Special to USAfrica magazine (Houston) and USAfricaonline.com, first Africa-owned, US-based newspaper published on the Internet.
Tunde Olusunle, PhD, op-ed contributor to USAfrica, poet, journalist, scholar, and author, is a member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors.
She was a breath of fresh air when she joined the political fray in Kogi State. She’s an attorney who is reputed for her efforts in advocacy. She is also a multitasking entrepreneur and dedicated philanthropist. She certainly was not the first woman to aspire to elective office in the “confluence state,” an alias which derives from the convergence of Nigeria’s largest two rivers in the capital of her state. She came, however, with distinctive flair, style, guts, grit and elocution. The trademark veil over her head re-echoes memories of the iconic former Pakistani Prime Minister, Benazair Bhutto. Like Bhutto, Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan is cerebral, self-confident, articulate, charismatic and strong-willed. Recall she outrightly rejected the congratulatory message of Yahaya Bello, outgoing governor of Kogi State, after she floored Sadiku Ohere, the former’s candidate for the Kogi Central senatorial seat at the appellate court weeks ago. Akpoti-Uduaghan alluded to attempts on her life by Bello’s henchmen in the run-up to the February 25, 2023 general elections. On that occasion, she ran for the Senate on the platform of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP), against Bello’s candidate, Ohere, who contested on the banner of the All Progressives Congress, (APC).
Akpoti-Uduaghan started out years ago as a member of the APC in Kogi State. She aspired for the governorship ticket of the party in the lead up to the 2019 poll to no avail. Frozen out of the APC scheme, she moved over to the Social Democratic Party, (SDP), and made serious waves on her campaign outings. As she prepared to launch out on her second political advent and participation in the 2023 polls, Bello, according to Akpoti-Uduaghan, offered her the sum of N50million to jettison her ambition. She turned it down without batting an eyelid. She was similarly unimpressed with Bello’s increment of his offer to N70million. She told him she was not in politics for primitive fiscal acquisition, but was driven by a genuine conviction to serve her people. Bello, she confirmed, was furious at her unbending resolve.
And so she was back again on the campaign dais like the proverbial phoenix ahead of the 2023 political cycle. The proverbial ram in Yoruba folklore which took a few steps backwards in a contest with its challenger did not back out of the duel out of cowardice. No. It retreated to gather more steam and velocity to fight more pointedly and more determinedly. Akpoti-Uduaghan undertook due diligence about the most appropriate political vehicle to help the actualization of her quest. Despite efforts to annihilate the PDP at all levels by the incumbent APC, she was convinced that that party would serve her purposes. And so, she was on the road again, repeatedly touring the five local government areas in her senatorial district and spreading the gospel of the kind of impact she would bring to bear on her people if voted into office. She severally toured Adavi, Ajaokuta, Okehi, Okene and Ogori-Magongo council areas within her senatorial catchment sensitising her people and requesting their support for her bid.
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The APC was paranoid on the eve of the February election on account of Akpoti-Uduaghan’s ever-rising political profile. Totally bereft of ideas about how to stop the rampaging amazon, agents of the APC excavated all three accesses to the PDP senatorial candidate’s home. The idea was to prevent electoral officials from reaching her community and its environs, with the aim of disenfranchising that critical constituency in the poll. Akpoti-Uduaghan also noted that that orchestrated action could compromise her personal security and the safety of her people in the event that they had emergencies. Bello would thereafter concur to the act, saying the action was taken in the PDP senatorial candidate’s best interests, to prevent intending terrorists from attacking her on the eve of the election, a most unintelligent alibi.
After the senatorial election of Saturday February 25, 2023, the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC), declared Abubakar Sadiku Ohere of the APC as winner of the contest. INEC’s Returning Officer for Kogi Central, Rotimi Ajayi, a professor at the Federal University Lokoja, (FUL), stated that Ohere garnered 52,132 votes, while Akpoti-Uduaghan secured 51,763 votes. Ohere was thereafter issued a Certificate of Return by INEC and sworn in as a Member of the 10th Senate early June 2023. Undaunted and dogged, Akpoti-Uduaghan promptly sought justice at the Election Petitions Tribunal.
