Every democracy needs people on the outside to keep it honest, but it also needs people on the inside to make it work – people who will play the game for the sake of getting things done. These are not exactly my words. It’s a paraphrase from  George Stephanopoulos book, titled, “All Too Human”. Stephanopoulos was a  senior adviser to former U.S. President Bill Clinton, and currently, American television co-host. Unfortunately, these noble words that provide an oxygen of some sort for democracy to achieve its ideals are absent in the present generation of Nigerian lawmakers, especially those in the current 10th National Assembly led by Sen Godswill Akpabio. Undoubtedly, the deterioration of every government begins with the decay of the principles on which it was founded.                                                              

Indeed, if the past foretells the future, nothing happens to people that is not like them. Senate President Akpabio is yet to distinguish himself as a man without controversy. As a matter of fact,  Akpabio without controversy is like a doughnut without a hole. If controversy doesn’t locate him, he creates one. It seems to have become an integral part of his political accomplishments. It’s all about his story, his antecedents. Everyone seems to know someone who knows someone who has one tale or the other to tell about  Akpabio, a former Governor of Akwa Ibom state, and before now, erstwhile Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs, during which controversies of uncommon happenings hit the National Assembly like claps of thunder. Akpabio’s stories come close to that famous chilling quote from John Webster, an English Jacobean dramatist known for his tragedies when he said that  “a politician imitates the devil, as the devil imitates a cannon: wheresoever he comes to do mischief, he comes with his backside towards you”. Isn’t that a reminder of the spectacle of budget padding Nigerians have been treated to this past week in the Senate presided by Akpabio?                                                            

It’s still not clear if nothing is left unbroken in Nigeria’s politics, especially since Tinubu presidency began, with Akpabio as the President of the hallowed chamber of the  Senate. Here we are with a small minority in the lawmaking body taking over and monopolizing political power, and sharing public funds and other kinds of power and privileges in a vicious and immoral manner. This is pure kakistocracy and pigmentocracy,  which by definition is a government where,in the words of American political scientist Brian Paul,  the worst set of people are lording it over the rest of the citizens, and determining who gets what. It has never been this bad in our democracy. If corruption is a disqualifying offence, perhaps more than half of the present members in both the Senate and House of Representatives would be out of work. But some, we must say, are decent and care about their reputation and legacy. You see, every country is its own laboratory of democracy. That’s why Nigeria is not measuring up in the scale of good democracies in the world. Yes! Truth hurts, but silence kills.                                      

The event of the past  week in the Senate over N3 7trn  ‘budget padding’ allegations by Sen Abdul Ningi, representing Bauchi Central(now suspended)  should trouble the mind, but it’s not surprising. That’s why nobody is biting their nails expecting that anything will come out of the public outcry, including demand by the opposition parties, the People’s Democratic Party( PDP), and Labour Party presidential candidate in the last election, Mr. Peter Obi, asking Akpabio to “step aside”, and allow proper investigation into the matter. As usual with the APC government, spokesman of the Senate, Yemi Adaramodu said last week that Akpabio “won’t resign, and has no intention to resign at anytime because he has not committed any wrongdoing”. Truth is, under Akpabio’s leadership, the Nigerian Senate has lost its reputation. As far as the assessment of the public is concerned, the image of the present senate is as good as a disposable napkin. Nobody takes anything it does seriously.                                                            

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What we have been experiencing in the National Assembly in recent months since Akpabio took over the gavel,  is one of the strongest cases of pure idee fixes. Nothing matters more than personal interest or group interests. It has become an obsession that  supercedes that great deliberative lawmaking body, whose members ought to be first and foremost, loyal to the Constitution that they have sworn to uphold. But all of that has been thwarted by the will of few. Norms have become laws. Everyone is thumbing their noses at the allegations swirling around how the 2024 Appropriation Act was ‘padded’, and funds allegedly diverted elsewhere. Denial has been made to the contrary by the presidency and some senators. But, there is no denial of the fact that while some “senior senators”, received N500 million each, other high ranking senators received between N250m each and others as low as N75m. Time is far gone when “distinguished Senators” wear their pride in their sleeves.                                       

