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CROSS RIVER: ‘None of the 15 persons jostling for ministerial appointments deserves it’

Buhari will be burying APC in the state to appoint any of them

By Soni Daniel, Editor, Northern Region

Chief Utum Eteng, a legal practitioner and Deputy National Treasurer of the APC Presidential Campaign Council and member of the Legal Committee of the Presidential Campaign Council,   hails from Cross River State. He is upset that APC could not win in the state in the last elections. He narrates what he felt caused Buhari’s defeat in that state and what he needs to prioritize in his second term Excerpts:

How did APC perform so poorly in Cross River State?

Before this time, everybody had thought in Cross River state that APC was hopeful, that APC was going to win in the state easily given the level of support it was getting and the caliber of politicians behind the party in the state.


In fact, it was obvious from the level of support, that the PDP was actually jittery over the strength and popularity of the APC in the state, forcing the state governor to become friendly with Buhari.

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But the problems of the APC in the state, which were principally borne out of greed, internal crisis, greed and avarice as well as unnecessary power contest, caused us the defeat. I call it unnecessary because in 2015 APC gave the president 28,000 votes so the 25% was not there. Even though in the last elections APC improved on that by giving the president 117,000 votes which is a remarkable improvement over that of   2015, it could have done better than that if not for the reasons I mentioned now. The whole problem started with the struggle for the chairmanship of the party, pitting one key party leader against the other until it was too late to retrace their steps, leaving us with avoidable loss of a state we were poised to win with ease.


Does that not clearly show that the party does not have a strong leadership?

I have maintained that long before now that we don’t have leaders and elders who care about the interest of the party in Cross River state elders. If they are there at all, they are either too afraid or too timid and left at the mercy of whoever wants to use them to satisfy personal interest over and above that of the party.


So what is the way out now that the election has been won and lost?

For me the way out is that the national chairman of the party, the national leader of the party Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and Mr. President as the conscience of the party must take a positive stance to see that the party is reorganized and organized properly to play the role it is supposed to play in the state.

I would say straightway Mr. President Sir, tell the national chairman of the party, that they should dissolve, whether legitimate or illegitimate, state exco in Cross River State currently contesting for power and come up with a caretaker committee and in doing so, care must be taken to ensure that none of those who participated in any of the factions that robbed the state of victory should be allowed to play any role in the new committee. They must ensure that only neutral persons with genuine interest in the party should be entrusted with duties in the new executive committee.

The second way to make peace in the state is to ensure that the minister who is appointed from the state and the national officer of the party from the state do not control the structures of the party in the state so as not to stoke the embers of crisis any more. I am saying so because we are all witnesses to the role played by top officials of the government and the party leaders from the state at the national and regional levels.


Who do you think should become the next minister from Cross River State. Should Usani Usani be retained?

Going by my analysis I would say, no. But since this is a government of change and if the change would make him to change, that is fine. However, I want to say that given the high level of controversy surrounding all the people who caused the APC to lose the state, Buhari has to take extra steps to determine who becomes a minister in his cabinet from the state.   I understand that no fewer than 15 persons are jostling for the position of minister and I have taken a look at all of them and none of them, by my candid opinion, has what it takes to do the right job for Mr. President and the people of Cross River State and Nigeria as a whole.

If any of those people whose names are being mentioned, is appointed, then let it be known to all that the President and the national leadership of our party would technically be performing a memorial and the burial of the APC in the state. To be honest, let no undeserving person in Cross River State be made a minister anymore.


But beyond the crisis in Cross River State, do you think that the APC had done anything tangible to lift Nigeria any notch higher from where the other party left it?

This country under the APC leader of President Buhari has done comparatively better than any previous administration in the country.


Why do you say so?

Number one, it makes nonsense of any logic to think you can compare four years with the 16 years that another party was in power. It is completely illogical. Instead select the first four years of PDP and compare with the first tenure of the APC in order to make sense. That is the level of comparison I am talking about.

If you like, during the first four years of the PDP, they brought the GSM technology to Nigeria as its only major achievement. But within the first four years of President Buhari, so much has been achieved in virtually all the sectors of the economy despite the organized conspiracy and sabotage to bring down the administration by opposition elements.


What do you mean by organized conspiracy and sabotage? Are they the ones responsible for insecurity, which was already threatening even before Jonathan came on board?

To the extent it has been. The theory of the conspiracy can be arrived at for instance and the President should not sleep with his two eyes closed on this matter because the conspiracy from the opposition would be more intense.

