only the PDP could defeat the PDP, and that seems to be on course at the moment, going by what its governors are doing except the PDP Governors’ Forum is strengthened and supported ahead of the 2015 polls.

Truth is, President Goodluck Jonathan is the most distracted and threatened president in Nigerian history and this could be because for the first time, a president is coming from a southern minority in a country that runs on a tribal support base.

Another negative is that Nigerians seem to have turned politicking to a profession, thereby making it a full-time job. This means that there is no dull moment whether during elections or not. Politicians, therefore, heat up the polity on a daily basis and every action taken in government is seen to be for the next election.

Those who support it think they are doing the governor/president a favour for the next election, while those who oppose do so not on merit but for the next election. This way, the polity is perpetually on heat, and Jonathan then roasts on a daily basis. This has robbed the president of time to tackle numerous problems at a time of increased political awareness such as this. Many think that Nigerians should be
thinking of tackling her monumental problems particularly after 14 years of uninterrupted democracy, but the PDP is always dancing naked on the street.

Worse still is that the opposition appears to be more serious now than ever but many fear that even if they had power, the story might not be different. This is even more so when many of those now making waves in the opposition (or what we term progressive camp) are former office holders with scanty record of strong achievements. Many political observers think that the PDP must sit up.

A party embattled and ensnared by a vocal opposition cannot dissipate useful energy fighting itself but should rethink and re-strategise to offer disappointed Nigerians a new hope. The biggest action the party has taken in this direction is the floating of its own Governors’ Forum.

Today, the matter should not be about Jonathan or 2015.
It is about Nigerians who are dying of hunger and disease. Insecurity, unemployment, poverty, illiteracy, under-development, etc, have taken over the land. This is what should concern any patriotic person, leadership and the PDP.

As an observer, I find what is happening in the PDP a journey to self-perdition and annihilation. From the beginning of the Nigerian Governors' Forum (NGF), only the PDP had produced the chairman because it has majority of the membership and those who held such position used it to the advantage of their people. They became allies of the president and helped him in making policy decisions and to call the shots on critical national issues.

But the unfriendly relationship between the president and the PDP created the need for a PDP Governors’ Forum to build a support base among the governors for the articulation of strategies to implement the party’s manifesto, rally round the party at all times and advise as well as support the presidency which is their greatest trophy.

It is, therefore, sad to think that the PDP-GF was set up to whittle down the powers of Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, as chairman of NGF and frustrate his second coming into office. This is most untrue because the NGF chairman needs the PDP-GF as much as Mr. President does, by my thinking.

Much as I believe that the PDP government needs to do well in many respects, ordinarily, there is nothing wrong with the PDP-GF but its timing and the circumstances surrounding its formation are interesting. If anything, such a body should be an advantage to the PDP and indeed to Jonathan as both Akpabio and Amaechi are from the same party and zone with the president. The PDP governors cannot discuss their own internal issues at the NGF. So, the PDP-GF should provide a veritable platform to articulate their stand before stepping into the NGF.

Another angle to the matter is that the PDP should have ensured from the outset that whoever is NGF chairman should be a trusted ally of the man heading Aso Rock. This is the same way the President and Commander-in-Chief, ensures that whoever is the National Security Adviser is a trusted ally.

Akpabio has never hidden the fact that he is a friend of Mr. President and his family. It would be recalled that Akpabio provided a firm support that the president leaned on when he was to be made acting president even when many Northern PDP governors were hesitant.

It is therefore interesting that today, Akpabio is the one who is seen by some of his colleagues as a special friend of the president and for that; he must be crucified. This goes to show that of a truth, the NGF was being turned to an opposition platform. If this were not so, why is the choice of Akpabio for PDP-GF attracting so much fire on him if the NGF was not rattled?

Today, Akpabio is on the line for every action he takes or every word he utters. Akpabio now does everything bad. If mosquitoes bite a child in Lagos, Akpabio is to be blamed. If a man fails to impregnate his wife, Akpabio is the cause. Those who are against the president think that Akpabio must be brought down at all cost in order to weaken his support for jonathan. To them, Jonathan must either give in to the governors' demands and surrender the party to them or drown alone in 2015.

Many from the South-south think that Akpabio and Amaechi should cooperate and protect the zone and so, the recent cold war is uncalled for. Some of us have known Akpabio for decades since our school days at the university. Akpabio is broad-minded but we are worried he is deeply misunderstood and now seen as a spendthrift simply because he chooses to protect the PDP and shows solidarity with his embattled commander, the president and leader of his party.

