Former spokesman of the House of Representatives and Chairman of the Governing Board of Cross River Basin Development Authority (CRBDA), Eseme Eyiboh in this interview spoke on Akwa Ibom politics, the National Assembly and other national issues.
The recent face off between the governors and the National Assembly, specifically the House of Representatives, over plans to amend the Disease Control Act, did it come to you as a surprise?
I think it is a legislative challenge which has to do with the leadership recruitment process. For example, if you go to the Senate, almost half of it is dominated by former governors. By 2023, it is likely going to be 100%. Also 80% of all the membership of House of Representatives and Senate, are products of state governors clearance. You can’t come to either the House of Representatives or Senate without the endorsement of the state governors. So, some of these state governors now see the legislative houses, both at subnational and national as an annex of their executive powers. So, if you attempt to do anything outside their consent and what they envisage, they consider that to be a misconduct. They will look for a way to call you to order and they will successfully call you to order by the next election cycle. So, when I listened to that engagement, within the context of our democratic process, it was needless and unnecessary. But because our democratic process has not been able to promote democracy as a government of the people, by the people and for the people, rather, there is a departure to promote democracy as an abatement of the tyranny of the minority against the majority- the majority of us who are the voters. Sovereignty belongs to the people. So, we are abating the tyranny of this minority. What happened there is part of the outcome of this abatement of tyranny of the minority.
The spokesman of the House specifically accused the governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal of being behind the attack…
The principle of law is that whoever accuses must prove. So, for you to go out and accuse Tambuwal because he’s a governor or he is a former speaker is out of place. What I’m smelling there is clear. It is likely because maybe the current leadership of the House or some present members of the House are not at ease with the disposition of Tambuwal. They went further to the extent that they could easily allude to the fact that he may have mobilised his colleagues against this.
But sincerely speaking, I am not comfortable with that Infectious Disease Bill. There was no need for that hurry. If we are saying that there is no vaccine yet for this virus, why are we in a hurry to legislate on a law on something that does not exist? There are still a lot of researches ongoing on the vaccine and various trends of this virus are manifesting now and then. Why then are you in a hurry to legislate a bill on it? It was not necessary.
Doing that gave the window for speculators and for those persons who are already saturated with the poor perception of the legislative House to now engage that window by saying that some international sponsors must have given the directive. That was the basis because of the approach to the presentation of the bill.
What is your take on the planned implementation of financial autonomy for State Assemblies and State Judiciary?
It is wrong to think that it’s about the Senate President or the Deputy Senate President, or the Speaker or his Deputy. It’s about the generality of the legislature. It’s basically getting worse by the day. In the sub-nationals, I can tell you that in the 36 states of the federation, I don’t think there’s any House of Assembly that has been able to pass at least five private members bill. The bills passed are always executive bills. And they cannot pass it without the consent of the governor. If you come to the national, the attitude of the leadership of the House is predominantly influenced by the disposition of the membership.
You cannot say it is the Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Senate President or the Deputy Senate President. It is a recurring effect of the poor leadership recruitment process. Some people have suddenly taken the Senate as a retirement place for governors. They take pension from their respective states as former governors and come to the National Assembly again and take allowances and salaries. That is why, I can tell you, the issue of local government autonomy, the issue of first line charge even with the president’s executive order is not going to work. You will realise that, that money will be sent down to the State Houses of Assembly, the Speaker will call other members. They will sign a resolution and take that money to the governor that, that is the contribution of the House towards the developmental efforts of the Executive.
APC in Akwa Ibom State had a poor outing during the last general elections. What went wrong?
I was at the centre of it. I was the spokesperson of the APC in that campaign and I can tell you that in politics, we did a lot of mass mobilisation and the level of acceptability was also fairly rated. Now, the outcome of that election is not the true reflection of campaigns and mobilisations. Politics has a character of warfare. Victory in a war does not reflect the amount of losses that one incurred. Remember, we contested against an incumbent and also remember that in every election, there are always complaints from either sides, whether you win or lose. There are always complaints of infractions, breach of processes and sympathies here and there. But what is key in my mind, in my research and theory, other than the registered political parties with INEC, there are four other unregistered political parties.
INEC in itself is an unregistered political party. The security agencies are also one component of an unregistered political party. The Judiciary has also shown clearly that they are very interested in our electoral democracy. I am not saying that they have not observed a balanced institutional integrity. What I am saying is that they are very crucial in the determination. The People are the fourth. So, if three are against you, no matter the level of your acceptability by the other one, you are going nowhere. If out of 1000 registered voters, 1000 people come out to vote, if the other three unregistered political parties are against you, then you are going nowhere.
Follow up question on whether zoning does not ensure fairness
Let me give you Akwa Ibom as an example, zoning is a general term. It is a mechanism intended to address perceived injustice, that is zoning. In Akwa Ibom, Obong Victor Attah is from Uyo senatorial district and he was a governor. He handed over to Godswill Akpabio from Ikot Ekpene senatorial district. Godswill handed over to Udom Emmanuel from Eket senatorial district, which other zone is left?
Will zoning work in Akwa Ibom in 2023?
The cycle of zoning in Akwa Ibom has ended. So, what will happen now is, everybody, including somebody from Governor Udom’s local government has the right now to contest in 2023. Somebody from Godswill Akpabio’s senatorial district has the right to contest. Somebody from Uyo has the right to contest. Whoever will emerge as the governor, the cycle will start from there. It’s common sense. Because if you say it should automatically go and start from Uyo, that means the Eket people are perpetually going to be on standby in every cycle of 16 years. But if an Eket man emerges in 2023, then again, Ikot Ekpene and Uyo will struggle for who emerges. We should share the waiting period.
Has the Governor of Akwa Ibom State performed well by your assessment?
Let me start from here. I will be very unfair to all the past governors if I want to assess them within the limits of my expectations. I believe that everybody from Gowon to Buhari, from Victor Attah to Udom, they all performed within the limitations of their ability and capacity and the circumstances they found themselves. So, no matter how you criticise them, and no matter what you say, they can’t do more than those limitations. That’s number one. Then number two, no matter how fair I will be in attempting to assess Udom, I will be sentimental because I will want to use my expectations to judge him. I will be unfair to him.
However, one thing we must be careful with is this. When Victor Attah emerged as the governor of Akwa Ibom State, his entry and exit were celebrated. Throughout his tenure, there was no problem. There was no money, but everybody celebrated him.
When Akpabio came, from his primaries, trouble started. It was very turbulent. Even when he won the primaries and when he became the governor, there was so much crisis that at a time so many things were burnt at the state secretariat till the end of his tenure. When he wanted to go, the coming in of Udom characterised a lot of misgivings and all sort of violence. To my mind, within the context of this explanation, Attah is the last governor Akwa Ibom State had. He is the last governor we had in Akwa Ibom State. What do I mean? He came in on the crest of peace, harmony, unity and oneness. Those who were in other political parties had access to Government House. Until he left, it was like that. He laid the foundation for so many projects.
During Attah’s time, I was the executive chairman of the state Ethical Commission. He gave me not only free hands, but all the support I needed.