The President of the Nigerian Senate, Godswill Akpabio, inadvertently stirred a controversy after a gaffe he made during a live-streamed plenary session went viral.
Akpabio’s statement, in which he revealed the allocation of money to senators for their recess, ignited a wave of criticism and accusations.
In the video clip, Akpabio while concluding the screening and confirmation of President Bola Tinubu’s ministerial nominees revealed that money has been sent to senators to ‘enjoy’ their recess which he termed a “holiday”, before adjourning plenary to 26th September.
The Senate President’s comments about senators receiving money to “enjoy” their recess, which he referred to as a “holiday,” raised eyebrows and triggered a flurry of reactions.
TheNewsGuru.com (TNG) reports that traditionally held between late July and mid-September, the recess for legislators serves as a vital period for lawmakers to engage with constituents and remain visible within their local communities.
However, Akpabio’s comments painted the recess as a leisure period rather than official engagements, sparking debate about senators’ priorities and obligations.
“In order to enable all of us to enjoy our holidays, a token has been sent to our various accounts by the Clerk of the National Assembly,” he said before his colleagues promptly reminded him that the session was being live-streamed, leading him to retract his statement.
In his revised words, however, Akpabio maintained that the recess was a holiday: “I withdraw that statement. In order to allow you to enjoy your holiday, the senate president has sent prayers to your mailboxes to assist you to go on a safe journey and return”.
About a week earlier, during the resumption of the ministerial screening with the candidate from Edo State Abubakar Momoh, the Senate President had assured that the legislatures meant well for Nigerians.
“Momoh, you’re the first person that we’re screening today. We want to appeal to you that when you go there, do not be a different person. You’ve been here and you know everything about this place, and you know that we mean well for Nigerians.
“Don’t go there and close your door and then you don’t relate with the legislature. You only come here when it is time for budgets. I don’t know whether you understand the point. You have to work collaboratively with us,” Akpabio said.
Many Nigerians have criticised the lawmakers for prioritising personal interests over national welfare, particularly amid economic challenges and rising poverty rates.
While the amount sent to the senators remains unknown, this newspaper reports that the remuneration package approved by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMARC) does not include a designated “holiday” allowance or token provision.
However, lawmakers receive a recess allowance, equivalent to 10 per cent of their annual basic salary, once a year.
A former senator from Kaduna state Shehu Sani, who served from 2015 to 2019, confirmed that the crediting of legislators’ accounts has been a longstanding practice, but typically occurs discreetly.
“Crediting the legislators’ accounts are done under the mute button, the uncommon senate president mistakenly pressed the alarm,” Sani said in a tweet on Wednesday.
Veteran Nollywood actress Kate Henshaw also noted that the only ‘prayers’ going into the ‘mailboxes’ of poor Nigerians are more taxes and burdens.
“The only “prayers” going into the “mail” of Nigerians is more taxes, more burdens…Happy holidays to the ones meant to serve & bring succour to their constituents,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has threatened to sue Akpabio, over his alleged payment of holiday allowances.
“We’re suing the Senate President Godswill Akpabio over the alleged payments of ‘holiday allowances’ by the Clerk of the National Assembly into the ‘various accounts’ of senators while some 137 million poor Nigerians face severe economic hardship,” SERAP disclosed.
Similarly, a political activist and former Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Timi Frank, called for Akpabio’s immediate resignation.
He said: “I’m making it bold and very clear that Senator God’swill Akpabio must immediately resign as the Senate President. He cannot continue to make mockery of our democracy and make mockery of Nigerians.
“Akpabio has shown that since the inception of the Nigerian Senate, this is the most corrupt Senate President ever Nigerians have witnessed”.