By CHIOMA GABRIEL, EDITOR, SPECIAL FEATURES
Clement David Ebri was elected Governor of Cross River state under the platform of national Republican Convention, NRC, and served between January 1992 and November 17, 1993. He was forced out of office after the military coup that brought General Sani Abacha to power.
Ebri contested the All Peoples Party, APP, to become their candidate for Cross River state governor in the 1999 elections after the return to democracy, but came second. He was chairman of the Presidential Review Committee to examine the 1999 constitution, which made its report in 2001.
In 2006, Ebri left the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, to become a founding member of the Progressive Peoples Alliance, PPA, becoming its national chairman. In August 2009, two weeks after the then Imo State Governor, Ikedi Ohakim had defected from the PPA to the PDP, Ebri resigned from the PPA chairmanship and left the party, saying he was stepping aside from politics
But today, he has joined the ruling All Peoples Congress,APC, and became a member of Board of Trustees as well as the National Caucus of the party.
In this interview, he speaks on the issues affecting APC and Nigeria.
You decamped from PDP for APC December last year. Shortly after, you were suspended you for anti-party activities and later apologised, how have things been with you politically since then?
No! No! No! I have never belonged to the PDP. I joined the APC without partisan political strings having voluntarily resigned as the National Chairman of Progressive People’s Alliance (PPA) as far back as August 2009.
The issue of my purported suspension for anti-party activities by a few misguided party officials soon after I joined the party is most unfortunate. The national leadership of APC waded into the matter and resolved it amicably without the dust generated assailing everyone’s nostrils. The guilty party was directed to tender written unreserved apology to me and I have evidence of their compliance. For now the matter has been closed in good grace.
Do you derive political satisfaction from being in APC or do you just warm their bench as a member of the party?
I sure do. With my vast political experience in the country, there is no way I will join a political party and end up a bench warmer. In the first place, by the provisions of the party’s constitution, I automatically qualify for membership of the Board of Trustees as well as the National Caucus. How can one belong to such critical organs of a party and yet be perceived as a bench warmer? Certainly not in this clime. Let me make it abundantly clear that I took a very deep breath before I opted to join the APC. I feel sure that I am in the right place.
Where has the tussle between you and Usani Usani left the party in Cross River state?
There is nothing like a tussle between me and Pastor Usani. Tussle for what? Ministerial position? Governorship in 2019 or control of party structures? Those who know me well enough can attest to the fact that I am not a hustler. I joined the APC essentially in response to the clamour by well-meaning Cross Riverians and notable Nigerians for experienced hands to come on board in order to energize and stabilize the party.
Other distinguished Cross Riverians like Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, Senator Bassey Otu, Prince Goddy Jedy Agba, Hon Paul Adah and a host of others joined the party just like I did and together, we are working to put the party back on an even keel. So you can see that it is not just about me and Pastor Usani. It is one great movement in which I happen to be an active participant.
The APC has accepted blame for the economic woes that have befallen Nigeria, do you share this position of APC Governors?
What the APC Governors have done is simply an endorsement of the principle of vicarious liability just in the same manner a parent is bound to accept responsibility for the actions and inactions of his or her dependent child or ward.
As the ruling party that is saddled with the sole responsibility of steering the ship of state, the buck stops at the party’s table through the leadership role it plays in the country. The message is simple. Yes, we have taken over a crises-challenged country but we are duty bound to steer it to prosperity. Hold us responsible for any lapses thereof for that is the penalty of leadership. I doff my hat for our Governors for making such a mature political statement.
Nigeria is labouring under recession at present, what in your view in the panacea to this problem?
You must by this time be familiar with some of my recent contributions to the raging debate on the economy: Essentially I have made the point that the President needs to declare a state of economic emergency, with a limited time frame, in order to deal more decisively with the economic recession. Some Nigerians reacted angrily to that suggestion, terming it an attempt to turn the President into a dictator. Far from it.
The economic emergency Act which I propose will bear the imprimatur of the National Assembly. The President is duty bound to submit a bill to the National Assembly and it will be the duty of the National Assembly to subject it to a thorough debate and enact a law to give effect to the measures proposed. Such a law will essentially embody a comprehensive stimulus package that will clearly underline the country’s economic recovery pathway. That is the starting point of my proposition.
