Sufuyan Ojeifo pays tribute to the Senate President at 61

Another year around the sun is always something to celebrate. When an outstanding personality, a star, completes this existential and transcendental course, there is even more reason to roll out the drums in festivity. Incidentally, a man who cares little for mundane revelry – recall that only very recently, he apprised us with the reasons he does not drink and smoke.

This would seem the best way, in the circumstance of this intervention, to herald the uncommon personality who presently orbits the circumference of the National Assembly, defining, as it were, its atmospherics and nuances, in his usually unusual, yet companionably engaging manner.  The character stated, supra, undergirds the essential leadership of the Senate President and Chairman of the 10th National Assembly, Senator Godswill Obot Akpabio (GOA), who turns 61 on December 9.

Love him or hate him, GOA is defined by his sheer, yet controlled kinetic energy and revels in pushing new frontiers, not minding whether or not he gets obligatory approbation from any quarters.  For him, he would have satisfied himself, yes, his conscience. These ingrained traits remain the central portrayal of Akpabio, who may go down in annals as Nigeria’s inimitable national assembly political leader, away from the administrative wing of the legislature, as a significant arm of the trinity- the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.

It is, indeed, no secret that today, Nigeria, Africa and the world at large stand on the brink of substantial disruptions – and of considerable opportunity – as new economic, cultural and political models challenge traditional playbooks. To proactively navigate these existential mazes clearly requires clear vision, knowledge, courage, and cutting-edge leadership. Only this can hold the promise of both stability and progression. Against the background of these high-octane socio-political, economic, and cultural ferment and consequent imperatives for uncommon leadership focus and transformative thinking, cant – a hypocritical and sanctimonious mindset – absolutely has no place.

This is where Akpabio enters the fray, with a gravitas of purpose to repudiate cant, yes, outright banalities, in legislative interactions. Quite early in his rich political career, he had repudiated cant as a tool of political engagement or service to humanity. His trajectories in Akwa Ibom, where he rose into the plum elective position of governor after heading several ministries, are writ large, and are rendered much more so by the magnitude of his legacy infrastructure projects.  This is just an adumbration.  I will explicate this point of legacy infrastructure development soonest on the basis of what I saw recently in Akwa Ibom when I went for my induction into the membership of the elite Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE).

Not surprisingly, this no less a philosophical footing of repudiating cant, has, in no small measure, helped to leverage his life journey. As he marks his 61st birthday with a thanksgiving service in Uyo on December 9 and a colloquium in Abuja, on December 14, it is a good time to acknowledge this Essien Udim-born leader, whose singular disavowal of cant has shaped his uncommon, multi-faceted impact within his troubled milieu occasioned by the opposition elements within his party and outside in the other camps.

Unassuming Senator Akpabio, who was governor of Akwa Ibom State for two terms, is no less a child of providence who wields influence and authority with humility and focus. In addition to his humility is his compassionate and community spirit. The top-draw politician has demonstrated with his life’s trajectory that indeed law (which he studied and practised until he veered into public office), politics, administration, and faith fundamentally address transformation of society and the human condition for good.

Always smiling, humorous, and kind to a fault, Akpabio has managed through his eleemosynary acts to connect to a wide range of stakeholders and ordinary Nigerians – adroitly deploying his folksy charm and communitarian zest. But in a season of “hanger” (hunger and anger combined), humour could become a slippery anecdote – and worse – can, outright, backfire. This is especially true when it plays out in an environment which many have rightly or wrongly grown to distrust.

The foregoing scenario largely captures the essence of the incident that transpired in the Senate on August 7, when Senate President Akpabio off-handedly spoke about a token being paid into the accounts of his peers to aid a pleasant recess. But he had, since, typically overcome the associated backlash – with a smile.

Certainly not a rookie in the executive governance, legal, administrative, and legislative spheres, Akpabio has often been misread by friends and foes, possibly on account of his accommodating and unassuming disposition. He is certainly not a politician who craves crude acquisition of raw power for the sake of it. His bold visions are anchored on consistent principles, which have come to define his life story.

The South-South region’s highest-ranking politician is not given to political chicanery. He is expressive and expansive on his positions on issues. As he speaks, he smiles and sometimes laughs. He is not swayed by primordial considerations that tend to de-emphasise the essential gravitas of his political standpoints.

It could easily be recalled how he reacted to Senator Ndume on the floor when he (Ndume) was trying to drive home the point that the Senate President committed some procedural infractions. Senator Akpabio did not consider his closeness with Ndume to bend the Senate rule. He felt otherwise. He spoke with candour in the knowledge that he did the right thing. He was not ready to revisit a decision already taken by the Senate at plenary. That’s unvarnished leadership.

It is often said that a powerful vision, like a magnet, draws in ideas, people, and other resources. It creates momentum and will to make change happen. It inspires individuals, complementary democratic organizations, and institutions to commit, persist, and give their best. This mirrors Akpabio’s forte. Leveraging these positives, he has also deployed impeccable professionalism, discipline, and persistence in changing the traditional narrative of subnational governance and in the national space as federal legislator and now as chairman of the National Assembly.

The stability of congressional leadership is a crucial feature of advanced democracies the world over, particularly in the US from which Nigeria cloned the basic template of her presidential democracy – after dumping the Westminster model. Though in the US, considerations like religion and ethnicity are alien in composing the canvass of its legislative leadership, in Nigeria, these represent the core algorithms for the customary horse-trading and positioning of the principal officers of the federal legislative assembly. This combustible environment requires a cool-headed leader.

Weighing all the relevant metrics in picking the tenth president of the senate, Senator Akpabio certainly ticks all the significant boxes. At a testy period in the nation’s political history, the national parliament undoubtedly needed a humble and level-headed leader to guide its affairs. It certainly got it in the persona of Akpabio.

Many certainly have not forgotten that Akpabio is a dedicated realist and reformer who bridged all gulfs and levelled much of the development hurdles that challenged his state as exemplified by his selfless stewardship to the people of Akwa Ibom State from 2007 to 2015 as governor. As former Senate Minority Leader, former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, it bears repeating that Akpabio, stands as a very experienced and qualified politician who is certainly prepared for even higher political responsibility beyond his current mandate, going forward.

Just recently, he was elected into the global executive committee of the 189-nation Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) at the Luanda, Angola confab, after Nigeria’s 59-year absence in the executive committee of the global legislative body. That was remarkable, and it speaks to God’s abundant grace on Akpabio to produce magical moments and achieve monumental feats in the politics of the executive and the legislative.

In total, Akpabio has shown a relentless pursuit for socio-political growth and transformation of the human condition. Significantly, he has done so in a measured and calculated manner. In a very diverse, multi-ethnic environment, he has thrived on respect for his peers, loyalty, discipline, and uncommon focus. All the same, destiny beckons.

. Ojeifo, MNGE, contributed this piece via ojwonderngr@yahoo.com

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