By Ben Agande
SINCE his retirement as the Group General Manager of the Public Affairs Department of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation more than a decade ago, Chief Edem Duke has dedicated himself to making Calabar a preferred destination for tourists.
Having made some remarkable progress in that direction, he now wants to expand his frontiers to Abuja by seeking to represent Calabar South in the Senate of the federal republic of Nigeria. In this interview with Vanguard, he spoke about his passion for the hospitality industry and what he hopes to achieve if he is voted into the National Assembly. Excerpts:
The National Assembly has been in the news for all the wrong reasons over the so called jumbo pay for legislators when the whole nation is literally walloping in poverty. How do you intend to make a difference?
I think the greatest collateral that we all need as a nation and as Nigerians is one of good image. For me as an individual, I am not so much focused on the size of the constituency allowances but I am more concerned with what is done with those resources. Today, the electorate has become more enlightened, more analytical, more demanding and there is the need for each and every one of us to know this.
Like my governor Liyel Imoke said, 2011 would be a defining moment for our nation and our politics. I would not pocket my constituency allowance and wait to use it to buy delegates for primaries. Because I have a pedigree and a record of serving the people, I have their trust and confidence, there is nothing to hide.
I look forward to being able to sit with my constituency and say this is what has been appropriated for my constituency and together we will articulate the direction to which this resources would be deployed. I do not want to assume that the people who went into the National Assembly did so without
a clear cut plan in their minds.
In my constituency, I am saddened to see that when people talk about empowering people in the constituency, they provide for them clippers for barbing; small generators’ and sewing machines and cups of rice and portions of chicken seasonally! I feel confident that I would be given votes because when nobody believed that it was possible to invest in Calabar, I stepped in there and took the risk and today the greatest growing business is the hospitality industry.
What would you do differently from the incumbent?
I have the passion to add value and to create wealth. Today, I am one of the biggest indigenous employers of labour in Cross River state. I am the leader of the organised Private sector in Cross River. I am the alternative chairman of the World Bank investment climate programme for Cross River State.
I have a broad perspective of the yearnings of the people and I am armed with the experience to change the direction of their future from one in which politician are playing politics of poverty to one in which those that we aspire to serve will be on the driving seat along side with you and will determine by sheer weight of argument what is best for them and what need to be kept for the future.
I will invest a lot of time in advocating for the very important collateral of a good image for Nigeria. We have not been able to actualize our full potentials because we are denied opportunities in every nook and cranny of the world. I will take advantage of the fact that I come from a state that is largely denied and suffocated. I would expend a considerable part of my energy to find a firmer hold for cross Rivers State in a greater Nigeria.
To what has the ongoing debate on zoning advance your cause in the Senate?
I am a believer in merit and a believer in equity. I do not know if it is possible to substitute the word equity with zoning. But I believe that inherent in every human being is some ability and talent. It is therefore proper for us to play our part and give opportunities to others because of our young democracy.
A situation in which we perpetuate ourselves or our zones to the detriment of the potentials of other zones will risk the benefits of competencies all over the country. That is the perspective in which I will always evaluate every situation.
Do you think that the Peoples Democratic Party which many Nigerians believe is part of the problems of the country provide you a veritable platform to actualize these dreams?
You cannot change a system if you shy away from competing within that system. That perhaps will be the way we will be able to convert not just stakeholders within the Peoples Democratic Party but Nigeria as a whole. Why is it that regardless of all the kind of things that is said about the PDP, it has not been the case that the larger majority of Nigerians have chosen another platform to express their principles?
I believe that there would be challenges and imperfections but we must try to do the needful from within. When that has been done, it would be possible for us to present the party that we would wish to have. I am not being immodest but I believe that if I emerge as the flag bearer of the PDP in the Cross River South senatorial district, the party would have made its best choice I am the only aspirant who is running the primaries without access to government coffers. I am the only one who has ever benefitted a single Naira contract from government.
I am the only one who has never occupied any political office whether on a board or anything. If I am not able to do it, it means hardly will any qualified men be able to play in our political terrain. I am one of the only aspirant in the senatorial district who has provided employment for a quarter of a million Cross River indigenes none stop for eleven years. I see
the ramifications of the problems, I know the challenges.
As a former staff of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, what in your opinion do you think the management of the corporation is doing wrong that has brought it to this sorry state that is in at the moment?
To start with, I left the NNPC in a good state of health. It had challenges but it coped meritoriously because professionalism continued to be sustained in the corporation and in the very challenging times of transition where it appeared as if the political leadership was rather over bearing in terms of the running of the corporation. I think the corporation was able to stand its ground and all the meddling politics gave way to more professionalism in terms of the leadership at the Ministry of Petroleum.
To what extent did your stay at the NNPC prepare you for this?
It was very instructive in the sense that my assignment in the NNPC led me to virtually every nook and cranny in the world. I began to see that there is a sector of every economy in the world that did not exist in Nigeria. We had become so focused on oil as the only revenue earner whereas I could see from country to country that there was a bigger economy that is able to employ a lot more people than the specialized sector of oil. It has low entry barriers and is able to take on both skilled and unskilled work force and where a large variety of talents and creative abilities are useful. We were blind to these huge potentials.
I initiated a small business and I went on to begin advocacy for the understanding of what tourism is all about. At that point in time, I was almost an object of concealed ridicule because people did not see hospitality and tourism as an economic sector. I am proud today that I pioneered what has become modern hospitality and tourism in Cross River State. For the fact that it happened to be one of the main pillars around which the economy of my state is driven, I find fulfillment in having contributed to that realization.
From your experience, to what extent would you say the lack of enabling statues have contributed to the dearth of hospitality facilities in the country?
We must look at our culture as a people. We assume that the component of tourism and hospitality are ‘unserious and intangible’ so we fail to capture it within the framework of serious economic activities. We have not created any cerebral contents around it so we tend to look at it with levity.
In legislation, there is no major advocacy. One of the things that I would look forward to doing would be to sponsor bills and be able to propagate the need for us to grow a new economy that would revolve around tourism because nature has endowed us with all the attributes that would make for the good tourism.