From empirical evidence, it has been successfully argued, and still being talked about, that a major contributory factor to the political colossus that Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Nigeria’s president and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces has become, perhaps more than any politician in the country’s history, was the making of men and women who, in a million years if they had lived that long, would never have dreamt of the socio-economic and political heights they have attained if not for President Tinubu—-after God.
Tinubu has not only triumphed over his well-entrenched and formidable political enemies at every turn because of this singular factor but these colossal, high-achieving men and women, most of whom would take a bullet for the president if they must, dots the country’s geopolitical regions as they are also strewn across the African continent.
Perhaps for effect, not a few of these high social, economic, and political net-worth individuals have openly admitted that they would not have amounted to anything in life—-unknown and unrecognized—-if President Bola Tinubu, who realized their talents and utilitarian values to society early enough, coupled with his innate large-heartedness, had not given them the needed supports even when some of them knew, intrinsically, that they probably didn’t deserve the president’s always magnanimous disposition.
His Excellency Godswill Obot Akpabio, the President of the Senate and Chairman of the 10th National Assembly shares President Tinubu’s worldview and leadership trait. Without a shadow of a doubt, based also on empirical evidence, Senate President Akpabio is a replica of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu in also turning boys into highly endowed men and girls into high-achieving women with the kind of inordinate generosity that can perhaps be found only among the people of Ukana, Ikot Ntuen in Akwa Ibom state.
Akpabio’s predilection for turning boys into men and girls into women of socio-economic and political prominence played out in vivid technicolor to yours sincerely very recently at his maiden interactive meeting with his Senior Aides on Monday, October 9th in the conference hall of the Senate.
The meeting was billed to be relatively short as not more than four items were on the meeting agenda, two of which were the Opening and Closing prayers, remarks by his Chief of Staff Chief Sylvester Okonkwo, and appointees’ Self-Introductory session.
But the meeting lasted for about two hours, thanks to just about all the aides (numbering approximately 30) who saw a unique opportunity to express what can best be described as their profound, if not eternal gratitude to a man they believe was single-handedly responsible for plucking them from relative obscurity to making them what they have become in life today.
From our self-introductions, it became obvious that some of us are tested and trusted loyalists as not a few described themselves as proud members of the “Akpabio School of Politics,” having been in and out of elective offices and other political appointments except the governorship and deputy governorship in an atmosphere filled with laughter and rib-cracking jokes by the Senate President himself.
When it came to his turn to introduce himself, a man stood up, with a few seconds of hesitation, said he didn’t quite know where to begin to thank the Senate President for changing his life. Akpabio it was that God used as an instrument to change a life trajectory that would have remained in relative obscurity. But the Senate President began where he left off.
“He was a youngster then who said he wanted to talk to me. So I came out of my car. He said he would like the government to patronize his cleaning business. And I obliged him. Years later during one of my campaign outings, I saw a group of boys and girls wearing T-shirts with the University of Calabar inscription (his alma mater). Out of curiosity, I approached them. One of them walked up to me and asked if I remembered him. I said I didn’t. “He said he was the boy I assisted with getting a job. It was from that job he sponsored himself through the university.” Most jaws dropped. That man is Saviour Enyiekere, Ph.D, now his Deputy Chief of Staff.
Akpabio’s aide on Women’s Affairs has traversed all the elective offices from being Councilor to Chairwoman of a Local Government Council, and everything in between. She thanked Akpabio profusely.
Hon. Ineme’s gratitude came with its own twists and turns as the Senate President narrated his situation to us—-jovially and in his ever lighter mood. “This is a man I gave a ticket and he was elected to the House of Representatives. He said he wanted to go for a second term. I told him he should let somebody else have the ticket. So, he started fighting and abusing me.” We all laughed. Because he’s an uncommon and atypical Nigerian politician Akpabio didn’t hold that indiscretion against him as he’s still a member of Akpabio’s political dynasty in good standing.
The Senate President brought his aide on Diaspora Affairs during a chance encounter in faraway United States of America, having spent 28 years of his adult life in that country. This gentleman has stayed very close to him for twelve years and still counting.
“Here’s my salute to the man who is responsible for all that I have, and what I have become till date,” his Chief Press Secretary (CPS) since when he was a governor said matter-of-factly as he stood up to be counted, so to speak.
“I met Jackson when I came to Ibadan for an award when I was governor. He was The Tribune correspondent then. From his surname, I thought he could be from Akwa Ibom. So, I asked him to come and work for me. But he’s is an ‘Akwa Ibom abroad.'” And everybody laughed. These are nuggets of expressions of gratitude from the aides of this Uncommon leader on that day.
From their self-introductions, the Senate President remembered to ask for updates on those whose election petitions are in the Appeal Courts. This was when it dawned on some of us that a significant number of his aides are still desirous of representing their constituencies either at the state or federal level should they win their election-related cases.
Yet, Akpabio provided them with life jackets to keep them afloat and relevant in the political scheme of things in Akwa Ibom with appointments he described as “stop-gap” measures. This magnanimity speaks to the authenticity of a true leader who’s always looking out for the well-being of his political disciples and followers.
Also from his self-introduction, it didn’t take long for us to figure out that one of the key aides of a presiding officer in the 9th Senate who was vehemently opposed to the emergence of Godswill Akpabio as the President of the 10th Senate is also part of us.
In an uncommon display of political sportsmanship and politics without bitterness, Akpabio admonished the aide in question not to feel like a fish out of the water as “what happened in the past remains in the past.” “I want you to also succeed as everyone else in my team,” he said in encouragement. That statement would no doubt boost his sense of belonging as well as a soothing balm for someone who played no less significant role in the war of attrition that characterized Akpabio’s campaign for the Senate President.
Although it was a get-to-know-yourselves meeting, it was also a lecture of some sort as the Senate President not only shared a few of his thoughts and experiences since assuming the leadership of the entire National Assembly, but it was a rare privilege to have been exposed to his words of wisdom through this meeting. Akpabio reflected on how detractors twisted his “let the poor breath” statement for ulterior political motives. He also reminded us of his “give him water and sugar” counsel to minders of now Hon. Minister Lawal Balarabe when slumped on the Senate floor during his screening exercise which his detractors tried to use, once again, to de-market him only to find out that it was what the doctor would have immediately ordered were he to have present in the chamber on that day. The slump was triggered by hypoglycemia, aided by fasting.
It was indeed a teachable moment as the Senate President admonished us that the true test of a leader is making decisions, sometimes at the drop of a hat. “Remember to always take a decision—-good or not-so-good as failure to take a decision is in itself taking a decision,” Akpabio deadpanned with that age-long, time-tested truism.
“My desire is to see you succeed beyond this place. But I shall not be sending prayers to your mailboxes to actualize this desire because I believe it will happen,” Akpabio said. We were almost rolling on the floor of the conference hall with this rib-cracking, tear-shedding joke that most of us didn’t notice when he left.
Godswill Obot Akpabio is the third most powerful leader in this blessed country of perhaps more than 200 million population, yet he comes across as your next-door neighbor or mate that you have known for a very long time if you’re privileged to be in his personal space with the way he relates with you. He comes across as ordinary, yet he’s very extraordinary. He is very common, yet uncommon. He has no airs about him, yet he can momentarily keep the air from circulating.
Akpabio is a blessing to our country and particularly to this political dispensation. He’s indeed an Uncommon Leader.
* Femi Odere is an aide to the Senate President.