EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: WHY I WASN’T SURPRISED BY AKPABIO’S DEFECTION -UDOM EMMANUEL
Published September 1, 2018 on Punch Newspaper
………………….The Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, in this interview with TUNDE AJAJA speaks on the recent political developments in the state and his plan for people of the state as he declares his intention to seek re-election in the 2019 governorship election_
*You recently declared your intention to seek re-election as the governor of Akwa Ibom State in the 2019 election; what are the things that should make the people of Akwa Ibom vote for you again?*
In all sectors of the economy, the question anybody would ask is who could have done it better? That is one. The second one is that in the face of the worst recession ever in this country, which was in 2016 and part of 2017, a governor could pull numerous projects through, and despite the challenges in the country, a governor was able to commit investors to bring money into the same economy going through recession. At that time, it would ordinarily take you almost 10 times the efforts it used to take you before to convince one investor to bring one dollar to Nigeria, but we were able to. So, I think it is highly commendable that we did all that and Akwa Ibom people appreciate it. Beyond that, in 2016, there were a number of months that our allocation really dwindled and could barely meet our first line charges, but in the face of that, we were paying salaries, pension and allowances and we didn’t owe anybody. When we came into office, even the local government gratuity that was being owed from 2003, we paid them. If you look beyond that and we start taking sector by sector, there are evidences of the much we have done in all the sectors.
*Some of your critics, especially the opposition, believe that you have not done as much as you want people to believe. Could you tell us the specific things you have done in the different sectors?*
In the education sector, for example, I pay West African Senior School Certificate Examination fees every year for our students, and while some states are retrenching, I’m still recruiting teachers. The first batch of recruitment was 1,500 and the second batch is also 1,500. So, the question is; how many states actually did these, vis-a-vis when there was so much money in the system? Our public schools are representing Nigeria in Sweden now in some SMART competitions. When the Peoples Democratic Party government (led by former President Goodluck Jonathan) handed over, a US dollar was N186, unlike today that we get it at about N365. At that time, a Toyota Corolla was going for N3.4m, but now, the same car is over N19m. So, now, we have hyperinflation, with a reduced income and real value of money in people’s hands, which is like a double whammy. But, in the face of these, a governor is able to pull through and is running a government as if nothing had happened. Don’t mind what the propagandists are putting on the social media. Right now, we have intervened in the local government system and it can only take a magician to do much more in that area than we have done. In agriculture, we have done a lot too. When we took over government, two cups of garri (cassava flakes) was going for N200, but with collaboration with the farmers and government intervention, today, 13 cups of the that same gaari go for that same N200. People are beginning to see effect of the green house initiative that we introduced. In the past, there was a period you wouldn’t find vegetable to buy in the market because of rain, but with the green house initiative, the essence is for us to have daily needs available at any point in time at affordable cost. Also, the rice we are growing today in one of the local government areas, even though we are still on a test run, you need to see the quality of the rice we are producing, or is it our cocoa plantation that you want to talk about, where the yield has really improved over time and we have had to bring a fertiliser blending plant. So, in terms of agric, we have done a whole lot, and we now see youths going into farming, because we created appropriate pricing of farm produce in order to encourage farmers and have more people engaged in these activities.
*There was also a report that in terms of infrastructure, there is not much to show. Could you tell us your achievement in that sector?*
If you go to infrastructure, I stand to be challenged anywhere that despite the recession, we did 1,700km of roads, and some have been completed and inaugurated while some are in advanced stage of construction. And some of these roads are dualised into six lanes; some are even the so-called federal roads. These are things anyone visiting Akwa Ibom would see; to tell you that we are not just talking. Then, the seaport and the logistics centre in the state were things only on papers for a very long time. The very first time to move beyond the first stage was under this government and we are at the last stage now in the Ibom Deep Seaport. These are visible evidences of a well focused, transparent, resourceful and well managed government that can compete anywhere with the best practices in the world. Let me also tell you that in terms of health care system, the secondary health care system was completely dead, but we have now revived it and we now have paperless (digital) general hospital. As of today, we got the report that the number of patients in our teaching hospital has reduced drastically, because we have revived them. We have brought in over 26 containers of equipment to equip our hospitals with modern facilities and our target is to bring in 100; the other containers are on the sea and we will clear them very soon. In terms of social services and youth empowerment, we have done so much and it remains one of the areas we pride ourselves in. We have begun constructing modern sports centres and facilities in all the 10 federal constituencies of the state, so we could raise champions. We engage the youths, under our youth skill acquisition programme called AKEET. These are things we are doing that are touching the lives of people. We promised our youths that as we continue, we will change their situation from begging for a living to earning a living and these are improvements that we have made in all ramifications. And what then do you call dividends of democracy?
