Former Minister of the Federal Republic and former National Lawmaker, Right. Hon. Chief Nduese Essien, in this interview, gives an insight on the expectations before Governor Udom Emmanuel and why the defected former members of PDP should remain in their new found love (APC) and form a strong and vibrant opposition.
There were lots of tense moments during the long legal battle from the Tribunal to the Appeal Court and then to the Supreme Court, what impression did you make of every step of that process?
Well, it was a threatening position. At one stage, you could see it coming. Through the elections, off course, we succeeded. When we went to the court, first the tribunal decided that they should go and conduct election in some of the local governments. Then at the Appeal Court, they nullified all the elections and ordered for a re-run. At these stages, we were not satisfied. That is why we had to proceed to the Supreme Court. But you should know that at those stages, the opposition was very happy and courts were just. When we reached the Supreme Court and the verdicts were now different from what they were expecting, now the courts are no longer just. That is not a position to take in the pursuit of anything. Take whatever comes to you and remain steadfast on that. Let the opposition not think that because they have lost at the Supreme Court then the courts are no longer the just courts that they knew.
Let’s also commend the president for not attempting to influence Supreme Court, and off course, from the calibre of people I saw at the Supreme Court, it is quite obvious that they could not be influenced. They are very firm people, disciplined – people who are not really anxious for anything in life. That is why they looked at the case and came out with the decision that we have heard.
When the tribunal ruled, for instance, the Appeal Court letter had their own ruling, some quarters felt that there was some political influence that made that judgement go that way. Do you share in that opinion?
I wouldn’t want to comment on that. The courts have their way.
Now that the Supreme Court has ruled, what does it imply?
The Supreme Court has ruled that elections in Akwa Ibom held and the outcome should be upheld. You see, when they were talking about rigging or crisis in some local governments, that could not affect the entire state. If there was an incident in one unit, it was consigned in that one unit. If the election was to be nullified, it should have been only that particular unit. But when they nullified elections in all over the state because of incident here and there, then something is wrong somewhere. If for example in Eket where I reside and the elections were held, we did not have any incident at all. Like I said earlier, the opposition knew it was not going to win the election, so what they planned to do was to cause this crisis and used it as a basis for going to court and that is precisely what happened. They couldn’t have won on ground because they were not just there. The atmosphere in the whole state was that since the other two senatorial districts had had their turn, then the third one – Eket Senatorial District – should also be allowed to produce a governor.
Many people came out to contest for the election. If the opposition was smart, they would have picked someone from Eket Senatorial District instead of picking from a senatorial district that already had its own turn for eight years. So, they lost because they were not pursuing a just course.
Let’s look at some other things that happened during those different legal processes. For the past six, seven to eight years, we have always seen a situation where when there is a need for the verdict to be taken by any of the courts, we see people get uniformed and travel all the way down to Abuja. Do we need a supporters’ club when we go for legal decisions?
I think Akwa Ibom State has developed an attitude which has almost become a tradition of conveying people in large number of buses to events even when supporters’ club is not required. I was personally embarrassed at the Supreme Court when I saw the large number of people that turned out uninvited and not needed to be there, and there was no way they could have influenced anything at the court. That was the largest gathering of people at the Supreme Court. Supreme Court is a sacred place which people should not even entire anyhow.
Akwa Ibom people came in such a large number. They didn’t even have space in the court. They had to spread out on the field and everywhere. That attitude just has to be discouraged by this new government.
I have seen situations where Akwa Ibom people have been coming to Abuja. They don’t have any accommodation, they get stranded and then go begging. That doesn’t give a good impression of the people of this state. I would, at any stage, encourage the government to disallow such trips. Let me also mention that these trips are encouraged by people who benefit from it and not even person that is being carried to attend those events. There are events that require a crowd and there are some that do not. There are times you go to give a lecture, you don’t need a crowd to join you in giving lectures. And they making noise when someone is delivering an important message is a distraction. So, let us try to differentiate between political events and serious-minded events.
After Supreme Court did judged, there have been a couple of grumblings, some people who asked for some sorts of approval letter denied that they asked for that. As an Elder statesman and a senior citizen, can you educate the people what the Supreme Court judgement means?
I wouldn’t want to delve into the matter of the court. The Supreme Court has made its ruling based on law and so that should be left for the bigger experts to talk about.
