…On Zoning we stand.
…We need a Governor that will impact positively on average Cross Riverians
...Will stop work on Calabar-Itu highway if SERMATECH does not do the needful
… Says former Ambassador of Nigeria to Uganda, Etubom Nya Asuquo in an interview some newsmen, Excerpts:
By Andy Esiet, Calabar
Is the All Progressives Congress (APC) serious about zoning in the State?
You know in this dispensation the party that has taken zoning serious is APC. It’s APC that has decided that all the positions in the national working committee held by southerners in the last four years go to the north; all the positions held by northerners come to the south. And following from there, the presidential ticket of APC has been zoned to the south. That one is clear. So, APC this time around is definitely a party very much in support of zoning. It is the other party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that does not seem to know whether to zone or not to zone. They are still deliberating. The Ortom committee is still deliberating so we don’t know whether they will zone.
“In Cross River State I think it is only fair that the governorship position is zoned back to the south as the governor has rightly said. The south did it first, and then it went to central. I remember when I was contesting for governor under the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), everybody in the south was telling me it should go to central. And a lot of people from the south did not support me because they said it should go to central, after central to the north. So it stands to reason that it should come back to the south for the rotation to restart. A lot of us who look at politics more in terms of fairness think it should be so, even though you cannot prevent whoever wants to contest from contesting.
First and foremost, it is the inalienable rights of anybody who wants to contest for any position to contest. So you will see people from other zones wanting to contest. Like even in APC, the governor of Kogi state declared his intention to contest last Saturday. While you will not prevent them, the party position is explicit that there’s zoning.
On mechanism to take care of erring members who go against zoning
Our democracy is a global game and as democracy evolves, the concept of human rights also become more and more prominent. There’s no way you can prevent an individual who aspires to buy his form with his money from contesting. The only thing you do is that those party people know the position of the party, so the only punishment they will give you is in the poll, to make sure that you fail resoundingly. Some people who buy form don’t necessarily mean that they are hoping to be president or governor. They are doing it as bargaining position. Like the presidency will come to the south obviously; there’s no doubt about that. Maybe he’s positioning himself to bargain for vice presidential position to show that he has support in the north. The vice president will obviously come from the north. And he’s from north central. Maybe he wants to show people that north east and North West would support him if taken as vice president. All those things are possibility in politics. But I don’t see a situation where the party says our ticket is going to the south, and then just because you buy form you think you can win it. It’s not possible.
What type of governor do you think the state needs in 2023?
We need a governor that will do things to impact positively on the life of the average Cross River person moving around in the street. On that basis we have virtually failed in Cross River. We have failed from Donald Duke. Donald Duke was busy building Tinapa which has no relationship with the life of any ordinary Cross Riverian. And I remember I told him three times that Tinapa is not a project for the third world. It’s a project for the first world. Like Las Palmas that people will fly every second to land there and gamble and then fly away. It’s not a project for third world that does not even have road from Uyo to Calabar, or from Ikom to Calabar. I remember we quarreled and were not in talking terms for almost seven years. But what I said then has been proven true because all the money wasted on that project is monumental. Last month I read federal allocation was N34million. Why do you think that is so? They are removing loans that they collected to build those things. Every year all the money spent on that project is going down in droves. Ten years from now that place would look like Ajaokuta.
“Liyel Imoke also came. Maybe he was trying to compete with his friend, Donald, because all the projects he tried to do were about the same, like that International Conference Centre. In fact, there was a debate whether he should build and International Conference çentre or a market to relocate Watt market and I told them they should build a market because you can never lose money when you build a market. Every serious investor would be ready to bring his money to build that market because we can negotiate with him. He would get money from it for maybe 10 or 20 years as the case maybe and then subsequently all the money gotten from that market comes to you. That will be positive just like the Mayor of Calabar is doing now with shopping malls. You can’t lose money on such a project. But he preferred to build international conference centre. The first time I went to that place I knew that that place too was uselessly built. You can have a function at the third floor and when you want to ease yourself you have to come down through steps to the ground floor. It doesn’t make sense. Such project is wasteful. That place can lie there for six months before one function is done there. So tell me what benefit you get from it. We have been going towards that route of not putting investment where we should put them. It’s better to put money on things like roads. If you build roads alone, the amount of investment you will generate will be so monumental. If you invest seriously in farming, I don’t mean the type of farming that they are investing in radio and television. Invest seriously on farmers, there will be a lot of benefits. Invest in school. Let children have very good learning environment from pre primary school and so forth. Those to me are types of things that can develop a place but unfortunately we have failed monumentally.