*Some people are saying your predecessor did a lot on infrastructure than you did, but that…*
(Cuts in…) Let me say something here. When people do comparison, look at the depth of understanding of those people doing the comparison. Even in financial reporting, there is what we call year-on-year. First, you can’t compare three years with eight years and when you compare, there should be a common denominator. It’s simple; compute how much we have collected in three years and factor in the exchange rate of N365 to a dollar, not forgetting the rate of inflation now and the fact that at some point, dollar rose to N495 and the price of bitumen went up six times, yet we did a lot of transactions. Then, compare that to their eight years when dollar was about N161.7 on the average. With that, you would get a reasonable comparison of who had done much, bearing in mind the number of years of eight to three. There is no intelligence in what whoever did that comparison did. You see, they want to keep dragging us there and we don’t want to, but if we are allowed to go there, we can bring out the hard fact and the people would be surprised. Our own is forward never backward never.
*There were also reservations expressed about your industrialisation programmes. What have you done in that regard?*
That was the same thing they said about it, until we made a documentary and showed it on the television. Today, that has silenced them. Let them continue with mischief and propaganda, while we continue with the development of the state; empowering people and building the economy of the state. Industrialisation was the bedrock of our campaign, and as difficult as it was to convince anyone to bring one dollar, when we took over power, toothpick and pencil were being imported from China, but today, the toothpick and pencils we are using are produced in Akwa Ibom. Fertiliser blending, the first of its kind, is also in this Akwa Ibom. The largest syringe manufacturing factory is in Akwa Ibom. The flour mill that is most modern is in Akwa Ibom. Our state realises the economic value of crude coconut oil and we have 11,000 hectares for that, and we are building a coconut oil refinery and that same facility will refine palm kernel oil. We are building a modern plywood factory, such that we can easily export them and we are about growing bamboo to be processed for the textile industry. These are some of the things we are doing, and that is not all. There is no government in Nigeria today that can boast of something better than we have done. And our people are excited as well as appreciating this. In terms of security, we have also done a lot and that was the reason why when we did the declaration on Friday, last week, people showed that sense of loyalty and solidarity. The number of people at the stadium answered the question and it showed they are ready to support us in the coming election. It is also because we have humility in service, transparency, best practices, integrity and character in service and people are beginning to appreciate that there could be governance that gives hope. We are not just preparing our people for the future; we are also preparing the future for them. At our airport, we are constructing the second runway. So, all the three major gateways to our industrialisation; water (deep seaport), air (the airport) and road (massive road construction) are receiving huge attention. We came in with a blueprint that we are implementing and that is why people are saying that if we have done this much, we need a second term to do more. Basically, what we are doing is to build a solid economy for our people so that the political structure can run peacefully. It’s only mischief makers that would say you have not done well, and I’m glad you mentioned opponent because night and darkness do not go together. Propaganda and development can never go hand in hand. These are infrastructural projects that are visible; not abstract. In terms of the quality and the length of road that we have constructed, no government, since the creation of this state, has in one day inaugurated 28 internal roads. Ask people who are from here, they will tell you. We don’t take issues with people who do not see anything good in things that are good.
