The general election is around the corner and political actors are all out in the field soliciting for votes. In this chat, a consummate politician, parliamentarian and former Presidential Liaison to the National Assembly, Senator Ita Enang, tells ONWUKA NZESHI about the mood of the nation, his aspiration and plans to govern Akwa Ibom State
What is your perception of the mood of the people towards the 2023 election? Do you think Nigerians are ready for this election?
Nigerians are not only prepared with their PVCs, they are prepared psychologically, emotionally and orientation wise. They are prepared because they want to sustain the level of progress that we’ve made and they want some new direction in respect of the areas that they are not satisfied with.
So Nigerians are up in several ways. There are those who want to sustain what is on ground and there are those who want progress in different directions. The most important thing is that each side is prepared for the ballot. Nobody is sitting on the fence.
Nobody is saying ‘e no concern me. Nobody is saying, ‘it’s their business.’ I’m sure you saw the level to which the youths participated in the voter registration exercise.
Millions of them have been registered and either way, the women, the men, the youths and all well-meaning citizens of voting age are so well prepared that it’s going to be the election that comes with the highest turnout.
What about the key institutional players like INEC and security agencies? Do you think they are ready?
I think they are ready with extra energy and resources so that if it becomes necessary, they will call for reservists. They are ready. I think that INEC, since the time of (Attahiru) Jega, has been so very ready. Under the watch of Prof Mahmood Yakubu, every one of them in the election management body does not want to make money. They want to make a name. They want to leave a legacy. In fact every one of them wants to be a Jega and Mahmood has created his own Jega, 100 per cent.
The National Commissioners and even the state commissioners too are on the same page. I’m sure you must have seen how some state commissioners assert the independence of the body by standing up against the ruling party that even appointed them.
Of course, that is what President Muhammadu Buhari likes – Don’t say I was appointed by the APC government, therefore I will support APC in the discharge of your duties as an election officer. I’m sure that you must also see what I call philosophical calmness that Mahmood has maintained since he came on board.
So, I think they are very much ready.
What about the security agencies?
The security agencies are upbeat and I think they also have reservists.
They have shown through the Office of the National Security Adviser, Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Army Staff and of course under the supervision of the President and Commander-in-Chief. Mr. President has warned all the security agencies to be nonpartisan.
They have mobilized the Army, Air force, Navy and even the Civil Defence to be ready to assist on the conduct of the election in terms of logistics and prevent the breakdown of law and order.
So the security agencies are well prepared for the election.
Just yesterday (penultimate Thursday), the CDS , alleged that the military has been under pressure from some politicians to compromise the forthcoming election. What do you make of such a statement?
I don’t have details of the statement credited to the CDS, Gen Lucky Irabor, but I read the reports, he did not say more than that, so I will not add or subtract from what he has said. I’m not saying yes: I’m not saying no to it. But if he has come out to say that there are pressures, it means they are ready to resist it.
The CBN recently rolled out a policy on redesigning of the Naira and some pundits say it is targeted at politicians who want to buy votes. Do you see it that way?
No. I don’t see it that way. Precisely, I see it as a monetary and fiscal policy of the Federal Government of President Muhamnadu Buhari which is intended to give value to the.
Naira, consolidate on e- transactions in terms of management of money and resources, prevent money laundering, reduce the physical chasing of fraudulent persons by the EFCC and above all, raise the value of the Naira against major foreign currencies such as the Dollar, Pound and Euro among others.
When there is money that is supposed to be in circulation and it is not in circulation but under somebody’s bed or buried underground, it means the money is not being used as loan and it is not being used to buy anything.
It is not in the hands of the woman who sells vegetables or tomatoes and it is not in the hands of the person that is buying and selling cars, that money becomes useless. So the redesigning policy is a means of recouping these monies back to the financial system to make it circulate again. Again, some may be having the idea of taking the Naira but this redesign is part of the measures aimed at preventing it.
Of course, there is this new idea that lower denominations of ours are no longer being used; if you buy something, those selling it will tell you they don’t have change to give you. So, it is part of the measures to bring back those lower denominations.
So it is a great policy. Remember, when I was in the Senate and the then Governor of the Central Bank, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, wanted to introduce the N5,000.00 note, it was me that brought a motion against it. The Senate upheld the motion and we brought pressure to bear on the CBN to drop the policy because the move would have led to further depreciation in the value of the Naira at that time. Now what the Buhari administration and the Godwin Emefiele-led CBN has embarked on with the redesigning of the Naira should encouraged by every wellmeaning Nigerian. It is not targeted at politicians and it is only those who have skeletons in their cupboards that are opposing it.
I’m sure that people are already beginning to see the benefits of the policy. When we started this thing, the exchange rate of the Naira to the Dollar was at about N800, then it came down to N710 and N700 a few days ago.
It is anticipated that it will gradually come down to N500 very soon. In fact some people are speculating and they are bringing out their Dollar sell now before it crashes. I mean those who stocked their money in Dollars because of the high value it had against the Naira. Some are already blaming themselves for not selling it when it was N750/Dollar.
