As all the political parties put finishing touches on their campaigns on February 22, the former Senate Leader Sen. Victor Ndoma-Egba, SAN on February 22 briefed some newsmen on the chances of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), the sins of the four major political parties, the issue of religion and ethnicity and few others. Excerpts:
Andy Esiet,, Calabar
You have ended your campaigns, how did it go and what are the chances of your party APC winning the February 25 and March 11 elections in Cross River State?
The grand finale of our campaign was last Friday in Ikom but that is a show bit of our effort and I stayed back in Ikom for a number of days and joined them in stakeholders engagement. We have since moved from the stakeholders engagement to the unit campaigns and then the door to door campaigns
Your party has Muslim Muslim ticket for the presidency , do you think this is fair to people in other religion?
There is no major party today without sin. For instance, in my party, the APC, I think our sin is the Muslim-Muslim ticket. In the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), their sin is that it is the turn of the South. In Labour Party (LP) their sin is that they are unable to find party agents to cover all the wards in the country. In New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), they are heard only in Kano. Even in Labour Party we hear so much about in social media, for the two weeks I was constantly in Ikom, I went out everyday but saw their posters just twice. One in Ntanselle, where Chris Agara hails from, and one in a place where I went to see a very prominent Igbo citizen. The Ikom people were shocked when I told them the Labour party has a governorship candidate and the candidate is from Ikom. The sin of the Labour Party is that it is a technology based party yet to find it’s roots. Of all the sins, I think that of the APC is the least for a number of reasons..
Our candidate famously has a pastor wife and she’s an active member of the Nigerian Christian community, so it is just a fraction of him that can be said to be Muslim. I think the sin of the APC has been exaggerated because it is not as bad as the sin of the PDP where you have a candidate taking the turn of the South. Back to Cross River State, maybe we can do a bit of historical analysis If you recall in 1999, at the the beginning of this political episode, which we hoped would move from an episode to permanent democracy, the defunct All Peoples Party (APP) and PDP were equally balanced. The APP had five members of the house of reps and had a Senator, the PDP had three members of the house of reps and two senators. In the house of Assembly it was 13 to 12, so it was neatly balanced. The only advantage that the PDP had at that time was that we had a governor, Donald Duke. Now with the personality and weight of office, he was able to suck life out of the APP and we now assumed the notion that Cross River was a PDP state, forgetting that at the beginning, it was equally balanced. But the factor of the governor being the major determinant of our political thinking is why the APC will suck life out of the PDP and with his mirage of appointments, people take those appointments very seriously.
What has PDP got to offer and what was their legacy as compared to the APC today?
When I listened to the outburst of some former governors and I think in that office, which happens to be the highest office here, there ought to be a distinction between the office and the person occupying the office but that distinction is a very fine one because the man carries the office everywhere. So it is not an office that should be desecrated, Moreso coming from a party that has little or no legacy. I was one of them but mercifully, they threw me out and I am grateful to them but what is the legacy of PDP, in the last 23 years what do you remember PDP for? When I was in government in the days of late Dan Archibong, I was commissioner then and I remember an argument in the State Executive Council about us taking a loan for rural electrification and the whole argument was “how can you be a government without owing?” The state was the least indebted and the Federal Ministry of Finance was putting a lot of pressure on the Cross River State government to take a loan but today we are third or fourth on the list of debtors according to AMCON, that is our legacy. Where are our oil wells and Bakassi? They have all been lost. Everything PDP has left for us is one loss after another. Kanu Agabi became Attorney general of the Federation and that is the number one minister because that is the only ministerial position recognised by the constitution, others are at the discretion of the president, and that was when we had the highest visibility for our support. After Kanu Agabi, we were downgraded to Minister for Power , Senator Liyel Imoke. When he left, we got Minister of state for culture. Then late John Odey came, first as information and then they gave us senior minister for culture and that was all. We were just having those ministerial positions which are the entitlement of every state under the constitution and not a favour. Don’t forget that When Buhari came to campaign in 2015, they refused him the use of the stadium and he had to go to a primary school on Atu Street, Mayne Avenue. This is a Fulani man who has never tied a wrapper but they tied one on him without giving him any opportunity to practice and the man was struggling to get used to the wrapper which almost made him fall but he did not, he only stumbled. The governor made a joke of him but I had to lead a delegation of prominent Cross Riverians to see him and apologize before he was sworn in, then he told us a story of his relationship with Cross River as a soldier.