*Now that you claim to have done this much in less than four years, people might ask what your plans are for this next tenure, if the people of Akwa Ibom decide to give you the mandate?*
I came into government with a clear five-point agenda, which are all clearly stated; job creation, poverty alleviation, wealth creation, economic and political inclusion and infrastructural consolidation and expansion. I told them at the declaration that in the first term, we are to sustain superior performance, while in the second tenure, we are to surpass superior performance. In clear terms, you can never finish work on any of those five points in four years; it is after eight years you would see the impact. Even as a country, you can’t finish those five in four years; work on them must continue, and things would be at an unprecedented level after the eight years.
*Your state has been in the news recently, following the defection of your predecessor, Senator Godswill Akpabio, to the ruling party. Some people saw it coming while some were caught unawares. For you, what was your initial reaction when it happened?*
None of the above, I mean in the options you provided. I didn’t see it coming and it wasn’t a great surprise. You see, we are a well trained people and trained minds don’t reason like untrained minds. If you are a trained mind, the unexpected are expected to happen at an unexpected time. However, what you do as a trained mind at that point in time is what matters most. And you could see at this period that we are calm and we are not bothered about it. No cause for alarm. Everywhere in the world, not only in Akwa Ibom or in Nigeria, people defect from one party to another, but the cause for concern is the volume of what people say about individuals that have nothing to do with the main cause of the defection. We all know what is happening in this country today; why some people are defecting, which I might not be able to say in the public, but people can deduce. And you know people will always look for their own reasons to add and they would look for another person to be painted black.
*The day Akpabio defected to the APC, the EFCC froze the accounts of Akwa Ibom State government. Lawyers and many people condemned the act, especially when the same thing happened in Benue State after Governor Samuel Ortom left the ruling party for the PDP. What is your take on that action?*
If such things continue to happen in this country, we are turning Nigeria into a very lawless society. It is an extreme breakdown of law and order that an agency of the Federal Government would impound the account of a state government and the banks would obey that and this is a government that is preaching about corruption. That is an aspect of corruption; that EFCC could illegally impound an account of a state government and everybody would just keep quiet. Today, it could be Benue and Akwa Ibom, another day, it could be any other state and it means any other person in power can also do the same thing. Let’s also look at it; I was talking about selfish service; the same people you are referring to now are the people that part of their negotiation is to clamp down on the account of 6.2 million people; the masses. An orphan is there, a widow is there, a widower is there and a beggar is there. Somebody who is dying on the hospital bed is there. So, you clamp down on 6.2 million people and then you think that is the best way to play politics? No man should play God as part of negotiation. There are certain things that we do and we don’t know the repercussion tomorrow. What if somebody dies due to what the money in that account could have done, and maybe security agencies that are supposed to protect the people could not mobilise due to lack of logistics. Then, imagine what that could lead to. The issue here is not just about Akwa Ibom, it’s about Nigeria. There is no democracy anywhere in the world without rule of law. So, any agency of the Federal Government cannot be so lawless, where an individual can just pick up a phone and call a chairman of an agency and the person would close the account of a state government. Common! This is Nigeria, and I’m surprised the press didn’t shout about this. Civil society organisations should shout, because it’s an infringement on the fundamental of democracy in Nigeria, not about Akwa Ibom. If we don’t stand up to defend this democracy that we want, I don’t know, but I rest my case on that.
