RECORD: 10 controversies in 6 months of Akpabio as Senate President

Sharon EboesomiDecember 29, 202318 min

From allegations and counter-allegations, Godswill Akpabio’s six-month tenure as Senate President has been headlined by controversies. OrderPaper highlights 10 of these awkward moments and events

Godswill Akpabio
Senate President, Godswill Akpabio

The 10th National Assembly was inaugurated on 13th June, 2023, making it just over six months since Sen. Godswill Akpabio emerged as President of the Senate. This period has however witnessed several scandals, allegations, and counter allegations that feature the Akwa Ibom senator at the centre. 

A bumpy ride to Senate

Sen. Akpabio boasts a robust political experience. From being a two-term Governor of Akwa Ibom State (2007 – 2015) to becoming minority leader of the Senate (2015 – 2018), and then a minister for four years under President Muhammadu Buhari (2019 – 2022), the senate president has risen through the rung of sub-national to national politics.  However, after failing to clinch the presidential ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the 2023 presidential election, he made a fierce reach for the senatorial ticket that had been won and lost. Akpabio faced a bumpy ride through the courts: The Appeal Court sitting in Abuja, had on 14 November 2022, ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to recognise Udom Ekpoudom, a retired deputy inspector general of police, as the authentic candidate of the APC for Akwa Ibom north-west senatorial district. The justices held that having contested the APC’s presidential primary, Akpabio could not participate in the party’s valid primary held on May 27, 2022 and overseen by the INEC, which produced Mr. Ekpoudom as the candidate. The matter proceeded to the Supreme Court which ruled that the lower court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case since it was an internal party matter, and consequently upheld Akpabio’s nomination as the legally nominated candidate for the election held on February 25, 2023. Pronto, Akpabio won the election and immediately commenced moves to contest the position of the Senate President.

A push through to senate presidency

The APC showed its hand early on and annointed Akpabio as its candidate for the senate top job. This did not however stop a contest from happening as attempts to persuade and dissuade other aspirants did not sail through completely. So at the election for the office of the president of the 10th senate, he polled 63 votes to defeat his lone challenger, Sen. Abdulaziz Yari (APC, Zamfara West), a former two-term Governor of Zamfara State, who secured 46 votes. On the floor of the election, Akpabio was nominated by Sen. Ali Ndume (APC, Borno South) and seconded by Sen. Solomon Olamilekan, (APC, Ogun West). Yari, on the other hand, was nominated by former senator representing Adamawa North, Elisha Abbo, and seconded by Sen. Jimoh Ibrahim, (APC, Ondo South). A secret ballot was conducted and Akpabio was immediately sworn in after he was announced the winner of the election. But since the early days, the senate president has rolled from one bump to another, raising doubts about the strength and sustainability of his grip on the hot seat.  

Here are 10 controversies Akpabio has been embroiled in since the 10th Senate set sail:

  • Speedy approval of ministerial and other presidential nominees

Akpabio has been accused of being a lackey of the Bola Tinubu presidency. His accusers have copiously pointed to the speedy and superficial screening and approval of presidential nominees for top-level appointments. In fact, his critics accuse him of manipulating the screening process to hasty clearance and approval of the ministerial nominees. They say his posture and conduct ran contrary to the promise of openness and transparency in vetting candidates for key government positions. The screening and approval of presidential nominees for top INEC posts, in spite of loud whispers that some of them were card-carrying members of the APC, further supported the point pushed by his critics. The allegation of manipulation signposts a potential to subjugate the National Assembly to the dictates of the presidency. 

  • Prayers to mailbox saga

Right on the heels of the ministerial screening and approval, Akpabio swam into another controversy when he flippantly announced at plenary that money had been paid to the accounts of senators to ensure they had fun on their yearly vacation. This gaffe brought the senate president under fire, earning him attacks from within and outside the National Assembly and inciting popular indignation due to the economic challenges faced by many Nigerians. Akpabio, who seemed unaware that the proceeding was still being recorded live said, “in order to enable all of us to enjoy our holidays, a token has been sent to our various accounts by the Clerk of the National Assembly.” Upon being informed by his colleagues that the live coverage of the event was still on, and realising the gravity of his remarks, he quickly announced its withdrawal saying, “I withdraw that statement. In order to allow you to enjoy your holiday, the senate president has sent prayers to your mailboxes to assist you to go on a safe journey and return,” he rephrased. Following this event, Nigerians lampooned Akpabio, saying it was very unfortunate that such a statement could be made by him at a time when Nigerians are still waiting for succour from the government, following the sudden removal of subsidy from petrol.

