Senator Effiong Bob represented Akwa Ibom North-East Senatorial District at the National Assembly between 2003 and 2011. In this interview, he speaks about governance in the state and his governorship ambition in 2023, among other issues TONY ANICHEBE reports
What is your take on the state of the nation owing to increasing insecurity?
Insecurity is a very serious matter that affects the level of development in the country generally. No serious investor will invest in an area where adequate security is not guaranteed. I am very worried that the menace has forced many companies, which hitherto employed many Nigerians to flee to other neighboring countries like Ghana. They fled because they are no longer sure of their investment in the country due to insecurity.
During the height of militancy in the Niger Delta region, many investors in the region fled to Lagos to continue their businesses. Many property hitherto used by the companies that left Port Harcourt became empty and it became a big loss for Port Harcourt and gain for Lagos. Security should not be taken for granted at all, and that is one reason Akwa Ibom people should remain grateful to Governor Udom Emmanuel for ensuring security and peace in Akwa Ibom State.
Recall that there was a time in Akwa Ibom State, when insecurity was at the peak. Then, my elder brother was kidnapped and he was forced inside the booth of a small car and was discovered a few days after in the forest between Ikot Abasi and Port Harcourt, Rivers State. At that time, kidnapping was carried out freely in churches, streets and everywhere and there was no serious investor coming this way. But today, within the context of the nation Nigeria, it is very sad that we are still battling with insecurity.
It sometime surprises me when the government at the centre says that the country is safe. The question is how is it safe? Go to the North-East and see. Travelling by road in the country is no longer safe; bandits are roaming unhindered, kidnapping at will and making armed robbery a child’s play. Today, travelling from Abuja to Kaduna by road is very unpredictable due to insecurity.
Today, we have the rail transport to Kaduna from Abuja, but at times, there will be a security helicopter escorting the train to Kaduna, a distance of about an hour. Look at Zamfara, Kebbi and many parts of Nigeria; I think the Federal Government is in a position of helplessness as far as security is concerned, so I strongly believe that we need state police now.
A situation the governors cannot control the police is not the best for the states. The insecurity dimension is becoming funny as well, I heard stories of bandits going to public schools to kidnap over 300 students at a go and I asked: What did they use to move through various communities to their hideout. These are some of my concerns because it looks ridiculous.
Then payment of ransom will be negotiated officially and the students are released again in large numbers. There are a lot of contradictions in the entire drama. The Federal Government should do more in the area of insecurity, so that we can restore our economy and live like normal people.
I can tell you that even the students, who have been kidnapped will be terribly affected psychologically and it may affect the better part of their lives. Nigerians are paying taxes to ensure security, so personnel must redouble their efforts to ensure adequate security of lives and property.
This insecurity should be seriously addressed. Mixed feelings are trailing the three per cent approved by the National Assembly for oil-bearing communities in the Petroleum Industry Bill that was recently passed into law. What is your take on the issue? I haven’t taken time to go through the document but three per cent is low for the host communities. People don’t understand what these communities are passing through. During our time in the Senate, there was a time we had retreat in the South- South, and that was when Nigerians who have never seen a body of water, especially those from the far North saw the ocean and rivers and were shocked. Many of them who toured with us to the fishing communities were very disturbed by the living condition of the people and the water they drink.
They drink from same water which they use for other domestic chores. Their children are ferried in local boats across large water to attend schools in other communities. Those in the Senate, who today talk about three per cent for host communities, are yet to see and understand the realities of life in these core oil-bearing communities. Gas is being flared 24 hours and roofs of buildings are damaged year in and out. Diseases and other sickness and afflictions are common and rampant. They should visit Iko and other areas in the oil communities; even to construct a mere bungalow costs as much as building a five story building in Abuja or Lagos.
So, the three per cent is grossly inadequate and should be increased to 10 per cent. They complained that the 13 per cent derivation is too much, which is not true. The clean-up of Ogoni land as a result of oil spill which came with so much fanfare is still pending without action. This made people to believe that the government is not sincere about helping the host communities. The truth is that these communities are seriously suffering from the negative effects of oil exploitation.
Government is still talking of removal of subsidy as the nation relies on fuel importation due to the state of the refineries?
What is your take that? Why are the refineries not working? It is human factor. Refineries are operated by people and people also manage the economy. Government is responsible for all these, the day government wants the refineries to start working, they will work. On the issue of subsidy, any time government wants to remove it, it can do so.
