With over N2billion in overhead costs, and the sudden loss of its status as an oil producing state, the Cross River State Governor, Senator Liyel Imoke, in this interview with Clara Nwchukwu and Ubong Nelson, reveals how his administration is coping with economic and development issues. Excerpts:
How do you feel about the loss of Bakassi and its effect on Cross River?
The Supreme Court judgment raises some issues in the sense that the Supreme Court judgment ruled that it was as a result of the loss of Bakassi that Cross River lost its littoral status and became a non-oil producing state. What this means is that, it has revived the Bakassi agitation and since the Supreme Court acknowledged the International Court of Justice, ICJ’s decision, the consequence is the loss to the people of Cross River and the people of Bakassi.
Bakassi people are now saying that they are not part of the ICJ’s agreement, they were not party to this and they were not asked where they wanted to settle. At the end of the day, the Bakassi people are being punished for what they had no hand in and they are calling out to Nigerians to respond to this.
I think that is basically where we have to arrive at some point of mediation, and political solution. The political solution basically should be addressed for the interest of peace. The political solution is one that we have seen applied in the past. So it is not something new, it is something that the parties involved can come together and agree.
Why do I say that? In 2002 and in 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that no littoral state can make claims to offshore production and which was then defined as onshore/offshore dichotomy. So the Supreme Court was very categorical and what that meant was that, all off-shore productions belonged to the federal government. Cross River state now agitated strongly and Akwa Ibom who was the greatest loser at that time led that agitation, by Obong Victor Attah.
What happened at the end of the day was that, we arrived at a political solution. Even under an administration of someone like former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who said we needed to have peace in this region.
There were several meetings and it was agreed that we must find a way to deal with the law which the Supreme Court had delivered because the judgment was strictly based on the law. But there were social issues that were to be addressed, and in addressing these social issues, President Obasanjo set up a committee to make recommendations and that committee was chaired by Chief Anenih.
They made some recommendations to abrogate the offshore/onshore dichotomy and the two or three paragraph legislation was drafted and sent to the National Assembly. What that legislation said was that states, littoral states will now benefit from off-shore production, the 13 per cent derivation will be applied to them.
What that meant was that more revenue will be accrued to them and the greatest beneficiary was Akwa Ibom State, because they did not have any on-shore production. So Akwa Ibom today is an oil producer as a result of that political solution. So when there is a will, there is way and there is precedent. What I have just told you is something we can make reference to in trying to find a solution.
At the federal level they are trying to mediate the political solution, how soon can this happen?
We hope that it can be in place very soon. We met with the president and he has given us his assurance. He is very familiar with the case because he handled it when we were trying to arrive at a political solution at the initial stages.
We think that the agencies can come together and arrive at a solution but, in the interim, even the environmental impact funds that we were getting as compensations, we don’t even get them anymore, thus putting us in difficult financial conditions.
Literally, we are the only state in the Niger Delta region as it were that is suffering from the consequences of a judgment without a political solution, and making us the only state that is not producing when nothing has changed physically or geographically.
What side are you going to be on if there is no political solution?
I believe very strongly that we cannot ignore the consequences of oil production, so I don’t believe that you can make a case for the state not to benefit from the off-shore production because there is a serious environmental consequence from the off-shore productions.
But I don’t think the solution is to go back to the onshore/offshore dichotomy, I think that from my perspective, we are also a state that is suffering significant consequences from oil production, and so if we can address the impact to Cross River State which is important and is similar to Akwa Ibom. We feel strongly that the onshore/offshore dichotomy abrogation law was a good law. It is a law I think that was meant to bring about peace in the region and I think we need to sustain the law and the law should benefit all the players.
Now that there is an opportunity to re-visit the Bakassi case, as a Governor you are doing nothing …?
We are doing quite a lot; but as a governor, I understand the fact that when it comes to issues of boundaries between nations and international diplomacy, regrettable, states cannot interfere. But what we can do, is to restate our case at the highest level of government and listen to the Bakassi people and take their own case.
We don’t want to create an aggressive situation in the region, and as a responsible government, we don’t think we need to revisit the case. It can be lost, given that the National Assembly and various experts have spoken about this extensively and it is not proper for me to go out to the public or the media to start shouting that this is an injustice.
What we have done, which is appropriate, is taking the case to the Attorney General, we have met with the President and others on this matter. We have also made our presentation and we hope that with the support of Mr. President and others, there will be lasting resolution to this matter.