NADECO calls on Akpabio to resign or be impeached - Peoples Daily Newspaper

  • ‘Let the poor breathe’ gaffe

There was another public outrage when Akpabio disdainfully mimicked the “let the poor breathe” refrain of President Tinubu. The phrase, often used by Nigerians to criticise the current hardship in the country, was once applied by the President but its usage by the senate president led to public outrage. Following a resolution of the Senate for the Federal Government to suspend a proposed electricity tariff hike by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), Akpabio had jokingly said: “The prayer is that, let the poor breathe, and Senator Mustapha has seconded that the poor should breathe. Those who are in support of the additional prayer that the poor should be allowed to breathe, say ‘ayes’ and those who are against say ‘nay.’ In response, the senators chorused “Aye” to which Akpabio retorted: “The ayes have it! The poor must be allowed to breathe.” Then there was a sudden burst of laughter echoing across the floor of the chamber. Many Nigerians denounced the behaviour as a blatant parody of the common people they are sworn to protect and an attempt to further suffocate the poor.

  • Impeachment and counter-impeachment plot

There were alleged attempts to impeach Akpabio by enraged senators due to, among others, his faux pax on the ‘holiday allowance.’ Even though Senator Ndume defended the allowance, calling it a customary practice for senators, he nonethless, chastised Akpabio for distorting facts. Former Senator Abbo claimed that the senate president and his allies were behind the rumoured plan to impeach him with the aim of sowing strife between President Tinubu and the northern leaders. He said: “As a Northern senator and an official of the Northern Senators Forum, I boldly affirm that this news is intentionally disseminated and propagated by the ‘camp’ of Senator Akpabio solely to pit President Bola Tinubu against the North. I call on Senator Akpabio to rein in his camp, as the seeds of discord and deep ethno-religious division they are sowing will not bode well for the country. If Akpabio and his camp wanted a united Senate, much like Ahmed Lawan, they would have known exactly what to do during Senate Standing Committees allocation and supplementary budget resources allocation. But the camp of the SP continued to treat the senate as a conquered territory where the winner walks away with the spoils of war. A classic case of the winner takes all.” Recall that Abbo who was sacked by the appeal court in Abuja and he had claimed that Akpabio was the reason behind his removal from office because he refused to support his bid to become Senate President but rather backed Senator Yari. He alleged that four other senators including Senator Orji Uzor Kalu (APC, Abia North), who did not support the emergence of Akpabio as Senate President, had been targeted to be unseated from the red chamber through the court. He would later recant and apologise to Akpabio.

READ ALSO: Major scandals involving National Assembly members

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  • Allocating “Category A” committees to loyalists 

The alleged marginalisation of some ranking senators in the chairmanship and vice chairmanship of significant committees was another crucial concern that brought trouble the way of Akpabio. Some experienced senators were allegedly victims of this practice while beneficiaries were perceived as loyalists and cronies of the senate president. This accusation created some subterranean cracks in the ranks of senators and there were kicks from within and outside the chamber. A group, the Niger Delta Development Association (NDDA), demanded that senators from Delta state be considered for commitee headship.

Senate President and Ndume

  • Ndume and Akpabio’s clash

Senator Ndume, who is also the Chief Whip of the Senate, seems to have taken the role of opposition to Akpabio’s leadership style as he accused him of being insensitive, untrustworthy, and having a habit of making inappropriate jokes. This statement led to a dramatic clash in the senate between both men. On a particular incident during plenary, Sen. Ndume raised a point of order citing Senate Order 51, to address an error Senator Summaila Kawu made in a motion, which omitted the motion’s title. Ndume,  emphasising the need for following rules and processes, noted the importance  of correcting any errors found during proceedings. According to him, “nobody is too big to learn.” However, Akpabio vehemently disagreed with Ndume’s plea, maintaining that decisions made on matters could not be changed afterwards. Senator Sunday Karimi made an effort to bolster Ndume’s position with an additional point of order, but Akpabio quickly ruled both Senators out of order. As a result of the tension, Deputy Senate President, Sen. Jibrin Barau used Order 16 to enforce the rules. This prompted Akpabio to swiftly uphold a substantive motion for the reconsideration of earlier rulings. Unfazed, Ndume used Order 54, another point of order, to demand that the perceived error be corrected. But once more, Akpabio ruled him to be out of order. An enraged Ndume stormed out of the chamber as a result. Amidst the commotion, senators called a closed-door meeting, and Ndume returned thereafter upon learning by phone call that the Senate had entered a closed-door session.

