Ide Owodiong-Idemeko is an accomplished Human Resource person, Security and External Relations Manager, Political Scientist, Administrator, Change Agent, Project Manager, Community Service Leader, Advocate and Public Speaker. Ide, a 2023 governorship hopeful in Akwa Ibom State in this interview with TONY ANICHEBE, speaks on various issues affecting the nation in general and Akwa Ibom State in particular
Nigeria is facing enormous challenges of poor economy, poverty, and insecurity. What is the way forward?
We must return to the basics – to the foundation of the Nigerian State to seek solutions to the problem confronting the country.
The problem lies at the foundation on which the Nigerian state was formed –a foundation, which was based on a fraudulent social contract, and which must be addressed for us to fashion a way forward.
When you look at our developmental plans and various visioning statements through the years, you will observe an apparent lacuna between the rhetoric of public policy and the realities of actual implementation such that it easily gets hijacked to serve private ends.
There is a clear fraudulent perspective on how our leaders run the economy. For example, on the issue of Value Added Tax (VAT), some parts of the country abhor sale of certain products in their part of the country but turn around to derive benefit from monies generated from the sale of these products in other parts of the country.
Another example is how do we use uninhabited lands as criteria for allocating revenue in the country to the constituent parts?
People should abhor these kinds of lopsided arrangements. Yet, another take is the foreign exchange market, where a big gap exists between the official and parallel markets, the latter being where many people go to source foreign exchange simply because what the official market can handle is very limited – education, medical bills, mortgages, and personal traveling allowance.
So, people depend on the parallel market for foreign exchange and who controls the parallel market? It is a tiny cabal that has a strangle-hold on the country. There is so much inherent fraud in the Nigerian construct that is not visible to the eyes.
The basis of the Nigerian state needs to be renegotiated. Call it restructuring, answering the national question, or whatever other name you want – the idea is simply that we must return to the table to strengthen the fundamentals of our existence as a corporate entity.
This would unleash the unimaginable possibilities that exist in the various sectors of the economy and the various regions of the country.
Insecurity pervades the country and the clamour for state police or security outfit is growing by day. What is your take on this?
I am a strong advocate for the security architecture, especially the police that is in charge of internal security, to be devolved to the local government level. I believe we should have state and local government police because there are so many ungovernable spaces within the Nigerian geo-political space that fuel the state of insecurity and are pushing the country to become a failed state.
The Nigeria Police Force is so grossly undermanned and would have to add 155,000 officers to its current workforce to meet the UN recommended ratio of one policeman for 400 residents.
According to the Inspector General of Police, this would require a major recruitment and training effort, and would take five years to implement. Police salaries and welfare also need to be reviewed to enable them to earn a living wage. Presently, it is estimated that recruits earn about $400 a year (N164,000). Community policing is key to the enhancement of security in this country.
Across the world, the growing trend is for communities to join in the fight against crime and an equal growing recognition by the police that conventional strategies and tactics for fighting crime are limited in their efficacy. Community policing is, therefore, intended to bring these two trends together to provide a more inclusive approach to crime fighting.
There is no way a stranger will understand the nuances and dynamics of a society he is posted to provide security. They can function but not effectively. The security architecture should therefore be devolved to include federal, state, and local government police.
We should ensure that the institutional framework is set up in such a way that it is not susceptible to manipulation by the strong man at the helm of affairs. I recognize fears in some quarters that governors or council chairmen could convert the security apparatus under their control for their private benefit but such fears can be effectively allayed by ensuring the independence and autonomy of these institutions.
The State Commissioner of Police or the Sheriff at the local level under a devolved police apparatus should remain independent and autonomous from the state governor or Local Government Chairman by making them accountable to the legislature and the people through a single term six years’ elective process that overlaps the existing tenure of these public officers.
Another constitutional review is going on after failed attempts in the past. Do you think the solution to Nigeria’s problems will come from it or a Sovereign National Conference to determine the future of Nigeria?
