Donald Duke has been battling with Prof. Jerry Gana over who should fly the flag of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) at the 2019 presidential election. He was the governor of Cross River State between May 1999 and May 29, 2007, as well as a former commissioner in the state.
In this interview, he spoke on the state of the nation and his political ambition.
Looking at your roles as commissioner in Cross River State and later the governor of the state, which of these would you say prepared you to lead Nigeria?
They all add up, being commissioner, particularly in the ministry I served, Finance, Budget and Planning gave me a sort of appreciation of the state. I prepared the budget of the state and its financing and the planning. I don’t think we have the office there now, it’s broken up, I combined the three offices, it gave me a good appreciation of the state and prepared me to govern the state. Having been commissioner of budget and planning, being governor prepared me, but before being governor, I was also a member of the National Economic Intelligence Committee and currently a member of the National Economic Council. It made me know the challenges of the Nigerian economy, the prospects, the opportunities, the shortfalls. You learn why things are not working and how to do things differently. By the time I stepped into being the governor of Cross River State, I had already acquired both local and national perspective of the issues that affect us and our overall growth as a people. Let me say this, we are a federation with federating units, each political units add to the totality of what we call federation of Federal Republic of Nigeria, but it’s not enough. There should also be economic units. It’s not just enough saying I occupy this land and I have this million number of people so I’m entitled to all the perks the federation affords me. What do I bring to the table, interesting thing is every state in this nation is viable enough to be an economic entity and that’s what we were able to prove in Cross River. Tourism is not a substantive economic activity, you got to make it happen and we were able to prove that. There’s no state in this country that’s not viable. There was a time some of the states survived on cotton and groundnuts. Not to talk of Middle-Belt where everything grows there. In Cross River we think of agriculture because we have vast land, you can literally grow anything in Cross River. Today, we are the largest oil palm producers in Nigeria and arguably the largest cocoa producers in Nigeria. When I left we were number two, but recently I was talking to a member of cocoa producers association of Nigeria and they said Cross River is actually number one arguably. Tourism in Cross River State creates a lot of jobs in various sectors. For a country and state to grow the people must have the money and pay their taxes. The success of the state or nation is dependent on the well being of the people. And that’s the critical problem with the Nigerian economy. For our nation to thrive our people must be economically doing well so that they can pay tax. We have 200 million people, how many of them pay taxes, because they don’t have any disposable income.
When you were governor did you have those three offices that you combined as commissioner?
I took over planning. As governor I wanted to handle planning myself. I had a tourism bureau and it was a well-staffed office. If I had a commissioner you will have conflicts in government. There’s a lot of conflicts in government in Nigeria. We have minister this and that. We put a team of well-trained people, we sent about 40 young people to the Jamaican tourism institute, which is right about the best in the world. They trained all these folks, established a tourism bureau. If we had any success it was based on the fact that we had people who were trained and not just the regular civil servants. I had about 15 commissioners, and if I become president I will have about 36 ministries because the constitution already enforces me to have 36 ministries. I’m not going to have Minister of State because that’s another area of conflict. And you are not going to increase the number of people you employ anywhere. Because if you take the Ministry of Transport, I will create four ministries there, you will have Ministry of Aviation, Port Services, Railway Services, Inland Waterways. That way you will have someone focused on railways and someone focused on the ports and so on. But today, you go to the airports you see Minister of Aviation picture then Rotimi Amaechi, but he’s not in charge of the airport. So, you don’t need to do that, you are already compelled by the constitution to have 36 ministries. Right now there are so many conflicts.
SDP is not particularly a new party, so is there something new about the SDP that you want Nigerians to know?
I’m the new kid on the block, truth is it’s a party that produced Abiola, but that was about 30 years ago, the subsequent generations have come forward and the party itself has to be reintroduced. But APC itself is also a new party, APC didn’t exist five years ago. That’s why I keep on saying the onus is to market the party right to the consciousness of Nigerians. You will ask yourself, I’m I voting for a party or person, regardless of what they say about the party, when you have a commander-in-chief, he’s going to call the shots. PDP in itself could be a viable platform, but the leadership of the party has been taken over by people who have a very poor concept of governance.
How prepared are you and your party?