Today, only few national legislators can take pride in their status as people’s representatives. While hunger and poverty are writ large on the faces of the people, and insecurity squeezing everyone to a corner, what seems to matter to some members of the National Assembly is when will the next money be shared, and how much. You heard what Sen Agom Jarigbe(Cross River North) said? He lamented that even as a ‘senior senator’, he received only N75m from the largesse.  It’s in doubt if any of the senators cares much about the challenge of the primacy and integrity of the lawmaking body as an institution. Filthy lucre is now the currency of influence that unites the members from all sides of the aisle. I don’t know how long Akpabio will stay in the saddle as the Senate President if things continue in this present state of affairs. He has proved to be a mere dilettante where his predecessors excelled. His past was as unedifying as his present doesn’t worth more than a warm spit.                                    

One small but meaningful example of the past may be enough. It was his tension-soaked, self-indicting testimony  in July, 2020 when he was Minister of Niger Delta Affairs. He told the House Committee on Niger Delta Development Commission probing allegations of mismanagement and illegal spending by the NDDC and how the agency under his watch, parceled several juicy contracts to some senators, contrary to the provisions of the Code of Conduct for public officers. He named some of the lawmakers, one of who is currently serving some years in prison. Also, in  August last year, Akpabio yet again, stirred controversy and outrage during plenary when his gaffe mistakenly revealed him telling his colleagues that the clerk of the National Agency would send money to their bank accounts for them to “enjoy their recess”. It was after the senators had concluded the screening and confirmation of  ministerial nominees presented by President Tinubu.                                              

It was one of Akpabio’s many blunders  as President of the senate. He has always acted limply and inadequately. Perhaps exuberance of the coveted office has failed him, time and time again. I think he needs to be saved from himself. The ongoing allegation of budget padding could be on top of the log of his many indiscretions. No previous Senate President would have stayed a week longer in that position if any of them had done half of what Akpabio has done in 8 months.  But if you wonder why the presidency may not discard him anytime soon, this is why: He is a perfect partner in  President Tinubu administration. They complement each other. While Tinubu could be described as the master of the art of politics, the Nigerian way, Akpabio is the master apprentice at deference, subservience to different channels of power. But his Achilles’s heel is that he’s crude, sometimes loquacious and irrational in his style of politics and leadership. He needs to learn more by sitting at the feet of older, more knowledgeable men and absorb their wisdom.                                                               

While Tinubu’s political style seems to be in his blood, going to the jugular against his political adversaries, Akpabio often lowers his guard. Strong conviction and belief are not his cherished assets. But both of them are synonymous, and in agreement with the Machiavelli school of thought that  fierce leadership is more important than being generous or loved. The end result is what matters, not necessarily, the means. That’s why Tinubu and Akpabio seem to be winning. For now, Akpabio fits the bill on what the Executive arm wants to achieve using the legislative arm led by Akpabio. It’s not unkind to say that both men have no real agenda but to dominate other men, and bend people to their will. That’s why Sen Ningi was suspended for three months. He may be ‘forgiven’ and recalled sooner than later, if he shows contrition, and promise not to ruffle feathers again.                                                  

But there comes a time when politics is bigger and more nuanced than simple theorising. That is why, for Akpabio, the honeymoon with Tinubu may not last long.  This is why: Analysis of the controversial budget padding document as submitted by Microxpression, a think tank organisation, according to Economic Confidential(Abuja based reliable journal), showed that some of the funds are “elusive in terms of traceability”, and are encumbered by significant accountability constraints. Also, some of other projects with specific locations are reported to be outside the statutory mandates of the respective ministries. They are located outside the operational jurisdiction of the respective organisations. That’s  why Sen Ningi’s allegations should not be dismissed completely. It’s better not to throw the ‘baby with the bathwater ‘. For Akpabio, this is my advice: learn how to use power for great purposes.