I expect, for instance, that during this period of economic recession, the various governments would pay greater attention to labour intensive projects in order to absorb a sizeable proportion of our teeming unemployed.
In the area of foreign exchange earnings, one would expect government to strive to conserve foreign exchange by increasing domestic refining capacity since the bulk of our foreign exchange outflows is expended on fuel imports. At the same time we need to embark on measures to increase our exports. Isn’t it surprising that in the midst of our current economic quagmire, the Nigerian Customs Service has continued to frustrate Nigerian exporters to the extent that quite a sizeable number of them have lost their perishable produce owing to the sloppy manner in which our Custom officials have been performing their duties. This justifies the need for a comprehensive institutional reforms in all sectors of our economy.
In the area of agricultural production, one expects measures to boost agricultural output and reduce food imports. I yearn for the day when Nigerian farmers would be sufficiently enlightened on the soil types available in various parts of the country and the most profitable crops to grow so that they can maximize their earnings. I also believe that the time has come for the Federal Government to reintroduce Commodity Boards as a means of mopping up sufficient produce for export.
In various sectors such as mining, manufacturing, entertainment etc. Far reaching incentives should be introduced to encourage private investment. A Comprehensive review of our current fiscal and monitory policies is imperative.
The strong point of the Buhari regime is the fight against corruption and recently, he turned the searchlight on the Judges who in turn blamed some serving APC Ministers for their travail, claiming they were offered bribe to upturn gubernatorial election results in Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Ebonyi. What is your take in all these?
I am not in a position to determine who did what. The courts will definitely determine the guilty party if and when the matter is charged to court. For now let’s keep our fingers crossed.
Tinubu and APC national Chairman John Oyegun appeared to be at each others throat and their supporters are throwing sour grapes at each other. Don’t you see a situation where problems in APC will scatter the party in the future?
I don’t think so. The differences between the National Chairman and Senator Bola Tinubu are not irreconcilable. The relevant organs of the party in unison with Mr. President are already working towards an amicable resolution of the impasse. Politicians have a way of resolving their differences in a manner that is often times confounding to the uninitiated.
You will be amazed at how quickly and effortlessly the wounds will be healed. There is a popular saying that only dead fish swim with the stream. In a political party such as ours, dissent is ever present and is not tantamount to sin. The party may be pushed to the brink by the occasional squabbles, but it will always bounce back. APC has come to stay.
You were quoted to have said sometime that Buhari saved Nigeria from collapse. What do you have to say about hunger and poverty in the land today?
Yes, I still stand by the comment I made at that time. The hunger and poverty we are experiencing today stem from the fact that the past government failed to reckon with storms when fair weather prevailed. We are paying for the profligacy of the past. Nigerians should not expect President Buhari to usher in prosperity overnight. The recovery process may be slow initially but with time it will gather momentum. It is not a matter to be left for government alone. All hands must be on deck.
The Avengers are wreaking havoc in Niger Delta and recently, one billion barrels of oil was discovered in Bayelsa. Do you think the avengers will ever stop especially as N-Delta leaders recently rejected FG’s $10bn devpt package?
I have always believed that two wrongs can never make a right. Blowing up crude oil pipelines and endangering the environment can only add to our misery. Apart from the environmental hazards that the affected communities now face, the attendant loss of revenue further impoverishes the nation at a time that the price of oil is in a free fall. Let me seize this opportunity to appeal to our aggrieved kinsmen in the Niger Delta region to sheathe their swords and continue to explore dialogue as a means of resolving the crises. If I may quote a one-time Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Barak, “a complicated peace is better than a simple war” Once we adopt the path of peace, violence in the Niger Delta will become a thing of the past.
It is believed in some quarters that Buhari’s economic team is a disaster and needs to be updated. Do you agree?
I don’t believe that President Buhari’s economic team is a disaster. While the economic team of the previous administration essentially managed prosperity, President Buhari’s economic team has had to grapple with economic adversity from the onset. This is by no means an easy task.
The present government was elected for four years, in the first instance, and one should not expect it to attain peak performance levels in under two years. I believe that the current economic team needs more time to deliver. A Chinese adage has it that one should never criticize another until he or she has walked one mile in the person’s shoes. Let’s give them a chance to grapple with the challenges of the moment. They deserve our prayers and understanding.