Money answereth all things
During his eight year reign as the governor of the oil-rich Akwa Ibom state, Godswill Akpabio made it his agenda to demonstrate the power of money. A popular dictum often attributed to governor Akpabio at the time was, “when money fails, pump in more money.” In his world, there is not a single problem in God’s earth that money cannot solve.
In the unpublished gospel according to Akpabio, everything rises and falls on the strength of money. With money, big and small doors open; own a little of it and watch things turn around. For a man whose monthly revenue as governor topped fifteen billion naira, it is easy to get carried away and believe that money indeed solves all problems.
Confusion about the power of money was not the only demon Akpabio succumbed to as governor. He also began to believe in his own invincibility. Did not hesitate to tell anyone and everyone that he alone had the keys to unlock the gates of politics in Akwa Ibom.
The man who crushed the gods
To be clear, Obong Godswill Akpabio did rightly earn his bragging right as a political master in the Niger Delta state and across the region generally. He picked the PDP guber ticket in the build up to the 2007 election despite stiff resistance from the then incumbent-Victor Attah. Akpabio had achieved an uncommon political victory in 2007 when he defeated Victor Attah’s favoured successor- Bob Ikarika- at the PDP primaries. Anti-Attah forces (including elements of federal power) had rallied around Akpabio to defeat Ikarika who is Atta’s in-law.
With the alleged support of the then incumbent President Olusegun Obasanjo, Akpabio had no difficulty sweeping the governorship election in April 2007 despite vehement opposition from governor Attah and his army of supporters who allegedly threw their weight behind another party’s candidate.
Many watchers of Nigeria’s politics since the beginning of the 4th Republic know how hard it is to beat the succession plan of an incumbent governor. Governors often times rule for eight years and unilaterally decide who they hand over to.
Recently, Rochas Okorocha- like Victor Attah- also almost succeeded in handing over the reins of power to his son-in-law but for the steely determination of the Imo electorates and the unity of the opposition parties. However, at the time Akpabio crushed Attah’s succession plan, many incumbents including those fiercely opposed to Olusegun Obasanjo like Bola Tinubu, Orji Kalu and Peter Odili all handed over to their favoured successors. Victor Attah was one of the most powerful governors in Nigeria in 2007, so defeating him in a shadowy fight made Akpabio a man to reckon with in Nigeria’s political firmament.
In April 2011, Akpabio also defeated the well-oiled political machinery of John James Akpanudoedehe of the Action Congress of Nigeria- ACN- to win another term of four years. The build-up to the election had been characterised by so much violence in Akwa Ibom state that all election monitoring groups in the country at the time marked the state as one of the “places to watch.”
It was alleged that the ACN candidate imported thugs from other parts of the country with the aim of helping him win the election. Akpabio and his party the PDP were also believed to have armed local hooligans to counter whatever their rivals threw up.
Transformation tainted by allegations of corruption
As governor, the general consensus is that Akpabio transformed Akwa Ibom from a backwater location to a frontline state taking leadership positions in tourism, sports, infrastructure and urban renewal even as the jury is still out on how much of public funds were looted as these “uncommon transformation” took place. A report credited to the EFCC in 2016 alleged that Akpabio looted N108 billion during his eight year reign. If this is proven in the courts, then there is no reason the former governor should not spend the remainder of his days in a maximum security prison.
While the debate rages on how much corruption happened under Godswill Akpabio as governor, the conversation today is not about his standing in the dock and taking questions from the prosecution team of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission-EFCC.
It is the expectation of many that one day, a genuine anti-corruption war would be prosecuted by a president who is not confused about his role as a leader, keeps to his promises and treats issues with neither emotions nor political sentiments. What is happening today on the anti-corruption turf is the exact opposite of what Nigerians expected in 2015 when APC campaigners convinced them that Muhammadu Buhari would sound the death knell on corruption in Nigeria.
Sadly, with more than a dozen individuals whose cases are in various courts for mindless looting of public treasury serving in Buhari’s government as ministers and cabinet members; it makes no sense to remotely argue that Buhari and his government have any interest in prosecuting a genuine war on corruption.
Dumping “corruption” to join the “saints”
Akpabio joined President Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2018- a few months to the 2019 general election and was poised to return to the senate on the strength of his political pedigree and previous triumphs. Many pundits at the time predicted that Governor Emmanuel Udom would be defeated to make way for an APC governor.
Well, things did not go to prediction. Despite Akpabio’s endless protests, INEC declared Chris Ekpenyong of the PDP as winner of the Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District election. Interestingly, Chris Ekpenyong was the deputy governor to Akpabio’s erstwhile nemesis- Victor Attah.
When Akpabio’s endless verbal assaults against the Akwa Ibom State Resident Electoral Commissioner- Mike Igini- failed to force a reversal of the electoral result, the former governor was left with no option but to petition the national assembly elections’ petitions’ tribunal asking for a reversal of the election results.
The tribunal dismissed his petition and upheld the result announced by INEC. On Saturday, November 9, 2019, the Appeal court in Calabar ordered a rerun election in Essien Udim Local government area where Akpabio and Chris Ekpenyong would contest for close to 20, 000 votes to determine who represents the region in the Red Chambers of the National Assembly.
Remain a minister or return to the senate?
The dilemma before Akpabio who is currently the minister in charge of Niger Delta in the Buhari cabinet is: should he resign his post to contest or would he elect to forgo the election now he is in charge of a ministry with humongous budget allocation every year? If Akpabio bows to ego and takes part in the rerun and wins (forget what happens if he loses), he would have to forgo the perks of being a minister and having the power to stamp his authority across the Niger Delta region. If he however remains a minister and refuses to contest, the point would be made that he has only succeeded in wasting everyone’s time with a dubious claim of electoral value. Which shall it be? Fight for his ego or seek territorial expansion and wider national visibility?
For a man who has never doubted the power of money to solve problems, this is one problem naira and dollars may not solve with a fiat. Whatever choice he makes will surely come with a huge opportunity cost; win or lose.
Talk of an uncommon dilemma for the self-styled uncommon transformer.