Otuekong Don Etiebet is a former Minister of Petroleum and Caucus Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Akwa Ibom State. In this interview with TONY ANICHEBE, he speaks on the party’s chances in the forthcoming governorship election in the state and the crisis in the House of Assembly, among other issues
The 2019 general elections is about two months from now, what are the chances of your party in Akwa Ibom State?
I am very excited about the strides of APC today because, when we started to propagate it in the state; many people never took us serious. After our initial set back, especially when the Supreme Court gave victory to PDP on the governorship election of 2015, a judgement we respected because there was nowhere else to go to. It was a very sad judgement for us, but God gave three of us, Obong Umana Okon Umana, Nsima Ekere and I the grace to rebuild the party and work towards the 2019 elections. Our commitment to rebuild the party, a decision taken at my Abuja home is what you are seeing today. My happiness now is that our differences have been harmonized for us to have the peace and unity we are enjoying today.
It is on record that the APC congress in Akwa Ibom State was the most peaceful in the country, particularly when we are not an APC controlled state. That was the first miracle we had. It was a thing of joy that most of us with discordant tunes now work in unity to build the party. Then the primaries brought its own challenges in almost every part of the country, but miraculously too in Akwa Ibom State, we succeeded in nominating all our candidates in various constituencies with Nsima Ekere as our governorship candidate to be deputized by Dr. Amadu Attai. We have filled every available position to be contested for without rancour.
Some of our leaders in Abuja marveled at our unity in ensuring that we achieve results without bitterness and rancour. Our outing was much better than those seen in states controlled by APC. The current mood in APC was captured in the solemn assembly we held last Sunday, where all former aspirants for the governorship resolved their differences. Our opponents must be shocked as they were unable to poach the party and create divisions after our primaries.
The APC governorship candidate recently unfolded his manifesto, what is your take on his plans for the state?
I am happy with what I saw at Nsima Ekere’s manifesto presentation ceremony because all who-is-who in Akwa Ibom politics were present. The people you saw there are mobilizers at the grassroots. All of us were there to show commitment, loyalty and enthusiasm in ensuring that Obong Nsima Ekere is elected as the next governor of Akwa Ibom State. The manifesto has set the machinery in motion for the rebuilding Akwa Ibom State. If we can work hard together to implement that manifesto, definitely Akwa Ibom will be truly the land of promise as envisaged by the founding fathers.
Again, Ekere’s campaign will be based on issues. It will present options for the people to choose from what they have now and what is expected under the APC administration and our words will be our bond. The APC campaign manifesto will keep everybody busy in the state because all we enumerated in it need people to achieve them. The era of unemployment will be over as real foundation will be laid to eradicate it. Those who have companies will relocate to Akwa Ibom State, while I advise those without registered business to go and do so as there are a lot to be done once APC governor takes over the state.
APC leaders and stakeholders in the state recently visited President Muhammadu Buhari. What was the outcome of the meeting?
When we visited President Buhari a month ago in Abuja, we promised him that Akwa Ibom will be his threshold, the foundation which he will stand to take over the entire South-South and South East. Akwa Ibom State will return overwhelming votes for him. Our unity and resolve to work together here is the sign that the promise we made to Mr. President will be fulfilled. Akwa Ibom people including the leadership of the PDP have all agreed that the state have had it very good with several appointments from Buhari and many federal projects.
The Calabar-Odukpani -Ikot Ekpene road was abandoned since the Shehu Shagari era through the 16 years of Peoples Democratic Party, but within three years of Buhari’s administration, the road have been awarded, mobilization paid and It’s been dualised now from Calabar to Ikot Ekpene. So, we call upon Akwa Ibom people to vote massively for APC. If Buhari could do all these with little less than 57,000 votes from the state in 2015, then we will enjoy more when we return the state fully to APC both at gubernatorial and presidential elections.
What is your take on the sack of five APC lawmakers from the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly for defecting from the PDP?
It is very unfortunate, Akwa Ibom people saw their governor elected to serve the people leading youths described as thugs and who were armed to invade the second arm of the government to chase away lawmakers, who had some challenges and are trying to resolve the problem themselves. The action of the governor is very despicable untoward, unwarranted and shameful. The governor lacks good advisers since most of us who are political leaders of the state are now in APC.
There is no reasonable political elder still around the governor except young boys, who tell him things he will like to hear for what they can get. How could they allow a state chief executive to storm the state Assembly to chase away members of the opposing political party? Before the governor’s action was the unfortunate declaration of the seats of the five APC lawmakers vacant by the Speaker. One of the five, it was said had a judgement against him to lose his seat from the court, but what about the other four lawmakers whose matter are still pending in court.
We have a precedence in this state in the same Assembly, when a lawmaker of the APC decamped to the PDP and his seat was not declared vacant. So, where is the history of their action? If you look at the country, you discovered that in many states there are decampees from one party to another and their seats are still intact. Even in the National Assembly, both Senate and House of Representatives, many people have jumped from their parties to another and their seats are still intact.