In spite of that humiliation, he assured us that he had put it behind him. During Buhari’s time, we got Chief Justice of Nigeria, Head of Service , Chief of Naval Staff , Minister of NDDC, Chairman of NDDC and Auditor General of the Federation all at the same time. So I challenge PDP to refresh our memories. As far back as 1984 when I was commissioner for works, the bridge in Ikom was a major issue and it was restricting trades with Calabar ports because the containers’ move was limited. I went there with my engineers who did the measurements in my presence and we asked the shippers Council what the biggest size of container was. In eight years, go to Ikom now, you will see the beautiful bridge. Just 10-15 minutes from Ikom to the Cameroon border, you will see another bridge. There is also a Federal Pyrotechnic in Ugep and the information i have is that specialist hospital in Ikom will be completed this year. In 24 years of PDP, please I would like to know what tangible legacy there is that we can point at. There are lots of arguments in our favour and I believe we have also worked very hard to deserve it.
So for me, my expectation is that on the 25th of February, we will win and we will win again on the 11th of March. The 11th of March is a very straight forward thing because it is the turn of the South, there is no way the argument can be twisted. I was one of those who made the early comment that this thing had gone round and that it could start anywhere but in sober reflection, i realised that today we do not have that political sophistication for us to just start, we have not reached that point. If we use that simple, equitable, fair logic, it is the turn of the South. There is no argument that you can use to twist that my mother was from the south. If so you should have told us that your mother is from the south and contested for the Senate from the south. We have not reached Lagos and Ogun level were in the morning you are commissioner in Lagos and the next day you are governor in Ogun and the third day you are senator representing Ondo, we have not reached that level. So it is the turn of the south.
What is your take on the Ejagham agenda playing up ethnic politics in the state?
Now that they have brought this argument of Ejagham, you find the Ejagham people in 12 or 13 out of the 18 local governments. Akamkpa is predominantly Ejagham head to toe. And that’s is why they speak the same language like the man from Etung or the man from Big Qua. Then by the time you get to Ikom and then move to Obudu and you begin to see some dialectical differences but they’re still the same Ejagham. I am in all modesty a well known Ejagham son and one, I think that a major thing whether we should produce governor or not should be discussed, I should expect an invitation and I’ve never received any of such invitation from anybody, so where did you have the meeting, where did we meet, under what forum, under which aegis to decide how and where?
Two, if you say it’s Ejagham, you have a substantial population of Ejagham in the South,, the senator from the north, Jarigbe is also Ejagham, so why didn’t the senator from central and north support an Ejagham son, Daniel Asuquo who’s authentic Ejagham, mainstream? Now you want to turn round and use Ejagham. If the are honest in PDP since Ejagham exists in the south maybe they would have given a turn to an Ejagham person in the south. But in all honesty, it is not the turn of Central.
Like the issue of Labour Party, it was more like a conversation between I and the supporters of labour. Gentlemen let’s not be sentimental, what’s your support base, what’s the name of your governorship candidate? He is the chairman so they said he should hold the position until they find a candidate, the haven’t found a candidate and he wants to drop the position. He’s from Ikom, when I go to campaign I said the LP candidate is from here, they said no and I mentioned his name, they said that’s our name.
So you don’t support ethnic or religious sentiments in politics?
My driver Musa has been driving me since my son Bassey was six months, Bassey is a father of two today. So Musa must have been my driver for 34-35 years now. He’s a and he from Kano. But each time we traveled it was Musa we gave the keys to our house for 34 years. This man sitting here is from Katsina, so this issue of religion as far as I am concerned it’s elites manipulation. I will come to the TV and talk, this Muslim-muslim ticket is a terrible thing then I’ll go back and be eating with Kabiru or I’m traveling I’m leaving my key with Musa, it’s just an elite thing. Hunger knows no religion, poverty knows no religion.
