Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom, in this interview with GBENRO ADEOYE and other journalists, speaks on 2019 elections and on the executive bill on water resources sent to the Senate, among others
Some people believe that without a strong political coalition or merger of opposition parties, it will not be possible to oust the ruling All Progressives Congress from power in 2019. Are you in support of such a coalition?
You see, there is no formula that is the answer. Most of these things are just human tactical approaches to what you think might give you results. I believe that what matters most is results and everybody is hoping to win at the end of the day. The FIFA World Cup is about to start and each of the teams representing their countries are going there to win the trophy. So any tactical approach that you believe will give you results is what you will employ. And if it gives you results, fine. And let me tell you, no two elections are the same and they will never be. The 2019 presidential election will be completely different from that of 2015. So if somebody thinks there is a formula that will do it, you will realise that it might not necessarily be so. But above all, it is God that determines who gets to power. All powers on planet earth belong to God. A lot of people rode to leadership positions in different capacities without anyone casting a ballot. So what coalition will you call that? I still believe these things are just tactical human approaches to actually see what result we can get.
There are people who believe that South-South governors are not doing enough for their people with the resources they get as oil-rich states. What do you have to say to that?
I don’t know where you got that from but I’m hearing it for the first time because a lot of people do ask where we get money from? As of today, it is only governors in the Peoples Democratic Party that are inaugurating projects. Look at what we get in naira value and look at the rate of inflation. When we had a similar oil price some years ago at the exchange rate prevalent at that time, how much were the states given and how much are we getting today with the current rate of inflation? Today, it is about N365 to a dollar. Divide that by the naira value and look at what we used to get and compare that with what we are doing. At that time, how much was a bag of cement and how much is a bag of cement today?
These are facts; so by the time you check and see what we have put on the ground, you will see that we have done a lot. And I’m hearing that for the first time. Nobody had ever challenged us to know what South-South governors were doing with the revenue they were getting. Look at the inflation and look at what we are getting. How much are we getting now that the oil price is over $80 per barrel? When oil price was just about $60 per barrel, so many South-South states were getting over N17bn. At one point, it was over N80bn. But the so-called largest (oil producing state) is collecting about N15bn now. Divide that with N365 (current exchange rate) and divide what we used to get then by N176 or N178 (exchange rate some years ago)and then factor in the inflation and then you will know that it is not completely correct.
You recently banned 30 cult groups in your state with a legislation to back it up but in 2003, the then Governor Victor Attah prohibited cult groups. How is yours different from what he did?
Well, we didn’t enact a new law. We tried to enforce the law and we are serious about it because we can link every crime committed in Nigeria today to some of these sects one way or the other. It is not healthy at all. It provides the basis for most of the criminal activities that we have. We will stand by it.
Some controversy surrounded your administration’s plan to have a liaison office in Lagos and some people even held a protest, asking why the state wanted to spend N2bn on a new office when the state already had many structures in Lagos. What really happened?
We need to pray for understanding to know where to invest. Even before I became the governor, Akwa Ibom State had several properties in Lagos – on Martin Street, Campbell Street, on the Victoria Island, and in Ikoyi. Even the property they are talking about, I didn’t buy the property, the property had been there and it is the property of the state government. Every asset is supposed to yield returns. If you have an unproductive asset and you are a businessman, will you close your eyes and leave that asset to remain unproductive? The answer is no. So it is purely lack of understanding.
Two, that thing you called a protest was not a protest; it was sponsored by some few people who I don’t want to mention. Third, you follow consumption tax to know where money is made from. Today, where do you think consumption tax is made in this country? Lagos. So, money is made in Lagos and shared in Abuja. If you mean business, you must follow where money is made. And if you check, as of today, outside Lagos, we are next in terms of Foreign Direct Investment. How do you meet with investors? So if you don’t meet people, present proposals, make presentations, how will they come? It involves a lot of marketing and you need a place to meet with foreign investors. You see, this overdependence on Abuja is what makes people talk that way. ‘Oh, you only need liaison office in Abuja because you go to Abuja.’ What about where money is made? I also need a liaison office in Lagos where money is made so that I can meet with my investors and the private sector players because no economy can actually get to where you want without private sector investments. So that is why I pardoned those who sponsored that.
