Prof Chris Ekong is a professor of Economics and currently, Coordinator – University of Uyo E-learning Programme.
He is also a Chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview with HARRIS-OKON EMMANUEL, he talked about the chances of the party in the forthcoming general polls and explains why he feels APC will win the governor race in the state, maintaining that the policy thrust of Obong Nsima Ekere, the governorship flag bearer will ensure the sustainable development of the state among other issues. Excerpts…
Akwa Ibom has been a PDP stronghold state since 1999 when democracy returned. Why do you think the electorate may vote for APC now?
Let me start with the political history of Akwa Ibom as it was then even in South Eastern State of Nigeria. Akwa Ibom state has benefited with a national government and we are very careful being in minority in Nigeria.
This was why even with our political history, we advocated some movements in the 1920s because we were afraid of the domination of the major tribes. And in Nigeria, you have to be very careful to stay out of government and become opposition.
We don’t have the number and we don’t have the means. You know in Nigeria, the allocations are done at the center. The Constitution itself makes the center to be very strong.
And what is politics? Politics is a game of number. So, if the people that are more than you are in the central government, it is very, very unwise for a state like ours to stay in opposition and outside government. Since 1999, we told ourselves the actual truth that we must always try to be at the central government and not in opposition.
We produce the highest quantum of oil, but at a time we were not even in the equation as an oil producing state. Some states in the same Niger Delta were actually there and were even pressing us down. So, we now decided that we must be in the central government, a government that is not in opposition. That is what we have decided.
To what extent has your party enlightened the Akwa Ibom people to want to follow the APC because they are in power at the centre?
A: We have done that and we are still doing this at the grassroots. Notwithstanding how unpopular this government is, they control the source of information- the radio, television. So every day, they are shouting. And when I listen, I see the mystery that this present government is talking about. And it is the same thing that they reel out in the radio every day.
Q: Are you saying the Akwa Ibom people have fully accepted APC?
A: APC is totally accepted by the grassroots people in AKWA Ibom state.
Q: What gives you that impression?
A: I live in the grassroots. I relate with the grassroots. I go to the villages. I talk to the people on ground. I am not an urban politician. I go straight to people on ground and I know how they feel. I know how workers in this state feel. I know how NULGE for instance, in the local government felt when Nsima brought his campaign manifesto, that he is not going to touch their money, that he is going to allow local government autonomy. I know how civil servants how they feel.
Q: But the People are saying that Obong Nsima Ekere’s blueprint is not implementable given the fact that he is running for only one term of four years?
A: When people say that the blueprint is not implementable it’s a total lack of understanding of issues. Anything is implementable. Maybe you can say if he starts this road, he would not finish it. But I want people to tell us what they mean by saying that Ekere’s blueprint is not implementable.
If you look at the manifesto, the last agenda is good governance and in the good governance the manifesto states clearly the intention of the Ekere’s government. What his government would do. After developing the blueprint, he is going to send it to the State House of Assembly to pass into law. So, after his four years the government that is coming after him would continue to implement the big dream of Akwa Ibom State.
It is good to dream. Akwa Ibom is a big dreamer. Akpan Isemin started it and Obong Victor Attah came and drew a big plan and Akpabio came and also did things. So, why are we going back? Going to build on small, small things? Though small is beautiful but big is also beautiful and better.
So, we need to go back on this big dreams and plans. And all of those things are simple and implementable. So, Ekere’s plans are simple and implementable. If you look at the economic prosperity, he says, I am going to put N20 billion for this to be done, I am going to develop entrepreneurs and this is the model I am going to use to develop these entrepreneurs, every year. I would put 6,000 of these people out. After Attah’s manifesto, this is the first time, we are going to have a manifesto and that is why people are scared. This is how military government used to be. They just sleep and their wives tell them go and do matches industry and they go. The state cannot be run like that. You run the state on plans. You would see how the plan is going to be implemented.
What about funding? How would he fund his projects?
Funding has been factored into the all whole plan. But if this government is complaining about paucity of funds, I don’t know what Abia State would do? I don’t know what a state like Osun would do? Osun collects less than two billion naira per month and Akwa Ibom state had never collected anything less than fifteen billion naira every month.
Remember in this state, when this government took over, for two years, we were bombarding and asking him to release the financial position of the state. Where is our money? They said they were paying debt. What is the wage bill of the state? How much are they paying the civil servants? So, we need to know.
Pundits are of the opinion that APC is just relying on the federal might to get into office and not on the popularity of the party in the state?
I don’t know what they call federal might. If you want to see our federal might, we have been doing things, our rallies, convention, our meetings; you will see Akwa Ibom people who earnestly come out without being given money. They come on their own to share in what is happening and the new vision, the new thing that is going to come.
What is federal might? I, Chris Ekong, as one of top persons in APC do have any Police protection even in my house. What is federal might when the DSS Director and Police Commissioner report to the Governor? Except this one that came and on the day he came there was issue at the State House of Assembly and he had to go there to resolve the issue, before reporting to the governor, and when he got there he made sure that there was no fight. And the governor came and instead of conferring with the CP, or calling security meeting of the state, he went to the Assembly and started talking ills about the CP. It showed immaturity. That is why they are now shouting, federal might. Which federal might are we using?
Look at the content in APC. We have Godswill Akpabio. We have Don Etiebet. We have Senator John Akpanudoedehe. We have Umana Umana. We have Group Captain Sam Ewang. We have Ita Enang. We have Abom Tony Esu. We have Eseme Eyiboh. We have Barrister Dan Abia. So, who is there for this governor or for this government? The only person that is there is Idongesit Nkanga. So, who again? Who are the people around him?
Are you saying that Akwa Ibom is now APC?
A: Akwa Ibom is an APC state and that indication is going to be shown on February and March, and people would see.
Many people are already apprehensive, saying that elections would not be free and fair? How do you react to this?
A: Elections would be free and fair. It would be peaceful. But when they started destroying billboards they didn’t see what was coming. They do things; they don’t look at the consequences of what they have done. When they started tearing Nsima Ekere’s billboards over the place, we didn’t say anything until that report to the Police and the Police had to do their work. You see the Commissioner was pictured at the Akpan Andem Market going about with thugs to remove the billboard somebody had paid for and they went and removed it to put their own. And it was captured even by the Police. That is why they took him and questioned him.
Who is Nsima Ekere to you? Does he have the capacity, temperament to govern the state once described by a University don as an atomistic society perpetually at war with itself?
A: First of all, Nsima Ekere is a smart public servant. He has been in the public service sector for a while. He is very intelligence and has integrity and you see Nsima more in where he is working now in NDDC, in charge of nine states and many of these states that he is charge had been so turbulent, but since Nsima came to NDDC the Niger Delta has been peaceful.
Nsima Ekere is one person that fits that job. He was once the deputy governor and he was the one that stopped motorcycle operation in Uyo, because they were using it to steal. The day the governor travelled and made him the acting governor, he banned them. And that was it and today, Uyo is peaceful because he was able to take that action.
He went to NDDC and every time the militants would always come with excessive demands, he said he would not give and stood by his principles of good governance and re-established scholarships. He knows what good governance is and that is the man that is ready to take us back to where we had wanted to be.