“With the confusion that has set into the APC, my advice to them would be that they should forget about Akwa Ibom and prepare for… elections after 2019.”
Iheanacho Nwosu, Abuja
Nduese Essien is a former Minister of Housing and Urban Development. He served in the administration of former President, Goodluck Jonathan. He is also the leader of PDP Elders Forum in Eket Senatorial District of Akwa Ibom. He speaks on the chances of Governor Udom Emmanuel and why he will secure a second term in 2019.
It is only a few months away from 2019 election and there are fears that in Akwa Ibom State, APC has made inroads. What do you think?
I think whoever is thinking that APC can take over Akwa Ibom State is day dreaming because Akwa Ibom State has been a PDP state from the beginning and the people have benefited from the PDP government. First, during the period of Victor Attah as governor, he laid the foundation for the state and Attah being an architect is very familiar with laying of foundation. So, he took up the struggle to ensure that the state derived adequate revenue from its production of oil. It was from that revenue that Godswill Akpabio used to do a lot of what is now called ’uncommon transformation.’ So Akwa Ibom State came into limelight during his tenure and before he left, he tried to ensure that he brought a successor that would try to keep the pace and he succeeded.
So I think people are misconstruing the strength of APC based on Akpabio’s defection from the PDP to the APC. Let me say categorically that the defection of Akpabio from the PDP to the APC turned out to be a blessing to the state.
Why do you say so?
Firstly, with his defection, the bond that existed between him and his successor was broken and his successor since then has become freer to take decisions without looking back, decisions without being hindered by his benefactor. So in fact people have now come to realise that since August when he (Akpabio) defected, the governor has performed even at a faster pace. He is taking quick decisions nowadays and a lot more is being done in the state.
Akpabio’s exit from the PDP has equally created problems within the APC in the state. The APC in the state was operating on a fragile platform because of the dissensions within its ranks; so his going into the APC has even made it worse for the party. Akpabio said that PDP has not done anything for Akwa Ibom state for the past 16 years. For the past 16 years who was PDP? It was Godswill Akpabio that was PDP. It means that he didn’t do anything in the state and that would be a serious contradiction to the propaganda he used to build up a very high reputation throughout the country.
He has been making so many careless statements like that to the extent of even saying that the Federal Government has done the road from Calabar to Ikot Ekpene when the contractor for that project has not mobilised to site up till now. So that is why I am categorical in saying the PDP in Akwa Ibom has even become stronger since the exit of Godswill Akpabio to the APC.
Is it stronger? But some people also believed that the governor has actually not lived up to expectations.
Well, that is a result of the propaganda which the APC has embarked upon. They said the governor has not lived up to expectations, look at the background of his emergence. When he came into office, he had the initial difficulties of sorting himself out with his opponents during the election. There was a long protracted court tussle that delayed him from taking off smoothly. Again the debts from the previous administrations; those days of uncommon transformation resulted in incurring of debts and he had to see how he can handle these debts. Then, there was also recession and the fall of the naira to the dollar at the beginning of 2015. There was the dwindling oil revenue at the beginning of the administration. So he also had to contend the raising expectations of the people spearheaded in the days of uncommon transformation with bloated oil revenue. The people of Akwa Ibom were meant to believe that money was not a problem, so that expectation was still there.
Finally, he had to manage all the above situations without exposing, ridiculing or hurting his benefactor. So, this was not an easy task but despite all these he was able to get through. It was because of his financial training and the expertise and the fact that he comes from a strict and puritanical Christian background, so all these were the situations that enabled him to get things clean.
They said he has not done anything, but Akwa Ibom is one the states that has paid salaries regularly from the beginning of his tenure. He has also been able to pay pension and gratuity from a backlog of 2012 till December 2015. When they said that pensions and gratuity, it is the ones from 2016 that he has not been able to pay because he had to clear the backlog first.
