Senator Godswill Obot Akpabio, the immediate past governor of Akwa Ibom State is currently representing Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District in the Senate. In this interview, the former Senate Minority leader speaks on 2019 elections, the Muhammadu Buhari administration and other national issues
Bad leadership and corruption have been a cancer stunting the growth of this country, how can we get it right ahead of next year’s elections?
It depends on what you mean by bad leadership because the followers determine the leadership. In my state, Akwa Ibom for instance, in 2006/2007 the people slept on the road and shouted let “Gods’ will be done,” and they wanted me to be the governor of Akwa Ibom State because they felt they could trust me and they knew their lives would change, and so I had the opportunity to be the governor for eight years of two consecutive terms. I don’t know the circumstances of other states and I haven’t had the privilege of running the affairs of Nigeria. So, when we talk about leadership, I would think that the society gets the kind of leadership it deserves. My people got me in 2007 to 2015 and we brought about what we called ‘uncommon transformation.’ We showed that it was possible, so you can talk about leadership in that perspective. Leadership depends on love. When you have love in your heart for your people, definitely you will go to any extent to make sure that they are happy.
How will the 2019 general elections be and what type of leaders do we need to steer the ship at state and federal levels?
I would be biased in that answer because I have just moved; I did not decamp. I moved from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to All Progressive Congress (APC) administration because I saw a systematic attempt to bring down the government of the country by certain elements in APC and I felt that as a nationalist, there was need for us to stem the tide. So I moved from my former party then, PDP, to join APC in order to sterilize the government and to stabilise the Federal Government. The reason was very simple; there is need for us to have a country before the elections. In 2019, I would be biased because I would want to see APC going forward. I would like to see all the policies of this administration being implemented.
I would like to see equitable distribution of resources come 2019. I would like to see more participation of the South-South people in the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. I would like to see the unity of the South-South people of Nigeria with our Northern brothers and our South-East and South-West brothers too. I will like to see the bonding on Nigeria through the next election and above all I will like to see President Muhammadu Buhari returning for a second term in office because of the fact that the whole country has shown him love and the votes come from all and sundry; that is what I will like to see in 2019.
In the last few months, many politicians have cross-carpet from one party to another including you, why did you defect from PDP to the ruling party?
I did not defect, I moved to APC in the national interest. If you look at what is happening at the national level, I was surprised that the original people who founded the APC were also the same people determined to ruin that party, to bring down the government of President Muhammadu Buhari; just because election is approaching they could go and contest under another political platform. I felt there is need for us to have a country before we talk about elections. People have always said statesmen think about the next generation while politicians continue to think of next election. I saw a trend where a lot of us are now becoming politicians thinking only of the next election without thinking of the next generation. I have a nine year-old son; if his generation will inherit Nigeria, if we bring Nigeria down and the country crashes even before the 2019 elections, what will I give to my child? I moved in the national interest to stabilize the polity and in order to also support the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari to succeed and stabilize it.
I think to a large extent my intention was achieved and so it was referred to as ‘uncommon defection’ because it was one defection that stopped a lot of defections, now people can only defect on Facebook, they can’t have confidence to face the public again. Some people will ask them and say ‘so you are not a statesman because Godswill Akpabio said he is a statesman and he is thinking of the next generation, he is not thinking of the next election.’ It is true indeed. I was not thinking whether I will win election in 2019 when I was moving because at that time my state was totally PDP. When I moved, people were shocked, but today less than two months after, the entire Akwa Ibom State; at least 98 per cent has turned APC
What are your chances of winning your senatorial district in next year election?
How can you ask me if I will win election when my people are all APC? This is a lesson to a lot of people that if you are a leader, wherever you hear footsteps behind you, look behind you to know whether your people are following you or they are running away from you. When people are following you, you will hear footsteps, if they are running away from you, you will also hear footsteps. In my own, I give glory to God that God directed my people well. The people of Akwa Ibom State, their footsteps are behind my back and they are following me to victory in 2019.
