‘Cross River has no reason not to vote APC’
Would you say that NDDC gets it’s monetary allocations as at when due?
I have been chairman for two years, but I would like to say that the release of funds to NDDC in the last two years has been the best experienced.
In last year’s budget, the Federal Government’s contribution was increased and for the first time since the commission was founded, the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) is now contributing to it.
The argument of whether the commission was getting its rightful dues under the Act establishing it has been on.
The commission believes it has been shortchanged. It is under this administration that a reconciliation exercise was established.
So as we speak, there is reconciliation going on between the Ministry of Finance, the office of the Accountant General of the Federation and NDDC to establish the exact indebtedness of the Federal Government to NDDC.
In terms of projects, we may have done more than what is on ground.
We came up with a lot of projects, some have been completed and others ongoing.
The Nembe/Ogbia road with about 57 bridges and culverts has been completed. We are just waiting for a date from the president for the commissioning. We have quite a number of projects like that.
We are also partnering state governments on major projects. We are partnering Ondo State Government in the Ilaje/Ibeji Lekki road.
We are doing the same with Edo and Delta State governments. It is far better in the last two years than in the past.
There has been allegations of corruption, contract racketeering…
The NDDC still operates manually and one of the things we intend to achieve before we leave office is the application of technology to make our operations more efficient. We are still applying manual processes.
When we came in, we inherited over 10,000 contracts. I did a simple analysis and discovered that even if we deploy all our technical staff, including drivers and security men to supervise these projects, each one will be supervising at least 50 projects.
That is bound to bring inefficiency. The first thing we did was to cancel over N300 billion worth of contracts in trying to clean up our system.
Applying manual operation leads to inefficiency and we are working on those inefficiencies.
It didn’t start today. But we are trying to clean it up. Even though the inefficiency was deep, we are trying to clean it up.
What is your take on plans to return NDDC to the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs?
I have heard that as a rumour. I call it rumour, because we are yet to be officially notified of any changes in our reporting line. However, whether we are in the ministry or the Presidency, each one has its advantage and disadvantages.
Either way, we are comfortable, but it is up to the government to take a decision on the reporting line and ours is to comply.
Cross River APC went into crisis over the choice of governorship candidate. What was at stake?
There are a number of suits, and we are aware of the recent judgement by the FCT High Court in Bwari.
Even before the judgement, the suit had generated appeals because people, who had envisaged that the judgement would affect them, one way or the other, applied to be joined.
But the judge, in his wisdom, declined to join them and at the end of the day, he made orders that were binding on people who were not party to the suit.
For example, he made an order that is binding on INEC and they were never party to the suit and you don’t bind an entity that is not a party to a suit. Secondly, the court granted prayers that were not made.
The court is no Father Christmas, even though it is a Christmas season.
The issue, however, is that there are appeals, one on the substantive judgment and the refusal of the judge to join necessary parties to the suit.
So, the status quo remains and that is the fact that it is Senator John Enoh’s name that is with INEC as the governorship candidate. So, until INEC substitutes the name through the judgment of the court, he remains the candidate.
Won’t the crisis affect the party’s fortunes at the poll in the state?
I am concerned. As a party person, I believe we should go into the election as a united front. But the good news is that both persons claiming to be the candidates of the party will be campaigning for APC.
At the end of the day, whoever the court determines as the candidate would be declared governor if we win. Let me also add that the party in the state has set in motion reconciliation machinery.
As we speak, the reconciliation committees are meeting and I am sure they will bring an end to this seeming dispute.
What are APC’s prospects in the South/South, which is PDP’ base?
Yes, it was a traditional PDP base because at a time we had our son, who was contesting the Presidency.
There was that underlining sentiment that our son was contesting. But today, we don’t have that situation and we don’t have anybody who is contesting from that zone.
The two major candidates are from the same region and from the same religion. So, that sentiment won’t be there.
Take, for instance in 2015, President Buhari got a paltry 28,000 votes from Cross River and in spite of the low level of support, see what he has done for the state.