Some are rushing to sell it even at N680 and people are not looking for it to buy now because a reversal has occurred in the currency exchange market. We have improved the educational system. We have resolved the ASUU strike, at least they are back in school.
Most people who send their children to study abroad use Dollars and they are doing it because of the fear that their children’s education may be truncated by strikes. It is not because our schools are not good. The Nigerian educational system is still very good and should be patronized.
So this policy which is intended to restore the value of the Naira will reverse the trend where Nigerians choose to school abroad at huge cost.
Are you comfortable with the cash withdrawal limitations announced by the CBN a few days ago?
It is not that you can’t withdraw above N100 in a week. You can actually withdraw more than that amount but at a cost to you. There are many countries where citizens have migrated to a cashless economy. There are so many POS points to pay and when you go to a supermarket and you want to pay cash, you’re treated like a pariah. In some situations, there is only one point and you have a long queue.
Those who are paying by card through the POS, have no queue and no time to waste. There are hotels and some other places that if you’re paying cash, they charge you higher. If you’re going to buy an air ticket to travel through either Air Peace or Ibom Air and the rest of them, if you have cash, you’ll pay higher.
But if you’re paying through the POS, it is cheaper. They even charge you extra for cash management. So it is to consolidate this policy of a cashless economy. It is going to enhance the work of the Special Monitoring Unit against money laundering. It is going to enable people to track money. It is going to reduce the way people carry cash.
When you see most of these people who are buying houses in Wuse and Maitama and converting ten to plazas, almost all their transactions are in cash. I mean all the transactions of buying the cement, rods and other building material are in cash because it was wrongly obtained. It’s illegal money and they don’t want people to see what they are doing and how they got these monies.
So the policy is intended to reduce corruption and give value to the Naira and the economy.
You’ve been a parliamentarian for several years except recently when you served in an executive capacity. Why do you want to be the Governor of Akwa Ibom State?
I believe that for everything, there is a time and when God wants to raise a servant for his purpose, he makes him to go through tutelage.
He did it for David; he gave him tutelage in the bush so that he could see what it is to manage a flock. He did it for Joseph; he made him go through the pit and prison, so that when he’s given an opportunity in the palace, he will know what other people are going through in the society. In Nigeria, I believe that I am going through that for the purpose of having a good grasp of what it is to the Governor of a State.
I have been a Councilor in the Local Government, I have been at the State House of Assembly where I saw how the Governor governs and how he can be resisted and corrected whenever necessary. I have been a member of the House of Representatives. I have seen how the Obasanjo administration worked up till the Yar Adua administration and I saw the challenges the Jonathan administration faced. In the Buhari administration, I started holding one of the most sensitive offices in the entire administration, as Presidential Liaison to the National Assembly and that made me have an in sight into the workings of the Executive and Legislature.
I later became Presidential Adviser on Niger Delta but I had to resign because of the Electoral Act which stipulates that those who have ambition to run for election should resign.
Therefore, I believe that God has prepared me for this job. I know how the Federal Government works and how one can attract federal investments to the state, how to work with the money of the state and what to prioritize in the running of a state. I know the effect of prioritizing Education, Agriculture, Industrialization and Health. I know how to mobilize the people to work in transparency and honesty. That is why I have thrown my hat into the ring.
There are reports that your candidacy is currently a subject of litigation. How did this happen?
I am the APC governorship candidate in equity for Akwa Ibom State. I am the person who came second in the gubernatorial primary that was purportedly held which the court had annulled. The court had also said that the other person, one Mr Akan Udofia whom they said wanted to be the candidate of the party, is not a member of the party.
You cannot work for Julius Berger and then go to collect salary from Costain. Udofia is a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and he bought the nomination form of the PDP; he contested the nomination of the party on the 25th of May and got votes. The following day he also contested the nomination of the APC.
But you can’t be a member of two political parties at the same time. He has the clearance certificate; he has the membership cards and everything that makes him an APC member. So we believe that he was brought in by Governor Udom Emmanuel for the purpose of fielding candidates in almost every political party in the state. Udom Emmanuel and the PDP have very serious problems because their governorship has question marks and many coma. So people are not comfortable with even their own governorship candidate.
So they want to block all the other parties so that if they fail on the Umo Eno project, the person in APC will still be their man. He was a big boy in PDP, doing most of the projects in PDP and just 18 days to the nomination he jumped ship to become APC. I said, no and that is why I took him to court and we are now at the Court of Appeal. They wanted to send their names through the Federal High Court Abuja and God gave me the wisdom, I searched and found the court and I filed an application to be joined because you can’t deliver judgment against me when I’m present and I want the person that conducted that nomination.
So, where are you now with the litigation?
We’re in about three courts now. We are still at the Federal High Court, Uyo, where PDP being disappointed that the Federal High Court has ordered my suit that we should go and do another nomination with me participating but without Akan Udofia, who is their candidate. There the PDP has gone to file an application to be joined in the suit for them to appeal against the judgment.
