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December 16, 2023

Akpabio’s uncommon birthday celebration, By Ugoji Egbujo

Akpabio’s uncommon birthday celebration, By Ugoji Egbujo

Akpabio celebrated his birthday in a stadium. That must be a sign of his stature. The economic situation didn’t deter him. He gathered his people in tens of thousands to eat and drink. The people are poor but their leaders are rich on their behalf.

A two-term governor, former minister and now senate president. It can’t get larger. Ordinarily, one government or the other would pick up the bill in recognition of his services to the nation. After all, such a political Iroko must have paid his dues. As Flavor, the musician, would say, “How much is money”? 

An Uber driver seized by the naked pomp and ceremony of the occasion called Akpabio a good man. Perhaps, if he weren’t that good, if he were like other common politicians, he might have sneaked out with one or two concubines to a quiet island to celebrate without anyone accusing him of profligacy. But the distinguished senator is a family man, so he decided to democratize the nkwori. An uncommon generosity from a man with a heart that can fill a stadium. Cheered by the masses, he galloped around the stadium like an Olympic champion and took all the applause in the sun while they ate all the food.

Someone wondered why a chief lawmaker who had seen that the nation’s economy was bedridden and the currency lethargic would engage in such extravagance which could send the message that the country’s officials still haven’t learnt how to live prudently. Though the proposed national budget looks like a watery soup for a sick giant, nevertheless should a man like the great Akpabio, who has been through Bawa and other interlopers, not celebrate his Jagaban-assisted divine ascension with his people?

Must we always use Oyibo lenses to view our leaders? Does a lavish birthday at the stadium, even in bad times, equate to prodigality? After all, aren’t most of those they bussed to the stadium, the poor folks he gathered to fill up the place, dance and eat called the masses? It’s not inconceivable that some mischief makers believe that government officials throw all their feasts at government expense, but couldn’t Akpabio have opted to take his family and friends to Dubai to eat dollars rather than naira? Let’s always endeavour to give honor to whom it’s due. Isn’t it possible that the food he gave them, regardless of how it came about, might have saved a few from the pangs of hunger that day? And he must have hired canopies, DJs, Event planners, Asoebi organisers etc. If that isn’t how to create jobs and empowerment then what is?  

I understand those who argue that our leaders should use their personal lives to teach us the sacrifice they have been preaching to us. Our leaders say we must suffer so that the future can’t be blissful. But these people should know that our leaders work day and night so they shouldn’t begrudge them when they celebrate day and night like drunken sailors with their poor supporters. Besides, Akpabio might argue that if every politician who has been empowered by the system celebrated his birthday in stadium, then hunger might be reduced. The important thing is not whether billions of naira might have been wasted on contractors who supply half the food ordered at these open ceremonies, the important thing is the big man showed empathy by telling poor people to come and chop. And they came to honour greatness.

A disgruntled critic wondered why the senate president ran around the stadium. Nigeria is full of superstitious folks. The man said the last time a politician ran around a stadium, his expectations were cut short. In the language of the street, “his ticket was cut.” Those who promised to anoint him developed cold feet and used the anointing oil to make massa. Luckily, Akpabio isn’t eyeing Tinubu’s seat yet.

The other insinuation that he waddled around the stadium in silent celebration of Wike’s troubles is uncharitable. The man owes Wike gratitude and has shown it. When Wike appeared for his confirmation hearings, the Senate President all but debased himself in trying to lionize Wike. That’s uncommon gratitude because when Akpabio was sworn in as governor, Wike was still a local govt chairman. Granted, Fubara has become a pain in the buttocks of the FCT minister and Akpabio might cherish the idea of becoming the clear leader of the region in the party, but it will be ludicrous to believe he wants Wike’s structure stolen.

Because when the chariots of a rich Zamfara Senator rampaged Akpabio’s defences on the eve of the inauguration of the NASS to truncate Akpabio’s ambition to become head of the senate, Wike mobilized resources to thwart the insurrection and save Akpabio. Politicians may be naturally selfish but Akpabio is not a newcomer. While he might not mind what’s happening because everybody must chop breakfast as he did with Udom, he is a shrewd man. He can’t show his hand in public. 

An Akpabio supporter viewed the entire birthday thing from another angle. He said it was better to host village people in a stadium than take a legion of analogue politicians to Dubai to sleep at climate change conferences. I agree with that pragmatic submission. At least in Uyo, Akpabio didn’t affect our foreign reserves and harm the exchange rate of the naira. If those who went for climate change had gone to study infrastructure in Dubai the nation would have endured the huge expense of the adventure. 

But it was the man from Imo that broke the calabash. He said that rather than forget to send the 4000 youths to the EU for employment as he promised when he was seeking votes for election, Hope Uzodimma should have sent the 4000 Imo youths to Dubai to join the climate change research. And if the Dubai format wouldn’t work because of its cost, then he could assemble them in a stadium in Owerri on his birthday and give them EU asoebi and feed them like Akpabio. 

Happy birthday, our uncommon Senate President. Well done, you are already restoring hope.