On June 13, It was Mohammed Ali Ndume, the All Progressive Congress senator representing Borno South, who nominated Godswill Akpabio during the vote for senate president. Akpabio won and was sworn in as senate president after securing 63 votes to defeat his closest rival, Abdulaziz Yari, who polled 46 votes.
After the swearing-in, Akpabio was flanked by Ndume and Senator Adeola Olamilekan who had seconded his nomination—all smiling.
But events since Akpabio became the senate president indicate that Senator Ndume may not have known the man he nominated to lead the senate.
Akpabio has made several gaffes since he became the presiding officer of the senate. It’s unclear yet if they were just procedural gaffes or a character flaw, but Ndume has been one of the key senators who have highlighted Akpabio’s weaknesses as president of the red chamber.
After the ministerial screening in August, shortly before the Senate adjourned for annual recess, Akpabio announced to his colleagues that money had been sent to them to “enjoy” their holiday, apparently forgetting that the proceeding was being captured on live camera.
The comment generated a backlash from Nigerians who interpreted it to be a bribe for the legislators at a time when the government was asking the public for sacrifice.
Senators were understandably angry at the way the public reacted to Akpabio’s statement, and it was Ndume who gave the most scathing rebuke of Akpabio.
Senator Mohammed Ali-Ndume
Speaking to the BBC Hausa service a day after, he blamed Akpabio for the controversy and berated the senate president’s flippancy as “unbecoming of an elder.”
He said, “In fact, we are even planning to take a drastic action against him if he continues making unguarded statements and acting as if we are kids.”
The senator from Borno also sparred with Akpabio last Tuesday and walked out on the senate president during plenary.
He had attempted to draw the Senate’s attention to what he termed as violations of the provisions of the Standing Orders of the Red Chamber.
He had moved a point of order to inform the Senate of alleged procedural infringements in the chamber, which he said violates established parliamentary protocol.
The Senate President refused to allow Ndume to complete his speech saying the Order 54 cited by Ndume had no bearing with the subject matter he tried to introduce, forcing Ndume to leave the chamber in apparent anger.
Opposition senators have also bided their time to voice concerns about Akpabio so as not to appear confrontational. The PDP senator representing Nasarawa South, Mohammed Onawo, apparently spoke for many of his colleagues when he criticised the Senate President for allegedly approving legislative bills without following due process.
He made the criticism when he raised a point of order against the amendment of the bill establishing the National Social Investment Programmes (NSIP) at the plenary on Wednesday. The amendment seeks to transfer the control and supervision of programmes under the NSIP from the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs to the Presidency.
He had said, “We have been ambushed all the time that very sensitive bills are brought and are expected to be passed with the speed of light, which is not good for this country.
“Every senator here is supposed to be adequately informed; he does his research, comes to the floor and makes a positive contribution. But in a situation where even money bills are brought and we are expected to pass it within two hours, it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t go well for this country.”
What Kind Of Leader?
The Senate president is regarded as the “first among equals,” a phrase which emphasizes the equality of lawmakers. But any keen observer of the senate whenever Akpabio is presiding will not fail to notice his imperial demeanor and comical responses to important comments or issues.
“His leadership style is high-handed,” said Tochukwu Ohazurike, a lawyer and development advocate. “He doesn’t understand his role as Senate president. He’s Primos inter pares, meaning he’s first among equals. All the senators are equal; he’s just the first among them. He doesn’t have executive powers over his colleagues.”
Ohazurike said there’s no harmony in the senate because Akpabio may not be listening to his colleagues, and “trying to pledge loyalty to external forces than the senators who elected him.”
He said Ndume, who is the chief whip of the senate, supported him to be senate president and if he’s having problem with him, “it can be interpreted that Akpabio is not following the party line.”
Hassan Oyeleke, a former majority leader in the Kwara State House of Assembly, views Akpabio’s challenges as inability or lack of willingness to lobby for consensus on issues.
“The senate president needs to reach out to his colleagues behind the scenes; there should be meeting before meeting and he needs to improve his lobby skills because open confrontation is not tidy,” said Oyeleke in a chat with THE WHISTLER.
Auwal Rafsanjani, Executive Director at Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre(CISLAC), sees Akpabio’s style as stifling senators who may want to make constructive contributions to debates during plenary.
Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, Head, Transparency International, Nigeria
He said some of the senators had already voiced their worries about Akpabio’s style which undermines the legislature.
“I think his approach to legislative work is just simply whatever Mr President wants must happen,” he said, adding that such an approach undermines the legislature.
“If you want to help Mr President, it’s to scrutinize whatever comes from the executive. That’s the only way you can point out some errors or shortcomings and draw the attention of Mr President.
“If you don’t do this I think you’re undermining your own work as a legislator, and you’re also not helping the government and you’re not helping the Nigerian people.”
For Gloria Agema, Executive Director of GEE Foundation for Social Justice and Development, Akpabio lacks the wisdom to lead the senate, adding the senate president “lacks tact to think clearly so he can act wisely.”
Ms Agema also frown on Akpabio’s seeming lack of deep understanding of senate rules which often puts him on collision course with his colleagues.
“He must be knowledgeable enough in the rules of the Senate to command the respect of his colleagues to avoid this regular attack from his own people. In my view he must take off that toga of a boss and humble himself to learn the business of the Senate otherwise they will teach him the hard way,” she advised.
Chairman of the Civil Society Network Against Corruption, Olanrewaju Suraju, said the manner the Akpabio presided over the screening of ministerial nominees showed he was compromised.
“I think there is nothing wrong with an effective and efficient parliament that maintains an independent and critical but collaborative relationship with the executive. I am less impressed with the screening of ministers by the Senate under Akpabio.
“Our organization had warned that Akpabio might be leading a compromised parliament, considering his corruption baggage and circumstances surrounding his emergence, and we wait to be proven wrong,” he warned……CONTINUE.FULL.READING>>>