I will give you an instance. I go to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) quite a lot, yes it’s a Muslim country but everything you find in United States or Europe are there in UAE, they have sent people to space, it’s an Islamic country. In those days you may note see a single drop of rain in UAE, today they have floods, you know why, they started doing what is called ‘Cloud ceding’.They go to the cloud with electricity and generate atoms and rain falls, so now they are now working on the quantity of electricity to use so that they just have the rainfall that they need. It’s an Islamic country…even if it’s an Islamic country you dare not say something that is religiously sensitive, whether Islamically sensitive or christian sensitive, you’re put in prison first, then they send you back where you came. But what have we done with religion here? Europe is christian and it’s developed using christian principles for their political etiquette. What do we do with Christianity in Nigeria, we preach miracles and prosperity, no work, no responsibility. You go you get drunk and bash your car and blame the devil or you blame your uncle in the village. You come here what has Islam done, Boko Haram, Poverty. Islam is a religion of knowledge, they’re not supposed to be poor. You’ll not see a cow on the street in any of these countries, so which version of Muslim and Christianity are we practicing here, that elsewhere both are bringing development but our own is holding us back? So I get suspicious when people start seeing things from a religious prism it’s a sign of laziness because all the other religions are religion of knowledge, prosperity and of Gods blessings. Which version of Islam are we practicing here in Nigeria?. Which version of Christianity are we also practicing here. That elsewhere, Islam is bringing development, Christianity is bringing development?. Our own Islam and Christianity is holding us back. So for me I am not comfortable when people begin to see things from the religious point of view. It is a sign of laziness because all religions are religions of knowledge, of God’s blessings and prosperity. God cannot bless you with poverty, no.
On the alleged Islamisation of Nigeria, what is your take?
President Mohammadu Buhari has been president for eight years, how has he Islamise Nigeria? I have heard Sheikh Abubakar Gumi saying that Prophet Mohammed who founded Islam never succeeded in Islamising the World. Jesus who founded Christianity never succeeded in christianizing the World. So if these two people who founded these religions couldn’t, then who can? How do you want to do it? If you are persuaded by any religion, please feel free but to say you are going to force me to your own faith, that is not possible. Religion is something of the mind. If you force the body what of my heart? The issue of the islamistion of Nigeria cannot work. It is a nightmare and will not work.
Taking you back, in 24 Years you were part of PDP, what did you do to chang the narrative of PDP wasted years?
You know I was a Senator and not a Governor. I was in the legislature and our job is to make laws. So if you are assessing me from that of view, I say in all modesty, the records are there to show with 41 bills coming second in ranking amongst my Colleagues. Today I am proud to say that some of my bills are Laws. The Freedom of Information Act was my Bill, Correctional Services are my bills. I had a number of impactful bills to my credit so if you are assessing me based on that I will say I made my contributions to good governance. In terms of legacy projects, at the level of a legislator, all you have is constituency projects which are not legacy projects. They are not big enough to fit into the definition of legacy. We visited 92 projects in my consistency. We still had many more. The Faculty of Law in Universities of Calabar and Lagos are my projects. But like I had said those projects as big as they are, are not legacy projects. I know the role I played to actualize the ADB road trans-African highway road to Cameroon up to Kenya.
Yes I was in PDP. The PDP is like that animal that feeds with their children when they are hungry. They feed with their off-springs. PDP is that animal that gives birth to a child and eats. PDP fattens you before eating. I was the only leader in the National leadership that didn’t get the ticket to return. I was the Senate Leader and don’t forget the President was from my zone. I didn’t get the ticket to return. We use to have Executive Secretary, National Planning Commission, Bar. Fidelis Igbo, what happened to him. PDP deceived him out of the office to come and contest the governorship they knew he will never have. We used to have a general Manager, Crude Oil Marketting, NNPC, Goddy J.D. Agba, they deceived him. They asked him to come and run the governorship race and at least he became an enemy. They just lured every Cross River of note and pulled us down from the National polity. Which kind of party is that? And today on the eve of an election, people will call me to come back to PDP. What? Those who caused my problem are still there. And one of them said I hear you a Catholic and as a Catholic when they clap you on one cheek, you turn the other cheek. And I said yes, I am a very good Catholic my own case was bad because, they slapped me in both cheeks at the same time.
When Donald Duke left the state, it was the same PDP that made it very difficult for him to come back. The same PDP made it very difficult for a sitting governor to defect to another party to get fresh air. So what kind of party is that.? It is ífot (witchcraft).The party is supreme and remains so. The PDP in Cross River State is no longer a party. It is now a personal property.
There’ is tension in the country, what is your advice to Nigerians?
It is my fervent prayer that the elections will be peaceful. God is control. He appealed to Nigerians that as stakeholders we have a duty to play to ensure we have a smooth transition during and after the general elections. We need a peaceful elections. We are over 209 million Nigerians. God forbid if we were to have a refugee crisis, what will happen to us. So we all have a stake. Go out there and cast your vote and peacefully return to your homes. Any politician who wants to engage you on anything untoward, tell him to bring his children to lead.