I am saying so because during the electioneering and campaign period, you would have noticed that level of insurgency, banditry, kidnapping and other forms of violence reduced drastically because the organizers were also participating politicians in the elections. Apparently, they were busy organizing their political structures and campaigning with little or no time to feed the boys to go and commit the havoc but now it has been intensified shortly after the elections. You can see that the whole thing is organized crime against the sitting government by its enemies.


Don’t you think that there are some fundamental factors promoting security challenges in the country?

To some extent there has been a huge number of unemployed persons starting from the PDP 16 years and it is obvious that the government that came in for only four years cannot immediately meet the demand because it is a problem that has lingered over the years. It is understandable why many have resorted to criminality and all forms of illegitimate activities as a means of livelihood. But it is wrong and unhelpful for a people to resort to evil pursuits all in the name of livelihood.


Don’t you think the government itself has lost touch with the key issue of development because today you cannot find industrial estates where production is going on as it was in the past? Why is life more difficult?

I will say that even in the 16 years of PDP rule we never saw any of these industries going on at that level but what is the position with Ajaokuta today?


Have they started production?

I can say they will soon start production. And many hands will be brought on board once that happens. What about the revolution in railway transportation in Nigeria? Have you not seen that President Buhari did it and it is working very well?

It’s important to remind you that Nigeria was still using railway system before Buhari came.

Good, if it went comatose must credit not be given to somebody who revived a dead man to life? It is true that most of the railway projects in Nigeria were dead before but it was brought back by the present administration and we need to thank the government that did it.


Have you used train anywhere in Nigeria and from where to where?

Yes, from Kaduna to Abuja when the Abuja airport was closed and it was sweeter, faster and better than all these risks on the roads. Now, we can go to Warri from Lagos on train and vice versa. These things are on. So you cannot say nothing is happening. Make a trip to Onitsha and see what is gradually on ground in terms of the second Niger Bridge.


But people often argue that the bridge was actually started by President Jonathan.

No. To start a building is the simplest thing because you are talking about block work but how to really develop the building to a house is what is important. So Jonathan cannot put a block and say oh we have started a building and it was abandoned.

Look at the Calabar Airport, so much noise was made about it; go and see if it rains and you will see how the whole place will be leaking and dropping water like baskets. But they were making noise about building an international airport.

And so when you look at some of these things to a very large extent; get to Abuja Airport now, you will see that it has been elevated to a particular standard and now there is a link through railway and the work is ongoing there. All these are the accomplishments of one man under the APC. So you cannot say he is not developing anything; these things are getting developed.


But do you think that this country would have been far developed if any of these parties were to run strictly an ideological manifesto.

By our own level for now, it is going to be very difficult. For instance, if you are taking a leftist, centrist or rightist position in designing policies and programmes as a government, you would deprive a lot of people of so many things. But today the government is fighting corruption which affects everyone irrespective of ideology. So, let the country continue to serve the interest of the majority of the people, ensure inclusive growth and spreading of opportunities for all Nigerians and we can continue from there. Let the government be able to provide for the welfare of the people even if it is not on any ideology.

What will really serve us as a people is for all Nigerians to have a positive attitude towards their government and not to work against it as an enemy would do. It is for us to reduce our lust for money, greed and attitude to steal. If we can change that, our country will be better than running on any ideology.


As a lawyer do you think our development stride has been hampered because of lack of laws and policies or the absence of a strong political will to perform?

Not lack of laws but the political will to implement or enforce because if you go to our sacred books, we have more laws in them than all the 774 local governments we have in Nigeria. We have laws on almost every subject matter. So the laws have been there almost from time immemorial.

It is our inability to implement the laws and the inconsistency of those who take over from their predecessors. You are taking over rather than look at projects started by your predecessor and see how they would impact on the development of the place and the people, the new person would be thinking of how to start his own. So that is the dilemma we are into, nothing more than that.


If you were to advise Mr. President on what to do in his second term, what would you ask him to do?

I would ask him to concentrate on the recovery of stolen wealth, ensure that the EFCC chairman, Magu is confirmed by the senate, and ensure that the Presidential Panel on the Recovery of Public Assets is given legal backing to prosecute looters in the country.


How will that work with the existence of EFCC and ICPC?

Such bodies are not even enough given the level of looting in this country. We need more of them to help in checking corruption and money laundering.

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