What do you think about the bill being proposed by the Federal Government, seeking to concentrate the control of water resources in its hands?
I’m completely and 100 per cent against it. It is counter-productive for the country. And it also violates the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria completely. For example, in my area, the whole life of my people is on water and the constitution does not separate water from land. So how can you now say water on the surface and water beneath? So what happens to us? We live, survive and do everything on water. So for those that have land and do everything there, their governors can control it, but governors in coastal areas, where their entire life depends on water, don’t control anything. Is that not a violation of the Constitution of Nigeria? It is. So it is total rejection, not just by me, but by the entire people of the South-South and South-East regions of this country. It is complete rejection. I just want to believe that at this time that our democracy is still fragile, we will do things that can make the country stronger and not what can call so many things into question. I didn’t mention anything, I said so many things. But let us do things that can move us forward, not things that can draw us backward. Such a bill can take us several thousand of years backward as a country and it is totally rejected by our people. Let us assume it was an error; believe me, it is against the constitution of Nigeria. I mean, we have two governors, and because one has more land areas than water, that one is a governor and controls the resources of the land. But it is not the same for the other one, whose people survive on water. We in the Niger Delta, 80 to 90 per cent of our life are on water. We build houses on water. And you now say everything about that water is vested in the water commission at the federal level and that we don’t have control over it. Come on! That is an indirect way of saying that we are not Nigerians.
Is there anything that governors in the Niger Delta are doing or specific steps being taken by them to ensure that the bill does not get to become a law?
We have a chairman of the Niger Delta governors and he has been speaking on that. I will need to refer you to the statements he has made; I don’t want to make contrary statements.
What is your relationship with your predecessor, Godswill Akpabio, as we hear there is a rift between the two of you? There are unfounded reports that the senator made some remarks which led to the sacking of key members of your government.
Which key official of government have you heard was sacked because if I run a government and a key official was sacked and I don’t know about it, then it is a big surprise to me? No official has been sacked in the government and I am not aware of any. The highest official through appointment is commissioner and no commissioner has been sacked for any reason. You know, at times, people misinterpret certain things. It takes two to be in love and it also takes two to fight. So in this case, there is no rift because the second party is not available.
Is the first party available?
If the second part is not available, it means there is no match. You don’t play a match when there is no opponent. So there is no match; there is even no fixture because there must be a fixture before there can be a walkover.
The campaign committee inaugurated by the Peoples Democratic Party for the Ekiti governorship election is being chaired by you. Do you think you have a big task ahead of you?
The role of my committee is very straightforward. They say two good heads are better than one. We are not to vote in Ekiti, what we are there to do is just to help him (Prof. Kolapo Olusola) look at what they have in order to mobilise the grass roots. Election is about numbers, it is about people voting. We can only appeal to the media to help us shout aloud that they should allow a very free and fair election. If election is free and fair, whoever wins, everybody goes home rejoicing. It is only when it is not seen to be free and fair that there could be issues. Our appeal in this country, not only in terms of Ekiti, but for every election, is to make it free , fair and transparent. Even in developed democracies, there are certain states that they call blue states or red states and there are certain ones called battlegrounds.
For example; our area is a blue area. The only thing they ever hear in terms of development has been done by the ruling party (PDP in the state), so what are you coming to do that will be completely different? And there are areas that are battlegrounds. Even on the day of election, we might not be there. So what we are just trying to do is to help campaign and look at what they have as penetration strategy; that is all. Which area have they reached and which area have they not reached? What have they done wrong? To say you can do it this way or that way and contribute ideas – that is why we are 40 in number and all PDP state governors are there. So we want to bring in the different experiences we had in our own elections. We can say this is how I did mine; will it work in your own case?
If it is going to work, you tell us it will work, if not, you say no, this can’t work for me, though it worked for you. At the end of the day, there is no way 40 ideas will come out and the best idea will not prevail.
Some aggrieved members of the All Progressives Congress have reconciled and are uniting to get you out of power. Are you bothered?
