AKUME: FITTING ROLE FOR A GROUNDED PATRIOT
By Juwon Jacobs
In run up to the proclamation of the “Eighth Senate” of the National Assembly of the Federal Republic and the election of its leadership, the name of George Akume was a recurring decimal. He ticked the boxes of the criteria laid out for a President of the Senate and was very highly favoured to clinch the top job. Among other considerations, he is from the North Central geopolitical zone to which the office was zoned. Secondly, he was a ranking Senator, having been first elected to represent Benue North West, in 2007 and reelected in 2015 and 2019, respectively. Akume indeed previously served for two terms as Governor of his state, between 1999 and 2007 which implied he had substantial grounding in governance and statecraft. He was indeed a career bureaucrat who rose to the very peak of his career, before contesting for public office. Akume and I developed a robust relationship during his years as governor which has been sustained up till the present.
I was a close aide of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, during which I held a number of critical briefs. I was something of a regular fixture not only in the president’s local engagements, but also his official movements around the country and on the global scene. Elsewhere, I’ve been described as a “multitasking professional” which would suggest that I manage many schedules and assignments at the same time. I was equally very close to Akume’s deputy at the time, Ogirri Ajene the down-to-earth, unobtrusive, jolly prince from Idoma land, who sadly passed about a decade ago. My brother of over four decades beginning from our years in the classroom in the University of Ilorin, Tivlumun Nyitse, was also prominent in the Benue State bureaucracy. He had risen to the position of Managing Director of the state-owned *The Voice* newspapers and was appointed Permanent Secretary by Akume. He functioned variously in the Office of the Secretary to the State Government and the Ministry of Information and Culture, respectively, under Akume. Such my interconnectedness with the Benue system, which has endured till this time.
In the weeks preceding the proclamation of the “Eighth Senate,” Akume’s Maitama, Abuja home, became a *Mecca* for the political class. There was a virtual round-the-clock streaming in and out by fellow politicians, friends and associates, who bought into the prospects of an Akume senate presidency. Quite a number of latter day top functionaries in the Muhammadu Buhari government, including subsequent members of the Federal Executive Council, (FEC), took their places in his waiting room, bidding their time in the listless comings and goings, those days. The otherwise spacious premises of Akume’s home, suddenly “shrank” as it was overwhelmed by political supporters and admirers. His kitchen gave way to an external annex to cope with the culinary demands of the ever surging human traffic.
A few of us, media friends of Akume, thought of how best to impact the project. We constituted ourselves into an informal “support group.” We reasoned among other things, that Akume needed heightened media visibility to position him properly for the coming “battle.” We wrote essays and articles which were accorded wide ventilation in the mainstream and online press. We followed up on his consultations, engagements and meetings across the country in that quest, and regularly put out new stories. The “rapid response” component of the team replied real-time to media distortions and jaundiced representations of our “candidate.” It was an amazed and appreciative Akume who woke up each day to his file of national dailies to see the good job being done on him by volunteers who were sold on his aspiration.
Akume, unfortunately, didn’t make it to the senate presidency. As we say, the rest is history. Bukola Saraki his colleague who won the contest in circumstances of novel political subterfuge, was magnanimous enough to assign a coveted brief to his main challenger as he appointed him the Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Nigerian Army. In the Seventh Senate, he was Minority Leader between 2011 to 2015, when the Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP), dominated the executive and legislative arms of government, under the superintendence of President Goodluck Jonathan. He had previously chaired important committees in the upper legislature and served in a broad spectrum of other organs of the parliament, and become a repository of legislative experience. Such entrenchment is necessary for the growth and development of democratic structures in a country notorious for its scant attention for the preservation of institutional memory.
