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CIVIL WAR: S-East, S-South yet to be properly reconciled with Nigeria — Senator Ekpenyong

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Let’s revisit Gowon’s 3 Rs
At times I wonder if Akwa Ibom is part of Nigeria

By Chioma Onuegbu

Ekpenyong, Akpabio, Akwa Ibom

Senator Christopher Ekpenyong, former deputy governor of Akwa Ibom State, was 13 years when the civil war started in 1967 and 16 when it ended in 1970. Senator Ekpenyong, who is awaiting a a court-ordered rerun in some polling areas in Ikot-Ekpene to resume his representation of Akwa Ibom North-West in the 9th Senate, says 49 years after the war the South-East and South-South, which formed Eastern Nigeria have not been properly reconciled with the rest of the country. In this interview, Ekpenyong also spoke on the Hate Speech bill before the Senate, and why restructuring of the country is necessary among others.

On his experience in the Senate so far

Having the experience of the Red Chamber of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is thrilling. You could see men of great integrity and also men that need reformation in character, and traits probably from their past experiences, and performances in public offices. You could see men who have contributed immensely to the growth of Nigeria. So I love to belong to such body, the experience is thrilling and it is interesting.

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On his plans for his constituents in terms of projects if he returns after the rerun

You have to differentiate the activities of the Legislature from that of the executive. Primarily, the Legislature is a Law making institution. When you talk about constituency projects, I think you should look at it from the view of Mr. President saying that in the past 10 years that over one trillion naira had been spent on constituency projects and there is nothing to show for it.

I think in that case it is an indictment on the part of the executive and not on the part of the Legislature because the function of the Legislature is to make laws and probably to request for the entrenchment of projects which they believe would have  impact on the lives of the people of their constituencies. The implementer is always the executive.

From what I saw that my predecessor (Godswill Akpabio) incorporated as constituency projects, up till now the money has not been released, the boreholes have not been drilled, the village Hall that he also proposed for one of the areas in Okon has not been built. So you can’t blame the Legislature, the blame should go to the implementer, which is the executive. When the corresponding money or resources is not made available, you don’t blame the legislator.

On my plans, I have come to inherit 2019 budget and though my predecessor who is now the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs had already galvanized the projects, and even defined the location which is within his own ward, and contiguous villages, the money has not been released.

In 2020 budget, based on the fact that I had traversed the entire 1,123 units, and 108 wards in my area of jurisdiction, I have tried to see what could be done in schools, farms, roads, erosion-attacked environments such as Nko, Esa Atan in Ikot Ekpene, the one at Nto-Ekpe up to Usaka in Obot Akara, the spring road in Ikot Ekpene and then the road linking Amanyam community- Ikot Ukpong and the rest in Obot Akara and Ikot Ekpene. In Ini local government you talk about large farmlands that have been completely eroded by erosion. I have tried to see what I can do to leverage the lifestyle in these areas, but that is within the 2020 budget that has just been passed.

However, when the budget is signed by the President and the resources in terms of cash-backing made available, the impact will be made. In the area of training, there will be training to build capacity, and aid wealth creation. Whether these visions, ideas will be translated and factored into the economic resources depends on money for the implementation of those constituency projects. When that is done, life will be better for the beneficiaries.

 

Many Nigerians have this impression that only ranking senators enjoy certain privileges like attracting projects to their people. As a first timer, what is your take on this?

 

I am ranking lawmaker by age. I was state legislator when I was 28 years-old in the then Cross River State on the platform of NPN. Aside that, I was a deputy governor for six years, one month and five days. I have had experience in public service and private life, I am an employer of Labour. Aside politics I am one of the foremost entrepreneur’s in this state and I have over 200 workers that are on my payroll. So I think the Senate President and the Senate in their wisdom felt that I am capable.

I am honoured to be there in the Senate. I belong to nine Committees. One is the Army. I belong to the Local Content Committee, I also belong to Establishment and Public Service Committee, I belong to the Culture and tourism Committee; Downstream Petroleum Committee. I am also Vice Chairman of Water Resources Committee. A lot of variables had been considered in putting me wherever I am, and making me a Vice Chairman of a Committee.

 

How do you manage these two responsibilities, business and politics?

I wouldn’t say because I am given this assignment of representation that I have to jettison what I have nurtured in the years past. Over the years I have always been in business. Even when I was a deputy governor my ventures were all going, and to an extent aided in human capacity development, and wealth creation. So, why would I kill my ventures because I am in the Senate? The Eemjm Hotel is still going on, the JAC farms is still going on. We are into poultry farming, palm oil processing, we also plant and process rice. I have over 90 hectares of rice farm in Ini local government area. We are harvesting now. Last year we sold our rice at N16,000 a bag. Hopefully we will try to see how we can minimize the cost to suit the intention of the President, even though we’ve not been in any way touched by the funding that the president had given out to those who are into rice farming.

I think predominantly the beneficiaries are in the North. Most of us down South, particularly South-South are not benefiting from that because they choose to exclude us; that they don’t know we also grow rice here. I am growing rice and that is why I am much particular about the Nkari Dam that was established in 2000. The contract was awarded in 2001 but up till today much has not been done. What we have in the 2020 budget is just N105million as against the contract sum that was reviewed last year to N5.7billion. So if we want to be serious, the Nkari Dam must also be considered like any other Dam in the northern part of Nigeria, to provide water for agriculture and for consumption.