September 6, 2023, the tribunal ruled that the PDP candidate was the rightful and authentic winner of the contest. Akpoti-Uduaghan actually polled 54,074 votes, as against Ohere’s 51,291 votes. The judges observed that results from “nine polling units in Ajaokuta local government area, were inflated, while the votes of Akpoti-Uduaghan were intentionally reduced by INEC ward collation officers.” Dissatisfied and prodded by his principal, Ohere proceeded to the Court of Appeal for further adjudication. Tuesday October 31, the court dismissed Ohere’s appeal as “lacking in merit.” It declared Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan as the “duly elected candidate for the Kogi Central senatorial election held in February 2023.” She was inaugurated as senator Thursday November 2, 2023, at a ceremony held during plenary, under the supervision of Godswill Akpabio, President of the Senate.
She made history as the first female senator from Kogi State. Instructively too, she effectively dilutes the preceding Kogi all APC-cast in the Senate of Nigeria.
Natasha Hadiza Akpoti-Uduaghan was born December 9, 1979, in Ilorin, Kwara State, to Jimoh Abdul Akpoti and Ludmila Kravchenko, a Ukrainian. Abdul Akpoti who hailed from Obeiba-Ihima, Okehi LGA in Kogi State, met his wife while training as a medical doctor in the Eastern European country of Ukraine, several decades ago. A “home girl,” she was educated at Christ the King Nursery and Primary School, Okene; Government Girls Unity School, Oboroke, and the Federal Government College, Idoani, Ondo State. She demonstrated leadership potentials even as a young girl, and was the “Head Girl” in her final year in secondary school. She was serially acknowledged as quiet, hardworking, disciplined and diligent, and always posted sterling academic performances. She studied law at the University of Abuja, enduring an intricate balance between her academics and early motherhood having gotten married at the tender age of 19. Her first son, Daniel was born within the period.
She attended the Nigerian Law School, Bwari, Abuja beginning from 2004, and was called to the Bar November 2005. She obtained a masters in business administration from the University of Dundee, Scotland, in 2012. She previously served as legal counsel at the Brass Liquefied Natural Gas, (LNG) complex during which she travelled expensively across the world. Akpoti-Uduaghan has acquired pluri-dimensional competencies in management, mediation, leadership and arbitration among others. Her soft, humane side has been influenced considerably by her father’s selflessness and generosity. He was famous for treating many of his patients free in the course of his private medical practice unconcerned about profit-making.
On Saturday March 5, 2022, Natasha Akpoti got wedded to the Itsekiri billionaire, Emmanuel Oritsejolomi Uduaghan, the Alema of Warri. The event took place in Akpoti-Uduaghan’s primordial homestead in Ebiraland, Kogi State. The chief host was the recently departed Ohinoyi of Ebiraland, His Majesty, Ado Ibrahim. It was chaired by a former governor of Edo State, John Odigie-Oyegun, who also previously chaired the APC at the national level. Dignitaries at the high octane event included: Bukola Saraki, former Senate President; the Olu of Warri, His Majesty Tsola Emiko; the groom’s cousins and former governors of Delta State, James Ibori and Emmanuel Ewetan Uduaghan. Former Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa; incumbent Senate President, Godswill Akpabio; former PDP Chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, among several dignitaries, honoured the event.
Her first contribution on the floor of the Senate was to request that the recently departed Ohinoyi of Ebiraland, Ado Ibrahim be immortalised. She spoke of his disposition as an urbane father and patriarch, and an apostle of peace all through his 25-year reign. Within the period, his sociocultural domain witnessed some physical development. She canvassed the rechristening of the Federal College of Education, (FCE), Okene, after the transited royal. Akpoti-Uduaghan was recently named Senate Committee Chairman on Local Content as replacement for her former sparring partner, Ohere. She was concurrently appointed Vice Chairman of the Committee on Steel. That she is in leadership positions in both very important committees, attests to her qualities and capabilities. Akpoti-Uduaghan’s advocacy for the resuscitation of the moribund Ajaokuta Steel Project located in Kogi Central, her primary sphere of representation, will gain desired traction, courtesy of her placements in the upper parliament.
The multibillion-dollar complex has been emblematic of abandonment, waste, greed, graft, and mismanagement for the past four decades. Akpoti-Uduaghan grew up in Ebiraland and is fully cognisant of the humongous resources in foreign exchange previously sunk into the project, which, nonetheless, has remained dysfunctional. The decrepit, melancholy-eliciting condition of the sprawling steel city is best appreciated via a drive through the gargantuan, multidimensional “steel city” of Ajaokuta. Akpoti-Uduaghan wants to proceed beyond the preceding peripherals and platitudes to add breadth to the strident advocacy for the functional resuscitation of the octopoidal complex. It is very close to her heart because of its potential to sustainably impact the economy of her people, her state, and Nigeria at large.