Cross River remains the only state that Buhari has visited twice. The state is well represented in government. We have the Chief Justice of Nigeria even though he is not a politician.
You can’t run away from the fact that he became Chief Justice under President Buhari, but anything could have happened.
The Head of Service of the Federation is from Cross River State, the Auditor General of the Federation is from that state, the Minister of the Niger Delta, the Chairman, NDDC, the Special Adviser on Prosecution are all from that state in addition to Chairmen of boards, all for a paltry 28,000.
What was the record under PDP? The best we ever had, as a state under the PDP, was when we had Kanu Agabi as Minister and Senator Liyel Imoke as Special Adviser. These are arguments that will be taken to the field in Cross River.
It will be the height of ingratitude for any Cross Riverian not to vote for President Buhari and it will be uncharitable and a mark of ingratitude to do so.
Recently I had an interview with a radio station and I challenged the public.
Any tarred road that was constructed in the last two years in Cross River, 90 percent of the chances are that the NDDC or the Ministry of the Niger Delta tarred it.
Any renovation of any school in the last two years, the chances are that it was done by either the NDDC or the Ministry of the Niger Delta.
So, we have benefited a lot from this government. We also have our argument. What was the experience under the PDP government? It was one loss or the other for us as a state.
It was under the PDP that we lost Bakassi and also lost 76 oil wells. It was under the PDP that we lost the hosting right of the National Sport Festival.
Cross River at a time was paradise under Donald Duke. That was when we had the Cattle Ranch and the Mountain Range.
But it was still under the PDP that the paradise was lost. These and many more are the arguments that we are going to confront the people with.
The sentiments that our son is contesting are no longer there.
We are now dealing with verifiable records, which we are going to be dealing with, and the records favour the president unequivocally and the APC.
But why is Niger Delta leaders campaigning against APC and Buhari?
You don’t expect people of several millions to go in one straight file. For different reasons, people will have their preference.
It could be because their community has benefited from the PDP or that their sons are holding positions. Even in my own community, inspite of what the APC has done there, you still have people who are sympathetic to the PDP.
So, we cannot all behave alike. It will be most unusual even in a small nuclei family to share the same opinion. We are doing politics and we are going to campaign on verifiable facts.
What is your take on whether Southeast should get the APC ticket in 2023?
For the Southeast, let me hazard what may happen and I think they will go with President Buhari. They are hoping to produce a president in 2023 and that opportunity can only come through a President Buhari, because by the application of the law come 2023, Buhari will become ineligible to contest because he must end his tenure and that is when the Southeast can have their turn.
Any other person that comes, forget whatever promises they make. The moment they seat on that chair, they must take their constitutional two full terms.
So, any other person will delay the chances for the Southeast. That is why I think the Southeast will go with President Buhari.
Is it going to be automatic for the Southeast? The answer is no. It is not automatic. We are talking about the opportunity and it is for the Southeast to go and organize and ready itself for that opportunity.
Will they have an opportunity in 2023 through President Buhari? The answer is yes; the opportunity will be there and you need to put your house in order.
Will it be possible with another person in 2023 considering the fact that the person would have a constitutional two terms? The answer is no.
What efforts have Cross River made to recover those 76 oil wells?
We made an appeal to Mr. President. Ours was to ready his mind so that when the state government brings up the issue, he will be disposed to it.
The rest is for the state government to follow up. How much they have done, I don’t know because the party in power in Cross River isn’t my party.
So, I am not privy to what efforts they have made. As a stakeholder in Cross River, each time I have the opportunity to see the president, I have always prepared his mind so that he will be favourably disposed to finding a political solution to the situation. But the state must also make its move.
However, you know that the government in the state is not an APC government. But when we take over, I can assure you that it will be one of the first issues we intend to resolve.
Was the on-shore off-shore dichotomy responsible for the loss of oil wells?
There is always a political solution to every human condition. When this onshore and offshore thing started, there was a judgment.