If there is no sincerity from the political actors, nothing good will come out of it. How do you take back the constitutional amendment process to a National Assembly that is already lopsided in favour of a particular geopolitical structure? How will it work?
People who are interested in the workability of the process are worried that the fate of the entire exercise will be determined by the same National Assembly. Take Kano State for example. Members of the House of Representatives from Kano alone are much more than all the representatives of the five South Eastern states put together.
How do you expect anything good to come from there? There must be a way to ensure that there is equal representation among all interest groups, so that the negotiations, horse trading and give and take dealings will be on equal and help to drive consensus building among the various groups that make up the country. We must deconstruct the structure for something sustainable to come. I doubt if any significant improvement will come out of the present process.
PDP Governors rose in Uyo, in Akwa Ibom State recently, berating the CBN’s activities, saying they are now government within a government and also lampooned some of their interventions. What is your take on this?
In the first place, I believe that the government should have a minimalist role, create an enabling environment and allow the private sector to drive the economy.
That is where you create competition and opportunities for people to bring their creative ingenuity to the table and ultimately, the economy will be better for it. Interventions by the CBN should be infrequent but when it becomes a regular feature of state policy like presently, it must certainly attract concerns like the governors observed.
Looking at the heightened insecurity across Nigeria with severe attacks on security personnel and property including INEC office, do you think the 2023 election will hold, if present atmosphere persists?
I don’t want to be predictive or pessimistic or worse, nihilistic but the indices are there for all to see. What we are witnessing is a wakeup call on any serious government. Government should be able to get its acts together; there is no way non state actors should be allowed to take over public space and determine the future of Nigeria.
In 2015, the incumbent administration promised corrupt-free Nigeria, steady power, strong currency, employment, and unity of the country among others. Six years later, how would you rate their performance in these areas as a concerned Nigerian?
(Laughter) You are a Nigerian as well. Can’t you see that the indices clearly show that we are on a dangerous slide?
The prognosis is not good. Just recently, May 30, 2021, the US Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and the Harvard Kennedy School in the United States, have both said that Nigeria as a nation, is at a point of no return, having shown all the signs of a failed nation.
The report asserts that Nigeria has since moved from being a weak state to “a fully failed state,” having manifested all the signs of a failed country, including the inability of government to protect the citizens, large scale violence and festering insurgency.
We are also battling unemployment, poverty, inflation, dual foreign exchange regime, etc. We have situations of large-scale kidnap and ransom business of school children.
We have seen the boldness of nonstate actors, whether Boko Haram, bandits, IPOB or Niger Delta militants issuing ultimatums. I will be unfair to my conscience to say that Nigeria is doing well.
Six years later, do you think the Udom Emmanuel’s administration has done well looking at his promises to bring industrialisation, improve the agric sector and tourism sector among others?
Let me start by saying that the governor has done well. The relative peace we have in Akwa Ibom State cannot be compared to any other parts of the country.
Any visitor to Akwa Ibom will appreciate the serene environment, calmness, and peace. It radiates through the ambience and amplified by the good road networks across the state. Akwa Ibom State is like a huge construction site with lots of things going on simultaneously. In Agriculture, we have seen visible improvements.
On industrialisation, Akwa Ibom is now home to a syringe manufacturing factory, said to be the largest in Africa, a meter manufacturing company and a fertilizer blending plant.
Altogether, there are more than 10 largeand small-scale industries, located in various parts of the state, some of which are either producing or are undergoing construction.
We should also give him kudos for the achievements in the Aviation Industry; within two years of floating Ibom Air, we have seen a huge success in their operations. These are no small feats, and the governor deserves accolades.
However, I must not fail to observe that one of the visible challenges in the state is that wealth is concentrated in the hands of few people, creating various levels of vertical and horizontal inequalities. We must explore avenues to redistribute wealth so that more people will be lifted out of poverty.
Nevertheless, I give the governor a pass mark because it is not easy to run a state like ours with all its complexities. Governor Emmanuel has done well and whoever his successor, must be ready to build and improve on his achievements and legacy.