AKPABIO: THE MAKING OF A POLITICAL “CLOWN”.
“From the sublime to the ridiculous there is only one step.”
Thomas Paine, 1737-1809. VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS.
Falling off the mountain of power can result in some unpleasant consequences. And, for a columnist who must send his script to the editor unfailingly every week, and who experiences a mental block regarding what to write, having one of our era’s biggest stories fall on your laps by accident can only be regarded as divine intervention. Monday, June 17, 2019 was one of those days for me. My mind was in a muddle with respect to this Sunday’s article. June 12 had been over-flogged; and at any rate I have a totally different view of the matter from that of those burdened by group-think. It is never my style to follow the herd of human cattle. After all, Walter Lippmann, 1889-1974, doyen of American journalism in his day had warned that “Where all think alike, none thinks very much”. I will soon render my own view of the waste of time on June 12.
More independent information had come in regarding the Social Investment Programme, SIP, which should now be renamed Social Corruption Programme, SCP. Buhari might not yet be aware. But, foreigners are in possession of massive data on his legacy project managed by the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, SAN. When the truth bursts out abroad, there will be an earthquake in Aso Rock. I also have more information to buttress the point made by Mrs Aisha Buhari – who more or less called the SCP, sorry, SIP, a scam. I feel sorry for “my brother Osinbajo”; no I weep for him already. He is sitting on top of a volcano about to erupt. But, that also could wait. So what to write became a problem. As usual, I went to one of my sages – for free beer. I got the beer and a gem of a story landed on my laps.
Before narrating the story and ending with comments, it is only fair to warn Senator Akpabio not to bother asking anybody to write a rejoinder or send a letter threatening to sue. There were five people present on that day. They include the story teller, two visitors, my sage and me. Four people heard the story and the story teller can recall precisely what happened that day. Akpabio ignores the advice at further risk to his self-esteem.
According to the narrative, on the day in question, Senator Godswill Akpabio had gone to visit Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the National Leader of the party. He entered the innermost waiting room and was told that Asiwaju had a visitor. Impatient for attention, Akpabio walked up to the door, knocked, opened and entered in his splendid attire. The former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, former Senator, former Senate Minority Leader (ex-this, ex-that in short) was dressed in a superb tuxedo with bow tie at mid-day as if going to a cocktail party. It was power dressing at its worst. And, it received the most powerful dressing down imaginable – if the narrator was telling the truth.
Tinubu looked up and asked: “Senator Akpabio, why are you dressed like a clown?” I wish I said it. That is a line for the social media. But, the humiliation did not end there.
Tinubu’s visitor was a young man relatively unknown and still trying to make his way in Nigerian politics. Instead of asking the young man to leave, Tinubu calmly asked Akpabio to “Wait until I finish with my visitor.” Akpabio made a hasty retreat. Unfortunately, for the former self-named “uncommon Governor” who at the height of his powers would have stormed out of Tinubu’s house, the tide of power had changed. He has become a political supplicant begging for appointment instead of making them. Most probably, Tinubu and his guest must have laughed at the retreating apparition as it meekly went to take a seat.
My sage was dumb-founded. He asked the narrator to repeat the story over again; and each time still found it unbelievable. Then, he turned to me and asked: “Dele why would Jagaban do that to Akpabio?” My answer was, and still is, “The young man represented a promising future for the APC, Akpabio symbolises failure. Political parties like the Mafia expect anybody who makes a promise to the god-fathers to deliver or risk getting embalmed politically. Akpabio, over-rating his powers, promised Akwa Ibom to the leaders of APC — Oshiomhole, Tinubu and Buhari. They believed him and turned over the party structure in the state to him. They lost more woefully than they would have lost without him. APC discovered too late that Akpabio was poison.”
Still the sage remained almost in a state of shock. Finally, he blurted out: “So that means Akpabio is finished politically.” The truth had never been told more simply and more fully. Ten thousand Tinubus could not have told Akpabio that he was dressed like a clown when he was second in power to Jonathan within the Peoples Democratic Party – even when he dressed like one at the time. Like the elders in Aesop’s Fable who pretended that an absent-minded Emperor was well-clothed until a small boy exclaimed “But, why, the Emperor is naked”, his party members would have regarded the ridiculous attire as trendy fashion. Power always corrupts our senses – even when we are not aware of it.
“Ingratitude is a crime more despicable than revenge, which is returning evil for evil, while ingratitude returns evil for good.” William George Jordan.
Akpabio was an obscure lawyer just a cut above the Charge-And-Bail court crawlers known all around Lagos until Attah was elected Governor of Akwa Ibom State in 1999 and was trying to build his cabinet. Akpabio was very far from his mind because he had not distinguished himself in anything. But, a highly respected associate of Obong Victor Attah brought Akpabio and begged that he should be considered for appointment as state commissioner. Attah was reluctantly persuaded. Thus, Godswill was brought in from the rain into opulence. In all fairness to him, he was considered loyal and hardworking until towards the end of Attah’s second term.
