By Chioma Onuegbu
Dr. Chris Ekpenyong, a chieftain of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) a Fellow of the Nigeria Society of Engineers (FNSE) and a former Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State and General Secretary, Forum of Former Deputy Governors in Nigeria and an industrialist in this interview in Uyo, ventilated his views on some topical national issues such as restructuring and the 2014 national confab. Excerpts:
THE issue of restructuring has been attracting serious arguments among Nigerians. What is your take on the issue?
Do you want to restructure Nigeria? Do you know what we are talking about? I am going to be 63 by August 29 (today). So, I have seen Nigeria.
People of integrity, people with high pedigree, took part to shape Nigeria. Noting that we have over 350 dialectical constituencies, they said look, if you are producing potatoes or onions or groundnuts, when you sell, take 50 per cent out of what you made and develop your education, develop your healthcare, develop your roads, develop your airport, and whatever you have, cocoa, like Awolowo did.
He knew that the greatest industry and the greatest power he would give to the Westerners was to ensure that they had free basic education.
When I went to London in 1966, I saw men, women and when I asked some of them what time they came to London, they said since 1954 and 1955. But here, only very few of our people had that kind of opportunity through the Ibibio State Union.
So, we are saying Nigeria should be restructured. Not restructuring by dismembering or by disintegration. No. We are saying restructure Nigeria so that every section of the country today will go back to their drawing board.
Free basic education
Akwa Ibom will go back to their palm fruits and estates that our forefathers established before the Europeans and the Malaysians came and took our palm fruits and became developed.
Today, Malaysia is the highest producer of palm oil and Akwa Ibom, and Nigeria are lagging behind. Michael Okpara was using that to establish University of Nigeria, Nsukka and develop the road from Enugu to Oron.
So, what we want now is that there must be a restructuring that will give you strength, that will make you think about yourself industrially, think about yourself educationally, think about yourself health-wise and in all ramifications.
For instance, if you are producing hydrocarbon, like the oil we are talking about, when you process it, you give a fraction to the centre and use the rest to develop your nooks and crannies.
That is what we want by restructuring. People are talking of regional interest; if we now say the six states of the South-South should have a region, which state will you choose to be the capital? So, what we should be talking about should be self-identity, resource control.
Every state in this nation has one resource or the other. If you think you cannot tap, explore and exploit your resources, then you collapse and join the state that you know will sustain you.
That is the way it is, and it will create room for comparative advantage, for hard work. That is what we are looking for.
Many people, particularly politicians and elders, believe that the implementation of the resolutions of the 2014 National Confab will get Nigeria out of its myriad of problems. Do you agree with them?
Yes, to an extent because the National confab discussed most of these things that I am talking about. But I think it failed because we did not agree with the formation of that National Confab. Why will you come and then pick one person per Local Government?
We have 774 Local Government Areas in the country at least that will involve the ethnic configuration of Nigeria. What was done in 1914, the amalgamation of the North and South was a false marriage.
The constitution has been unitary in form since the military intervened in 1967 and they went ahead and changed the Constitution that was applicable, that could have transformed Nigeria.
In 1966 they changed it to the unitary system and cornered all the resources, particularly those of the South-South.
This gave room to militancy. If you married your wife and then you suppress her, and tomorrow when the children grow up they will say, ah Papa, our mother did not commit any sin, why do you suppress her?
So, this is what is happening. Before now they were eating fat from our resources using the draconian law or whatever regulation they were using, by instituting a unitary system of government, taking your resources by force.
So now we want to go back, and the people are resisting. The resistance will be higher than whatever we see today. Nigeria is sitting on a time bomb. People are agitating, and they are saying ‘go back to your state.’ It will be a continued exercise.
Control of resources
The best solution is that we should sit down and talk and devolve power and allow every state to control its resources.
But the National Assembly does not support calls for devolution of power?
Forget the National Assembly because they are selfish. Most of them did not pass through the proper election. Most of them were imposed. They are impostors. They were not properly elected.
Recently there were protests for and against a proposed Akwa Ibom Governor’s Lodge in Lagos. What is your view on this?
I am not aware. The Governor has not told me he wants to build a Lodge. It could be flying news. So, I cannot comment on rumour.
The spate of insecurity in some parts of the state particularly Etim Ekpo and Ukanafun is worrisome. Do you think that security agencies have done enough to tackle the problem?
I think it is a spiritual issue. You know we are so spiritualistic in Akwa Ibom. I just believe that the issue of Etim Ekpo and Ukanafun is a spiritual issue and I am praying seriously that the young men and the people involved in that dastardly act should retrace their steps.
It has never been that way in the history of that environment where people now wake up in the morning and kill one another. So, I don’t think it is a problem of security agencies.