By Jackson Udom
Frank, assertive but unassuming, President of the 10th Senate, Godswill Obot Akpabio, has always cut the figure of a determined and purpose-driven leader wherever the mantle of leadership falls on him since his burst into the political limelight in Akwa Ibom State as Commissioner in charge of three different ministries in 2002.
It was that emblematic assertiveness and affable disposition that made most Nigerians celebrate his emergence as the President of the Senate in a keenly-contested election on June 13, 2023, with majority of the people concluding that the emergence of the two-term Senator would be a great blessing to the National Assembly, the Presidency of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Nigeria as a whole.
One hundred eventful days down the line, that conclusion about the Akpabio Senate Presidency has not only been justified, it has also proved unassailable, with several decisive and nationalistic steps taken by the National Assembly lending credence to the absolute confidence reposed in Senator Akpabio, first by his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and then by his colleagues and Nigerians.
Akpabio’s very first day in office, seemed to have reechoed the words of the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, who said his landing on the moon on July 20, 1969, was one small step for a man but one giant leap for mankind.
His emergence on the 13th of June, 2023 as the President of the 10th Senate was seen as a great step for the All Progressives Congress (APC), but a giant stride for Nigeria, the turf where Akpabio has remained a shining star and leading light for over 16 years.
Having served as commisioner for six years in three key ministries, as governor for two terms, Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party Governors’ Forum, (PDPGF), Senate Minority Leader as a first timer and later Minister Niger Delta Affairs before his eventful re-election as Senator in March 2023, after he had stepped down as presidential aspirant to support the aspiration of now President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Akpabio has bestridden the Nigerian landscape as a political colossus and made great marks on its sands of time.
The vast experiences acquired in all these offices would bring a whole lot of good to the National Assembly, the Federal Government and Nigerians in general and this was the main reason his aspiration for the office of the President of the 10th Senate got the endorsements of the Presidency, the leadership of the APC and the 63 Senators who ensured that ‘Godswill’ was done on June 13 and they were not wrong going by the actions and achievements of the Akpabio Senate Presidency in the last 100 days.
In the aftermath of the election of the Senate leadership, Senator Akpabio brought his wealth of experience to bear on the constitution of Senate Committees and the appointments of Committee chairmen such that the usual ruckus often associated with the exercise in previous National Assembly sessions was unheard of.
In Godwill Akpabio, the Senate has had a sturdy leader, who is providing leadership by patiently coordinating the different tendencies within the Red Chamber by ensuring stability and it is exciting that this is just the beginning.
It is therfore not a surprise when Senator Basheer Lado, Convener of the APC Non-Serving Senators, commended Akpabio for his exemplary disposition in the composition of Senate Committees, stating that “the strategic composition reflects a remarkable display of leadership, inclusivity, and commitment to the overall progress and welfare of our great nation.”
Even Akpabio’s major challenger for the office of the President of the Senate, Abdulaziz Yari, noticed that selfless leadership traits in Akpabio, when he publicly described him as a selfless leader, when he dropped the gavel against the wish of the leadership of the Senate on the Senator Adams Oshiomhole face off with some Senators.
The Akpabio-led Senate had also displayed a rare disposition of nationalism quite early into the Akpabio Senate Presidency when it was confronted with a looming challenge occasioned by the removal of fuel subsidy by the President and the threat of a mass protest by the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress.
Represented by Senate Chief Whip, Ali Ndume, the Senate leadership was unequivocal about its commitment to ensuring that the system continues to run smoothly and that the interest of workers and the generality of Nigerians are respected by the Executive arm.
In what would go into the history books as one of the most impactful interventions that thawed the ice of the Federal Government-Labour Union face-off, the Senate had asked for Seven days to wade into the crisis and in those Seven days, the warring parties were, indeed, able to reach a compromise and avert what would have been the mother of all protests.
The Senate under Akpabio, apart from intervening in the NLC, TUC and FG industrial face off, it also played a major role in bringing to an end the strike and planned public protest by the members of Nigeria Association of Resident Doctors (NARD). In the same vein, Senate moved vehemently against the planned increment of electricity tariff by DISCOS in the wake of the removal of fuel subsidy, through a well endorsed motion which saw to the stoppage of the tariff increase.
It is also interesting to note how the Senate President oversaw a seamless and smooth screening and confirmation of ministers, who will work with President Tinubu to bring about the Renewed Hope Agenda promised Nigerians. Unlike previous screenings, where thoroughness and excellence were sacrificed on the altar of partisanship, Senator Akpabio ensured that he guided the Senate to offer qualitative screening while not hurting party loyalty and other democratically-lawful tendencies associated with such screenings.
When it was time for confirmation, the Senate leadership demonstrated an uncharacteristic courage in ensuring that the screening was not a mere academic exercise, as it also went ahead to turn down some nominations based on findings from the screening exercise. In the end, only 45 of the 48 nominations sent by the president were confirmed by the Senate. That is the kind of courage for which Akpabio has been renowned over the years.
Everywhere he had been, Akpabio’s penchant for etching his name in gold and emblazoning his excellent leadership identity on the hearts of the people has become a major credential that makes those who believe in him insist on him as the go-to man whenever tough leadership decisions are to be made.
Never one to shy away from taking initiatives in the interest of his people, what the former Governor of Akwa Ibom State started by redefining governance in Akwa Ibom and setting a major template for governors in terms of infrastructure development and people-centric leadership has become an identity that weathers all storms.
Also emblematic for the President of the Senate is his burning desire to make Nigeria work. Even when he had to take personal risks, as was the case when he was the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs and he had to visit Tompolo in the creeks, to broker peace in the interest of the nation, Akpabio has remained the shining example of courageous leadership.
While campaigning to occupy his current position, he had promised Nigerians that the National Assembly under his watch would work for Nigeria and Nigerians and would rubber stamp anything that would be in the interest of the generality of Nigerians. His disposition and handling of the affairs of the Senate in the last 100 days has shown that he is not in anyway prepared to deviate from that solemn pledge to Nigerians.
As the President Tinubu administration goes on, the Presidency and, indeed, Nigerians can look forward to a stable, purposeful Senate that will work hard on its own end of the bargain to ensure the success of the Renewed Hope mandate of the President.
But there is something else they should look forward to; they should expect a courageous Senate leadership, one that will put the Executive arm on “its toes” in the overall interest of the Nation.
In Akpabio, Nigerians have a fearless leader, who will put his feet down when need be for the common good of the Nation; an uncommon leader, who will achieve uncommon feats as President of the 10th Senate.
His first 100 days in office have proven that much.
Udom is Special Assistant on Media to the President of the Senate