If the territory is lost, then let the people be compensated and there must be a measure of compensation in place. All that the people are asking for is compensation. Even if the government of Cross River State wants to take your land, for the overall public interest, you must be compensated. So why can’t the federal government pay compensation to the people of Bakassi?
The evidence we have in SWEETCRUDE is that the Federal Government did not pursue the case at all?
The Bakassi people have come to me and I have told them that I cannot object to their making those requests. They have a right and those rights are guaranteed by our constitution and the UN Charter. So I think it is very important that the federal government takes a second look at this matter and before the time lapses we will address them, and I hope that we will be able to convince them.
Have you ever been to Bakassi?
I have been to Bakassi before it was lost and several times after it was lost and of course now that we have the new Bakassi. Someone asked me about security in Bakassi and what I am doing about it. It has not dawned on the people that we have lost Bakassi, and he was asking the governor of Cross River about security in Cameroun. That is the reality. Nigerians have not come to the terms with the fact that we have lost Bakassi, and that is because we do not understand why the Bakassi territory was lost.
What has Cross River been doing with the derivation funds before the loss of Bakassi?
One thing that we may not have done well generally speaking is to invest in the greatest assets we can invest in. The greatest infrastructure any state can have is its people. Until we invest in these people, we have not developed no matter the big buildings, expressways and flyovers that we have; until we invest in the people there is no real development.
So for me, I think what is critical in terms of what we do with those resources is how much do we extend or invest in our people to a point where their quality of life, their standard of living, their incomes have improved, and poverty reduced. How close are we through that investment, to meeting the Millennium Development Goals, MDG target in 2015, and can the South- South region meet the MDG targets in 2015?
If we don’t, we may not have invested even if we have built expressways. So that really is where I want to respond from. If you narrow it down to Cross River, for us we are happy to say that our infant mortality rate has reduced significantly. We have achieved zero infant mortality in one local government, which is no child death during delivery because of our investment in the people. We started with two local governments in healthcare services, now we have expanded the programme to 14 local governments this year, and more than 18 will be captured next year.
In education for instance, we have renovated about 60 schools. The amazing thing is that, the level of enrollment has increased as a result of the investment. Two things have happened; more than 5,000 enrollments have been made in the schools. Kids that were leaving communities schools for private schools are coming back to government schools.
More importantly, we set internal examinations that are unique to Cross River. We have the first school leaving certificate we introduced in Cross River, and we have mock exams before you take WAEC.
Now for us, those are the things we will like to mention in terms of the impact. In 2006 or 2007, the pass rate for WAEC in Cross River was less than 18 per cent including English and Maths. In 2004 or 2005, it was than six per cent. We were classified as one of the educational dis-advantaged states.
In 2012, the pass rate including English and Maths is 56 per cent; we were No. 7 in the country. To me these are measures of impact on development. And there are other indices that we looked at. We have made the investment in critical sectors, and we have introduced free health programmes.
Free health in Cross River State makes sense. We have free healthcare for all children under the age of five, and all pregnant women in the state. And again, free healthcare in all public health facilities in all local governments. We have expanded access to healthcare. We have increased healthcare facilities, and we have doubled all health facilities in all our local governments, so we have community health facilities.
We have set target of 300 families to a health facility as what we think should be the standard. We are building more and equipping more. Do you know the beauty of what we are doing? Like I said that you need to be creative. In some cases, we even had some of our communities donating to the health facilities. And our health programmes are participatory, so the communities take ownership at the primary level. So for us, the investments that we make are improving on the livelihood of the rural dwellers and of the average people.
And we have done the same thing for the education sector. We have 60 secondary schools that have been renovated under what we call the Cross River Standard. And our Cross River standard is not difficult to achieve. Our Cross River standard basically is defined that we should not have more than 40 students in a class; we should have enough classrooms in all schools to ensure good standard is achieved.
The basic things that were in place when we went to school like football fields, labs,(Physics, Chemistry and Biology) and now Computer Labs in each secondary school, so we have that in our schools. There is also teacher’s training which is compulsory to make sure that the quality of education is achieved, so it is not just the renovation of the buildings. We also have re-introduced the ministers (prefects) of assembly halls. Basically, all these standards have been achieved and the quality of the renovation is also part of what we are trying to achieve.
And in trying to do that of course, we have experienced some challenges but of course these challenges have been surmounted. We have what we call the CCT programme, the “Condition Cash Transfer students.” When I came in as the Governor, I always felt we don’t have an appropriate social welfare programme, that caters for the most vulnerable in our society, and that as society evolves, it is dependent on extension family; the extended family system, which has kept all of us and the poor in the community growing. We now