You see, there is a difference between the APC in Lagos and the APC in Abuja or in other states. Personally, I don’t mention names of political parties, but now that you have mentioned it, I don’t know whether it is a political party or the name of somebody or if it means armoured personnel carrier. I’m just borrowing your words. Look at what happened on May 29; is that the kind of state where you think there is any other political party? Let me state it clearly, the PDP in my state is like a religion. I told people three years ago that a young lady coming to conduct praise and worship will want to say praise the Lord but can say PDP, and people will answer 100 per cent. This is purely a PDP state. What new idea will another person from another party bring? Look at what happened on May 29, people were coming to say that this is where we belong. Mind you, the state is 99.9 per cent dominated by Christians and Christians in all the 31 local government areas came and said there was no vacancy in the governorship office, until 2023. There is no unit in my state that you don’t have three to five churches and all those churches are coming together to say we have only one candidate and it is Udom Emmanuel. So which other political party are you mentioning now?
What have you done to deserve it?
I will turn it the other way. What would you have expected from a governor which I have not done? What that means is that whatsoever they have expected a governor to do, I have done and that is why they are endorsing me again.
Every government has a face; we try to create a face because what I don’t like is when people just say politics is synonymous with not telling the truth. It cannot be so. Somebody will lie and say that is politics, it is not true. That is a lie. A lie is a lie; it is not politics. We try as much as possible to show a certain level of integrity and sincerity of purpose in what we do and try to be very transparent. Yes, we are human beings, we will make mistakes. But so far, I can say that we have done well in three years in office. If somebody asked me to rate myself, I would give myself an A. I have done well as a governor in an opposition party in a state with no Federal Government’s presence of any kind – not even a kilometre of road is done by the Federal Government in my state, which is the largest producer of oil. There is not even a depot of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. They don’t even have an office or a kiosk in the state. You cannot even say this is an oil producing state; where Federal Government shares interest. We don’t have that at all. Based on how we have struggled, I believe we have done well.
You said there is no single road constructed by the Federal Government in your state, could that be because of party differences?
It didn’t start today; not party differences.
What could be the reason?
I cannot explain it. If I had an explanation, I would have told you the reason. I didn’t say the reason because I don’t know the reason.
Have you made any attempt to ask the Federal Government why it is so?
Well, that is where we find ourselves. Correct me if I’m wrong if there is any, but as of today, we don’t have any – not one kilometre of road. So even the so-called federal roads that we spent money to reconstruct, we are still waiting for reimbursement. Unfortunately, Federal Inland Revenue Service is telling me to pay tax; withholding taxes on money that I’m to pay to contractors.
How do you respond to allegations by the Niger Delta Development Commission that you or officials of the state government have stopped its workers from doing any projects in Akwa Ibom State?
One, there are nine states that make up the NDDC; put Akwa Ibom aside and pick other states. Let them show you the road they have launched in other states. At least, they mentioned only Akwa Ibom. So mention other states where they have done roads and how many kilometres of road were done and how many journalists were called to witness the launch of those roads. If I will launch a road, I will call people to witness it so let them show you the road they initiated, constructed and inaugurated.
My advice is this: anywhere in the world, when you occupy certain offices, you should not have political ambition because we cannot be playing politics with the development of our people. As passionate as we are towards development, do you think it is practicable for us to tell anybody not to develop our areas. It is all blackmail and propaganda. And people like us dissociate ourselves from propaganda and blackmail. There are nine states making up the NDDC, so let us also see other states and the number of metres of road that have been done to standard because there are also standard measurements of road construction. How many kilometres were they and what were the standard measurements of construction of those roads? If you don’t have an answer, then it means whatever you heard is completely untrue.
That is why I said certain offices should be reserved for people who we know are out for development, not a place that one way or another, it is to define a political ambition. I have a road which I have awarded for construction and they will go and place sign posts there; no state government will allow that. It is not only NDDC; even Federal Road Maintenance Agency does that. I have been doing rehabilitation of federal roads and FERMA will go and put a sign post. Of course, they (state government officials) will remove such a sign post because we are using state government money to do it. If it is in your budget and you have probably paid for it, then go and account for it. Don’t use what I have done to account for it. If you go to my state now, from Okobo to Oron, I’m resurfacing the whole road and you will be surprised to get there now and see FERMA sign posts. I have awarded road contracts and my contractors will get there and see another sign post, not necessarily only NDDC’s; they must remove such.