What do you say about the Superhighway and Deep-Sea Port?
“Well, until he finishes it. Those are the same type of projects like Tinapa, projects that you will never finish. If you can do roads fine because a lot of people bring out finish and other materials from there. But there’s no road even for them. Those are the type of things I’m talking of. For the first time, that was about three weeks ago, the Mayor of Calabar came here and I told him to enter my car. I drove him from here to that interior of Bacoco and he was surprised with what he saw. In fact, people are shouting that there’s no land in Calabar to build houses now because almost all the places available have been built up. When I drove him to that place here in Bacoco, he saw the large sixe of land left here that if the road is done people will not even complain again. So those are the things. They are leaving what they should do, and be doing what they should not do.
On the Electoral Act
In terms of that law, I personally believe the National Assembly did the correct thing. As far as I’m concerned, I think Malami will be wrong if he does anything to remove anything from the Act that has been signed. Going to Abia state to shop for a judge to give him what he wanted is neither here nor there because you cannot take somebody to equity without that somebody being present. The National Assembly was not joined at all in that suit. The Attorney General cannot on his own fiat remove anything from that law. I heard that the National Assembly said they will appeal and if they appeal it will remain as it is until the Supreme Court says something about it.The final decision in terms of law is with the judiciary. Everybody will have to wait. Even the public officers who don’t want to resign it will be dangerous too for them. In fact, I will tell you that none of them took part in the APC national convention. They did not take part because PDP is waiting in the winds because it can take the party to court and win like the one in Zamfara State. So everybody is careful. I think those who want to contest will resign because nobody wants to be caught.
Bakassi issue is still lingering, what is your take?
Unfortunately I left National Assembly before the issue of Bakassi. I was in the first Assembly and I was a principal officer. So if I was there it could not have taken that turn, but the truth of the matter is that our people both in the National Assembly and even the Bakassi people were more interested in money than doing anything for their people. That’s the truth of the matter. They were dilly-dallying until events had happened before they started shouting. And even the shouting, they were getting money for the rehabilitation of the Bakassi people. Go and see if there’s any rehabilitation. The people have not been fair to the Bakassi people and I mean those who are their leaders.
On grooming or fatherly advice to aspirants and the issue of consensus
I do not believe in grooming. What are you grooming for? We are in a democracy. Anybody who feels he wants to contest should be allowed to go and buy form and contest. Make the primaries, however it is conducted to be free and fair. That will solve the problem. The primary will eliminate chaff from the corn. So I don’t think we need to prune down the number. If you are to do it by indirect election, if they are 10, people will still go and vote. I don’t believe in people micromanaging the political process. I prefer a situation that those who aspire are given a level playing field let them test their popularity. It will even make them happy to work for the party after the primary because they will see that they lose fairly and squarely. I personally think it will be very difficult to have consensus because the law the National Assembly has made that said for a consensus to be, a candidate has to write that he has agreed. Somebody who really wants to contest will not agree. And there’s nothing you can do. There’s an example in Abuja during our convention that Helen Effiom said she did not agree. So there had to do election about 1am before Betta finally won. I have already said I don’t believe in micromanaging these things, give everyone who wants to contest a level playing ground. Conduct a free primary that will be able to produce the best candidate. In Cross River State the two parties are strong. Nobody should underestimate the capacity of any party.
Do you subscribe to South East Presidency?
First I will say that there’s no state that those not have capable people who can be president of Nigeria. Every state has presidential material. Therefore if I have my way I will say that this time around southeast should be encouraged to produce the president because, one: there are many people in the southeast that have been complaining over the years that Nigeria has not been fair to them. The southeast virtually went to war with Nigeria some years back, and over the past few years the southeast has been on low intensity war with the rest of Nigeria. People cannot pretend that it is not so. One of the things that you can use in appealing to them is to make them see reason why they should remain in Nigeria. And one of the ways of doing that is to encourage them this time around to produce the next president. That’s where I stand personally. Everything being equal, if a presidential aspirant of southeast origin which I think can make a good president from APC declares his intention to contest; I will be one of those who will support that aspiration. That’s how I see it. There’s need to encourage them also to have that feeling of being part and parcel of the country.
