By Niran Adedokun
Considering the drama that Nigeria has witnessed since 1999, it would seem that politicians had exhausted their capacity to shock until stories began to fly around about Senator Godswill Akpabio’s possible defection to the All Progressives Congress.
The surprise in Akpabio’s move is not so much about the personality of the former two-term Governor of Akwa Ibom State. The truth is that this otherwise ordinary legal practitioner whose fortune has taken a definite better-turn after his contact with politics has never given the impression of any formidable persona. But with the wind of defection that blew over the APC these past weeks, Akpabio stood in the best position of his political career ever.
With the crossover of 14 senators and counting to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party in July, this senator, who had been the Minority Leader at the Senate, was on his way to becoming the Leader of majority senators in the Red Chambers. And the Senate Leader wields considerable power and influence, not just within the Senate but with the executive and by extension, the party on whose platform he was elected.
That is not to speak about the years that he has spent in the PDP, the benefit that has accrued to him over those years like the humongous pension entitlement, as an ex-governor, he cornered by virtue of the state’s skewed pension law, and the quantum of invectives the Senator representing Ikot Ekpene District of Akwa Ibom State had poured on the ruling APC and its major actors over the past three years or so. Akpabio, as a result, did not cut the image of someone who would sacrifice all the prestige and perks attending the high office that stared him in the face for anything.
But the company in which Akpabio moved within the past one week put an end to speculations about his next political move far ahead of the grand reception that welcomed him into the APC on Wednesday.
Now, Akpabio’s move has predictably received an almost equal measure of applause and condemnation from Nigerians. While ardent loyalists of the APC, still hurting from the gale of defections that hit the party over the past couple of weeks, were over themselves with joy for this big catch from the PDP, supporters of the PDP were livid, employing every synonym to the word, betrayal, in their description of the senator. As usual, ordinary Nigerians have taken over the wars of politicians, a war whose origin and purpose, they are not privy to.
And this is why there should be a bit more of national reflection on whether the failure of leadership is the major culprit of Nigeria’s backwardness as we want to believe?
While it is granted that leadership has continuously failed Nigeria in its 58 years of its independence, it has become important to query the quality of following in the country.
Aside from the fact that leaders emerge every now and then from those who have been followers at one time or the other, there is the very critical element of interrogating the actions and decisions of leaders that the Nigerian polity has continued to lack.
It is unthinkable, for instance, that in spite of the enormous opportunities that Akpabio’s recent switch of loyalty offer Nigerians to probe the motives of those who have been elected to govern or represent them, most Nigerian citizens have reduced this event into an opportunity to expand their partisan interests. No wonder, politicians continue to take Nigerians for granted.
A natural requirement of the defection of anyone elected as a representative in any of the legislative chambers for instance, should be consultations with the electorate. But this does not happen in Nigeria. Politicians have almost always appropriated the rights and fortunes of the people to themselves such that they take decisions which only favour their political proclivities.
Of course, there have been many insinuations as to why Akpabio would have left his erstwhile political habitat, including an attempt to seek preservation for accusation of corruption, there is the very clear breakdown in his relationship with Emmanuel Udom, who succeeded him as Governor of Akwa Ibom State.
And this reason itself presents enough reasons for Nigerians to begin to work towards wresting their destinies from politicians. Just four years back, Akpabio did everything to get Udom, a political novice, whom he had brought out of a leading commercial bank, to become Secretary to the State Government just a few months earlier. Udom’s emergence as the SSG resulted from Akpabio’s opposition to the ambition of Mr. Umana Okon Umana who had served in that capacity for six years before he was forced to leave on account of his governorship ambition in July 2013.
Akpabio from all available evidence then chose Udom over Umana and another longstanding member of his government, Bassey Albert Akpan, who served as commissioner under Akpabio for about seven years,. This was apparently because he imagined that Udom was a political greenhorn without a concrete political base and that this would make him more malleable. It is an irony that the same Udom over whom Akpabio sacrificed many of his old friends is the same one who has slammed the door of patronage on his face.
But if the character of Nigeria’s politics is anything to go by, the current Akwa Ibom State Governor would have little or no blame for the alleged degeneration of the relationship with his former benefactor. Incumbent political officer holders in Nigeria do all within their means to install people who would do their biddings while in government, without any regard to their competence or passion for the people. And when, as we have seen on a lot of occasions lately, those people they force on the electorate become too powerful to condone their excesses, they find all sorts of reasons to explain their lack fidelity to the party that made them ab initio and the people whose mandate they have deceitfully, sometimes, forcefully handed over to their cronies.
And it is human for politicians to find excuses for their errors even though the explanations they give are meant to trick people into sympathising with them and succumbing to their deceptions, once again.
But it is unacceptable and injurious to the future of the country that citizens would rather than see through the selfishness of leaders continue to allow their obvious self-centred manipulation distort national development.
With the reckless volume of political defections that this country has witnessed lately, the citizens should do more questioning of the motives of politicians than taking sides and unwittingly encouraging political shenanigans.
In a democracy, power is shared between leaders and the led. And when that does not happen, there is no accountability and this would naturally be accompanied with abuse, a corruption of values and processes and the ultimate subjugation of the rights of the people to happiness. The only way to save Nigeria from the endless trickery of politicians is for Nigerians to take hold of their destinies and desist from endless patronage of the same politicians who oppress them.
Niran Adedokun can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter: @niranadedokun