Are you saying that people who have political ambitions should not be placed in top positions in the NDDC?
No, I didn’t say just NDDC, I said certain offices that are proper agencies of development that cut across the region – not just only NDDC. This is because in such cases, there are some elements of bias. And meanwhile, these are commonwealth resources, but there are some elements of bias one way or the other and I don’t need to define those biases; you can actually define them yourself.
2019 is almost here and there are many aspirants interested in contesting for the presidency in the PDP. How will your party reconcile all of them?
Is there anything new in it? If there are no aspirants at the national level, where else will you have people indicating interests? The constitution is clear. As far as you are eligible to contest, you can aspire. Different people aspire to different offices; it is only the results that tell. If people don’t aspire in a party, it shows the party is not alive. It shows how alive we are as a party so I’m very happy. I welcome more. We can have 100 aspirants but at the end of the day, the will of the people shall prevail. And when we go for convention to pick a candidate, we will vote. I have only one vote and so are others. The question is: are they eligible?
If you observed what happened in 2015, you would have realised that there were issues with the management of campaign funds. How will it affect the preparation of your party towards 2019?
Why would it affect in any way? Absolute power corrupts absolutely too. So depending on who holds power and how he wants to use it. I think the photograph (of a former Governor of Kano State, Ibrahim Shekarau) you saw is normally used when they are dealing with hardened criminals in other societies and not when you look at somebody and say he was involved in money laundering. What do you define as money laundering? Secondly, if you are talking about campaign funds, who has ever looked at the party at the state that probably had a hold of the so-called campaign funds? What offence did that party commit? If I contest an election now and I’m trying to buy Fez caps, so what offence have you committed by selling Fez caps to me? So I think it is something that we might not be able to answer completely right now but the future should be able to provide answers to some of these questions.
Many Nigerians are looking at the PDP towards 2019 elections, what do you think leaders of your party can do to take advantage of the opportunity?
We can only do one thing and it is to make sure that we get a credible candidate who understands the economy. Anywhere in any developing nation of the world, election of that level is won and lost based on the economic policies that you put on the table across because any nation that is strong economically will be strong democratically too. That is why democracy is wobbling in Africa; it’s because the economy is not strong. So whoever can come up with policies that we are convinced can drive the economy of this country, definitely, that is the person that the PDP should put forward to be the candidate. I know politics is also about popularity and so on but at the national stage; it is not just about popularity because popularity at times could be out of sentiments. If you think Udom is popular and that I can stand somewhere in Gombe and they would clap for me, how many people there have actually had personal interactions with me? How many of them know about my leadership qualities? Nigerians can look and know who in this country is trained and has deep knowledge and adequate understanding of economic issues that can make an impact. I was in the private sector. Do you know how I feel seeing somebody who had N100m investment and of no offence of his or nothing he had done wrong, that money in his hand lost more than 50 per cent of its value.
If you had an investment at the exchange rate of about N170, the same investment at an exchange rate of N365 has depreciated in value. These are things that we need to look at. A country is bigger than individuals. Another problem we have in Nigeria is that we never plan for population explosion. That is why facilities seem to be inadequate. How do you explain people looking back at those days and cherishing them when technology has actually advanced in our time? It should not be so. We should not be looking back at those days and saying in those days, this used to happen.
Well, I’m not contesting; at least, South-South region is not contesting as almost all the major parties have zoned the presidency to the North. I’m in total agreement because ‘brother chop, brother no chop, e no good.’ Let this thing go round. But whenever it gets to your turn, be the best that the country can offer; that is all. I’m happy you said everybody is looking at the PDP for 2019. If you look at Nigeria today, every single thing you can call development was done by the PDP governments. For instance, Global System for Mobile communications was brought by the PDP; technological revolution was bought by the PDP.