There’s a lot of work to be done, and it will be done. It’s not just unique to the SDP. All the parties have lots of work. If you go round and take a survey in this country today three-third of the people you speak to will tell you they are not happy with APC. And rightly so, because a lot of hopes have been dashed. Many too recently have flawed PDP, it was during the time of PDP in government that the word impunity came alive, they would do anything and say to hell with anybody. And those people are still in play, the reason I shifted to another party was because the culture of the PDP was not going to change. You saw what played out in their primaries. The attitude in Rivers State, I couldn’t play in that field and I’m not one who if you can’t beat them, you join them. If you can’t beat them leave them, so I left. The problem with these two parties and it’s a national problem, we are not grooming the next generation, there’s no room for a young man in his late 20s or 30s to say let me join the political party and grow, let me make a career out of politics. The parties themselves have not opened a space. Here it’s the same people playing. You have heard the name Atiku forever, if you look at the folks who came out for presidential, there’s no young person there except you will say Tambuwal. If you look at the price of the forms, APC put their forms at N45 million, who’s going to have N45 million and do that. They say you can run, but they put the bar here so you can run, but can’t jump. All these things you are going to look at it because if you don’t train the next generation you are bound to fail. The only thing that takes them off the scene is death and it shouldn’t be that way. Everyone has his day, you play your part and go, why should I be struggling with my children. Look at one of the biggest advantages I had as governor was youth. But you see youth is one thing, experience is another. I was blessed to have a combination of both because I started early. Commissioner at the age of 30, I had lots of experience, but if I only had youth I will not take Cross River State anywhere, I will just be running around with a lot of energy and doing nothing. Youth is a virtue, but you are going to balance it with experience. If you don’t expose your young people and groom them fast enough inevitably sooner or later they will take over and they will take over unequipped and that’s the problem. I’m a very self-confident person, these two parties, are you happy with any of them? The onus is on SDP to show that we are ready to take over government, give us a chance. We need to convince Nigerians that we are ready.
What solutions will your party offer to stop insurgency in the country?
The Northeastern part of Nigeria is the poorest part of the country, it’s the part that has most children out of school. Now, the long term is economic rehabilitation and revitalization of the Northeast, the short-term, we been have fighting this Boko Haram insurgency for seven years now, longer than the Nigerian civil war, it has cost more lives than the Nigerian civil war, cost us more money than the civil war, we don’t have any intelligence, it’s very weak because after seven years we should have infiltrated Boko Haram if we were serious, that’s one of the failures of the military leadership of the time. The second thing is how well motivated are the soldiers? If you want people to go and put their lives on the line, motivate them. Don’t give them N500 to live on in a day in a war zone. The soldiers there are given N500 ration money, what I’m telling you is based on facts. Sometimes about 30 soldiers have to come together to bring up N15,000 to pull their resources so that they can feed. How do you intend to win a war if that’s your approach to it, you just can’t win. And the worst thing is that we are now carting away a lot of people and putting them in the IDP camps, we are breeding a new generation of very frustrated people. The women in IDP camps are being thoroughly abused. We are breeding a generation of angry Nigerians, totally loveless, we see them on our streets and yet when we ask the government about unemployment rate they tell you 15 percent, in which country?
Do you have problem with zoning of the presidency?
It’s unconstitutional; it’s not in the constitution. You can zone party offices because those are party offices, but national offices you can’t zone. You can’t zone where the governor of the state will come from, you can’t zone where the president will come from. Constitution has stated criteria for eligibility and you can’t go outside that.
Some people are of the opinion that you shouldn’t have to contest in the first place because your party’s constitution says that if the chairman is from the South, then the president must be from the North?
Let me humour those protesting after they lost the election. I’m I constitutionally adjudged able to run, the answer is yes. I met the constitutional requirements. The party’s constitution is subservient to any national constitution, thirdly the party’s constitution says where the president that emerges from a party is from one part of the country, the national chairman will come from the other part. Have I emerged as the president, I’m the presidential candidate and the constitution doesn’t mention presidential candidate, it just said president, so they are in a hurry. And it’s a prayer, if I emerge president, the national chairman will go to another part. This is now peculiar to the matter at hand, you never complain until you lose election. It doesn’t carry weight at all. We need to learn how to lose gracefully.
What has life thought you as a person generally?
Learn humility, it’s very difficult, but learn how to be humble, secondly don’t expect from others what you are not going to give them, thirdly don’t criticize a person until you are in the same boat with them. Above all, love, this society is the survival of the fittest, survival of the fittest is a loveless society, a society that has love is supportive. That’s how we all grew up in our communities, but here we want to be rich at the expense of everybody, not realizing that if I’m rich and everybody’s poor I’m an endangered specie. That’s the problem with Nigeria, deep down we are loveless people. You go to a hospital, you have a bullet wound and they say go and bring money first. Potentially, we are a wealthy country, the problem of Nigeria can be divided into two, the first is no productivity, the average Nigerian is doing nothing. Let me give you statistics, South African’s GDP 349 billion dollars, their population is 56 million people. Nigeria’s GDP is 375 billion and our population is 198 million people. So, when we shout that we are the largest economy in the world, it’s a function of our population not a function of productivity. Because the vast majority of us are doing nothing. You asked a question why I’m I contesting, that’s why I’m contesting. Atiku is busy telling us he created jobs, just because you made money, opportunistically doesn’t mean you understand the basic order of Nigeria. It’s parasitic depending on someone. Everyone should be able to generate his own income, and that way all the problems you face in election malpractice will fade, because you see when you are able to generate your own income, you can stand up and fend for yourself, nobody’s going to give you N5,000 to vote for them. When people are dependent on the goodwill of others, they lose their being, that’s why people get away with anything. You go to police station to fight for your right you are begging. Is this what we want to hand over to our children. When I look at CBN as a central bank, it’s only there to manage the value of the currency, they want the currency to be stable and affordable so that the rich men can keep on importing. A currency is a political instrument, if you want to achieve an export-driven economy, you keep your currency low so that your goods are affordable. You got to calibrate your currency that it allows you to import to an extent that it will also allow you to be more productive.