Akwa Ibom State Governor, Udom Emmanuel, recently spoke to journalists about some salient national issues, including the jostle for 2019 presidential contest.
Many Nigerians appear to be looking the way of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ahead of 2019 elections, what do you think leaders of your party can do to take advantage of the opportunity?
We can only do one thing and it is to make sure that we get a credible candidate who understands the economy. In any developing nation of the world, election of that level is won and lost based on the economic policies that you put on the table because any nation that is strong economically will be strong democratically too. Democracy is wobbling in Africa because the economy is not strong. So whoever can come up with policies that we are convinced can drive the economy of this country, definitely, that is the person that the PDP should put forward to be the candidate. I know politics is also about popularity and so on but at the national stage; it is not just about popularity because popularity at times could be out of sentiments.
If you think Udom is popular and that I can stand somewhere in Gombe and they would clap for me, how many people there have actually had personal interactions with me? How many of them know about my leadership qualities? Nigerians can look and know who in this country is trained and has deep knowledge and adequate understanding of economic issues that can make an impact. I was in the private sector. Do you know how I feel seeing somebody who had N100m investment and for no offence of his, that money in his hand lost more than 50 per cent of its value?
If you had an investment at the exchange rate of about N170 then, the same investment at an exchange rate of N365 has depreciated in value. These are things that we need to look at. A country is bigger than individuals. Another problem we have in Nigeria is that we never plan for population explosion. That is why facilities seem to be inadequate. How do you explain people looking back at those days and cherishing them when technology has actually advanced in our time? It should not be so. We should not be looking back at those days and saying in those days, this used to happen.
Well, I’m not contesting; at least, South-South region is not contesting as almost all the major parties have zoned the presidency to the north. I’m in total agreement because ‘brother chop, brother no chop, e no good.’ Let this thing go round. But whenever it gets to your turn, be the best that the country can offer; that is all. I’m happy you said everybody is looking at the PDP for 2019. If you look at Nigeria today, every single thing you can call development was done by the PDP governments. For instance, Global System for Mobile communications was brought by the PDP; technological revolution was bought by the PDP.
Some people believe that without a strong political coalition or merger of opposition parties, it will not be possible to oust the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) from power in 2019. What do you think?
You see, there is no formula that is the answer. Most of these things are just human tactical approaches to what you think might give you results. I believe that what matters most is results and everybody is hoping to win at the end of the day. The FIFA World Cup is about to start and each of the teams representing their countries are going there to win the trophy. So any tactical approach that you believe will give you results is what you will employ. And if it gives you results, fine. And let me tell you, no two elections are the same and they will never be.
The 2019 presidential election will be completely different from that of 2015. So if somebody thinks there is a formula that will do it, you will realise that it might not necessarily be so. But above all, it is God that determines who gets to power. All powers on planet earth belong to God. A lot of people rode to leadership positions in different capacities without anyone casting ballot. So what coalition will you call that? I still believe these things are just tactical human approaches to actually see what result we can get.
If you observed what happened in 2015, you would have realised that there were issues with the management of campaign funds. How will it affect the preparation of your party towards 2019?
Why would it affect in any way? Absolute power corrupts absolutely too. So depending on who holds power and how he wants to use it. I think the photograph (of a former Governor of Kaduna State, Ramalan Yero) you saw is normally used when they are dealing with hardened criminals in other societies and not when you look at somebody and say he was involved in money laundering. What do you define as money laundering? Secondly, if you are talking about campaign funds, who has ever looked at the party at the state that probably had a hold of the so-called campaign funds? What offence did that party commit? If I contest an election now and I’m trying to buy Fez caps, so what offence have you committed by selling Fez caps to me? So I think it is something that we might not be able to answer completely right now but the future should be able to provide answers to some of these questions.
In Akwa Ibom State, some aggrieved members of the APC have reconciled and are uniting to get you out of power. Are you bothered?
You see, there is a difference between the APC in Lagos and the APC in Abuja or in other states. Look at what happened on May 29 in my state; is that the kind of state where you think there is any other political party? Let me state it clearly, the PDP in my state is like a religion. I told you people three years ago that a young lady coming to conduct praise and worship will want to say praise the Lord but can say PDP, and people will answer 100 per cent. This is purely a PDP state. What new idea will another person from another party bring? Look at what happened on May 29, people were coming to say that this is where we belong. Mind you, the state is 99.9 per cent dominated by Christians and Christians in all the 31 councils came and said there was no vacancy in the governorship office, until 2023. There is no unit in my state that you don’t have three to five churches and all those churches are coming together to say we have only one candidate and it is Udom Emmanuel. So which other political party are you mentioning now?
Do you think you deserve it?