Do you foresee war as some people assume in 2019 election?
There will be no war in Nigeria in 2019; people should not think of election as war. Election should not be of war. I appreciate that question because recently I made a quote which I love to make I said “War saw saw war” because the political leader in PDP in Akwa Ibom has said that the current administration should recruit people and prepare for war, that 2019 will be war and that only the fittest would survive and so the youths and some elders of the APC met me in my country home and asked me that people are calling for war, do you think that there is going to be war in 2019? And I told them that No! and that my belief is that those people who are calling for war have never seen war and that in those days even when the worst enemies of mankind, Adolf Hitler went to Poland whose capital is Warsaw and went there to go and wage war on the people, he thought it was going to be a cheap thing but it wasn’t. At the end, he was so shocked with the resistance and the resilience of the people that when his Minister of Information was asked how was the fight in Poland, he used the phrase of the capital of Poland being Warsaw to say he can only say ‘Warsaw saw war’.
People have misinterpreted what I said otherwise. I am saying those who are calling for war themselves will see war if that is what they want. The reality is that there is going to be no war in 2019. I believed strongly that we are going to have very peaceful elections. In 2015, the ruling party lost the election and handed over to the current administration peacefully. Nigeria is progressing and don’t forget that Rome was not build in a day. Definitely, there is not going to be any war in Nigeria in 2019 and then no politician is calling for war. I believed that it is going to be a game that will be free and fair; votes would be meant to count under this administration. All I really know is that “carry go” syndrome that used to happen in those days under PDP would no longer prevail because today, it is one man, one vote and today votes are counting.
What is your advice to the youths ahead of 2019 approaches?
The youths should shun cultism. One of the problems causing insecurity in Nigeria is nothing but drug addiction and cultism. Youths in Nigeria should shun cultism and drugs because the sue of Tramadol , excessive cocaine and those things have led to actions they do not have control over, which have resulted in pains to their parents and cause a lot of insecurity in the nation. I want youths to realise that we should have one Nigeria and make sure we do not have religious sentiments. We should deemphasize the issue of religion in politics. Religion should not come into politics. Bishops and Archbishops should not bring religion into politics. Religion should preach about salvation and taking us to heaven not telling us when to vote for and when next to vote for. Religion leaders should not throw themselves into the arena of politics.
Let us make sure that we love one another irrespective of our tribe or religion. Let us deemphasize ethnicity but let us go for the best hands. If we know those who can do it better, let us give it to them. Love should remain the key word for the youths. Nigerians should live together in love irrespective of ethnic or religion differences. We should stand for unity in diversity. We should not put too much tribalism and ethnicity into politics. We should all love our country as well as see ourselves as one Nigerian. Nigeria has shown that there can be unity in diversity having stayed together for 58 years; some countries would have broken up.
How will you assess the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration?
I believed the present administration could have done well if all practitioners were very sincere particularly from the National Assembly; they have not had a very good relationship with the executives. If the relationship was not frosty, I believed so many things would have been done expeditiously because a lot of things have been delayed in the National Assembly. Certain bills that would have made a difference have been delayed but I do know things will get better.
I think the present administration has done well in the area of security. President Buhari-led administration has been able to ensure that Boko Haram is not holding any territory or any local government and most of the communities are actually even free of insurgence and now they are resulting to Gorilla tactics here and there though you cannot really have a country without crime.
By nature of what we are facing now, if you trace it, you will know that it is as a result of collapse of many countries in the Middle East such as Libya that led to a lot of arms entering into wrong hands, some of them you can buy on the streets in Chad and other places. To a large extent the government has done well and the government has been able to imbued confidence in Nigerians. I think unless of any unforeseen circumstance, I believed Nigeria will definitely do better.
Considering the various challenges in the country, some people are of the opinion that our constitution is the problem; what is your view?
It is a problem. It is the problem because there are many things in the Nigerian constitution today that really need not to be on the exclusive list of the federal legislature; so many things ought to be either on the concurrent list. Powers should be devolve in the state.
