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Zoning inhibits capacity, experience –Okon

Ntufam Ekpo Okon, a native of Odukpani Local Government Area, Cross River State, is a trained journalist, who started his political career in 1992 when he was elected to the House of Representatives. He was also a foundation member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state; and worked to deliver Mr. Donald Duke, as Governor in 1999. In 2008, he became the state chairman of the PDP, and currently has the ticket to contest again for the Senate on the platform of the party in the state’s Southern Senatorial zone, come 2023. In this interview with CLEMENT JAMES, he bares his mind on the issue of zoning in the state, among other things

 

 

June 12 was marked recently. Have Nigerian politicians learnt any lesson from June 12?

 

Let me say something; June 12 wasn’t a creation of the politicians, it was a creation of the then military administration because I don’t think it was within the powers of the political players at the time. Don’t forget, at that time, full transition hadn’t taken place. Elections had been conducted at local government level as well as at the state and national levels.

 

The National Assembly had been inaugurated, but we needed a President to function because we were still operating with a military head of state.

So, the decision of what happened on June 12 was never that of the political class, it was beyond them.

The decision to announce the cancellation of the June 12 elections, I don’t think politicians were consulted. It was purely the decision of the military junta. To that extent, I don’t think the political players would be held accountable for that. But looking at the effect of June 12 on Nigeria generally, the circumstances that arose after June 12 has affected so many things.

It affected our economy, national and international standing, it cost a division within the country, and many people died for it. But I think it also became a water shed for our political activities: the struggle that arose following June 12 actually forced the military to handover in 1999.

Do you foresee the June-12 kind of situation happening in future in Nigeria’s democracy?

It is only God that can say it will or will not happen. We are humans; but one thing I know is that, any such attempt will have a whole lot of consequences. And even those who will cause it, I am quite sure will regret because it was never a good spot on our colours.

Talking about the dent that June 12 has had on us; people would say prior to the military decision of June 12, Nigeria was more divided, was it?

I won’t say so. Note one thing which I dare challenge anybody to dispute: we had a situation where we had a Muslim-Muslim ticket that could win election in Nigeria. We had a situation where a southern presidential  candidate won elections in Kano against a candidate from Kano and in Kano.

So looking back at Nigeria way back before June 12, I would not accept Nigeria was as divided as it is now, otherwise how on earth will you imagine that a ticket that bore two Muslims was accepted within the Christian community and they voted and they won in the Christian communities.

Today, if you dare put that up, it won’t fly. A candidate from Ogun State won a candidate from Kano in Kano. Nigeria was not this divided. Nigerians could look at candidates for who they were, and vote for them because of who they were. . Today, we have just discovered that we have returned so much into our shelves in such a way that it is becoming even more disturbing. We are worse off when it comes to national unity.

June 12 created a whole lot of cracks and those cracks have continued to expand. Unfortunately, even the attempt by the 1999 arrangement which allowed the Yorubas to be compensated and saw the former President Olusegun Obasanjo emerging. who, though he tried, yet we still lost so much.

Nigeria has never been as divided as it has been under the Buhari administration. In the light of today’s June 12 celebration, what will you advise Nigerians when it comes to voting?

How we will get it right? It is for us to vote our conscience. It is because of what we have experienced that people now think, I want my own brother to be President. it has become such that you cannot get anything unless it is your own turn, and it is unfortunate. Go to local government, people are talking about “our turn”, when it comes to chairmanship. At the State level, people are talking about “our turn” for governorship.

At the national level, it is “our turn”, and it is a shame. Nobody is looking at the quality that is being presented, as long as it is your person and your turn. It doesn’t matter whether he has something to offer or not. I told somebody something that in my state here, I feel very ashamed,. I have been part of the political arrangement whereby there are commissions that handle public service structures in Cross River: the civil service commission, the Local Government Service Commission and the Universal Primary Education Board. What we use to know here is; we have three senatorial district.

You will find a situation where the chairman of the civil service commission will come from one senatorial district and the other two commissions will be headed by qualified individuals from the other two senatorial districts. During Donald Duke, Chief Brown Ekpong from the North was the chairman of the civil service commission, Dr. Sandy Onor, from the central was the chairman, Local Government Service Commission, and Mrs Margaret Ntui from the South, was the chairman of SUBEB; but today, we have a governor who will localize it and think that is a way of showing how much you care for your people.

