Different Shades of Labour, Dangote’s New Voice, And Akpabio’s Condescension – By Zainab Suleiman Okino

UK Labour Vs Nigerian LP

A DAY after the UK election, results were announced, and the Labour Party gained the majority. The government transition moved swiftly. Ex-Prime Minister Rishi Sunak took responsibility for the Conservative Party’s devastating blow, moved out of 10 Downing Street, and that same day, Keir Starmer, the new leader, moved in. Both visited King Charles for ceremonial blessings, as tradition demands. There was no drama, no committees, no dissenting voices, no daggers drawn, no open expressions of blame, and no threat of legal battles. Such an elegant and simple system based on understanding—Britain has no written constitution. With these kinds of transitions, democracy can be interesting.

My key takeaway from the UK election is their commitment to causes, what we call party loyalty here, and the emergence of Keir Starmer, a long-time Labour activist. In contrast, the Nigerian Labour Party has many colours and interpretations. It takes passion and commitment to nurture someone like the 61-year-old Starmer, whom former Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described as a “decent public-spirited man.” Compare that description to the animosity that characterizes the aftermath of elections here. The triumphant feeling of conquest by newly elected leaders in Nigeria smacks of mischief: They behave as if the country was not governed before them and use every opportunity to indict their predecessors, only to end up worse.

Talking about Starmer reminds me of Peter Obi, currently leading the Labour Party in Nigeria. Obi likened Nigeria’s LP to that of the UK and hoped they would work together now that UK Labour is in charge. However, Obi has been everywhere—in PDP and APGA before landing in the Labour Party—and remains non-aligned. I appreciate their disruptive nature, but their attachment to primordial and divisive sentiments of religion and ethnicity caused their “fall.” An LP lawmaker in the House of Representatives, Afam Victor Ogene, claimed that the victory of the Labour Party in the UK signposts its triumph in the 2027 election in Nigeria because the UK’s success gave hope to the opposition.

Let’s not get it wrong. Labour and Starmer’s emergence are a far cry from the Labour Party and Obi’s opportunistic leadership. Obi’s was platform shopping, which LP offered at the expense of the founding members. From all indications, Obi seems unsure of the party’s winning capability and may dump it as he did with APGA and PDP in the past. So, where are the similarities? Obi’s solidarity message to Sir Starmer about working together is embarrassing. Work together how? Where is the convergence? How did Obi help nurture the Labour Party? What is his relationship with workers when he merely hijacked the party as a special purpose vehicle?

Dangote’s New-Found Voice

There is a viral social media message that refers to Aliko Dangote as an activist. “Renewed hope has turned Dangote into an activist,” it says. At last week’s Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) summit, Dangote complained bitterly about the economic policy framework of the Tinubu administration. “Nobody can create jobs with an interest rate of 30%. No growth will happen. We are stifling growth.” The richest man in Africa argued that our dependence on importation conversely translates to the importation of poverty.

Those who label Dangote an activist do so tongue-in-cheek, seeing that as an investor supposedly close to power, no one expected him to castigate the government. But Dangote is a businessman, and operating in an unfriendly business environment could affect his multi-billion-dollar projects, especially his newest venture, the Dangote Refinery.

Recall that he spoke earlier about the mafia in the oil business denying him access to crude, such that he had to import. So, there is no smoke without fire. Dangote is feeling the heat and weight of Tinubunomics. He has always had a seat at the table, dined with leaders, and received all the waivers. So, what suddenly happened?

There are concerns that he must have fallen out of favour with the Tinubu administration. Some people say Tinubu is dealing with him because he supported Atiku. Whatever it is, it is within his fundamental human rights to air his views, especially when his business interests are involved. As commoners, we may never know what goes on in their inner circle, but I wish he had expressed these same concerns with previous governments. Perhaps that is why Tinubu made him a member of his Economic Team, so he can be part of implementing what he preaches and does to have remained Africa’s richest man for many years. Who wouldn’t be an activist in an era like this?

Akpabio’s Condescending Demeanor

Senate President Godswill Akpabio courts controversies the way flies are drawn to sweet things. He behaves like an imperial leader who rubs his good luck in the faces of the poor in a very condescending way. Some people call it gaffes. I beg to disagree because he is sometimes conscious and intentional about what he does and says, accompanied by those mischievous smiles. The inimitable Chinua Achebe’s example of humility comes to mind: “Those whose palm kernels were cracked for them by a benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble.”

It looks like Akpabio has no humility in his dictionary. Although he was democratically elected, his actions are dictatorial. A colleague of his at the Senate reminded him the other day that he was elected like them, a primus inter pares (first among equals), to underscore Akpabio’s dictatorial streak.

Apart from his famous gaffe about money being sent to senators to enjoy recess before a live television audience, his recent statement that nobody will recognize Nigeria by the time Tinubu completes his remaining seven years is sycophancy taken too far. Despite the irony in that statement—because truly Tinubu has already impacted Nigeria negatively in one year of his administration—there are other implications, such as talking of the remaining seven years in a supposed four-year tenure out of which one has been spent. It shows a dishonest mindset and the possibility of what could happen during the next election.

Akpabio’s unverified statement that state governors collected ₦30 billion each from Tinubu for provision of palliatives to their people was eventually recanted. Consider this statement: “There is hunger today because of the policies and actions that they took, and we recognize that, and every political party should recognize that there is hunger, and we are battling to ensure that Nigerians sleep with their eyes closed.” I honestly don’t know the sense in this statement. Akpabio has been part of governments since 2007. I wonder why he was pointing accusing fingers at others/previous administrations that he also belonged to.

It seems anything about Tinubu raises Akpabio’s dander. In the face of anger and hunger in the land, Akpabio, without hesitation or appropriation, has said his Senate will approve President Tinubu’s request to buy another plane whether Nigerians like it or not. How can a leader be so insensitive?

We all know the President was instrumental in his becoming Senate President. But he should be told that he is just one among 99 senators representing 200 million people; he is not at the Senate, nor is he Senate President on his own account. He is there at the instance of the people of this country, even as we know he was chosen for a purpose, to do the bidding of his paymasters. Therefor, caution should be his watchword because power is transient.

Okino, is Chairperson of Blueprint Editorial Board, a fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (FNGE), her syndicated column appears on News Point Nigeria newspaper on Thursdays. She can be reached via: zainabokino@gmail.com.

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