By Emmanuel Una, Calabar
Mr Chris Agara, a legal practitioner, has been in oil and gas business for the past 30 years. He wants to represent Cross River Central in the Senate on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) through the 2019 general elections. He speaks on his ambition.
Nigerian democracy, how do you assess it after 19 years, as a politician and as a businessman?
Democracy is a beautiful form of government. My impression of Nigerian democracy is that it is still nascent. 19 years can be said to be a long time but 19 years can also be considered a teething period when a child can grow to maturity. A 19- year old cannot be said to be mature. So my belief is that our democracy has moved from where we started though some people are not satisfied with the way it is growing because we are making too many mistakes.
Some observers say there is so much violence in Nigerian politics and doubt if the country will survive after 2019. What is your take?
Some people cut corners and do not allow the right process to take place during elections. People who are not popular always want to impose themselves on the people. If the process is transparent and people who win elections are allowed to win, such things as violence would not happen; but if elections are rigged, such actions are bound to cause problem. A precedent has been set in 2015 where a sitting President lost election and accepted defeat and today we have peace. I believe that if the system is transparent, elections will be peaceful.
Why do you want to run for Senate? You are doing very well in the private sector.
I am a private sector person. There comes a time in one’s life when he wants to replicate what he has been doing in the private sector in the public sector. I have over 300 staff in my employ. I have scholarship programmes. I have a programme for the physically challenged. I believe that someone should reach out to them and I have been doing that for many years now. I do that as a result of my personal experience. I went into a place where I did not know anyone and met people who believed and trusted me and they contributed to help me to the point I am today. Another reason I want to run for Senate is because I have been in the oil and gas for close to 30 years and I have seen people who are elected by the people but feel they do not owe the people anything. To me, being in public office is to serve the people. Again, the world over, people in the private sector who have demonstrated capacity and pedigree are going into politics to make impact on the larger society. If one is elected, you speak as a matter of right and those who should respond would respond because they owe it a duty to respond to you for the benefit of your people.
There is apprehension ahead of the 2019 elections owing to killings in the country. What is your opinion?
Security is everybody’s concern. When you shoot your gun arbitrarily, you don’t know who the bullets will hit. Innocent people could die as a result of that action. People who are in charge of security need to live up to expectation. The same apprehension was expressed in 2015 and the elections held. Nigeria is a very resilient country and so there is every expectation that the 2019 elections will hold. Nigeria has a way of wriggling out of difficult situations.
The PDP has witnessed defections on a large scale. Is there any machinery to bring such defectors back to your fold?
The party is open to those who left. One of those campaigning against me at some point left and came back, so are others who are still standing at the fence. PDP is a big party like a father and is ever ready to welcome prodigal sons. What we are saying is that while they are returning, they should try to respect those who kept the house while they were away not to look for a way to push those who kept the house out. Even new ones who want to join, they are welcomed.
How do you assess Governor Ayade’s performance in the past three years?
Governor Ayade has fared extremely well. I want people to look at the indices and use the right parameters to assess a government. Development is influenced by the resources given to somebody and he will grow to be what he wants to be based on the resources at his disposal. If you look at the federal allocation, Cross River State is almost second to the last. If you also check our internal revenue, you will see that it is low. He has been using his vast contacts and knowledge of our economy to develop the state. If you talk about the social responsibility to his people, he has employed so many. And am sure it is one of the states that have the highest number of appointees and he is paying them regularly. In terms of economic development, he is industrialising the state.
Check the rice value chain. He has the rice seedling factory. What that is going to do is to massively develop the state by producing a species of rice that will be given to farmers and, when harvested, will be taken to the ultramodern rice mill at Ogoja for milling. What will come from there will be comparable to the best rice in the world. Most people do not know that the rice that is milled at Abakaliki comes from Cross River. Look at the cocoa value chain. Before now, our cocoa is sold as raw bean to the West; that is the reason our cocoa farmers can hardly be seen to be making money from their produce. Meanwhile, cocoa from the state is of the finest quality because it is almost of organic nature. Now the governor is saying let us improve the value chain of cocoa produce by processing before export and he is building a cocoa factory at Ikom. Another advantage is that our cocoa will now be found in the world market and our identity in the world will now be known as people who produce quality things.