Akpabio Must Be Stopped

RingTrue   By Yemi Adebowale

Phone    08054699539

Email: yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com

It was so depressing watching the National Publicity Secretary of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Felix Morka on Monday announcing the decision of its National Working Committee on the zoning of the four principal offices in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Aside three other comical endorsements, the APC shamelessly proclaimed its support for the uncommon cunning Senator Godwin Akpabio as its consensus candidate for the position of Senate president in the 10th National Assembly.

The party did not even deem it fit to zone anything to an entire geo-political zone, the North-central. I was not surprised but disappointed. The APC cares less about credibility/equity and persistently shows this with so much impunity. A few days before this APC NWC’s tragic endorsement of candidates for the top four National Assembly positions, there were clear signs that Akpabio was going to be backed for the office of Senate President. The first was the declaration by Governor Abdulahi Ganduje of Kano State in Calabar that Akpabio would be the next President of the Senate.

He said, “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, who is going to be the uncommon President of the Senate. So, we have resolved that. I am giving you assurances; we are waiting for the D-Day that he will be the Senate President of Nigeria.”

It was followed by the sidesplitting withdrawal of three of the senators eyeing the position. The trio that jettisoned their ambitions on that day were Jubrin Barau, Ali Ndume and Dave Umahi.

Ndume said, “We have all deferred to our brother to fly the flag of the APC as Senate President of the 10th National Assembly. We know he has the capacity to lead the Red Chamber of the federal legislature.” Akpabio has capacity? Haba! How did highly distinguished Ndume become part of this charade?

I have reservations about all the endorsements by APC’s NWC for the top four National Assembly positions but I’m more concerned about the office of President of the Senate because he will be the Chairman of the National Assembly. I’m not comfortable with Akpabio as the leading candidate for this office. The thought of this man (with huge unanswered corruption questions) emerging President is frightening. It is pertinent to rebrand the red chamber. It needs massive transformation and urgently desires a President that will lead it to fulfill the yearnings of Nigerians for a better country. The Senate needs a crusader to pilot their activities from next June. The era of cash-guzzling and rubber-stamp National Assembly must end. Akpabio lacks the capacity to lead this crusade.

Federal lawmakers have become a burden on this country for too long. In the 2023 budget alone, the National Assembly will gulp N228 billion. In traumatised mother Nigeria, the National Assembly is one of the places for amassing megabucks. The lawmakers feed fat while the masses of the people they represent wallow in abject poverty. A reformist leader must end this ugly pattern in the 10th Assembly. Akpabio is visibly not the man for this type of job.

The 10th National Assembly needs reformist leaders who will end spending incongruity in the chambers by cutting down its expenditure in the interest of Nigerians; new leaders courageous enough to end cold-blooded payments to lawmakers; reformists that will ensure that all outflows to the legislators are transparent. Our dear legislators must be subjected to greater austerity measures in an era of economic depression in Nigeria. Akpabio has no capacity for these. He does not fit into the reformist leader I have been talking about all along.

In electing the President of the Senate, competence, character and integrity are vital. Nigerians need to start having trust in the National Assembly. Akpabio does not stand out with a proven record of integrity and ability. His candidacy is repulsive.

Akpabio’s tenure as Minister of Niger Delta Affairs exposed his true character. I have no regret regularly referring to him as a jester following the manner he messed up as a governor, a senator and then as minister. He confirmed this with his volte-face in the House of Representatives’ probe in 2022 over his earlier allegation that the lawmakers got 60 per cent of the contracts awarded by the Niger Delta Development Commission.

Akpabio, who made the claim on national television, turned around to deny it a few days after he was told to provide the list of the profiting lawmakers. Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila scornfully read Akpabio’s response, which came after he threatened to sue the minister for failing to prove that NDDC awarded contracts to them. He went back crawling to the lawmakers, saying he referred to old contracts awarded by the NDDC which had not been paid for, and some of which are part of the constituency projects of the lawmakers.

Can you imagine Akpabio denying something that was recorded? This is a remark we all heard clearly. Well, this is the true character of Akpabio. It tells you how warped he is and can’t be trusted with anything, right from his days as commissioner in Akwa Ibom State. Akpabio is believed to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of NDDC contracts. With a man like this, Nigeria will continue to lag behind.

Many will also not forget Akpabio’s escapade with the former Acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Joy Nunieh when this Senator was the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs. Nunieh’s claim that she slapped Akpabio for sexually assaulting her has not been debunked till date.