The former Benue chief executive did not make it in his attempt to return to the Senate for a fourth term in 2019. The experiences he had garnered over time, however, recommended him for appointment as Minister for Special Duties and Inter-governmental Affairs by former President Buhari. This consecrated him as a Member of the FEC, where he was in a position to canvas for attention for his home state, to complement the efforts of the state government. Akume’s critics despised his schedule describing it as a “no job” ministry. He was, however, resolved to prove doubters wrong. Whereas the Buhari administration never hosted one singular ceremony to recognise deserving Nigerians with national honours all through its first term, it is credit to Akume’s hardwork that two such events were hosted within the last 12 months.
Friday June 2, 2023, Akume was appointed Secretary to the Government of the Federation, (SGF), by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. On Wednesday June 7, 2023, he was sworn-in as Nigeria’s 21st occupant of that office which is easily the very heart of governance. A consummate public servant, charismatic politician and inimitable legislator, George Akume will be 70 on his next birthday in yuletide season on December 27, 2023. He obtained a bachelors degree in Sociology and a masters in Labour Relations, both from the University of Ibadan, (UI), Nigeria’s premier university. In the early days of his public service, he was local government Secretary and later, Chairman, in his home state Benue. He was Director of Protocol in Government House, Makurdi, and obtained a leave-of-absence to support former Chairman of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP), Iyorchia Ayu, during his stint as President of the Senate and Minister of Education respectively, between 1992 and 1995. He returned to the employ of the Benue State Civil Service, from where he retired as Permanent Secretary, to run for the governorship in 1998.
He was governor of Benue State for two terms of four years each, between 1999 and 2007, on the platform of the PDP and was famous for prioritising workers’ welfare, against the backdrop of his personal, hands-on acquaintance with the tides in public service. He was succeeded by Gabriel Suswam, even as he proceeded to the Senate where he represented Benue North-West diligently. Within the context of Tiv politics, Akume holds the all time record of being the only Senator serially elected on three successive occasions. In global Benue politics of and probably Nigeria, David Alechenu Bonaventure Mark is perhaps the only Nigerian to have been elected on five consecutive occasions into the Senate.
Symbolically, Akume ran for his second term in the Senate on the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria, (ACN), in 2011. Two years later, four political parties: the ACN; All Nigeria Peoples Party, (ANPP); the Congress for Progressive Change, (CPC); and factions of the PDP, (nPDP) and the All Peoples Grand Alliance, (APGA), coalesced to birth the All Progressives Congress, (APC). Akume’s third shot at the Senate was therefore on the podium of the APC. He is easily one of very few Nigerian politicians to have flown the flag of three different political brands in popular elections.
Akume is substantially credited with the odyssey of the party in Benue politics and would further lead it to take over the governorship during the 2015 elections. He latched on latent disaffection within the ranks of the PDP during the party’s gubernatorial primary in December 2014, and poached Samuel Ioraer Ortom, who felt done in by the process which produced the PDP flagbearer. Ortom who was immediate past Minister of State for Trade and Investment, thereafter defeated the candidate of the PDP, Terhemen Tarzoor, at the general polls. Akume and Ortom would, in a short while, go their different ways as is characteristic of “godfather-godson” relationships in Nigerian politics.
More recently, Akume rallied everything, every stunt in his arsenal as a dominant political force in Benue State, to upstage the PDP, during the general elections. His candidate, Hyacinth Alia a Catholic Priest, trounced Titus Tyoapine Uba, former Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly, who was favoured to win since he was backed by a sitting PDP government. The Akume whirlwind equally swept two of the three senatorial seats in the state, into the bag of his party, among other harvests. The Idoma/Agatu peoples of “Zone C” in Benue politics, stood solidly behind their PDP candidate, Abba Moro, who contested for the position for a second time. Having been Governor, Senator and Minister all within the initial 24-year span of Nigeria’s contemporary politics, George Akume is one of the most prepared Nigerians to drive the engine of governance and administration at this epoch in our development. Articulate, accessible, unassuming, experienced, broad-minded and thoroughly pan-Nigerian, he can be trusted to deliver.
He is happily married to Regina Akume, and together they are parents and proud grandparents.
▪︎ Juwon Jacobs, an independent scholar and writer, resides in Abuja.