New SGF Faces Formidable Challenges Ahead
In this report, JONATHAN NDA- ISAIAH looks at the tasks before the new secretary to the government of the federation, Senator George Akume, and also balancing his role as the political leader in his state.
One of the very first few appointments made by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu that have received spectacular laudation from a wide spectrum of stakeholders is the choice of Senator George Akume as Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).
Tinubu’s appointment of Akume is not another political gaucherie by a Nigerian leader. On personal and official levels, both the boss and the employee have known each other for over two decades.
Besides being members of the class 1999 of the Nigerian governors, Tinubu and Akume also worked as close political associates in the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), a party created by Tinubu to advance his interest and those of his allies.
The President himself deeply understands the prodigious responsibilities of the office of the SGF and believes with the benefits of hindsight that Akume is a round peg in a round hole for the job.
Akume, a retired public civil servant who rose to the peak of his career at the state level, and ventured into politics, as a seasoned politician, in the view of several commentators, deserves this all-important appointment.
With his wealth of experience, Akume can galvanize Tinubu’s presidential engine-room, monitoring and coordinating the implementation of government policies and programs; serving as the frontline advisory institution of the Presidency; driving policy formulation, and harmonization, as well as implementation; and monitoring of Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
The question, therefore, is never about the pedigree of the former lawmaker, who has served as Benue State Governor for two consecutive terms, represented Benue North West senatorial district-serving as Senate minority leader, and as a cabinet member in the last administration.
Aside from his capacity to lead, Akume is considered a detribalised politician and a generous Nigerian, both qualities that have singled him out highly as a national political enigma.
Once, he contested to lead the Nigerian parliament as President of the Senate but lost. Akume in 2021 contested as a front-runner candidate for the position of the national chairman of the ruling APC. Rather, he mobilized other candidates in the contest on the eve of the ballots to step down for his party’s favored choice, Senator Abdullahi Adamu. This singular act further propelled him to Nigeria’s national political limelight as a selfless ally to be trusted.
What’s more, Akume played key roles in the formation of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) at both the national and state levels.
In his state, Benue, Akume mobilized massively to install a governor twice on the platform of the APC.
He has been behind the emergence of all of his successor governors since 2007. He worked and installed Senator Gabriel Suswam on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as his successor, and then Samuel Ortom during his first tenure on the ticket of the APC.
It is no secret that Father Hyacinth Alia, now the second Catholic priest to govern Benue State emerged in the 2023 general election, without prejudice to his popularity, relying heavily on Akume’s political machinery.
To his credit, according to some analysts, APC also won two senatorial seats, cleared 10 out of the 11 seats in the House of Representatives, and picked 21 out of the 32 seats in the state House of Assembly.
However, Akume, 69, a graduate of Sociology and a Master’s degree holder in Labour Relations from the University of Ibadan is not oblivious to the enormous task before him in the Tinubu government.
It can only be a great risk to combine such immeasurable responsibilities with local politics. Since his inauguration on June 7, 2023, even his close associates believe it is no longer business as usual. He has been moving from one national assignment to several nocturnal high-profile meetings, it was gathered.
The new SGF in less than four weeks coordinated, managed, and announced President Tinubu’s directives on the suspension of the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Godwin Emefiele, and chairman of the Economic And Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Abdulrasheed Bawa.
Within this period, Akume supervised the dissolution of the management boards of federal government agencies and parastatals, as well as the appointment of several Special Advisers to the President to give a clear visionary governance shape for the effective working of the new administration.
The office of the SGF on June 19 announced President Tinubu’s approval for the appointment of the nation’s new service chiefs and the Inspector General of Police- retiring those previously serving in these respective positions.
Besides, on behalf of the Nigerian government, the SGF has held several meetings with delegations of the international community including the European Union (EU) and the British High Commission to Nigeria, where he sought to deepen bilateral relationships in the areas of security, infrastructure, agriculture, and support to consolidate on the country’s democratic gains. He also held bilateral talks with the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria Cui Jiancun during which the SGF solicited additional investment from the Asian giant.
On Thursday, June 15, 2023, Akume met with members of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and Country Coordinating Mechanism (CCM) to discuss pertinent issues bordering on the nation’s health sector, especially regarding sustained global funding in tackling the scourge of AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.
The SGF on June 26, represented President Tinubu at many important events including the recently celebrated United Nations International Day Against Drug Abuse And Illicit Trafficking, which was held at the presidential villa.
It is obvious that in crisscrossing the handling of all of these critical issues on behalf of the executive arm of the national government, Akume does not need any distraction, especially from his home front.
As head of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) secretariat, the former senator will become even busier when the president appoints his sets of ministers anytime soon.
This is more reason why those fueling imaginary squabbling, hate, disaffection, friction, and disunity stories among many allies of the SGF and Governor Hyacinth Alia must begin to trade softly.
Indeed, some of these trouble fermenters want to create a narrative that Akume has been nursing a strong interest in the politics of the state and wants to exert some control of political power in his home state.
The role of the SGF has proven over time to be an important position that propels the effective functioning of the presidency and the entire Federal Government. The people of Benue should count themselves fortunate this time for having their own occupy this exalted office.
According to a source close to the SGF, Akume is not interested in who leads the Benue State legislature. He is equally not keen on the entire structure of governance in the state which has been entrusted in the hands of a duly elected leader.
“Despite playing an important role in the emergence of the current governor, the SGF does not see himself as a godfather. Governor Alia should also not hide under the cover of any narrative that some big politicians are preventing him from delivering democratic dividends to the people of Benue. He has the cake and the knife- and must cut wisely.
“What the Governor needs to do now, is to reach out to many of his supporters who are wallowing about a non-existent feud between himself and Senator Akume. Alia allies must understand better that there is no battle, and there will be none between Senator Akume and the state government.
“Like the common saying that you can’t do big things if you are always distracted by small things, the SGF is presently engrossed and occupied with duty calls of serious national engagements and will not be distracted but will remain focused in support of the government of President Tinubu to deliver on its Renewed Hope Agenda in transforming Nigeria,” the source said.