A couple of weeks ago, Eket held a rally and the amount of jubilation that has been seen even after the Supreme Court judgement would make people to wonder if the Governor is just for the Eket people or for the whole of Akwa Ibom State…?
Well, the Eket people had cause to jubilate because first in 2014 when campaign started and people who shouldn’t have come into the race came in with a large amount of financial muscle trying to grab the turn of Eket Senatorial District from them. Remember the Eket Senatorial District Assembly which was in the forefront of the agitations for zoning of governorship to Eket. People came together and contributed their hard-earned money and carried out the agitation. So when the thing has materialised as it is, that is why you see the high level of jubilation.
The rally held in Eket was no jubilation. It was just to call our son and encourage him to stay focused. We are telling him to be undaunted, he should continue to work, go through the court processes, that even if it comes to a re-run, we will still go to support him. Soon after that, the Supreme Court called for the ruling and after the ruling, there has been jubilations all over the place. Even yesterday, I had to host Eket people in jubilation over the success, but however, I want to caution that this jubilation could be another distraction. We have set aside the courts distraction. Let people jubilate to a limit, end it and let government start functioning without any further distraction. Some of those jubilations are also expensive outings. We don’t need such expenditures at this time.
You said we should allow the government to start functioning, in your opinion, did the legal tussle impede involvement…?
(Caught in) The legal tussle usually impedes the functioning of any person who was in the elective office because he will also have to give attention to what happens in court and you know it can be several angles that it will arise that will involve the attention of the candidate. So, it was a major distraction. Despite that, the Governor tried to be focused in pursuing what he had already marked out for the state. Take for example, in the first one month, he was able to do ground breaking ceremony for the Vehicle Assembly Plant, then he went to visit the paint factory in Etinan which has been rehabilitated. He went on meeting with the foreign investors who were coming to the state because they were very pleased. You know the governor has a lot of connections in the international circles, so those investors came and started to plan for projects here and there.
I remember there are two refineries on cause, then the Qua River Hotel is going be rehabilitated to the same shape as the one in Ikot Ekpene and Le Meridien. There are several other projects that are coming up. So these were all pertaining to the governor to put things in proper perspectives waiting for the Supreme Court to set aside the Appeal Court ruling. Now is the time for him to really stay focused on his programmes instead of worrying about other distractions.
Since we started talking about some of the projects he has initiated, one project seems to be of major concern to the Eket people and that is the East-West Road. People are asking that the road supposed to be dualised. What is the real position of that project? What is going to happen to the East West Road?
Well, the East-West Road is not actually a state project. It is a federal project, but since you have brought it up, let me say this that the East-West Road was awarded to start from Warri through Port Harcourt to Eket and then to Oron with an extension to Calabar. It was awarded in 2006. Since then, the other sections have been executed but the section four i.e. the section from Eket to Oron has had its programme changed. The road was to be a dualised road, but when it came to Eket, the contractor handling the job decided to do a single carriage in Eket and have a bypass. The Eket people told the contractor that they don’t want a bypass, that they want it to be implemented as it was awarded – a dualised road. He gave excuses upon excuses including the fact he doesn’t want to pull down people’s property. We told him to pull down the property and pay for them as he has paid in other areas.
The compensation was actually paid out to the contractor in 2009 but instead of paying the people, he went ahead to plan for a dualised bypass road. As at today, the road is still uncompleted. The single carriage is not done and the dualised bypass is also not done. This is something that the government would like to take up to the federal authorities so that this road is also completed according to the design that was made for it.
Still talking about roads, the Eket Senatorial District seems to be left behind in terms of roads, is there hope for them now that a son of Eket is Governor?
As you have observed, the Eket Senatorial District is an area that there was no dualised road throughout the period. This was because the governments in place at that time had their own priorities and so the priority did not include Eket Senatorial District. Now, with our son in place, we are hopeful. In fact, it has already happened because before the last administration left, the contract had been awarded for the dualisation of the road from Etinan to Eket and from Eket to the Qua Iboe Terminal at Ibeno.
As soon as the new governor came in, he also mobilised contractors to get to work, so they are working except for the low level of funding for this project because of the state of the economy. We believe that in this administration, the senatorial district will equally benefit from dualised roads and other major projects.