There has also been massive infrastructure development particularly in areas of road constructions, in the health sector and educational facilities; then industrial development which is the key note of his administration. As soon as he came in, because of his international connections, he was able to attract a lot of investors to Akwa Ibom. There was a company that came in to do assembling of vehicles, heavy trucks and several other companies came in too. But as soon as they came in and started doing ground breaking, that was when recession set in. The drop of the value of the naira and all those obstacles came. So many of those investors left, but a few still stayed back and those are the ones who have done the metering factory which of course is the first in the country and metres are now being produced.
Is it electricity metres?
Yes, it is now being produced in Akwa Ibom State. There is also the syringe factory. You have also heard about the flour mill which they said is going to be the largest in the country better than the existing ones and there are several other industries which he has been able to bring in, like cottage industries, coconut refinery, the pencil, toothpick and all those things are there. So he has been able to do a lot more than the propagandists would accept. The propagandists are the ones trying to run him down but are unsuccessful.
The man who is challenging him happens to be a person from his own constituency, the same senatorial district. How are your people taking this kind of challenge? Is it not going to split your people so much?
The challenger of the governor comes from the same senatorial district with the incumbent governor. It was not easy for us to get our turn to produce the governor in 2015 because even Akpabio himself wasn’t thinking of giving it to Eket senatorial district even though it was its due. So it was a number of us that set up Eket senatorial district assembly and advocated stringently before Akpabio accepted and that was how we got our turn to produce the governor.
Having done so, the people of the senatorial district realised that governors usually perform better in their second tenure, in fact not only governors; any office holder does better during his second tenure. The first term is used in trying to learn the intricacies of the system get familiar and then by second tenure attain whatever you have done in your first tenure. I have an experience of this when I was in the House of Representatives. Most of the projects which I pursued didn’t materialise at the end of my first tenure. It was in my second tenure that I got them. So, since the people have realised this, they do not want to miss the advantage of having the same person to do a second tenure and bring relevant benefits to them and that is why people of the senatorial districts are not looking at any alternatives to the present governor in 2019 because the other senatorial district produced the same person for governor for eight years. How can it be that during our turn it will change?
What is happening is that some people are even trying to prevent our senatorial district from having these benefits of a second term governor and we are not going for that. The challenger to Governor Udom had been a deputy governor in the state. He is a nice man but we believe that if he stays back at the NDDC and completes his tenure, it would have been a better compliment for the state.
Are you saying the PDP will not lose to the APC in 2019?
Akwa Ibom is one state that PDP can never lose. In fact, from the situation on ground and with the confusion that has set into the APC, my advice to them would be that they should forget about Akwa Ibom and prepare for subsequent elections after 2019.
Were you people, the elder of PDP in Akwa Ibom surprised at Akpabio’s exit from the party?
Yes, it came as a surprise to many of us. We never expected that Akpabio would think of defecting to the APC. We were very proud of him, we were encouraging him, but when he defected, we were surprised because it is very rare to find a party leader defecting from his party to another party. He was the party leader as the Senate Minority Leader, but you know they call it uncommon defection because his things are always uncommon. That he emerged as Senate Minority Leader in his first tenure was uncommon and that he defected was also uncommon and even what is happening now in the APC is also uncommon in the interest of the PDP.
But the argument some people are pushing is that virtually all the people who are big in politics from that state are in APC and they are moving there…
(Cuts in) Some of the prominent people in Akwa Ibom who are now in APC ran away from the PDP because of the uncommon defector and now the uncommon defector has gone to join them and has created an uncommon problem in the APC. The truth is that the APC in the state was already in a serious crisis situation because of the disagreement amongst those leaders. He was not part of them then but with his entry and his own problems too, it has virtually silenced the other people. They are trying to look for a way of getting out of that situation.
Are you saying that even some people in the APC are working for the PDP now?
A lot of them are angling to come back, to leave what they ran away from. What they ran away from and has gone to meet them again. They are trying to get out of it.