By Olalekan Bilesanmi
Senator Godswill Obot Akpabio, APC, Akwa Ibom North-West, is a former governor of Akwa Ibom State and the immediate past Minority Leader of the Senate. Akpabio, in this interview, speaks on the state of the nation.
Bad leadership and corruption have been described as a cankerworm stunting the growth of this country. How do we get it right ahead of 2019 elections?
It depends on what you mean by bad leadership because the followership determines the leadership. In my state for instance, in 2006/2007, the people slept on the road and shouted let “Godswill be done”, they wanted me to be the governor of the state because they felt they could trust me and they believed their lives would change, and so I had the opportunity to be the governor for eight years. I don’t know the circumstances of other states and I haven’t had the privilege of running the affairs of Nigeria. So, when we talk about leadership, I think the society gets the leadership it deserves. My people got me from 2007 to 2015 and we brought about what we called ‘uncommon transformation’. We showed that it was possible. So you can talk about leadership. Leadership depends on love. When you have love in your heart for your people, you’ll go to any extent to make sure that they are happy.
On the coming elections, I would like to see APC going forward. I would like to see all the policies of this administration implemented. I would like to see equitable distribution of resources come 2019. I would like to see more participation of the South-South people in the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. I would like to see the unity of the South-South people of Nigeria with our northern brothers and our South-East/South-West brothers . I would like to see the bonding of and in Nigeria through the next elections and, above all, I would like to see President Buhari return for second term and actually do better because of the fact that the whole country has shown him love.
Cross carpeting is a lingering issue. Why did you defect to the APC?
I did not defect, I moved to the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the national interest especially if you look at what is happening at the national level. I was surprised that people who founded the APC were the same people determined to ruin that party , to bring down the government of President Buhari just because election is approaching, so that they could go and contest under another platform. I felt there is need for us to have a country before we talk about elections. People say statesmen think about the next generation while politicians think of the next election. I saw a trend where a lot of us are now becoming politicians thinking only of the next election without thinking of the next generation. I moved in the national interest, to stabilize the polity and in order to support the current administration. And I thin that, to a large extent, my intention was achieved and so it was referred to as ‘uncommon defection’ because it was one defection that stopped a lot of defections. I was not thinking whether I will win election in 2019 when I was moving because, at that time, my state was totally PDP; when I moved, people were shocked but today, less than two months after, the entire state, 98%, has turned APC.
What are your chances of returning to the Senate the second time?
How can you ask me if I will win election when all my people are in APC? This is a lesson for a lot of people that if you are a leader, whenever you hear footsteps behind you, look behind to know whether your people are following you or they are running away. When people are following you, you will hear footsteps; if they are running away, you will also hear footsteps; in my case, I give glory to God that He directed my people well. The footsteps of Akwa Ibom people are behind me and they are following me to victory in 2019.
Do you foresee war as some people are predicting ahead of the 2019 elections?
There will be no war in Nigeria in 2019, people should not think of election as war. Election should not be war. I appreciate that question because recently I made a statement which I love to make. I said, “Warsaw saw war” because the political leadership in PDP in Akwa Ibom had said that the current administration should recruit people and prepare for war, that 2019 will be war and that only the fittest would survive. So, the youths and some elders of the APC met me to say that people are calling for war. And I told them that people calling for war have never seen war and that, in those days, even when the worst enemies of mankind, Hitler, went to Poland which capital is Warsaw to wage war, he thought it was going to be a cheap thing but it wasn’t.
At the end, he was so shocked with the resistance and the resilience of the people that when his minister of information was asked how the fight in Poland went, he used the phrase of the capital of Poland being Warsaw to say he could only say ‘Warsaw saw war’ . People have misinterpreted what I said. But I am saying those who are calling for war themselves will see war if that’s what they want. The reality is that there’s going to be no war in 2019. I believe strongly that we are going to have very peaceful elections. In 2015, the ruling party lost the election and handed over to the current administration peacefully. Nigeria is progressing and don’t forget that Rome was not built in a day. Definitely there is not going to be any war in Nigeria in 2019. I believe that it’s going to be a game that will be free and fair, our votes will count under this administration., The “carry go” syndrome that used to happen in those days under PDP will no longer prevail because today it is one man, one vote and votes are counting.
Nigeria and her daunting challenges, some people are of the opinion that our Constitution is the problem. What is your view?
It is a problem because there are many things in the Constitution that really need not be on the exclusive list; so many things ought to be on the concurrent list. Powers should devolve to states. Recently you heard of a governor who said he was resigning as the chief security officer of his state; the reason he said so was probably because he was helpless, he was just a commander without troops because we have federal police, even the Civil Defense is federal, Air Force , Army, Navy, even Federal Road Safety Corps, everything that has to do with security is federal and so the state actually has nothing to assist the governor to protect the people unless the various commanders, commissioners of police, DSS and others that are sent into states are obedient and subservient to the civil authority. This is one area the Constitution should help us. We should devolve more power to states or we should take a lot of things from the exclusive list. There are states that can do railway such as Lagos. Railway should not be allowed in the hand of the Federal Government alone.
You can’t even build a port unless it is done by the Nigerian Ports Authority. Even in terms of power, you have a three-tier system of moving power; first, you have to generate the power, second, you transmit and third, you distribute. Two legs have been privatized and they have allowed companies to get in and with state government that have the capacity but the transmission is exclusively in the hands of the Federal Government and so you will hear of embedded power, of inability to evacuate and so even though you produce 10,000 megawatts of power today, if you don’t have the infrastructure to carry up to 5,000, we are wasting our time and that is exclusively held by the Federal Government. That means that you are taking one step forward and two steps backward.
The Constitution ought to remove something like power from the exclusive list and put it in the concurrent list so that the state can now legislate on it and make laws to help the people. They jam too many things and, of course, I have always used the word ,unbundling. I have always said there is need for us to unbundle the Federal Government. There are almost 600 federal parastatals with executive secretaries and directors-general who are on the same level with ministers. The result is that 75% of the country’s revenue goes to recurrent expenditure while what we have left for capital is not up to 20%. It is only the APC administration that has been able to do almost 30% expenditure. What this means is that we are just paying lip service to development.
Nigeria at 58, where are we?
I used to make a joke that we take one step forward and two steps backward but today my opinion has changed. I believe strongly now that Nigeria is making progress after years of colonization and the developed world used the brains of the blacks during the slavery to develop their industries, and so railway will go to places where they can see coal in Enugu or they will do railway to the ports where they can evacuate some of our resources to go and use as finished products and use the same ports to bring those things to sell to us. From colonialism to neo-colonialism, Nigeria has suffered but there is something about the country. After independence, we suffered a civil war for three years and thereafter military interim rule. But we have survived all and today Nigeria is celebrating almost 19 years of stable democracy. By the time we make the 20th, we would have become more recognized all over the world..