 

So the Local Government Service Commission chairman comes from Ogoja, the SUBEB chairman comes from Yala and then, the Civil Service Commission chairman comes from Obudu, it is a shame. Those are the things that bring the agitations of “we need our own turn.” That is nepotism, corruption goes beyond stealing money. When you exhibit nepotism, it is corruption; and that is the failure of President Muhammadu Buhari., who will decide to appoint all security architecture leaders from the North and then at the end of the day, this is what we have.

We have never had insecurity at this level. Even the so-called “lame duck Jonathan”, that was castigated never got it this bad. And then you brought. a general who has failed, all because, he cannot stand up against his people. Has he ever been able to stand up and sack a Service Chief for failing to get his job done well? He cannot do it.

Nobody is looking at the quality, that is being presented, as long as it is your person and your turn, it doesn’t matter whether he has something to offer or not, I told somebody something; my state here, I feel very ashamed, I have been part of the political arrangement where bye, there are commissions that handle public service structures in Cross River, the civil service commission, the local government service commission and the universal primary education board: what we use to know here is ; we have three senatorial district, you will find a situation where the chairman of the civil service commission will come from one senatorial district and the other two commissions will be headed by qualified individuals the two other senatorial districts, during Donald Duke, Chief Brown Ekpong from the north was the chairman  of the civil service commission, Dr. Sandy Onor , from the central was the chairman local government service commission, and Mrs Margaret Ntui from the south, was the chairman of SUBEB; but today, we have a governor who will localize it and think that is a way of showing how much you care for your people. So the Local Government Service Commission chairman comes from Ogoja, the SUBEB chairman comes from Yala and then, the local government service commission chairman comes from Obudu, it is a shame.

Those are the things that bring the agitations of “we need our own turn”. that is nepotism. corruption goes beyond stealing money. when you exhibit nepotism, it is corruption; and that is the failure of President Buhari., who will decide to appoint all security architecture leaders from the north and then at the end of the day, this is what we have we have never had insecurity at this level.

Even the so-called “lame duck Jonathan”, that was castigated never got it these bad. and then you brought. a general, who has failed all because, he cannot stand up against his people. Has he ever been able to stand up and sack a Service Chief for failing to get his job done well?

He cannot do it. I have not heard them deny it; and continually it is said the people who are leading the banditry in the north today, are people that they brought in deliberately at the time, because they thought Jonathan would not hand over, and they were prepared to destabilize the country and when Jonathan banded over the way he did, they didn’t know how to manage the devil they had created. And shamelessly they cannot see how to get those people out.

 

For you in particular, what is the motivation for your senatorial ambition?

Somehow, over time, I have watched how people complained about not having access to their representatives. And I think it is not right. You must be in a position to engage them.

Sometimes too, you cannot pretend that you know what they need. Some of these empowerments I hear people do, buy certain things, call people and give to them, that is how you will give a vulcanizing machine to somebody who has never managed to patch tyres or has never thought of it.

So, engage them, look at their needs to be able to address them based on their desires. The experience I have gained over the years and the fact that I have chosen to be close and remained with the people, I should be able to offer them that representation.

So what about monetary inducement in politics?

Monetary inducement cannot be taken out of the society. it is a societal issue. Even in religion, monetization has become the in-thing; you find pastors who are trying to build the biggest churches. Every G.O wants to fly his own air craft. These are part of the problems, so inducement in politics is part of the society.

So the answer is yes and no, you can and cannot blame the electorate because, when you force people to spend so much money during elections and eventually get to office, they would want to recover.

If they took a loan, they will have to repay, if they sold property, they would have to acquire some other ones to replace what they did. But on the other hand, people who have had the privilege of getting their votes never come back to serve them, so the electorate see that as a chance.

How will you cope with the demands of seven LGAs in terms of infrastructure, if you emerge as senator?

Efforts must be deliberate in tackling the problems identified. Their needs differs from from council to council, what the man in Municipal wants is different from what the man in Biase wants.

So I will first engage them to know what they want. In some parts of Biase, they are going through difficulties as the rains are coming now in terns of accessibility.

 

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