The problem with the opposition and the "progressives" is that while they enjoy the right to their opinion and democratic action, they usually do not allow their opponents the same liberty. So, to them, while they are free to hate Jonathan for belonging to the ruling party, if anyone, let alone Akpabio chooses to befriend the president, it becomes a heinous crime.

What is this kill-Akpabio syndrome for? If he donates car to a great musician like Tu Face Idibia and his wife, Anne, who hails from Akwa Ibom State, the media devours him; if he makes a simple slip, all heavens break loose; if he supports his party men with money for lunch, Akpabio is called names etc. All these started just because he is the chairman of PDP-GF. In my view, this is sheer hypocrisy.

Nigeria has grown into a lawless society that public office holders are making outrageous donations and presenting gifts to persons and institutions even against their budgets with impunity. Some of the opposition states put their states’ treasury at the disposal of other states just to capture the new state and when they do, they make a show of the chivalry. If Akpabio does a fraction of that, he is a villain but if the others do it, they are heroes, why?

What is Akpabio's offence that he has become a punching bag? What of governors across the nation who are buying cars and houses for their girlfriends on regular basis? What about those who are wasting state resources bribing judges, anti-corruption agencies and paying coded godfathers? Who has persecuted these ones? How about those who are milking their states dry and cashing in on the immunity clause in the constitution?

The last of it all is that Akpabio said he made somebody a senator, that he ensured that a section that did not get such a position got it through legitimate zoning, and that he ensured that such a deal was honoured. What is new about that in Nigeria? Can any governor in Nigeria today cast the first stone and proclaim innocence in influencing choice of candidates in elections? Can anyone mention one state in Nigeria where the incumbent or party leaders are not tinkering with results of party primaries?

What of 2006 when President Olusegun Obasanjo and Nuhu Ribadu chose a presidential candidate and imposed an ailing Umaru Musa Yar'Adua  on the PDP as against the popular choice, a South-south governor who was cruising to victory at the PDP primaries at Eagle Square? Where were these people who are now suddenly pouncing on Akpabio just because it doesn't suit them? This is why some of us think the recent attack on Akpabio is hypocritical and must be dismissed as so.

Why do we hail one action in one breath and vilify it in another? Has Akpabio not given his people infrastructural spread and democracy? Has he not ensured that all sections got dividends of democracy? Go to Akwa Ibom and see the pride of PDP.

Akpabio comes across as a good man with a charitable heart. This is an attribute he had lived with. As a student in the law faculty of University of Calabar, Akpabio made his mark. Apart from being elected the speaker of the UNICAL Students Union Parliament, Akpabio deployed his personal resources to sponsor candidates he considered viable into the SUG and Calabar University Law Students Association, (CULSA).

As Chairman of NGF, Amaechi has professed radical posturing which has ruffled the president and the PDP especially on issues touching fiscal federalism. Ironically, all parties in the feud need themselves. As Chinua Achebe said in Things Fall Apart, ‘Do not use your hand to kill a child that calls you father’. Let it not be a Port Harcourt boy that will bring down a Port Harcourt-boy president.

Akpabio and Amaechi are assets to the zone. Akpabio cannot be an enemy overnight. He has assisted many Nigerians and indeed shown friendship to the north. He has also donated money to promote humanity there. He has maintained some level of rapport by continuing with projects that his predecessors started, thus maintaining continuity in government spending and resource management.
He has built upon the legacy of his predecessor, Chief Victor Attah, and lifted his state to another height far from where his predecessors left it. The least the PDP can do is to come together and face the challenge from outside, not to break its bonds by attacking Akpabio or Amaechi. For sure, those of them threatening to leave the PDP are mere jokers. The PDP governors sneaking to the opposition should know that the progressives will never accept them as true converts.

After ruling in the PDP and contracting the stigma, it will be foolhardy for any of them to think they would be viewed as true progressives or clean people. All they need is to stay together and use power in their possession to prove that they were not thieves after all by doing projects and using power fairly. The greatest problem in PDP is their subversion of due process and imposition of candidates. If they can reverse this, many fleeing converts will come back and the best platform to do this is Akpabio’s PDP-GF.
*Okah is a former Commissioner for Information, Rivers State

Tags: Nigeria, Featured, Politics, Akpabio

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