Akume as Stabilising Hand in Tinubu’s Govt

Emmanuel Ado writes about the need for those around President Bola Tinubu to allow the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator George Akume, to function effectively as the nation’s number one Chief Servant.

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service of others – Mahatma Ghandi

These are certainly not the best of times for President Bola Tinubu. There appears to be a brewing storm between his government and the hegemonic North. And this has been further worsened by the pockets of protests against some policies of the Federal Government, due to the unbearable cost of living. The other problem is external; the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is at the verge of disintegration under his watch.

Though the protests might fizzle out with time, and the military prodigals may return eventually to ECOWAS at a future date, there seems as yet no road map for dealing with the brewing storm from the North. Accordingly, in the coming days, Tinubu will be needing a strong army of contacts in the North to help him fix things. He has a battery of them already, but for some reasons, his joker appears to be  Senator George Akume. But who is George Akume, and why could he be the reliable truce maker?

Given the dimensions of geo-political interest in who gets the top job of Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), under President Tinubu, the  media speculations and permutations did not give Akume, a long-time political associate of Tinubu, any iota of chance.

But the President, known for his high  sense of humour, and who must have thoroughly  enjoyed the media-miss, had no reservations whatsoever in appointing Akume to the covetous post of SGF, the central clearing house for all Federal Government’s activities. He apparently knew more than others that Akume would be an asset to the administration. And Akume has since proved the President right by being a steady hand in positioning the government to deliver on  its campaign promises.

The SGF position is a lofty and enviable one. But only few persons would admire Akume, because Tinubu has saddled him with a job that is not for the faint-hearted. Nigeria has serious security and economic challenges, due to the failure of previous governments to implement some tough but necessary decisions like the removal of petroleum subsidy, floating of the exchange rate, and the diversification of the economy,which the Tinubu administration has boldly taken, and has made it hugely unpopular.

Akume could be said to have seen it all, in terms of occupying impactful offices and discharging onerous responsibility of governance. He was the first governor of  Benue State to complete two terms in office  (1999-2007), elected Senator of Benue North West Senatorial District under the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and emerged as Minority Leader of the Senate, where his paths with Tinubu further crossed and deepened.

Though Akume’s  bid to return to the Upper Legislative Chamber of the National Assembly was thwarted  by Senator OrkeJev of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Akume bounced back to reckoning when President MuhammaduBuhari appointed him Minister of Special Duties and Inter-governmental Affairs. All the while, he has remained down-to-earth, courteous, humble and extremely loyal.

But while there is absolutely no doubt that Tinubu has found an asset of inestimable value in Akume, a consummate public servant, a team player, a bridge builder, an unassuming politician, and a nationalist, who is not overbearing or supercilious, the fact remains that Akume can only effectively function as the SGF if he is trusted and given the room to operate.

The recent leakage of the request for N1 billion for the Trapartite Committee on the National Minimum Wage is believed to have been by forces bent on pitching Akume against the public, as financially irresponsible and undermining his capacity to function.

A former secretary to a state government described the N1 billion as “very reasonable”. He said: “Committee assignment is one of the most expensive line items in government expenditure. I was an SSG and know this for a fact”. It’s a shame that the leakers refused to leak the supporting documents to allow Nigerians make an  informedjudgement.

Although the tasks of the SGF are well spelt-out, in time past, some administrations all but took away the functions of that office and assigned them to people from their region. This inevitably led to hiccups, distortions and even malfunctions in the system.

Although there have been no whispers of Akume having this problem, it is expected that the politically astute Tinubu will not tread that path of discordance, as his Lagos Boys hover around every available space.

There is absolutely no doubt that while  Akume needs the solid support of the President, who has the final word on both domestic and foreign policies, to effectively discharge the responsibility of his office and to help him calm the North, but his effectiveness depends largely on how some key people around the president relate with him, because Akume already enjoys the confidence of the president.

But for Villa politics, Akume would have gathered traditional rulers, religious leaders and public opinion leaders to Kaduna, the Northern Regional capital to engage them. I hope he still does.

It’s important that appointees know that Akume has the absolute confidence of the president.

Another compelling reason why Tinubu shouldn’t allow anyone mess with Akume is the fact that he is a Christian from the North, Nigeria’s most populous and politically important region, with which the president appears to have issues over the relocation of some departments of the Central Bank of Nigeria(CBN), and the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN)  from Abuja to Lagos.

The audibly “aggrieved North” would not take kindly to any perceived marginalisation of Akume who is very proud of his Northern heritage, in addition to its other grievances with the president. It will definitely further fuel the anti-Tinubu campaign currently  being waged unchallenged in the North.

Among many Northerners (high and low), the conclusion is that the first ever South-West and North political alliance seems doomed and would most likely be dead by  2027.

The other conversation is the reaction of the North to what it feels is a betrayal by Tinubu. Will the North prop up a candidate from the South-South or South-East to use up what would have been Tinubu’s second term, and thus hasten the return of power to the North. If the North pulls off this political gambit, it would have killed two birds with one stone: “teach” Tinubu a political lesson and re-establish its alliance with the South-East or the South-South.

Akume is proudly Tiv, who are  known for their solidarity, hard work, bravery and stubbornness once convinced about the rightness of their position.

For example, the late Lt. General Victor Malu, a Tiv, had disagreed vehemently with former President OlusegunObasanjo over his Nigeria-US Military Pact, which Malu felt was tantamount to surrendering the Nigerian armed forces to the Americans.

When Gabriel Suswam, his godson, pushed  him out of the PDP, Akume found refuge in the Tinubu-led ACN, in what was to become the beginning of a mutually beneficial relationship between him and Tinubu who then was building a network that would enable him achieve his presidential ambition.

Though Akume was not on the ballot in the 2023 elections, he completely regained control of Benue State and re-established himself as the political leader of the state.

He taught his estranged political associates Suswam and Samuel Ortom, a political lesson of their life. It’s doubtful if they will survive the political Afghanistan Akume has sent them into. It was a clean sweep for the APC, with his wife, Regina Akume roundly defeating John Dyegh, a sitting member for the Gboko/Tarka Federal Constituency.

It’s a testimony to Akume’s political skills that, since 1999 when he was first elected governor of Benue State, he has been a Senator and a minister and now the Number One Chief Servant.

No one should dare to write off the battle tested Akume, because he has consistently showed strength and resilience in the face of political adversity. While he has lost a few political fights, he has certainly won many more. He is the proverbial cat with nine lives and you only write him off at your own peril.

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