Take a cursory look on the last three administrations in Akwa Ibom State; how will you assess each of them.
Obong Victor Attah is the father of modern Akwa Ibom State. I served in his administration as Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice for two years without an official car; many commissioners too didn’t have official cars because there was no money. What we had was a flat rate of N500 million monthly allocation that cannot even take care of salaries. That was why the battle for onshore/offshore dichotomy was a battle of life and death as far Attah was concerned and the issue been a legal matter and myself as Attorney General of the state, we fought a hard battle. I remember in one of our meetings in Abuja then while moving in a convoy of other governors; Obong Attah’s vehicle broke down because it was an old vehicle. Attah knew what he was fighting for, not just for Akwa Ibom of that time but Akwa Ibom of all times. What we are seeing today in Akwa Ibom despite certain distortions in the master plan was done by Obong Attah. He drew the master plan of Akwa Ibom moments after the creation of the state, when the first military governor commissioned him to do so. That is why Uyo capital city is well planned today. We have parks for long distance journey at the outskirts to discourage long buses from loading within the city to ensure decorum in the city. Attah started the airport, the Ibom deep sea port and science park, among others. The Godswill Akpabio administration came and continued the implementation of the major infrastructures and also did his best to develop the state, while the present Udom Emmanuel administration came at a point we had global recession that adversely affected Nigeria as a country and Akwa Ibom State. Oil prices were low but he quickly readjusted to the realities on ground. The governor managed the resources available very efficiently to reposition the state and lift Akwa Ibom to the level we are today. Despite the era of the corona pandemic, Governor Emmanuel has massively developed the state in every sector. The test of a true leader is not when there are too many resources but when there is scarcity and ability to manage and come out strongly. This shows that the governor has done very well. During the peak of the pandemic, the world was held hostage, crippling the world powerful and famous people and institutions even the great armies of the world. But in Akwa Ibom State, God stood with our governor, and in the midst of the pandemic, he built a world class disease control centre, which is a master piece and many lives were saved.
The next general election is around the corner and with your vast experience in politics spanning decades, people believe you will run for the governorship of Akwa Ibom State. Are you going to give it a trial?
Haven’t you heard? I am in the race; I am contesting the 2023 governorship election.
How do you hope to sustain achievements of the incumbent administration in the industrial, agriculture and aviation sectors?
Government is a continuum, people misinterpret the governor’s completion agenda to mean that he will complete all the projects needed or started by his administration. To me, governance is a continuum and the next person must continue from where the last person stops. What needs to be done will be done. If a project is not completed, it behooves on the incoming government to complete it for the benefit of the people. Any project left uncompleted or abandoned is a waste of scarce resources because it is the money of the state that was used. Every uncompleted project must continue to the benefit of the people. The purpose of being in government is to serve the people.
Akwa Ibom is said to have high rate of unemployed people; how do you hope to tackle this problem if you become governor in 2023?
I will not unveil my manifesto now but I will give you an insight. Unemployment is a global problem; it is not peculiar to Akwa Ibom State. We will take on areas that will reduce unemployment to the barest minimum by creating employment for the youths who are largely affected by the menace. The governor has done very well, he has attracted many industries and you know the locations. He has equally initiated many projects which will create job opportunities and he is building for the future. So, whoever takes over from him must consolidate on his present achievements. Anything started in the interest of the state must not be allowed to suffer any set back after transition from one governor to another.
What convinced you to throw your hat to the ring for the 2023 governorship?
I have a personal conviction to serve Akwa Ibom people. In my journey through public service, I have always dedicated my time to serve selflessly with noticeable impact in any office I have occupied on the past. I do ensure i leave foot prints of achievements. My conviction is to bring Akwa Ibom people together, and in unity, move them to the next level of development.
I will galvanise all interests, which include Annangs, Ibibios, Ekid, Esit Eket, Ibeno, Eastern Obolo, Oro and others to ensure that none of these interests are neglected by way of employment, appointments, projects or other opportunities available. We will bring more industries, while large scale farms would be established.
We will use massive farms across the state to employ many people. People are running away from farming but we will make farming attractive. There used to be farm settlements in the old Eastern Region, with schools houses, hospitals and market for the staff of the farms.
We will have farms with facilities for farmers to relax and concentrate and farm without the urge to come and stay in the city. We will create farm settlements in which people will still go to work like the ministry and live very well and train their children.