Nunieh, during an interview on Arise News said she was the only Nigerian woman who has slapped the then Nigeria’s Niger Delta Affairs minister. The incident, she said, happened at his guest house in Abuja: “Why did he not tell Nigerians that I slapped him in his guest house at Apo? I am the only Ogoni woman, the only Nigerian woman that has slapped him. I slapped him because of his plan B. Since he couldn’t get me to take that money, he thought that he could come up on me.

“He didn’t know that I’m a Port Harcourt girl. Port Harcourt girls are not moved by money…by somebody telling me that he will make me the substantive MD. Akpabio’s meetings with me were either at Apo or Meridien…Yes, I am accusing him of sexual harassment.”

Nunieh’s expose on Akpabio on Arise News came days after she accused the minister of fraud. She said during her brief tenure at the commission, Akpabio repeatedly pressured her to take “an oath of secrecy” that was meant to keep her from exposing fraud at the commission. She claimed she would have been jailed if she had succumbed to Akpabio’s “oath of secrecy”.

The man Nunieh was talking about is Akpabio, the same Akpabio the APC leadership wants to make President of Nigeria’s Senate. Clearly, virtually everything about this country is broken. We can’t continue putting forward rickety characters as leaders. Today, I challenge the forces of good in the Senate to truncate Akpabio’s moves to become President of the Senate. Legislators must look out for genuine reformists and vote them in as principal officers. The actual voting will be on the floor of the Senate and it will be secret. So, the Senators should vote for the interest of all Nigerians and voting for a man with integrity and capacity; a reformist leader. I will like to see lawmakers in the two chambers voting along these lines. These lawmakers must ensure the independence of the National Assembly. They must rise and defend this institution.

The outgoing Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ahmed Wase, was apt when on Wednesday, he urged members not to allow the parliament to be disgraced by ignoring the absurd endorsements by APC’s NWC. Wase added: “We will not allow this parliament to be hijacked. We will not allow this parliament to be made a lame duck. I believe we are loyal to our country first, loyal to our party, loyal to our people. This place is very sacred. It is honourable and that is why we are called honourable members. We must be honourable in our dealings, actions, and activities in defence of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

Integrity, capacity and ability to reform the National Assembly should be vital in filling key positions in the National Assembly. This is the only way forward for Nigeria.

Waiting for EFCC to Recover Jumbo Pensions from Ex-Govs

It’s almost four years since Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo of the Federal High Court, Lagos ordered the federal government to recover life pensions collected by former governors serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly. The judge, who retired from the bench last month, expressed regret during a valedictory court session held in her honour that the judgment had not been implemented.

At least 22 states starting with Lagos State have passed life pensions laws for former governors and other ex-public officials. Aside from huge monthly pension, some of the affected former governors got houses in Lagos and Abuja.

Some former governors are entitled to six new cars every three years, 100 per cent of the basic salary of the serving governor (N7.7million per annum), free health care for himself and members of his family as well as furniture allowance, which is 300 per cent of their annual basic salary (N23.3million). It was a clear case of corruption as declared by the court (for those who went on to become ministers and senators) and the EFCC ought to have moved in to recover the looted funds. It did not happen. It can only happen in Nigeria.

It is heartwarming that the NGO that obtained the judgement, i.e., Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a contempt suit against the federal government for failing to recover over N40 billion double pay and life pensions paid to former governors serving as lawmakers and ministers.

SERAP’s deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare stated: “It’s unacceptable to take the court, which is the guardian of justice in this country, for a ride. A democratic state based on the rule of law cannot exist or function, if the government routinely ignores and/or fails to abide by court orders.

“Despite the service of the certified true copy of the judgment on the Attorney General of the Federation, the Buhari administration has failed and/or refused to obey it. While many Nigerian workers and pensioners have not been paid by state governors for several months and struggle to make ends meet, former governors continue to collect double emoluments and enjoy opulent lifestyles.”

The second aspect of Justice Oguntoyinbo judgement was the directives to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami to challenge the legality of states’ life pension laws, permitting former governors to collect such pensions.

The judge state: “The question that comes to mind is: who should approach the court where a particular law is not in the best interest of Nigeria as a country or national interest? Who should approach the court where a particular law is detrimental to the interest of the country? Who should institute actions in court for the purpose of recovering public funds collected?”

In answering the questions, Justice Oguntoyinbo said: “In my humble view, the Attorney General should be interested in the legality or validity of any law in Nigeria and how such laws affect or will affect Nigerians, being the Chief Law Officer of the Federation.”

Malami has so far refused to obey this order. This is the tragedy of this country called Nigeria. The good news is that some states have on their own revoked the pension laws for governors. Unfortunately, those that had drawn from it have refused to make refunds. For now, I challenge the EFCC to act appropriately.

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