Even the Senate president and Speaker of the House of Representatives have all left the party that brought them to the National Assembly, yet they are keeping their seats without President Buhari, who is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces moving against them with his troops and then plant his party men there. So, you can see that what we have in Akwa Ibom State is nothing but hooliganism. Quote me. It is the hooliganism of the highest order from the executive arm of Akwa Ibom State. The second arm of government which by the constitution should be independent should be allowed to resolve its problems by itself. I think the governor lacks proper advisor.
Some APC governors, especially those of Imo and Ogun states, have vowed to work against the party for not picking their anointed candidates during the primaries, do you think it will affect Buhari’s chances in those states?
Party politics in democracy is 51 per cent. Note that as people are joining the party, people are leaving the party too. It is their democratic rights for their own reasons. It is unfortunate to hear from a governor that he will remain in our party and work for another party. It shows that he has elevated his selfish interest far above that of the people. Such people don’t play party politics, but self interest politics. Their utterances are stark anti-party activities, which has severe sanctions in the party constitution. If the people decided to reject anybody from continuing in office over lack of performance or rejected his imposition of a son-in-law on them, he should accept his fate.
Their activities will not affect Buhari’s chances in the poll. He will have more votes than what he had in 2015. He has performed well within three years. He has laid the foundation for development and political inclusion. He has tackled the canker worm of this country, which is corruption. Corruption has brought Nigeria to her knees and as one of the poorest countries in the world. Corruption has crippled Nigeria to the point of not having even a factory to produce tooth picks or toilet rolls. Nigeria Newsprint Manufacturing Company here is lying in decay owing to corruption. Virtually all the factories in the country are all gone owing to corruption.
I was here when vehicle assembly plants were established in this country with a target that in 10 years, Nigeria will be producing about 80 per cent of the materials locally to manufacture those cars such as vokswagen and Mercedes Benz. The policy started at the same time in Brazil, but go there today, Volkswagen Brazil is the most popular in the country with almost 100 per cent local content manufactured fully in Brazil. But in Nigeria, the factories have become warehouses for smuggled rice. All the textile industries have collapsed because of corruption. But, Buhari has come to clear the mess and you don’t expect him to clear the mess of 58 years in three years. He has laid a solid foundation and people are now afraid of being corrupt.
Buhari has induced fear in all, especially public servants, to stay away from corruption. Today, Nigerians are producing commodities like rice and will soon be exporting rice. Nigerian may not have had it so good because we can liken this period of rebuilding the country to the planting period and people have to re-adjust, which occasioned the challenges we are facing, but very soon, those challenges will be over and we will reap abundantly.
There are speculations that President Buhari was “cloned” and that the person in Aso Rock is a certain Jubril from Sudan. As someone close to the President, what is your take on that?
The president is the Buhari I know and worked with. His mannerism is there as I know several years ago. So, he is President Muhammadu Buhari. All these talks of cloning and Jubril from Sudan is the handiwork of detractors who want to bring back the looters, so that they can keep the one trillion dollars of looted Nigerian’s money aboard. Have you not heard that there is up to one trillion dollars of Nigeria’s money in banks in Europe? That money belongs to people who are scheming to come back to power so that they can sustain the funds and Nigeria will remain in penury.
If Buhari succeeds in repatriating that money back to the country, our lives will never remain the same. So, all these are the reasons for the distractions like calling the President Jubril from Sudan. As journalists in this digital era with information super highway, will you tell me that a head of state of a country could visit United Kingdom and die and be kept away from the probing eyes of foreign journalists? It is impossible, such secret cannot be kept. There are several secret intelligence groups in Europe and America; they would have exposed the secret if such thing happened. It is the handiwork of detractors.
Buhari is the only man who can salvage this country and return it to the path of greatness. The systems he put in place like the Treasury Single Account (TSA), which civil servants hated for denying them those funds they illegally acquire before now. Budget padding, which he stopped, is annoying the lawmakers. In other democracies, parliamentarians live on their allowances not on all sorts of illicit funds and Buhari is not ready to give bribes.
There are still discordant tunes among members of your party over the outcome of the primaries in various local government areas? What is the party doing to reconcile these aggrieved members?
Human beings will always be confronted by conflicts, but the ability to resolve such is the key issue. Politics is a game of self interest, so there will always be disgruntlement, but the beauty of it is that upon all these disgruntlement, we have decided to put away our differences to get APC win massively in the 2019 elections. If we have got to this point, then our other challenges can be handled by the incoming Ekere’s administration. Everybody will be accommodated. They don’t have grievances again and whatever is remaining has been subsumed into the larger interest of APC.
There have been calls by the state government and some stakeholders for the removal of the state Commissioner of Police for the way he handled the Akwa Ibom Assembly crisis. What is your position on that?
The Commissioner of Police is not an employee of the political parties. It is the job of the police hierarchy to send commissioners to states to maintain law and order. But, if the job here is to maintain law and order, surely, in doing that, feathers may be ruffled and toes stepped on, which is natural. That does not mean he is not doing his work. There is no way any man can satisfy everybody in a system anywhere in the world. In a country like America, beating traffic light is a big offence, but here, when someone commits a serious crime, they will bring in political party sentiments to colour it.
In the process of maintaining law and order, definitely, some people may be injured, but I can tell you that we have never had a police commissioner who arrived here and joined any political party. If not for police intervention, there would have been casualties now in the Assembly. That complex would have been razed too. So, we should support him to do his job well.
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