The government and the stakeholder went for a round table and found a political solution to it. Even with the judgment there can still be a political solution.
When we lost Bakassi, the then Attorney General, Chief Bayo Ojo, assured Nigerians that we are not going to lose a single oil well as a result of that.
Bakassi was lost to Cameroon and the oil wells moved to another direction.
The loss of Bakassi is something that should entitle Cross River for compensation in perpetuity. I was in the Senate when Bakassi was ceded.
I remember Senator Bassey Ewa-Henshew and I moved at least three motions on the floor on the issue.
At that time, we had no substantive governor, because the election of Senator Liyel Imoke had been nullified and we had an acting governor.
We knew that the action was going to come with security and human challenges. We were pleading that there should be no hurry.
Inspite of that, Bakassi was ceded. That place is the heritage of a people. Their forebears were buried there; their shrines are there. Their history is there.
If you lost your cassava farm to the government, they will pay you compensation. Why not Cross River?
Cameroonian refugees are said to be flooding into Nigeria. How true is that?
The solution to this question lies with the Republic of Cameroon. They must resolve their internal crisis, because the issue of refugees is a humanitarian issue and it is an international law issue.
When you are running away from war, another country must give you refuge. They must be looked after and I think that the Federal Government and the international community are working on that and doing their best to cater for the refugees. But the solution to it would be to resolve the internal contentions in Cameroon.
Therefore, the international community must ensure that the contentions within Cameroon are resolved quickly and if that is not done, the refugee situation will worsen and will put pressure on our lean resources.
I came from a place that is less than ten kilometers from the Cameroon border. So, you can imagine the kind of pressure I will be going through.
Some National Assembly members recently booed President Buhari during budget presentation. How did you see the development?
Parliaments all over the world are rancorous places. They throw chairs, throw punches, cheer and boo. But we have not had that experience in Nigeria before. Every situation has a cultural undertone.
In Nigeria, irrespective of tribe, there should be respect for age and that is why it has never happened in Nigeria before.
So, we should worry about what happened, because there is cultural requirement for respect for elders, which I didn’t see when Mr. President was presenting the budget.
There is some logic to the issue of disconnect between the lawmakers and the Presidency.
Though they are different arms of government, there should be some synergy between the Executive and the National Assembly. That is why you always have Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly matters.
He is supposed to provide that connect. The Senate Leader and the House Leader are also supposed to provide that interface between the two arms of government.
In time past, there used to be frequent meetings between the president and the National Assembly leadership.
I don’t know, given the circumstances within which the current leadership of the National Assembly emerged, whether those meetings are still taking place.
So, it could be a reflection of that disconnect. But that does not take away the fact that we all came from the background of culture of respect.
No matter the level of anger, it should have been better managed on the floor of the National Assembly.
Are you still interested governing Cross River State?
I ran for governor at the age of 31 and today, I am 62. The position of governor for Cross River State has traditionally been for young people.
U.J Esuene was our first governor in the old Southeastern State. He was governor at 32. After him was Paul Omu who was 36 and after him was Elegbede who was 37.
Then Clement Isong, came from the Akwa Ibom end, who was the only one in his 50s who governed the state. Senator Etiebet, who took over from Isong was 47.
Clement Ebri, whom I ran with was 38, Donald Duke was 35. Liyel Imoke was in his early 40s and then Ben Ayade who is in his 50s.
Ayade is actually the oldest governor of the state. Given the history of governance in the state, I think I have gone too far at 62 to contemplate contesting the governorship of Cross River Sate. So, I should respect myself and play politics at another level.
How do you relate with Governor Ayade and Buhari?
Fortunately, my governor has always boasted about his relationship with the president.
We know that they have a good relationship and it is for that reason that Cross River remains the only state that the president has visited twice.
That means that the president has always shown love to the son, who is the governor.
This is the time for the governor to reciprocate that love to the president, because his election comes first. We will see the genuineness of that on the day of the president’s election.
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