*Some members of the PDP have insinuated that the freezing of the state’s accounts could be an intro to a bigger illegality to come between now and 2019, talking about federal might. Are you also apprehensive that there could be something that tends towards using federal might to influence the governorship election in your state in 2019?*
I’m not apprehensive about anything. All powers belong to God and He gives it to whoever He wants to. How many of those people can beat their chest that they will see 2019? No man is God and no man can play God. I know it is only God’s determined counsel that shall stand. So, we are not perturbed about that, and you know, 2019 will come and go and the question is after 2019 election has come and gone, where will Nigeria be? That should always be the question. If we are so selfless in our thoughts, we should be thinking Nigeria, not 2019, because it is not the only year in Nigeria. While they are banking on federal might, we are also resting on the almighty. There is a difference, and let’s see whose power is higher. So, you call on who you have. If they have federal might, in our state, we call on the almighty. As to whether there would be other dramas before the election, there is nothing to be afraid of. We are a well brought up people; we have character, integrity and we are a well trained people. For a guy who was trained at the University of Lagos and from there to PricewaterhouseCoopers and from there to the best institutions in this country, and a guy who sat in the board of several financial institutions across the globe; somebody who is FSA authorised, I mean you know I have something to show and something valuable to protect, in terms of character and integrity. I won’t be dragged through the mud. We are a highly focused people and our concern are the people of Akwa Ibom, who are highly intelligent and resourceful. Those people doing that are not interested in the people; they are interested in themselves, but we are rendering selfless service, not selfish service. So, if you are running a selfless service, you don’t see election at all costs; you seek for the well being of the next generation at all costs and that influences the much we have done. But let me say that we won’t be dragged into that arena; trust me, I won’t follow them. I’m a highly focused person; I won’t follow them.
*Your predecessor once endorsed you for a second term but now he has changed his stand. Did you feel betrayed?*
You see, I don’t want to be dragged into that murky water. If I provide an answer, it would be an intro towards entering the murky waters, so I would rather say that my own politics is not about individuals and it’s not about personalities but about Akwa Ibom people and that is my priority. We are talking about 6.2 million people; why do you want me to be talking on one person. I don’t want Akwa Ibom people to get angry with me, as to why do I keep focussing on one person. Also, the life of everybody is as important as that of a governor. So, if everybody is that important to me, I believe everybody should be accorded equal focus, concentration and attention.
*There is this impression in some quarters that Akpabio has a hold on Akwa Ibom and that you could have contemplated following him to the APC. Was that an option?*
That is not possible. I’m not that kind of politician. Remember I have declared under the PDP. There is a difference between those who call themselves professional politicians and professionals in politics. I have a background and I can’t throw all those into the dustbin. We are men of impeccable character and loyalty, and we don’t deceive our people. Beyond that, I don’t see any other party that can give me the platform of my life principles more than PDP and I stand by it. That is the only party that can allow me exercise those principles and core values and the training I have; I don’t know of any other party. The only party I have is PDP and it’s like a family. Akwa Ibom is PDP and PDP is Akwa Ibom. What they saw during our declaration must have spoken to those who have doubts, compared to the crowd that those other people had. Those people in their crowd were not from Akwa Ibom. They were from another state and that was why when they were being greeted in our local dialect, they couldn’t know how to respond, including the people on the stage, compared to the crowd we had on Friday. Before you mentioned any greeting in the local dialect, the place erupted.
*A former governor in your state, Obong Victor Attah, in his recent interview threw his weight behind you, would you say that’s a worthy replacement?*
If I have read the interview, I would have known what to say, because at this level, we don’t just say things because we want to react. We say things based on what we have read, done or seen. I have not seen the interview, so it will be difficult to respond. But let me say that Obong Victor Attah is a very well respected elder statesman in Akwa Ibom and he’s somebody that if he speaks, people respect what he says. So, if he has truly spoken, people respect his opinion on any subject matter, so I queue behind my people to respect what he has said, but I have not read the interview.
*Reports emerged few days ago where your predecessor was said to have accused you of not putting the hotel he built while in office, Four Points by Sheraton, to use. Why is that?*
Somebody woke me up on Saturday morning about the story in the Nation, Sunand Daily Telegraph newspapers, that a publication said I lied during my declaration on Friday, concerning the hotel. One of the questions I ask is whether just a building qualifies as a hotel. I want to throw that challenge again that let’s come to public discourse with facts and figures because figures don’t lie. Let them come with their figures and I would come with authentic documents. They said there was a press statement by Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide where it announced the signing of an agreement with the Akwa Ibom State government concerning the hotel, but I know that Nigerians are more intelligent than what those papers carried. Who signed the press statement? Who did the contract? How much was the contract? What is the standard value of such a hotel in the international scale? What is the average cost per room of a hotel of that standard? What was our own cost? How much was paid when the hotel was not completed? These are questions that should be answered. And let me say that once you inaugurate a hotel, it means the hotel is ready for commencement of business operations. So, what did you inaugurate if people cannot start using it that night? I have reports that detailed so many things that were outstanding in the hotel they termed completed, but I don’t want to answer the issues by words of mouth because I don’t want to be dragged through the mud. How can you say a hotel was 98 per cent complete when mechanical and electrical fittings were not completed? Not even a single system was. Let them tell me one bed sheet or cutlery that was bought. These are facts that we may be forced to bring out.
