A former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio, has emerged as the Senate President of the 10th Assembly.
Akpabio was the preferred candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress.
Akpabio was sworn in as the Senate President after garnering 63 votes, leaving his rival, Yari Abdulaziz, to 46 votes.
Nigeria’s new Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, is one of the few lucky Nigerians born with a silver spoon, noting that he has family members who have been in governance and at the helm of affairs for a long time.
Akpabio is perceived to be from a strong political dynasty; his grandfather, Okuku Udo Akpabio, was the Warrant Chief in Ikot Ekpene province in the old Nigeria, while his uncle, Dr Ibanga Akpabio, was the Minister of Education/Internal Affairs in the then Eastern Nigeria. His cousin, Justice Nsima Akpabio, was also a senator in the Second Nigerian Republic.
Political journey from the classroom
If you called Akpabio an ajebutter (elite), you would not be far from the truth. Akpabio has, from a young age, started his leadership journey as he has occupied one significant office or another.
Akpabio began his educational journey at the Methodist Primary School, Ukana, Essien Udim Local Government Area, Akwa Ibom State; the Federal Government College, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, where he was a senior prefect; and completed his secondary school education.
His leadership journey continued even after secondary school, as he was elected Speaker of a Parliamentary Year during his sojourn as a student at the University of Calabar, Cross River State, where he obtained his law degree.
Professional background: Teacher to Managing Director
Having obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Law, Akpabio had a short stint as a teacher before he moved on to work as an associate with Paul Usoro and Co., a law firm in Nigeria.
From there, he served in the telecommunications industry with EMIS Telecoms Limited, a wireless telecommunications company in Lagos, Nigeria, and in 2002, he rose to the position of Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the company.
Akpabio also served at the national level as the National Publicity Secretary of the Association of Telecommunication Companies in Nigeria.
An ambitious politician
While serving as the MD of EMIS Telecoms, Akpabio, in 2002, he was appointed as the Commissioner for Petroleum and Natural Resources by the then Governor Obong Victor Attah in Akwa Ibom State. Between 2002 and 2006, he served as a commissioner in three key ministries: Petroleum and Natural Resources, Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, as well as Lands and Housing.
Following his stint as commissioner, Akpabio threw his hat into the ring for the Akwa Ibom governorship election, where he battled with 57 others to clinch the ticket of his then party, the Peoples Democratic Party.
Launched with the slogan, “Thy will be done,” Akpabio won the governorship election in 2006 and got re-elected as the number one citizen of Akwa Ibom for the second time in 2011.
In 2013, Akpabio was elected chairman of the newly formed PDP Governors Forum.
Akpabio’s voyage into the Parliament
In 2015, he contested and won the Senate seat of the Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District to represent the district in the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
Running under the platform of the PDP, he polled 422,009 of the 439,449 votes to defeat Chief Inibehe Okorie of the APC, who recorded 15,152 votes to be declared elected by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Akpabio, in 2015, as a first timer against Senate rule, was made a principal officer as the Senate Minority Leader.
In August 2018, he resigned as the Senate Minority Leader after announcing his defection to the All Progressives Congress.
From legislature back to the Executive
In July 2019, he was nominated by the former President, Muhammadu Buhari, and screened by the Nigerian Senate for a ministerial appointment. On August 21, 2019, he was sworn in as Minister for Niger Delta Affairs.
In June 2022, Akpabio’s ambition went even higher when he resigned his appointment as the minister for Niger Delta Affairs to contest in the presidential primaries of the ruling All Progressives Congress but stepped down on the night of the primaries for the president, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
Cross-carpeting back to the legislature
Having stepped down for the President, Akpabio, against all odds, clinched his senatorial ticket through a court order from a retired Deputy Inspector General of Police, Mr Udom Ekpoudom.
Having secured the ticket, Akpabio began the tussle for the Senate Presidency and eventually got anointed as the party’s choice.
The name Akpabio would ring a bell among Nigerians with notable scandals.
Godswill Akpabio was under investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on accusations that he diverted over N100 billion from Akwa Ibom State during his time as governor (2007-2015) with American diplomats calling the level of corruption “exceptional” during his tenure. However, no charges have been filed.
A lawyer, Leo Ekpenyong, who also accused Akpabio of corruption, was later arraigned by the police in court for defamation.
Also in April 2023, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, through a letter, asked the former minister of Niger Delta Affairs to report to its headquarters in Abuja for interrogation over a corruption investigation against him.
Akpabio, however, through his lawyer, Umeh Kalu, SAN, said in a letter to the commission dated March 27 that his client would not be able to honour the invitation due to a scheduled medical appointment overseas.
Akpabio then vanished into thin air, only to return to the country some days after the president came into the country to continue his race for the Senate Presidency.
Other corruption cases in NDDC
The notable corruption cases in NDDC during Akpabio’s first year as minister include the admission by the acting managing director of the commission, Kemebradikumo Pondei, that the commission spent N1.5 billion for its staff as ‘COVID-19 relief funds’.
Also, the Senate said top management of the NDDC paid themselves N85.6 million to attend a graduation ceremony in the United Kingdom at a time when Nigeria was on lockdown and airports were shut because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Senate also said NDDC officials paid themselves scholarship grants at a time when hundreds of deserving scholarship beneficiaries had not been paid for years and were stranded in different countries.
Two directors in the NDDC were arrested and detained in August by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission over corruption allegations, while a former managing director of the NDDC forfeited N250 million to the Federal Government a few days ago.
Akpabio was also accused of inserting N500 million worth of projects into the 2017 budget of the NDDC when he was the Senate minority leader.
Sexual Harassment scandal
Also, a former acting managing director of NDDC, Joy Nunieh, said Mr. Akpabio had wanted her to take an oath, which would have restrained her from exposing fraud at the commission.
She once said, “For instance, he told me to raise a memo to fraudulently award emergency contracts for flood victims in the Niger Delta.”
Nunieh also said she once slapped the minister at his guest house in Abuja for sexually assaulting her. Akpabio in turn denied her allegations and sued her for defamation
Off your, mic scuttle with N’Assembly
In May 2020, Akpabio was summoned by members of the House of Representatives over the misappropriation of N40 billion.
During his time as the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, he was involved in a scuffle with lawmakers during a National Assembly investigative hearing.
When questioned, the former Akwa-Ibom governor told the panel that National Assembly members were involved in contract awards in the tainted Niger Delta Development Commission, and the chairman of the panel, Thomas Ereyitomi, immediately told the minister to put off his microphone.
Ereyitomi, “Honourable minister, it’s okay, it’s okay. Off your mic!”
Akpabio, who was upset after the public hearing, went ahead to name lawmakers who got contracts from NDDC.
His testimony against the lawmakers has continued to haunt him amongst his colleagues who haven’t forgiven him for exposing their ‘ dirty deals.’
Subsequently, Akpabio rejected a summons by the National Assembly, which made the lawmakers conclude that he had no regard for the parliament and was arrogant.
One of the things that endear people to Akpabio is his constant smile. You’d hardly catch him frowning, no matter what was going wrong.
The former governor is also known for his oratory prowess, intelligence and poise.
He is always displaying confidence and great self-esteem.
He is married to Ekaette Akpabio, the founder of the Family Life Enhancement Initiative, a non-governmental organisation providing a platform for redirecting the focus of development efforts on the family as a strategy for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
They both have four daughters