Senate President and President Tinubu

  • Speedy loan approval

President Tinubu’s requests for borrowing has received very expeditious approvals from the Akpabio-led Senate. A request for $800 million loan from the World Bank to scale up the national social safety net programme and another to amend the N819.5bn 2022 supplementary budget were cited as examples by his critics. Within twenty-four hours of Tinubu sending them to the parliament, both requests were granted. Many close observers of the polity are concerned that the hasty approvals appeared to be a continuation of the 9th Senate’s practice where any money matter the former president requested was approved by the Ahmad Lawan-led 9th senate. Recall that Sen. Ndume had slammed the senate president for approving the passage of some executive bills without seeking the input of other members of the chamber.Also, Sen. Ogoshi Onawo (PDP, Nasarawa South) condemned Akpabio’s quest to pass some bills hastily. He said “very sensitive bills are brought and are expected to be passed with the speed of light, which is not good for the country. Every senator here is supposed to be adequately informed; he does his research and makes a positive contribution, but in a situation where even money bills are brought and expected to be passed within two hours, it wouldn’t be better for the country.” He then went philosophical: “Sir, you are on the seat today; history will judge you that things like this are not good for this country.”Responding to Onawo’s comment, Akpabio stated: “If the bills we pass are good for the country, history will judge me right. I don’t think we would come here to pass a bill that’s not good for the interest of Nigerians. So, your point of order is noted.”

Tony Nwoye

  • Face off with Tony Nwoye over manipulation of minority leadership

Akpabio had named Senators Abba Moro (PDP, Benue South) as the minority leader and Osita Ngwu (PDP, Enugu West) as minority whip. This was to replace the previous occupants ousted from the Senate by the courts. These appointments seemed not to have gone down well with some senators prompting an uproar  which lasted for over 15 minutes as members of other parties in the minority caucus began to rise up to express their displeasure.Senator Tony Nwoye, (LP, Anambra North) stood up furiously and began to shout “Are we your slaves? Why will the Senate President be picking leaders for us? You have done your worst. You have pushed us to the wall. Meaning what? It is unfair. It is not about me, it is about the institution of the state.”

Senate President, Akpabio reacts

  • Alleged collapse at colloquium 

In the late hours of Thursday, 14th December, 2023, there were reports that Akpabio had collapsed at a colloquium to mark his 61st birthday celebration in Abuja. It was reported that he slumped while seated on a chair at the Transcorp Hilton hotel where the event was held. In response to these allegations, Akpabio’s special assistant on media and publicity, Eseme Eyiboh, stepped forward to characterise the narratives as made-up versions, claiming that he was exhausted at the conclusion of the show. The senate president himself addressed the stories the next day, assuring on his healthHe said: “I have been reading through the social media but I’m happy the press corps did not join the show of propaganda. What eventually happened after the event was a show of humanity. I went home and I called my doctors and I was assured that I have malaria, mingled with stress, which could also be described in another way as exhaustion. In fact,  anybody could be exhausted. Please, drink water daily so that you don’t get exhausted. 

We must develop resilience in tackling emerging security threats – Akpabio — Nigeria — The Guardian Nigeria News – Nigeria and World News

  • Late start to plenary sessions

The Senate is expected to begin plenary sittings by 10 am on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays every week. bBt since the Akpabio-led 10th assembly, there has hardly been a time proceedings commenced at exactly 10.00 am. In most cases, Akpabio would adjourn sittings to 11.00 am but often commences between noon and 1.00 pm. He is working very hard to confirm the tag of a “late comer” as it is widely known that he barely keeps to time on prior official schedules. On several occasions, plenary sittings end up being adjourned late in order to finish up everything on the order paper, while in other cases, they move the remaining activities on the order paper to another legislative day.

Last line

Conflicts, allegations and counter-allegations have defined the firts six months of Godswill Akpabio’s tenure as Senate President. These have impacted the National Assembly’s public perception negatively as the efficacy and integrity of the 10th Senate have been called into question more than once. The Akwa Ibom politician would do well to reflect on these and turn the narrative to an open, responsible, mature, and independent legislative body the Senate is expected to be. 

Sharon Eboesomi

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