Every government has a face; we try to create a face because what I don’t like is when people just say politics is synonymous with not telling the truth. It cannot be so. Somebody will lie and say that is politics, it is not true. That is a lie. A lie is a lie; it is not politics. We try as much as possible to show a certain level of integrity and sincerity of purpose in what we do and try to be very transparent. Yes, we are human beings, we will make mistakes. But so far, I can say that we have done well in three years in office. If somebody asked me to rate myself, I would give myself an A. I have done well as a governor in an opposition party in a state with no Federal Government’s presence of any kind – not even a kilometre of road is done by the Federal Government in my state, which is the largest producer of oil. There is not even a depot of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. They don’t even have an office or a kiosk in the state. You cannot even say this is an oil producing state; where Federal Government shares interest. We don’t have that at all. Based on how we have struggled, I believe we have done well.
You said there is no single road constructed by the Federal Government in your state, could that be because of party differences?
It didn’t start today; not party differences.
What could be the reason?
I cannot explain it. If I had an explanation, I would have told you the reason. I didn’t say the reason because I don’t know the reason.
Have you made any attempt to ask the Federal Government why it is so?
Well, that is where we find ourselves. Correct me if I’m wrong if there is any, but as of today, we don’t have any – not one kilometre of road. So even the so-called federal roads that we spent money to reconstruct, we are still waiting for reimbursement. Unfortunately, Federal Inland Revenue Service is telling me to pay tax; to remit withholding taxes on money that I’m still being owed that I’m to pay to contractors.
But there are people who believe that South-South governors are not doing enough for their people with the resources they get as oil-rich states. What is your take on that?
I don’t know where you got that from but I’m hearing it for the first time because a lot of people do ask where we get money from? As of today, it is only governors in the PDP that are inaugurating projects. Look at what we get in naira value and look at the rate of inflation. When we had a similar oil price some years ago at the exchange rate prevalent at that time, how much were the states given and how much are we getting today with the current rate of inflation?
Today, it is about N365 to a dollar. Divide that by the naira value and look at what we used to get and compare that with what we are doing. At that time, how much was a bag of cement and how much is a bag of cement today?
These are facts; so by the time you check and see what we have put on the ground, you will see that we have done a lot. Look at the inflation and look at what we are getting. How much are we getting now that the oil price is over $80 per barrel? When oil price was just about $60 per barrel, so many South-South states were getting over N17bn. At one point, it was over N80bn. But the so-called largest (oil producing state) is collecting about N15bn now. Divide that with N365 (current exchange rate) and divide what we used to get then by N176 or N178 (exchange rate some years ago) and then factor in the inflation and then you will know that it is not completely correct.
Your administration’s plan to have a liaison office in Lagos was greeted with a protest, with the protesters asking why the state wanted to spend N2bn on a new office when the state already had many structures in Lagos. What really happened?
We need to pray for understanding to know where to invest. Even before I became the governor, Akwa Ibom State had several properties in Lagos – on Martin Street, Campbell Street, on the Victoria Island, and in Ikoyi. Even the property they are talking about, I didn’t buy the property, the property had been there and it is the property of the state government. Every asset is supposed to yield returns. If you have an unproductive asset and you are a businessman, will you close your eyes and leave that asset to remain unproductive? The answer is no. So it is purely lack of understanding.
Two, that thing you called a protest was not a protest; it was sponsored by some few people who I don’t want to mention. Third, you follow consumption tax to know where money is made from. Today, where do you think consumption tax is made in this country? Lagos. So, money is made in Lagos and shared in Abuja. If you mean business, you must follow where money is made. And if you check, as of today, outside Lagos, we are next in terms of Foreign Direct Investment. How do you meet with investors? So if you don’t meet people, present proposals, make presentations, how will they come? It involves a lot of marketing and you need a place to meet with foreign investors. You see, this overdependence on Abuja is what makes people talk that way. ‘Oh, you only need liaison office in Abuja because you go to Abuja.’ What about where money is made? I also need a liaison office in Lagos where money is made so that I can meet with my investors and the private sector players because no economy can actually get to where you want without private sector investments. So that is why I pardoned those who sponsored that.
What do you make of the bill being proposed by the Federal Government, seeking to concentrate the control of water resources in its hands?
I’m completely against it. It is counter-productive for the country. And it also violates the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. For example, in my area, the whole life of my people is on water and the constitution does not separate water from land. So how can you now say water on the surface and water beneath? So what happens to us? We live, survive and do everything on water. So for those that have land and do everything there, their governors can control it, but governors in coastal areas, where their entire life depends on water, don’t control anything. Is that not a violation of the Constitution of Nigeria? It is.
So it is total rejection, not just by me, but by the entire people of the South-South and South-East regions of this country. I just want to believe that at this time that our democracy is still fragile, we will do things that can make the country stronger and not what can call so many things into question. I didn’t mention anything, I said so many things.
But let us do things that can move us forward, not things that can draw us backward. Such a bill can take us several thousand of years backward as a country and it is totally rejected by our people. Let us assume it was an error; believe me, it is against the constitution of Nigeria. I mean, we have two governors, and because one has more land areas than water, that one is a governor and controls the resources of the land. But it is not the same for the other one, whose people survive on water. We in the Niger Delta, 80 to 90 per cent of our life are on water. We build houses on water. And you now say everything about that water is vested in the water commission at the federal level and that we don’t have control over it. Come on! That is an indirect way of saying that we are not Nigerians.