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Nigerians are tired of APC, PDP –Ekpo



Nigerians are tired of APC, PDP –Ekpo

Barr. Eyo Ekpo is a former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Cross River State and the governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) for the forthcoming 2019 general elections. In this interview with CLEMENT JAMES, he speaks on why he wants to be the governor of Cross River State and other issues



How did former Governor Donald Duke emerge as the presidential candidate of the SDP?

He came last into the party among the presidential candidates, but was the first to put forward a clearly considered and carefully articulated programme policy platform with a series of prescription and he took that round the country and members of the party bought into it. It was a pleasant surprise to me because he told me that even politics has been so monetized, there are people who still yearn for quality in leadership; people still yearn for the articulation of the future, not just to talk about pedestrian things, but somebody who can actually explain what you want to achieve for them. Duke has been telling me that the so-called mainstream parties have actually done a lot of damage to the country. You know he had sought to do the right things in 2007, but was not allowed to do so. This is what the primaries uncovered.

But, not much has been heard about SDP after the primaries…

What do you expect of us after the primaries? The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) calendar says you cannot campaign and they are very strict about it. I was just reading the campaign guidelines before you came to understand what we can or cannot do. You know, people need some respite after an intense primaries and it is natural that once you get to that height, you come down a little bit otherwise you burn out. And don’t forget that the real contest is not the primaries. The ere when somebody will win the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) primaries, for instance, and is regarded as having won the election is gone for good. We now have a tripartite political landscape and so nothing can be taken for granted anymore. Having said that, I can assure you that there are lots of activities going on right now.

Nigerians seem to be used to the APC and PDP. How do you intend to convince them that SDP is a serious party?

We are currently going to the grassroots. All our candidates are going from ward to ward right now. The issue is that we are so used to APC and PDP to the extent that we think they are the only two contestants. But for us, the bottom line is that we have meet people in their homes. We may not be able to get to everybody, but we will definitely do a lot of work at the grassroots. However, let me tell you that so far, the feedback that I have is that people are actually yearning for a change largely because they have tried and are fed up with the mainstream parties. Now, if you look at those other parties, they didn’t really articulate their agenda, they are parties of anger. Right from January, when I started talking to people, I have discovered that PDP in particular has no desire to go against its stereotype. PDP does not know how to win an election outside the use of public funds; it has never contested an election from outside. This is the first time and it is confused. Now, in Cross River State, we heard the story that our governor was upset that out of all the PDP governors, he was the only that had opposition and that was why he insisted that his opponents must be knocked out of the race. I saw all that coming and I said to myself that I have to get out of this trap. I realized that the only way we could come to the people of the state was to bring the only thing that has been missing for a long time in this state, which is credibility. And I have found out people still want credibility in our political environment. I must tell you that SDP actually has a good measure of credibility if you look at the people who are there. And this is something that we can sell.

How do you intend to handle the issue of vote-buying which has eaten deep into nation’s electoral system?

Long time ago, I learnt about the virtue of dealing with what you can control. If somebody wants money to sell his vote, the question to ask is: Has been talked to by INEC and the parties about the danger of taking money? If I have been talked to, what is my decision? An averagely reasonable person will understand the danger surrounding vote-buying and that is not the solution to the glaring poverty in the state. As we speak, our Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) is in the pockets of people. People are allowed to have revenue points just because they are supporters of the person at the helm. Instead of paying pensions and gratuity, people who are not doing anything, just sit somewhere and are getting alerts. So, if you know all of these things and you allow your vote to be bought, then it is unfortunate. But, in today’s electoral system, it is impossible to say one has voted in a particular way because of the small cubicles that INEC has introduced. So, what I am saying is that you can take the money and mortgage your future.

What is your opinion on the new minimum wage that the federal government is planning to pay workers?

If I am earning N2,000 and my monthly expenditure is N3,000, I will simply devalue my currency. When after all the fight, President Muhammadu Buhari finally agrees just before the election to salary increase against all economic advice, because the popular sentiment is for government to increase salary, there will likely be devaluation of the currency. Meanwhile, labour has not come out to say that it will increase productivity level or in order to help us expand our earning capacity by letting go one third of our membership so long as there is a social safety net for them. They want an increase in salary and at the same time want government to keep all the workers. Only in the Nigerian civil service will that kind of a thing happens; where you want more money without a commensurate increase in productivity. What will definitely happen is that the Central Bank will immediately devalue the currency and the i n c r e a s e d a m o u n t , within two m o n t h s , will be w o r t h not more than the previous N18,000. So, we will just simply get more naira but no real increase in value. That is the only way any government will survive. By the time the minimum wage comes, government will be using overdraft to pay salaries.

The Ben Ayade administration in Cross River State has built a garment factory. If you have to be the governor, how will you rejig the place?

If the factory is sold to the people of the state as Public Private Partnership, which means it is not being run by government and the state government is merely providing an enabling environment, then it is not my problem. It is the problem of the private sector person running it to continue. My concern will just be looking at how the state government can help to make it better. You must understand that no reasonable government will stop a project by his predecessors if it is genuine. But if it is not a genuine PPP and just a drain on public funds, then government will have nothing to do with it. But as it stands, nobody knows the precise nature of the project, so the first thing really is to actually find out what lies at the bottom of this. Is it what we have been suspecting, which is using government funds for a private project or is it a genuine PPP? The answer you get from a factual inquiry will determine what will become of the project and that is the same anywhere in the world.

Let us also look at the Tinapa project which has not been utilized effectively but which you were part of its conception and construction. What would you do to that project if you have the chance of running the state?

Well, I don’t know whether in our state debt profile, Tinapa is included, but I know that AMCON took over the running of the project. However, I know that Tinapa is a valuable project. Don’t forget that Tinapa was a three or four phased project and it was a site for trade and commerce. It was meant to draw traffic to the state capital. For me, if we do things right which the government ought to do, which is to bring back those who bought into the idea of Tinapa, then the justification for having Tinapa will become clear. There is nowhere in the world where you have travelers in and out and they don’t want to go to somewhere and shop. Look at Dubai, it started as an airport built between Europe and Asia with the logic that the journey from Europe to Asia is so long and that most people will not mind breaking their journey somewhere. That was why Tinapa was established, to bring traffic into the state.

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