May 18, 2024

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An Evening with a Senator

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CEM OPINION, GOVERNANCE | I finally caught up with Senator Ekong Sampson last Monday in Abuja. Scheduling a meeting with him is an arduous task given his busy agenda. He represents Akwa Ibom South in the 10th Senate, is the Vice Chairman of Basic & Secondary Education Committee; Vice Chairman of FCT Committee and a member of about 14 other committees, including NDDC and Appropriation. Although he is a fresh man in the Senate, Sampson is not new to the grounds of the National Assembly. Between 1999 and 2003, he served as a legislative aide to Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, who was then Chairman of the Appropriation Committee; and later, Minister of Budget and National Planning in the first term of the Buhari administration.

‘’Senator Udoma is one of the greatest influences in my life; a role model and teacher. He taught me a lot on how to develop self-dignity; a sense of self-worth and ability to stay focused’’, Sampson told me as I settled into the couch in his modest apartment. ‘’Udoma is a delight to work with; very focused and intelligent with a deep grasp of issues’’.  Sampson is one of the handful former Senate staffers to end up as a member of the august body. The other is Senator Aminu Tambuwal, immediate past governor of Sokoto, who was an aide to Senator Wali at the same time with Sampson. But this evening, my focus is the Akpabio leadership and why the Senate seems to be in turmoil since he was elected its President on June 13. So, I asked him pointedly, ‘’What is it with Akpabio that seems to upset some senators, particularly Ali Ndume? Ndume was on TV Sunday night, saying that he is more experienced than the Senate President. There were even impeachment rumours some weeks ago. Why do they dislike this Senate President?’’.

Sampson contemplated his answer for a brief moment. ‘’I don’t think senators do dislike him. The Senate is a mix of divergent interests; a collection of our diversity in one room and is made up of people with strong characters from every part of the country. What appears as a turmoil to the public is just a manifestation of the strong views that members express unambiguously. It is not an easy place to lead, but Akpabio is doing his best in providing leadership’’.  He paused momentarily. ‘’Aniekan (referring to the other Senator from his state who actually represents my district) and I will do the best we can to support the Senate President. His success is our success and pride’’. Sampson was a member of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly for the eight years Akpabio was governor. The two have had a close relationship for a long time, dating back to pre-1999 when Sampson was a lawyer and journalist in Lagos. He started his political career as a councilor and later Chairman of his LGA, before he became House of Assembly member and commissioner, supervising four different ministries.

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With a Ph.D in law from the University of Calabar, Sampson is a very brilliant politician, yet self-effacing and disarmingly modest. ‘’I have no police orderly or escort. I drive myself sometimes and I live like an ordinary Nigerian’’, he chimed. He is the author of the book, ‘’Law and Statesmanship: The Legacy of Sir Udo Udoma’’, published in 1996. Late Sir Udoma, a former justice of the Supreme Court and former Chief Justice of Uganda, is the father of Senator Udoma. I asked Senator Sampson about the new Prado SUVs that had been acquired for the members of the House of Representatives and may soon get to the Senate. What sense does it make to spend so much on imported vehicles? Why couldn’t we support Made-in-Nigeria vehicles?

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With this importation, we are essentially importing inflation and unemployment and exporting jobs. In a challenged economy such as ours, it makes sense to consume what you produce and produce what you consume, I lectured. He listened calmly. ‘’ I came to Abuja with my car and I drive myself to work some days. A new vehicles for committee work shouldn’t cause so much controversy’’, he said, and went on to talk about the constituency office he opened in Eket last month, and how it is serving as a point of contact for his constituents. ‘’At the National Assembly, my office is a meeting point for our people. Even those who come to see the Senate President sometimes report to my office to take a rest’’, he quipped.

You are a lawyer. What did you make of the Supreme Court judgement last Wednesday on the Presidential Election Appeal filed by Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi? I asked Senator Sampson, himself a staunch PDP member. His answer: ‘’Our electoral processes still needs a lot of reforms and we must do everything we can to protect our democracy; avoid tendencies that can weaken public confidence in our democracy or derail it’’.

The conversation then shifted to Akwa Ibom politics, Gov. Umo Eno’s agenda and the new Akwa Ibom Traditional Rulers Council law which has thrown the state into some kind of turmoil. He commended former governor Udom Emmanuel for his good attitude to punctuality and time management and Gov. Umo Eno for his maturity and bridge-building.

On the controversial law on the traditional institution in the state, Senator Ekong said that he has a lot of respect for the traditional institution. He refused to be drawn into the raging debates on the law because ‘’my constituency is very diverse. I represent various and diverse interests and I must respect their sensibilities’’. The new law creates a new chieftaincy position known as President-General. A section of the people is aggrieved that the President-General position is occupied by only one particular ethnic group in perpetuity, instead of rotating it.

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