*Why the reluctance to bring them out now?*
We don’t like washing our dirty bills in public; we are highly respectable people, but, you see, when people want to drag you out in order for you to tell the whole world the truth, it’s not your fault. You can never see us publish anything about the state on all these issues, but now that it has entered the front pages of national newspapers, calling our character to question, we would want the people to judge who is telling the truth and who is telling a lie, and that will come out. I pose this challenge again that I’m willing and ready to pay any medium to organise a public discourse so we can know, once and for all, who is telling the truth and who is telling a lie. I’m a professional in politics, so I don’t take issues on flimsy issues. Certain things are very trivial. You know certain things are not material and they are not fundamental and those things don’t call for attention. I grew to hear the narrative that let the sleeping dog lie, but whatever happens if you wake the dog and it bites and you suffer injuries, well, it’s for you to deal with. Let me restate that we are men of character and integrity and you will never see us publish anything to attack anyone. I have never granted any interview condemning my predecessor or any political party; I don’t do such things. I face the business of governance. The only business I have here is Akwa Ibom and that is the project. Whatever the opponents do; whether they are specialised in propaganda or not, or mischief, that is not our problem. But, I would like to invite you on a media tour of our achievements. I want to reassure you that this government is not founded on anything but integrity and we stand by that integrity. But, since the world wants to know, we challenge them to show us the agreement they signed as of the day they inaugurated the hotel. If they show us the agreement, and who they met in Starwood that signed the agreement, then we will know they have something to say. It might interest you to know that the company which was used to negotiate for a franchise from Starwood was incorporated on June 11, 2015. So, how could Starwood have issued an unsigned statement in September 2014? Who is lying? We have the certificate of incorporation of the limited liability company that was used to negotiate with Starwood. It read June 11, 2015, and somebody is giving you an unsigned 2014 press statement that could have come from anywhere and is touting that as a major evidence of a completed hotel. I don’t like people insulting my intelligence, but I just hope that nobody would insult the intelligence of our people here. What they are putting out there is absurd, but we don’t want to take issues with them, but if they draw us out, we will let you people have the fact and the fact would speak for itself.
*There has been the issue of vote buying. What are your thoughts about that narrative entering into Nigeria’s electoral lexicon?
I’m yet to witness such in our elections in Akwa Ibom, even though I saw on the internet that it happens in other places. I want to believe that as a country, we won’t allow that to be a practice in 2019. Such compromises would take us several years back in our democratic development and I don’t expect it not to be corrected in 2019. The press should do everything possible to make sure those things did not take place. Those looking to close Akwa Ibom accounts should close in on people buying votes.
*Should you get the mandate of your people for another years, what would you want Akwa Ibom people to remember you for?
It’s very simple; you know we have launched the Dakkada philosophy, where we have what we called moral rebirth. If you aspire to greatness and your passion is right, nothing is impossible. Let me tell you that the easiest thing for anyone to do is to award a contract, and if I give you cash, you would construct a road for me, but the most difficult thing to do is to inculcate into people core moral values. After eight years, we would have inculcated in our people that right to sense of greatness. And let me assure you that we will continue to run a people-centred government.
Are you confident of getting the ticket of your party for the re-election?
God and my party people would decide that. He would use my party members to decide that. If God tells my party people I should get the ticket, then I will get it.