By PAUL ODENIYI
Engr. Patrick Ekpotu is the immediate past Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State. He, like other deputy governors of Akwa Ibom State since the advent of the Fourth Republic served only one term in office. A fellow of the Nigerian Society of Chemical Engineers, he was the running mate to Governor Godswill Akpabio in the 2007 election but was dropped from the ticket ahead of the 2011 election. Ekpotu who affirms an abiding friendship with Governor Akpabio denies any form of bitterness but nevertheless says Akpabio is surrounded with hawks. In this interview, Ekpotu speaks of on Niger Delta, his emergence as Akpabio’s running mate in 2007, his stewardship as and how he left office. Excerpts:
WHAT is your assessment of the first few months of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration?
All the troubles in the country did not emanate from this government. They have been there. While some people are blaming the government for all that have gone wrong in our system, some of us see some signals of good basic foundation for growth and development in our country. President Jonathan came in to meet fundamental damage to our system and nobody should therefore, blame him for the problem. But he has a duty to turn things around.
How has it been since you left government in Akwa Ibom last May?
Since I left Government House, Akwa_Ibom, I had to return to my private life. I had to concentrate on my practice and also continue to visualize what the future has. Essentially I am equally engaged and indeed, much more busy because of most of the things I left undone all through the time I was in government.
After you left office you practically relocated from Akwa Ibom to Abuja. Why?
Incidentally, it is not that I have relocated. It was only necessary that I leave the place for sometime so that I will also have the privilege to have the kind of thinking that will make meaning to me. At the same time, I am also making it possible for my friends in the state to go ahead with whatever they are doing without unnecessary insinuations.
Actually, there is no way you will be in a place and people will not be seeing you, discussing with you and as they discuss with you, given the colouration that our society has taken, they will also go out and try to twist beyond recognition things that you have said. What is actually keeping me here is the preparation for my book launch which is in top gear. The book is Lifting the Peril.
You have not told the story of your exit from Governor Akpabio’s government. Not many expected your exit, what really happened?
I believe it was one of those things, part of the issues in politics that one has to really study carefully. In my opinion, it was nothing unusual. My coming into the government of Akwa Ibom state as Deputy Governor arose from circumstances that nobody could say he made. And then with my exit has left some people thinking. In my opinion, there is actually nothing wrong.
The truth is that during my duty tour in Akwa Ibom, as I arrived the place to serve as deputy governor I said to myself, knowing the task before me that one of the most important wars I will have to win is victory over myself. Because once I am able to win the victory over myself, it means too that I would have won victories over fears and suspicions. And that is the most important victory. Victory over somebody you say is your enemy is most assured. But victory over yourself is the most important.
When I had that assignment, I was able to understand my moment and I was able to understand my time. It came about as a result of the dire need of my party to win election in Akwa Ibom. It came as a result of the challenges posed to the polity at the time.
The misunderstanding between the then sitting governor and the candidate of the party, Godswill Akpabio and by the intervention of the Federal Government which asked the then President-elect and his running mate, that is Umaru Yar’Adua and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, who incidentally is the President now, to go to Akwa Ibom State and resolve the crisis in the party to enable them win elections. That was Obasanjo’s instructions.
How do you relate with Governor Akpabio now?
Oh, Governor Akpabio is my friend and brother. And I have never had any problem with Governor Akpabio and I do not think I will have. He knows me very well and he understands me. He is a young man who tells you straight to the face what he is not happy about. And whenever you find somebody that open, it is difficult you will ever have problem with him.
So I may have problems with people who surround Akpabio, but I do not have problems with Akpabio. But I cannot at the same time point at any particular individual who surrounds him, whom I can say I have a problem with.
There are basically bound to be some people around him (Akpabio) who have not been able to beat the competition, to raise themselves to that level of evolution as himself and to such people, petty blackmail, jealousy, destruction and all that is what reigns. And they spend the whole of their lifetime trying to engage the governor, distorting his memory, disturbing his thought on how the other person is doing this and doing that.
Basically when a governor is under such an intense pressure, he is a human being. Sometimes he can get confused.
Your new book is something on the Niger Delta. Why is it coming now, when we thought we have resolved the Niger Delta imbroglio. Is there still a crisis in the Niger Delta?
Incidentally, the book, LIFTING THE PERIL was put together when the Niger Delta problem was the issue in Nigeria. Be that as it may, crisis in Niger Delta may have been considered over and that is to those that are not discernible enough to see the handwriting on the walls of destiny. What we have experienced is a cessation of hostilities.
A cessation of hostilities is one thing quite different from a resolution of the underlying issues. And beyond that, a cessation of hostility is a fall out of a temporary solution to a problem. But the permanent way of resolving a problem is that which will ensure that not just the hostility has been put to an end, but also the idea and knowledge of how to re enact the whole thing has been completely wiped off the memories of people.
What is your view on the proposal for state creation, single term and increased derivation now that the constitution amendment exercise is about to commence in the National Assembly?
You know in my life I have never been a conformist. I also do not believe to go the way of the head because everybody chooses to go this way (that) I should also go that way. I do not see the issues or any of those issues for which amendments have been proposed as the issues that are actually upsetting the stability of this country. So, it does not interest me to contribute in such debate.
The basic truth is that you can leave constitutional amendment that are so important to the continuity of our country and pursue those ones that are aimed at improving the conditions of few persons, who perhaps hope to occupy these offices tomorrow. I don’t waste my time discussing such issues.