I have another case at the Federal High Court, Abuja, which is coming up on the 19th of December. It came up on the 6th of December and I was joined as a party after very strenuous arguments. I have another one at the Court of Ap- peal in Calabar at the instance of Akan Udofia who is appealing, at least for the records. So, I believe that by the time I go through all these, I will become the candidate of the party and the party will forward my name to the INEC.
I will contest the election for the Governor of Akwa Ibom State and I will win on the platform of the All Progressives Congress. I will give the best government to the people of Akwa Ibom State.
What is exactly the motivation for all these troubles you’re going through in the race?
I’ve finished living for myself. I now live to fulfill the will of God for the people of Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria and humanity.
There is nothing I need that I don’t have; I’m content and I just wish to give the rest of my life serving the people to enable the benefit from the kind of situation that I benefited from while growing up from a humble background.
Are you confident that these cases would be disposed of before the elections next year?
Yes. For each of the cases, there is the Practice Direction, at the Federal High Court, then there is the Section 285 which has limited the time that the high court must have to entertain a matter, the time in which you file any application and the time within which the Court of Appeal must dispense with the case. The time within the Supreme Court must dispense with the case.So all these are properly timed and I believe that everything is timed by God for the purpose of fulfilling me and unveiling me to manifest.
Since 1999, Akwa Ibom has been ruled by the PDP. Looking at that political trajectory do you think that an APC candidate stands a good chance to win the next governorship election?
The Governor of Akwa Ibom State, His Excellency, Udom Emmanuel is my campaign manager for the APC because the way he has ruled Akwa Ibom … He has not governed Akwa Ibom; he has ruled Akwa Ibom. The actions he has taken against the people is enough to make the people reject his party. His actions have been anti- people, anti- government and antithetical and that is what draws the entire Akwa Ibom people to the APC.
The people have come together from all the political parties to say they are looking for an alternative to the PDP and its candidate and I provide that alternative – he who has been processed through the mill by God from the Local Government level to the highest. I am that candidate.
The government has never mentioned the cost of any project it has done. Compare Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State with Udom Emmanuel. It is like light and darkness. Wike will mention up to the last Kobo what he has done, the amount of money, the contractor and the source of funding.
Yes, Udom Emmanuel has built what he calls the Trade Centre which he gave to the Turkish, but he has not mentioned the cost of the project till today. Look at every commissioning he has done, he has never stated the amount of money spent on those projects. Look at the four kilometre road he has done, the only road he has done for eight years, in Uyo urban, he has not mentioned the amount. He says he’s for industrialization but of all the industries in the state, there is none that Akwa Ibom. State has a shareholding except Ibom Air.
The Akwa Ibom State Government has not even one share in the Flour Mill and in the Fertilizer Company in Abak. They are privately owned. The Motor Assembly Plant is also privately owned by one businessman from the South East. The Agric Project, not a single Naira holding. The Plywood Company, not a single Naira holding for the Akwa Ibom State Government.
Even Ibom Air is like a franchise in which any person who has one or two aircraft can lease it out to be part of the fleet. The Akwa Ibom State Government doesn’t own a single aircraft. They are all leased to the company. In other words, Ibom Air is an Airline Management Company owned by the Akwa Ibom State Government.
If you have been flying that route, you would have seen that Egypt Air brought in two aircraft and it was for two years. The period has elapsed and they have taken the aircraft back. When they come, they come with the pilot, the crew. Now both the pilot and all the crew members have gone back with aircraft. He has leased another set to ply that route.
So, it is an Airline Management Company, not an aircraft owning company and so we don’t have any shareholding in the company. Of course since the airline started operations, the Akwa Ibom State has not declared any profit because we don’t own the aircraft. So with all these concerns of lack of transparency, my Campaign Manager is Governor Udom Emmanuel. He is the Manager of APC Gubernatorial Campaign.
The way he has acted has made everybody move into APC and they want to vote for APC and the candidate of the party.
Should you become the governor, what special policies and programmes will you be bringing on board?
The special thing I will do is: One, I will ensure that the hands of the people are used in production. Two, I will encourage them into going into agriculture so that they can feed themselves.
Three, I will reverse the situation where we have to be bringing most of food items from other parts of the country. Cows, sheep and goats come from the North but these are things that can be produced in Akwa Ibom State. These livestock that are reared in the North don’t even have fresh grass to feed on while we have abundance of grass because we are in the rain belt. If we do agriculture, tapping our local potential, we will not need to import yams from Cross River and Benue states.
Our land is fertile and can support a wide variety of food items. I will ensure that agriculture is taken up as a business. Everybody will be encouraged to own at least, a garden to grow their own food. We will prioritize primary education, fight drug abuse among the youth ad promote information technology. We will be transparent in the governance of our state. I will leverage on my relationship at the federal level to do the job because I know how to get the Federal Ministry of Works to come and do the federal roads in my state.
I know how to approach the President to get approvals for programmes and projects in my state. I’ll do things differently working with the relevant MDAs at the national level and multilateral institutions to attract grants investments and development to my state. I want to be that kind of governor who will be a model such that when these international development agencies are looking for states to support, Akwa Ibom will readily be their choice destination