Attah, an Ibibio, who constitute over 67 per cent of Akwa Ibom voters, also made a majour concession to the minority ethnic groups – Anang and Oron – by persuading his people to agree to rotate the Governorship among the three ethnic groups. Otherwise the Ibibios could hold on to Government House for ever. Without that concession Akpabio would never have been Governor and he knows it. His conduct has now blocked the way for any other Anang politician.
Instead of following the usual tradition of moving from Governor’s Office to the Senate, a position he could have had just for asking, Attah went to contest for the Presidency. Vacancy in Government house in 2007 brought out several contestants and Akpabio was one of them. Akpabio informed Attah of his ambition and, in order to help Obong redeployed him as Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs – position which enabled him to build grass-root support for his ambition. Then something happened which created a personal dilemma for Attah. His son-in-law, Dr Udoma Ekarika, then Commissioner for Health and an Anang also joined the race – expecting support from his father-in-law. The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in Akwa Ibom was for once divided. Attah’s real or perceived support for Ekarika was interpreted in some quarters as at attempt by Attah to “hand over to himself” – a claim denied. Incidentally, that problem re-echoed in Imo State in the last election. The former Governor’s attempt to hand over to his son-in-law elicited the same response. National officers of the PDP got involved — especially President Obasanjo, who held grudges against Attah for his successful drive to get 13 per cent derivation for Niger Delta states. Akpabio was selected to run for the office in 2007. Despite the disagreement, the candidate received total support from the State Government to ensure victory. Akpabio, an Anang became the Governor of Akwa Ibom State. Then all hell broke loose. Akpabio trampled on everybody.
Godswill Akpabio soon left nobody in doubt that he was going to be a maximum ruler, a dictator and a very vindictive Governor. His government would rest on two pillars — heavily financed propaganda to create the image of UNCOMMON TRANSFORMATION and destruction of his predecessor’s legacy. For a long while his gamble paid off and like his hero Adolf Hitler, 1897-1945 (Poland saw war, war saw Poland), he seemed to have got away with everything.
Soon after taking office, he quickly completed the Uyo Airport project, which was 85 per cent completed by the time Attah handed over to him and with all the contractors fully paid and brought President Yar’Adua to commission it four months after he resumed. He claimed it as one of his achievements in the first year. The gullible Lagos-Ibadan journalists who were flown in for the occasion lacked the commonsense to ask if it is ever possible for anybody to construct an airport in four months. The myth of uncommon transformation was underway.
Then he unleashed his cabinet on Attah. Many of them had served in high office under the former Governor. But, with a new Oga who demanded absolute loyalty, they eagerly joined in raining insults on Victor Attah. It was then that I joined the battle on Attah’s side. Ingratitude was bad enough, deliberate falsehood propagated to destroy someone who brought you from the side walk to prominence was more than I could stand. Later, Akpabio insulted virtually all the political leaders of Akwa Ibom including those who helped him most.
One of my first interventions exposed a barefaced lie the former Governor of AKS had told the people of the state on his first anniversary. He announced that his government had donated a dialysis unit to the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital, UUTH, and equipped it with 19 dialysis machines. It was untrue because I knew that Attah had built the dialysis unit and had paid for the three machines installed. I went to Uyo, visited the unit, took pictures and wrote an article exposing the lie. Despite that, UUTH officials, under pressure by the government published a “rejoinder” to my article until I sent them the pictures.
The question now is: what happened to the funds allocated for this project which was not executed? Unfortunately, the UUTH story was only one of several thousand questionable projects dotting the eight-year misrule of Akpabio.
By 2009, Akwa Ibom, previously the most peaceful state in Nigeria, had become the nation’s leading crime state – kidnapping, murder, arson etc became common. By 7 pm Ibom Plaza, Uyo, usually a lively entertainment centre, would have been deserted – until Akpabio was “returned” for second term. Not once did Akpabio call on the security forces to check the wave of crime in the state or to arrest the culprits. That should tell readers something.
“Beware! When Fortune would elect to trick a man, she plots his overthrow/By such means as he would least expect. “ Geoffrey Chaucer, 1342-1400.
Akpabio used oil money to grab power within the PDP and very soon became the second most powerful man in the party – and perhaps Nigeria as well. He must have reasoned that he had got away with his atrocities since 2007. He was secure as long as Jonathan was President. Then, the unexpected occurred. A sitting President was not only defeated; he conceded. Akpabio’s political career landed on a slippery slope from 2015, but it was not until 2018 before he realised how precarious his situation was. His attempt to seek shelter under the Federal government by decamping has only made his situation worse. APC lost Akwa Ibom because of Akpabio. For the first time since 1999, the man is without any government job. He has no political friends anymore – not even in AKS APC. He is now an applicant and must dress like one. But, must he dress like a clown?
To be continued…..
The Rise and Fall of Akpabio is the sort of story which leads one to feel like Thomas Jefferson, 1743-1826, when he said ‘indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that god is just.’