Let’s come back to politics. As you said earlier that there were other people that had showed interest to be governor of the state from Eket Senatorial District, was Mr. Udom Emmanuel the best that Eket had?
At the pronouncement at Eket Stadium before the primaries, I stated very clearly that we in the Eket Senatorial District Assembly encourage our sons to come out and contest and as at that time, there were more than 20 of them and they were very qualified and eligible people with experience and good backgrounds. But since we couldn’t have more than one governor at a time, we had to look at all of them and decide which one to take.
You know politics is not just an act. It’s a science. When taking decision in politics, you have to take several other things into consideration. Apart from the quality of the candidates you are presenting, you look at other influences one is achieving through your candidate. Take for an example, what is the relationship of your candidate with the party? How much support is he going to have from outside the party? So, we took all those things into consideration and apart from the fact that Governor Udom Emmanuel was very eligible with a very good background, competent and experienced, we also found that he has a lot of things in his favour that could enable him to win the election. That was why we placed our focus on him and encouraged the rest of the state to remain focus on this particular candidate.
It’s not true that Senator Godswill Akpabio was the person that brought Governor Udom Emmanuel to contest election. Akpabio is also an individual. He just spotted him the way we also spotted him and gave his support to him just like we did. So let people not attribute the coming of Udom Emmanuel entirely to Godswill Akpabio. Just as every other person noticed him, so did he and he being a citizen of this state and governor of the state also wanted the best to succeed him. That is why he emerged.
The State PDP Chairman said that the former governor who is now Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio, was able to install a successor and many people frowned at that idea. What could be the benefit of having someone who shares your drive and your target take over from you?
Well, when you talk about installing a successor, are you implying that he had been brought there by appointment? It’s not by appointment. He went through an electoral process. He went through the primaries. People voted for him at the primaries. He also went through elections and people voted for him at the election. So, I would not subscribe to the idea of someone installing a successor. You can’t unless you are doing it by appointment. That he gave support to the person that succeeded him does not imply that he installed him.
In the aspect of benefit, Godswill Akpabio is lucky to have been able to support a candidate who eventually emerged governor. This candidate, having worked with him, will likely follow the programmes he had in place. The successor would be carrying on with the project that he had lined up. So it is different with the situation where the successor was an opponent to the person that left office.
What would be your answer to a class of people that say that such continuity would give him a stooge in power?
If you know the governor that you have elected and has won at the Supreme Court, you will know he is someone most unlikely to be a stooge to anybody. He comes from a very good background and so there is no way that you can expect him to just be a stooge. Don’t follow what has happened in the last few months. I think we have a good governor for this state and, interestingly, a lot of people outside the state admire and appreciate him that is why I have the confidence that he will be a good governor.
What is your opinion in the issue of Akwa Ibom being a PDP state?
With the state of economy in this country so far, every state and even the federal government is handicapped. It is now left for the state with the best programme and policy to succeed. You know that before now, some states in the southwest were in the opposition and also in the north. All the governments in this country are collecting from the federal allocation. So it depends on how these state governments are able to generate internal revenue and also utilise the federal subventions. It’s a matter of the competence of the person governing the state.
In some situations, the federal government may want to influence what happens in the state but is no disadvantage. It is even good that Akwa Ibom has remained solidly a PDP state. So, at any situation, we’ll be able to use our people at the national level to protect the interest of the state. We have 13 federal lawmakers and 3 in the Senate and we expect them to be able to protect the interest of the state.
Major thing that came play after Supreme Court judgement was the Governor handing out an olive branch to those who contested against him, asking them to come back. What would you have to say to those who had gone to the legal battle field that it’s over?
I think the governor, as the father of all in the state, was trying to be nice by telling all those who had left the PDP to come and join the team and run the state. I would not agree to that. What I want to say is that all those people who left PDP to other parties should not come back. They should stay in those parties and consolidate and strengthen those parties. It’s even a good riddance that they left because many of them were the ones that gave PDP a bad name. With their exit now, those who are left with PDP will be focused to run a good government. So, after they have stayed out for about two years, towards the next election, they can attempt to come and join us to produce the governor in 2019 on the PDP platform. But for now, they should please stay back and consolidate their own parties and provide a constructive opposition from there. They can still contribute towards the running of the government by being constructive in their criticism of government. They don’t need to be part or insiders of the government before contributing.