IT is not about going around trying to stir up trouble. As long as you’re honest and articulate in what you believe to be true, somebody somewhere will become your enemy whether you like it or not,” said Criss Jami, the author of the two-in-one book entitled “Killosophy” and the lead singer of the American rock band, Venus in Arms.
This well-thought-out statement, to say the least, is accurate in describing the former governor of Akwa Ibom State and Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Obot Akpabio’s first 365 days in office as a lawmaker.
Akpabio has faced different criticisms for his politics of development and transformational leadership as governor of Akwa Ibom for eight years, as well as his solid leadership of opposition senators in the current session of the National Assembly. But for the Ukana- born politician, politics had always been about the people and their interests, with the legal practitioner cum politician always at the vanguard of causes and ideals that will better the lots of the people.
As governor, not only did he commandeer the transformation team that gave Akwa Ibom State a new image, he oversaw a state that now towers above its contemporaries in both physical and human developments.
As chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Governors’ Forum, he led his colleagues to defend the party from annihilators and aggressors who had conspired to rile it and destroy its very existence.
Though the 2015 general election, especially the presidential election, was not the most accurate picture of Akpabio’s struggle and leadership of the party, it was, no doubt, a proof of his erudition and ebullience as a leader and primus inter pares. It was against the backdrop of the focused and articulate leadership the former governor provided to the PDP governors that he was chosen as the Minority Leader of the Senate, despite being a first-timer and what in legislative parlance is known as a non-ranking senator.
When that decision was made, tongues wagged; with most people expressing doubt in Akpabio’s ability to lead the opposition senators due to his perceived inexperience. Unknown or known to those who worked against his elevation to the revered position of the Senate Minority Leader, Akpabio entered the eighth Senate with over 20 years experience in public service and the last eight years in a chief executive position of the governor of not just a state, but Akwa Ibom State. Fifth columnists, especially some elements from the All Progressives Congress (APC) who were scared by the governor’s sterling credentials and his towering leadership testimonial had quickly moved to sow seed of discord in the PDP over Akpabio’s choice.
Their fear was stemmed from the erroneous belief that having Akpabio as the opposition leader would create a lot of problems for the new government.
However, the PDP stayed resolute about Akpabio’s choice, just as his colleagues and ranking senators threw their weights behind him, passing a vote of confidence on his leadership ability and capacity to lead the opposition PDP in the Senate. Even when a member of the opposition party rose in stout opposition to Akpabio’s elevation, the Senate President was said to have asked the said lawmaker of why he was crying more than the bereaved, in this case, the PDP.
Three hundred and sixty five days down the line, that decision to saddle Akpabio with the onerous responsibility of leading the powerful PDP minority in the Senate has not only been a perfect one for the party, it is, indeed, a fillip for its vital drive to reposition and rebuild ahead of the 2019 elections.
With Akpabio as Minority Leader, the synergy between the National Assembly and the PDP governors, as well as the party’s national leadership became effective and solid, as the former governor’s experience and relationships with most of the stakeholders are continually being deployed to the advantage of the party, and this was also manifested in the way the party handled the recent leadership tussle.
Secondly and most importantly, the minority party in the Senate, given its history of having ruled for 16 years, was feared and dreaded by the new ruling party as being capable of derailing its governance and ‘plans’ for Nigerians. This was why most APC stakeholders kicked against the overwhelming influence of the PDP in the emergence of National Assembly leadership back in June, with most of them shifting their ire to the emergence of Akpabio as Minority Leader of the Senate.
For this class of politicians, the fact that Akpabio was a vehement, ardent and intelligent supporter of the previous PDP government meant that he would “work” against the APC government at all costs.
But Akpabio, in one of his numerous press briefings on his positions and that of his party on issues brought before the lawmakers stated categorically that, “ the PDP Senators are not here to play blind oposition; we will not oppose policies of government brought before this Senate just for opposition sake. We will provide credible and positive opposition. We will suport any government policy that is aimed at making lives meaningful and bearable for Nigerians and we will oppose any anti-people policies. We all want our president, Muhammadu Buhari to succeed, hence, we will not blindly oppose his policies the way the APC opposed us when we were in power.”
True to his promise, in the one year of holding the sensitive post of Senate Minority Leader, not only has the Essien Udim-born lawmaker distinguished himself as a patriot, he has successfully put partisanship behind him in the interest of the nation by galvanizing his colleagues in the PDP to support whatever will be in the best interest of Nigerians.
So far, not only has the PDP senators proved to be an integral part of whatever development will bring succour and comfort to Nigeria and deepen democracy, they have been active in opposing decisions, which they view as capable of setting back the country and derailing the developmental achievements of previous PDP governments. The recent public condemnation and denial of alleged plan by the APC dominated Senate to invoke the impeachment clause in the constitution against the President is a major reference point in the resolve of the Akpabio-led opposition not to support any decision that would further heat up the polity.
Within the period under review, PDP senators actively moved to challenge the confirmation of an individual whom they felt his appointment would cast blight on the ongoing “anti-corruption” fight of President Buhari and also worked towards making life better for unemployed Nigerians through calls for the urgent implementation of the N5,000 monthly stipends to them. Though APC senators played opposition to both efforts and scuttled the PDP’s good intentions, the PDP senators stood for what they believed and one can only give credit to their leader in the Senate, Akpabio, whose style of opposition politics is legendary and aimed towards national unity, cohesion and development.
As the government of Buhari trudges on, many Nigerians have shifted their hope and focus to the National Assembly, which they believe would be the saviour at this auspicious moment.
Addressing APC Senators in one of their sittings, Akpabio said, “Inspite of all your efforts not to succeed, we’re here to make you succeed.”
However, since the APC senators have on a few occasions demonstrated loyalty to their party at the expense of Nigerians, the PDP senators are now considered the much-sought-after saviours, the true progressives who will put Nigeria and Nigerians first.
- Udom is Special Assistant to the Senate Minority Leader on Media.