Recently you heard of a governor who said he was resigning as the Chief Officer of his state, the reason he said so was probably because he was helpless. He was just a commander without troop because we have Federal Police, even the civil Defense is federal, Air force , Army, Navy is federal even Federal Road Safety Corps. Everything that has to do with security is federal and so the state actually has nothing to assist the governor to be able to protect the people unless the various commanders, Commissioner of police, DSS and others that are sent into the state are obedient and subservient to the civil authority, otherwise
the governor would not be able to have a say in the security of his state. This is one area the constitution should help us. We should devolve more power to the states or we should take a lot of things from the exclusive list because a lot of things are there. There are states that can do railway such as Lagos State for instance should be allowed to do railway.
Railway should not be allowed in the hand of the federal government alone. You can’t even build a port unless it is done by Nigerian Port Authority. The constitution ought to remove something like power from the exclusive list and then put it in the concurrent list so that the state can have the ability to legislate on theme as well as make laws to be able to help their people. They jam too many things and of course I have always used the word unbundling. I have always said there is need for us to unbundle the Federal Government. There are almost 600 federal parastatals with at least 600 Executive Secretaries and Director Generals who are on the same levels with ministers. So by the time you finish the result, 75 per cent of the country’s revenue goes to recurrent expenses while what we have left for capital expenses is not up to 20 per cent. It is only the APC administration that we can even think of almost 30 per cent going into capital expenses. In this country in any budget you cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand.
A lot of people are expecting infrastructures everywhere but where the majority of what we do on yearly bases has to do with recurrent expenses such as: allowances, monument, travelling expenses and all sort of things and then things that should lead to infrastructures will not event take up to 30 per cent but then it mean we are paying lip services to development. We should unbundle the Federal Government. We should try to reduce the numbers of parastatals, Director Generals and Executive Secretaries who are at pal with minister. I think a lot of things are endowed with resource and these resources are just wasting; the Federal Government should have time to think of them.
When the crude oil is no longer relevant these resources are there in the ground and if we are able to take mineral resources out of the exclusive list of the federal legislature and put it in the concurrent list as well as devolve more powers to the state which means that states can have community policing, we will have a better country. The state can also bring a lot of expert from outside, including Nigerians and investors to develop resources in their domain. These are some of the problems; over centralization is a major issue in Nigeria.
Where are we missing it and what are the institutions that we need to be strengthened?
First we need to strengthen our democratic institution; I think we are working on that so that every vote can count. Second is that we must develop political parties with ideologies in order to stop cross carpeting. Today people just see political parties as platforms to contest elections; they are not based on ideologies. If you go into a place like United States, you can say that yes if you are a democrat automatically you will stand for something such as: better health care and more masses oriented. On the other side, if you are a Republican, you will stand for strict laws on trading and capitalism and all that. But here in Nigeria, we do not build political parties based on ideologies. We should also emphasise on agriculture. For instance a political party could be the one that could bring about the Green Revolution and everybody knows that if you belong to such political party or you become a governor under that political party, your state will definitely be a state that would do a lot in the areas of agriculture and all that and there will be some other political parties that would now come up and said we are labour friendly and then because we are labour friendly once we win the election in that regard, automatically they are going to look at wages of workers and will be people oriented and everything you do, will definitely be to promote the masses. But right now all political parties have no ideologies. The political parties need to insist on their manifestoes being implemented by those who win election. Most people who win elections have no ideas of the content of the manifestos of their political parties and so there are little checks and balances when it comes to the issues of implementing the manifestoes of political parties and that is the first thing we need to do. We need to improve on our security because a secured nation is a nation that will develop.
The level of insecurity is the country is one of the main issues many Nigeria believe must be addressed by government. How can we overcome the challenges of insecurity?
We shall have total security in this country; it is just a function of strategy. How do other countries succeed? You can’t have a perfect system but you can reduce insecurity to the barest minimum. I believed that with the right quality of people working with the President we shall succeed.
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