Senate President Godwill Akpabio, who is the first Southerner to occupy the Senate president seat in 16 years is facing a tough battle to keep his seat, amid renewed opposition from within and outside the ruling party.
Akpabio, a former governor of Akwa-Ibom State, is witnessing opposition to his style of leadership in the upper chamber, a place that many Nigerians now refer to as a “retirement home” to ex-governors.
Many of the lawmakers that have openly opposed him are members of the ruling party, APC.
Sen Ali Ndume, who served as the coordinator of the Akpabio’s campaign, is having what could be called a running battle with him, while Elisha Abbo spearheaded the anti-Akpabio movement until his sack from the House.
Ndume already challenged Akpabio openly twice. Last week, he was ruled out of order by Akpabio and he walked out of the Chamber, although he later claimed that he did not storm out of the Chamber but to pray at the Mosque.
However, Ndume is not seen by many as a formidable foe because of his history of fighting almost all Senate Presidents without any record of winning.
In 2015, he supported Bukola Saraki, however, he was later removed unceremoniously as the Leader of the Senate after he challenged the former Kwara State Governor.
And Abbo has been axed from the Senate after the Court of Appeal sacked him.
But the danger is not over for Akpabio. It could be recalled that Akpabio did not emerge with an overwhelming margin like Abbas Tajudeen in the House. Despite the endorsement from the president and the party, Akpabio polled 63 votes, while Abdulaziz Yari scored 46 votes.
Insiders in the senate told DAILY POST that there are senators who see Yari as a viable alternative in the face of opposition against Akpabio, who is now facing the hurdles that Southern senate presidents faced.
From 1999 to 2007, five southerners occupied the seat- Evans Enwerem, Chuba Okadigbo, Anyim Pius Anyim, Adolphus Wabara and Ken Nnamani. Three of the occupiers of the seat were forced out for different reasons. However, the Northerners that occupied the seat have had a relatively stable stay in the office.
Senator David Mark served as Senate President for eight uninterrupted years. Bukola Saraki served for four years despite the opposition from the executive. He completed the tenure and Ahmad Lawan also had a hitch-free tenure.
Many believe that the difficulty for southerners has to do with the distribution of the Senate. The South has 51 Senators, while the North has 58 Senators. In addition, the majority of the Senators from the South are in opposition parties.
“Akpabio just needs to be circumspect in managing the Senators, many of whom are also former Governors themselves,” a senior legislative aide told DAILY POST but wished his name not to be mentioned.
DAILY POST learnt that the distribution of appointments by President Tinubu has not really helped Akpabio as many of the Senators from the North have complained about the “yorubanisation” of the government and Akpabio has helped to confirm all the appointments to the chagrin of Northern Senators.
Meanwhile, many of the Senators do not want to offend President Tinubu by moving against the Senate President because they want better funding of the National Assembly, particularly with the 2024 budget expected to be presented anytime soon.
It would be recalled that President Tinubu had allocated N70 billion to the lawmakers at the commencement of this Assembly, and for the first time, all members of the National Assembly will get SUVs, instead of the usual Toyota Camry they used to get.
“No one is ready to offend the president. Did you see a recent report where members of the Labour Party shunned Abure (Labour Party National Chairman, Julius Abure) by insisting that they won’t reject the SUVs,” the aide said.
For now, Akpabio has the President on his side, with the President’s men, Deputy Senate President Barau Jibrin, Opeyemi Bamidele and Solomon Olamilekan also on ground to protect him.