March 14, 2024

Akpabio’s foot in his mouth, by Ikechukwu Amaechi

Akpabio’s foot in his mouth, by Ikechukwu Amaechi

AFTER my February 22, 2024 column on Godswill Akpabio’s holier-than-thou sermon on Godwin Emefiele, the embattled former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, who is being projected by officials of the President Bola Tinubu administration as the poster boy of corruption in Nigeria, I had no intention of coming back so soon to comment, once again, on the follies of the former Governor of Akwa Ibom State.

But I didn’t reckon with his knack for putting his foot in his mouth: saying something foolish, embarrassing and tactless barely two weeks after.

There must be something that makes Akpabio, Nigeria’s number three citizen, to lose it whenever he opens his mouth to talk in Rivers State. The needless Emefiele tantrum was in Rivers. His latest faux pas, which left many scratching their heads in disbelief was also there.

Last Saturday, at the funeral of the late Chief Executive Officer of Access Holdings, Herbert Wigwe, his wife, Chizoba, and son, Chizzy, who died in a helicopter crash in the United States on February 9, Akpabio, once again, goofed while giving an unsolicited vote of thanks.

In his speech at the intensely solemn and overtly gloomy ceremony, Siminalayi Fubara, the host governor, urged the political class to reflect on the essence of their struggle and political activities.

He questioned the motives behind the intense political battles in the country, asking if it was necessary to resort to violence and aggression.

“What is this struggle all about? You want to kill, you want to bury, what is it all about? Is it not enough today to ask ourselves why are we struggling? Why are we not making an impact in the lives of our people? Please, political class, let’s go home with that question, and be answering it in our minds, and reflecting it in what we do,” Fubara who is embroiled in an existential power struggle with his political godfather, Nyesom Wike, Federal Capital Territory Minister, said.

Granted, some have said that Fubara’s message was a direct arrow at his predecessor, Wike. But he was smart enough not to have called names. And he had the emotional intelligence to situate his comment in the context of Ecclesiastes 1:2-8 which talks about vanity of life. Therefore, even with its subtle political tinge, the message resonated with most mourners at the sombre occasion.

Not so with Akpabio’s excitable and embarrassing response. “I will answer you,” he said, pointing at Fubara, as many in the audience froze, well aware of his proclivity for putting his foot in his mouth.

He did not disappoint to the utter horror of all. “We are not talking politics. In 2006, I wanted to become the deputy governor and the then-deputy governor invited me and said this office has no money, there is nothing in it. I don’t know why you still insist on removing me from here and taking over.

“So, a woman who went with me said Your Excellency, don’t wait for impeachment, just resign since there is nothing in it (the office).”

Akpabio, who claimed that the deputy governor stood up and started punching the woman, narrated further: “I said Your Excellency, don’t punch the woman, she is telling the truth, there is nothing in it. That’s why I want it because you are too big for it. Your Excellency, Governor Fubara, if there is nothing in the struggle, don’t struggle.”

Not only that, the Senate President grumbled that the presidential candidate of the Labour Party in last year’s election, Peter Obi, got a louder ovation than himself when he was introduced.

And because he was so distracted with such inanities, he couldn’t help but extend his heartfelt condolences to Herbert Wigwe’s widow, one of the three people he was there to bury.

Everyone who listened to Akpabio was flummoxed. How could a 61-year-old man, former governor and now Senate President, the country’s third most important person on the protocol list, be so lacking in emotional intelligence?

That was the same question the founder of Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc., Atedo Peterside, asked while expressing his dismay over Akpabio’s comments.

In a post on his X page, Peterside recounted that Akpabio began his speech by lamenting that Obi received a better reception than himself.

Expressing his disapproval of such unbecoming behaviour, he questioned the appropriateness of cracking infantile jokes and throwing political digs at such a solemn event.

So peeved was Peterside that he tweeted: “For the record, I was among those who found the Senate President’s comments at the Wigwe Family Funeral in PH to be in poor taste. He began by lamenting that @PeterObi received greater applause than he (Akpabio) got & later told us to join him in consoling the widow who was lying in one of the 3 caskets in front of him. Jokes? Political jibes at a solemn Combined Funeral? Methinks that was self-centred & totally insensitive.”

Besides the insensitivity and inherent self-centredness, Akpabio’s comment smacks of a deeper and more fundamental failing – lack of emotional intelligence – which is a mental malady.

Mental Health America, the U.S. leading national non-profit organisation dedicated to the promotion of mental health, defines emotional intelligence as “the ability to manage both your own emotions and understand the emotions of people around you”.

Emotional intelligence with its five key elements – self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills – is a prerequisite for quality leadership. Effective leaders are people who are very emotionally intelligent, self-aware and always able to view things objectively. To do this, one needs to have a good understanding of personal strengths and weaknesses and act with humility in all circumstances. This cannot be achieved without a good measure of empathy.

Sadly, Akpabio is grossly deficient in all these. He is neither self-aware nor self-regulating. He is impulsive and lacks empathy, which explains his ‘let the poor breathe’ sarcasm.

Many Nigerians who have given up on Godswill Akpabio revert to the default option when dealing with him. They would rather pretend that he does not exist or at most see him as a jester, who should not be taken seriously.

But for crying out loud, Akpabio is not just an ordinary Nigerian. He heads one of the three arms of government – legislature – and the country’s number three citizen. A person who occupies such a high office should not be prone to avoidable gaffes so much so that people are suggesting that the only way to stop the embarrassment is to ensure that he is never allowed to speak extempore at any public gathering.

But how is that possible? The man is in love with the sound of his own voice. He prides himself as an orator even as his utterances get more bizarre by the day. His unusual boisterousness and overexcitement is quite unbecoming of his high perch. Ability to crack morbid jokes is not a proof of political sagacity. It is a sign of mental immaturity.

Akpabio had no business giving the votes of thanks at the funeral of the Wigwes on March 9. Granted, he is a political leader of Niger Delta extraction, but he is neither from Rivers State, nor Ikwerre and cannot claim to be in a position to speak for the bereaved family.

The only reason he assigned himself that role was to have the opportunity to publicly whine over the recognition accorded Obi and to throw a jibe at Fubara on behalf of Wike, who by the way was physically present and has the capacity to speak for himself if he deemed it necessary.

Akpabio should stop ridiculing his high office and embarrassing Nigerians each time he puts his foot in his mouth. It is high time someone told him for his own good that his lack of emotional intelligence rankles.