What is your take on use of mercenaries to fight banditry?
“No. I’m totally opposed to it because mercenaries by that word they will come in and become worse than even the bandits. Mercenaries are not good people. If you cajole them too much they will not even do the fighting, they will be fighting to overthrow the government. I think the government does not have the will to fight insurgency. They are not really fighting them as they should. It’s like they are fighting them with kid gloves. Before, they were calling them bandits instead of insurgents. They were not serious. If they are serious they know where they are located. Like the Kaduna State governor said. There’s no war that you fight without having unintentional casualties. If you know they are in a particular place you can go and bomb them. But they are not doing all that.
Do you support the idea that Nigerians should have weapons in their houses to protect themselves?
I don’t think we have reached that stage because when you allow people to have weapons another dimension will come in to play. A lot of people will be using those weapons for diabolical things. The Nigerian Government does not even have good police system. We don’t have the type of policing that can monitor these things. If a crime happens they know how to pursue and get the culprit. We do not have any capacity. So if you allow people to have guns it will be worse.
On Calabar-Itu Road
I have written a very strong letter to the Minister of Works that I do not think Sermatech had the capacity to do that job. I have also written very strong letter to the Minister that the controller of works here should be removed…Do you know that that company came about six months ago and up till today they have not even met the Paramount Ruler of Odukpani. I am a traditional ruler, they have not met me. They have not met any traditional ruler on that corridor. Such contract comes with what is known as local content law which is a law. And that law states that ordinary casual workers must be from that locality. The other high quality jobs normally should be in the ratio of 60 to 40. Since those people came, in my own area which is the longest stretch, they have not given any one person job, even as casual worker – I mean to carry sand. They have not. They are the people buying sand. They are the people buying gravel. They are the people doing everything.
They are bringing people from Akwa Ibom, from everywhere to come and do labour which we have in abundance. I have told them that they do not have the capacity to do that contract. It was a political contract given to them. But if they have to do it, they must do it the way it has to be done. They must comply strictly to local content. They must comply strictly to all the regulations. I told them that you cannot stay in Abuja and get contract and stay in Abuja and give instructions to your people. You have to come. Their Managing Director, since he got that contract he has not even come to Cross River. He has not had the courtesy to come and meet with even the Paramount Ruler of Odukpani not to talk about the others, which is an insult of the highest order.
I wrote a very serious petition to the Minister that the contract should be cancelled. You know the normal Nigerian attitude. They were putting things in the press that I want this, I want that. I told them that local content is our right. It’s a law. It is we who have to supply you certain items like sand. They were trucking sand from Akwa Ibom. Why should you bring sand from Akwa Ibom when you should give our local people contract to supply you that sand. Those things don’t concern me because those who know me know that I work on principle. That was why we held a press conference about them. And I realized that they kept somebody in the ministry of works any letter I post from here was not getting to the Minister so I had to go to Abuja myself and I gave the Minister those two letters. The Minister now knows that there was problem because what I told the Minister was to cancel the contract that they won’t be able to do it.
Last week Friday the Minister asked two Directors from the ministry to invite the MD of that company and myself to try to see if they can broker peace. All these things I’m telling you now I told them in their presence. I told them that he has insulted me. All these things I’m telling you he could not argue even one. He apologized to me in the presence of those two people. I reluctantly accepted his apology. But the truth of the matter is that I have told those people in SERMATECH what they should do and they are:
1. Meeting with me and other leaders of the host community within two weeks.
2. Letter of apology to me for grievous insult to my person.
3. Comply fully with local content to the host communities which is the law in Nigeria.
4. Goodwill payment to sixty members of the host communities.
5. MD of SERMATECH must pay courtesy visit to:
a. Odukpani traditional rulers council.
b. Traditional rulers of the host communities.
I told them in that meeting that they will not be able to do the contract because we have given them up to the middle of June. If government does not pay compensation, then we shall not allow SERMATECH to continue work. Because of that road work a lot of houses along the corridor will be pulled down, people’s farms, factories, and petrol stations will all be destroyed. How can you do that when you have not given them compensation so that they will start looking for alternative houses to stay? Road is made for people to benefit.