Barr. Godwill Umoh is the chairman of Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly Service Commission. In this interview with Tony Anichebe, the former commissioner in the state, speaks on a wide range of issues bothering on governance, politics, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and other issues
One of the contending issues in the state at present is the creation of additional political wards by Akwa Ibom State Independent Electoral Commission (AKISIEC) which the opposition party is challenging in court. What is your take on the issue?
I am aware that there is a case in court and I would not want to make any issue out of it as it will be sub judice. The All Progessives Congress (APC) got an injunction restraining AKISIEC from going ahead with the October 30 local government election, one of the reasons they gave was that AKISIEC created additional wards.
As a seasoned lawyer, I try to restrain myself from making contributions to matters that are still in court. I would have spoken elaborately but since it is in court I must give respect to the rule of law and rule of practice which stipulate that when a matter is pending you don’t make contributions that will be detrimental to the fair decision in respect of that matter.
They got an injunction but I have it on good authority that the injunction was quashed few days ago while the substance of the matter is still pending in court. I will try to restrain myself from making comments on the issue. The main opposition in the state – the APC- has pulled out of the October 31 local government election. Do you think that the election if held will have any credibility? Credibility is a matter of decision, a matter of rule of practice and a matter of whether it was done well.
One of their leaders, Senator Udo Udeghe, has said in the newspaper I read that it is not advisable to go to a fight you know you have lost already. I think it is a tactical maneuvre to withdraw knowing too well that they cannot win any election here.
In 2015, I was the Divine Mandate coordinator for Ikono Local Government Area, how can they win election when we went down every unit campaigning for votes and you think somebody will sit at home and win the election? Of course, they lost in all units. I think their fear is losing woefully and not the process of organizing the election. They are not really prepared for the election. You cannot go to war without the apparatus of war. Udoedehe was right when he said that no right-thinking man will go to an election he knows he has lost.
What does the withdrawal connote for a party people are looking up to for the role of major opposition?
Honestly, I felt very disappointed. I really had wanted them to give us a fair contest. The position of the opposition here is a complete failure. How do you run away from a war of electioneering by sitting at home to surrender instead of going to the field to battle it out?
That is how to show that you are an opposition party. I read what the acting chairman of the APC said at a press conference recently where he rose in defence of Senator Ita Enang and wondered if he is a lawyer to the presidential aide. I had expected him to make a passing remark on what Ita Enang said but got disappointed that a state party chairman dwelt on a very personal issue which is the opinion of Senator Enang.
That tells you the story of the party that is ready, willing and capable of going into contest. For me, local government election is very important because it is an opportunity to test your popularity at the grassroots level. If you lose at that level, how do you hope to make it in bigger elections?
I think their fear is uncalled for. They should have been bold enough to join the contest. Chances are that they may win one or two wards. You recall what happened in their last election and how we lost Mbo State Constituency in the House of Assembly? However, when you run away completely it smacks of defeatist tendencies.
You completed the first phase of the Akwa Ibom International Airport with the landing of the first aircraft. Can you say that many years after, the vision you had for the airport has been realized?
Visions don’t have a terminal date. The important thing is that the vision is there and government is driving that vision. I was very excited when Governor Udom Emmanuel moved a step forward and acquired aircraft for the state. I was not sure that was the original intention, which was to build an airport with the world-class facilities but for the governor to move a little further shows how credible he is.
He has given the dream a wider vision. We have today a governor who thinks larger than the so-called vision and expanding the aviation industry here to the benefit of Akwa Ibom people.
2023 is around the corner and the drumbeat in some quarters is that it is an open contest since the three senatorial districts have completed the zoning arrangement. Is it?
When you look at the PDP Constitution or even the 2017 amended constitution, zoning and rotation are the cardinal principles of the PDP and they work like magic.
So, when people said it is over, we must start all over again. However they want to do it; there must be zoning. I don’t know how the practitioners will want to handle it but the truth remains that zoning and rotation of power are the cardinal principles of the PDP as a political party. The relevant stakeholders will meet, deliberate and come public with their position.
Looking dispassionately at the strides of the governor in the last five years, how will you rate him?
Well, you would have said looking truly, not dispassionately, because I am a party loyalist. My governor is doing very well. Look at where I come from, we are better off in terms of appointments.
All we need now is to add a few infrastructures and they are already in the budget, some sizable road networks for my local government area and if we are able to implement it we are good to go. We never had it this good, so the governor is doing very, very well. If he was in my class, I will score him A-plus.
What is the staying power of PDP in Akwa Ibom State; even when they lost a former governor to the opposition party, the party still came out stronger?
The selling point here is about organization. I was the state legal adviser doing cases for the party, about 80 cases in a session and never stayed away one day. I moved from courts to tribunal and even travelled as far as Abuja to handle legal matters involving the party. Even during the defection galore in 2019, I had to pursue the defectors and till date the matter is still in the Court of Appeal.
Even the one from my local government, Hon. Victor Udofia, who defected, people would had thought that since I supported him to the State House of Assembly, I would play double standard but I pursued him to the Court of Appeal.
That is the spirit that sustains the party. Look at the way and manner he organized the state congress despite the pandemic. Our selling point is organization, integrity and ability; and those selling points are still intact despite the changes in leadership and Udo Ekpenyong is coming with even cleaner picture what will make the party stronger. It is difficult for you to come from anywhere to uproot the party from here.
The selling point lives in the hearts of the people. We have good internal mechanism to resolve disputes. The party also carries members along, especially those at the grassroots. The party’s constitution which is being amended is creating another tier of governance at the unit level.
The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is undergoing probes and forensic audit owing to alleged fraud in the interventionist agency. Twenty years after its creation, do you think it has justified its existence?
I don’t want the NDDC scraped but we should look for ways to overhaul its operation. There is a road in my village with a very big sign post indicating the award of the road project by the former administration in NDDC. It was a major road and all they did was to dig what looks like a pool and called it gutter. The road which is bout 20km links my village to Uyo.
We later discovered that contractor collected money for the construction, disappeared and abandoned the project. I have struggled for the past two years to have it in the government budget and it is there as we speak. I feel terribly bad whenever they talk about NDDC. It’s alleged that sitting allowance gulps about N51 billion when there are several projects awaiting execution. My only worry is that the northerners will be laughing at us that government has given us the agency and money to develop and we are still complaining. It is sad people are just too selfish. You give some people money to go do a job and they pocket the entire sum and walk away.
NDDC brings emotions and tears to my eyes each time I try talking about it. It is not doing well but I wouldn’t want us to propagate its extinguishment. Government should do something to rescue NDDC. The whole idea of NDDC is to assist in infrastructural development of Niger Delta and South-South and over 70 per cent of the budget should go into projects and somebody is talking about spending a whopping N31billion on palliatives.
Akwa Ibom contributes the highest to the national coffers from her resources. However there is no motorable road leading to the state with neighbouring states. Do you think the Federal Government is fair to the state?
I am very emotional about this question. I have some cases to attend to at the Court of Appeal in Calabar next week and there is no road to Calabar. During my earlier trip to the state, my car broke down more than five times owing to bad road. After the 2019 elections I did 18 cases at the Court of Appeal, Calabar and was going to Calabar twice a week but got sick.
If you drive through the road, you will be angry with government. So, I am joining our people to pray for solutions on that road because what we experience there is nothing but agony.