In the several offices you have occupied, what are some of your achievements as you prepare for the next office?
My achievements are well documented in books written by credible authors as well as magazines and journals. I am not a loud person, if I am like most politicians, people would be deafened from the noise emanating from my several achievements. From the time I was appointed supervisory councilor for works in Nsit Ubium, I dedicatedly ensured the realization of the Nsit Ubium secretariat by even sleeping at the site to see the job perfectly done. I was the chairman of council in an era there was no accessible road in Nsit Ubium, we tarred many slippery hills to ensure free movement of vehicles and people.
It was also the time of rural electrification, to get an electricity pole; we had go to a company in Enugu to book in advance. Later, we relied on a company in Aba and you have to queue to get electric poles to plant in our domain for electricity. When I became State Attorney General, Akwa Ibom had no laws of its own.
We were still using the laws of Cross River State, some laws of South Eastern State and some even reference to Eastern Nigeria. So as Attorney General, I worked with others to ensure that Akwa Ibom has its own laws and before I left office I ensured that the state had what is called Akwa Ibom State Laws, codified into standard books. It had volume one to eight and since I left the office to the Senate, the laws are yet to be revised. The job of the Attorney General involves the impact people feel that there is an administration of law and order in the state.
While the governor is the Chief Security Officer, the Attorney General is the Chief Law Officer of the state. When the issue of onshore/offshore battle came, I led the battle as the Attorney General of the state up to Supreme Court. I also led the battle for boundary issues between Akwa Ibom and Abia State, between Akwa Ibom and Rivers and between Akwa Ibom and Cross Rivers State.
I believe you also remember the battle of the Abuja front of that era too. The office of the Attorney General is a potpourri of all legal actions involving the state. I recall the case of a near fatal scenario during a tour of Ibiono Ibom and Cross River community involved in communal crisis.
In the course of inspection tour of the affected area by then deputy governors of both Akwa Ibom and Cross River states, our boat capsized but we survived the accident by God’s grace. The office was very challenging and it is the only office mentioned in the constitution. It is only a stranger that will ask for my achievements in public office because it is very visible and catalogued for all to see.
I have not stopped assisting people even to the detriment of my immediate family. I am very selfless in service. Those who serve without personal aggrandizement hardly remember themselves in office. My worst moments as a person who is well known for giving is when someone solicits and I fail to give because I may not have at that time. Sadly, some people never believe I don’t have at such moments.
I must also inform you that a legislator is not supposed to do projects. The responsibility of a legislator is not to build houses or buy motorcycles and tricycles, but to make good laws for the benefit of the society. A senator represents not just his senatorial district but the country and that is why they are called senators of the Federal Republic. Every state has equal number of senators. I am yet to occupy the office of a governor for you to judge my achievements as a governor.
What makes you to believe that you are more qualified than the other governorship aspirants?
The difference between me and the other aspirants is experience. I started from the lowest cadre and passed through various level of leadership. I have participated in governance since the state was created and have understudied both military and civilian governance. You don’t buy experience in the market. All parts of Akwa Ibom are known to me.
I started as the pioneer secretary of land allocation committee in Ikot Ekpene at the age of 18 after my high school before proceeding to the University of Lagos to study Law. Having served as a councilor, council chairman, member of House of Assembly, Attorney General, commissioner and senator, I know the challenges and prospects of each of these offices. I also know how to add further value to those offices to ensure that there is no break in the development process of the state. I will bring together the collective milestones and challenges of the Attah, Akpabio and Emmanuel’s era, and from there take Akwa Ibom higher in development progress and prosperity without any stagnation.
Are you not worried over the recent defection of some governors from your party to the All Progressives Congress (APC)?
The issue of defection, decamping or moving to another party is a personal issue. If you have principle, you will not defect. I have a passed through everything in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). If you go for election for instance, you must have two things at the back of your mind, which is either you win or lose. Unfortunately people go to election with one mind set, to win. In 2010/11, I had challenges with my re-election to the Senate and after a long drawn battle, I was denied the ticket, I decided not to go to any tribunal or court and today I am fine with the decision.
I believe in the supremacy of the party. I don’t believe in hopping from one party to another, otherwise I would have been somewhere else. I have people and colleagues who decamped but I believe we must stay back and make the party stronger. There must be some level of principle truthfulness and integrity in playing politics..