 

On the Hate speech bill

At the first hearing and presentation of that bill, I tried to question the composition. What is the content? I have been told by my Secretary that the content of the bill has been made available and it is in my office. Since I am returning to the Senate on Tuesday, I will take a look at it. And good enough it has passed through the second reading, it is now at the Committee level where people will be invited to public hearing, I will listen and understand deeply the intent of that bill. If it is going to injure the provision of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which allows freedom of expression, it will be anti-people.

So I will air my view at the public hearing but we should mitigate the issue of death sentence, after all government is a continuum. Today it is the turn of APC in government. When they were also saying that the PDP government was doing this and  doing that, nobody initiated death sentence.

 

On restructuring and devolution of powers to the federating units

People probably misconstrue the issue. We are not talking of dismemberment of Nigeria, we are talking of devolution of powers. The Federal government is very far away from the people. Look at our roads, we don’t have roads. What if we allow state government to construct roads?  For instance, the Borno State governor will have to construct road to link with the next state, the next state governor will construct road from his state to next state, and the next will continue that way, so there will be no gap. We know that for us to have economic renaissance or integration we must have sound transportation system and such transportation system will be having good roads, rail lines, Marine transportation. So, we must devolve power.

The Federal government is still talking about food security when they don’t have control on land. The ownership of land is vested on the state government, so why don’t you give more resources so that the practice of agriculture can be more enhanced at the state and even local government levels?

I think the federal government should concentrate on the management of the Armed Forces, it should concern itself with the communication system, to make sure we have adequate cross -communications. That is what federal government should do and allow the states handle healthcare, agriculture, education, road constructions, etc.

 

On deplorable condition of Federal roads linking Akwa Ibom and neighbouring states

My question is are we part of Nigeria? That is one of the things we have to find out because when I was small, 13 years old, the war broke out, and they said ‘To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done’. We have joined to keep Nigeria one but I have not yet benefited from why I have to be part of Nigeria. Even when they said there was destruction, we have to Reconstruct, Rehabilitate, and there must be Reconciliation, 3R’s that were postulated by the General Yakubu Gowon government, not much has been done.

The entire Eastern Nigeria and what you call South-South today were all Easterners, and the war was prevalent there. The relics of the war have not been cleared The only bridge that links us with Umuahia was constructed by me in 2004. I spent N64million to do that, I only collected N30million from the Federal government. The contract was awarded by the then Minister of Works, Chief Tony Anenih of blessed memory at the cost of N49million and they managed to pay only N30million. Because there was no variation to the contract the company could not do the contract and abandoned it. I had to pledge my property to the bank, and borrowed money to make sure that bridge on the highway going to Umuahia was done.

Today the only road we are using now is the one that Governor Udom Emmanuel constructed for us at Nto Ndino;  Ekwereazu to Nto Ndino, Nto Ndino to Nto Ndang to Umuahia road. People coming from the North, West to the South use that road, it is a local road.

So, my prayer is that let God touch the heart of President Muhammadu Buhari because he fought the war. I was watching the clips of the war heroes the other day and I saw him. He was very young then, fighting the war. I am praying that they should revisit the issue of the 3R’s- Rehabilitation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction. The entire Eastern Nigeria, which comprises South South, and South East today, have not been properly reconciled. We have not been reconstructed, we have not been rehabilitated because the relics of the war are lying everywhere. It is glaring.

Whatever is good for the goose is also good for the gander. If they say we have North East Development Commission, NEDC,to take care of the infrastructure deficit of the North-East, what about the South East? What about the South-South even though we for which that body was established, because it is supposed to be an interventionist agency that would strengthen, clear the mess, build up the Niger Delta so that we can also have a fair share of the resources of Nigeria.

 

Some people have said that we have recorded improvement in the security situation in the country in the past few months. Do you agree with that?

In your opinion as a Nigerian, a journalist, would you say we have experienced improved security? Well, in Akwa Ibom there is peace. I have not heard of alarming security infractions in Akwa Ibom because of the kind of governor we have. The governor is a godly man, and he knows his onions,  he is prayerful and God responds to his prayers. So in Akwa Ibom there is no security infractions to an extent that is alarming but if in Enugu Reverend Fathers could be kidnapped, in Benin if a Judge of Court of Appeal could be kidnapped and held hostage for many weeks, would you say that we are in safe hands?

I think there is much to be done by the federal government. Just like we are talking about devolution of power, the security apparatus must be re-jigged, and to an extent the local police is one of the elements that will aid to curb the incessant breach of security.

For instance, in the North-East, I have been wondering, we have communal settings, people are living within the environment wouldn’t we know who the Boko Haram are and what are they looking for? Why this persistent war, that they are killing people every day? Through their action there is instability in the nation, and economic backwardness. So, we should find a complete solution to the issue. I was saying the other day, given the way they fought the war from 1967 to 1970, if that was in the 20th century, we are in the  21st century why couldn’t we have the sophisticated weapons to crush the Boko Haram in Sambisa forest so that we could bring about a rejuvenation of the nation, that will be moving somewhere without miscreants, without security infractions by people?

 

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