Former National Chairman of the Peoples Progressive Alliance (PPA) and current member of the APC, Larry Esin contested for the governorship election in his state, Akwa-Ibom in 2011 on the platform of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). In this interview the Oron indegene tells us about his political journey, the Buhari-led administration and other captivating issues in the polity.
How have you been coping during this pandemic?
For me, the pandemic has been a period of rest and reflection. I have a positive feeling about the pandemic, it is a reset I feel the entire world needed. I’m sure that even the earth has benefited from the shutdown. The level of pollution caused by global industrial activity has in so many ways been curbed during the three months shutdown and so the earth has had time to rest, and we to reflect. The world is more energized now, unfortunately we’ve lost people all over the world; even close family members too. I lost an uncle in the U.S to the pandemic as well but aside from that, I have been coping just like everybody else.
You have been in the political scene for quite some time now. How has your political journey been so far?
I’d rather look at it as being in public service because I view politics as public service. I started my public service career in 1999 when Gov. Donald Duke was elected into office, he gave me my first appointment into government and then in 2006, I contested the PDP governorship primary in my home state of Akwa-Ibom. I left the PDP thereafter when I met General Buhari In 2010. I was impressed by his sense of duty and genuine commitment to a unified Nigeria and the tenets of good governance, equity and justice. He had an appealing vision for Nigeria, so, I joined forces with him and many others in founding the CPC. I was responsible for establishing the CPC in my home state and to a large extent in Cross-River. Encouraged by the promise and hope that CPC held for Nigeria, I decided to contest the governorship election again in 2011 and became the candidate of the CPC in Akwa-Ibom in 2011. In 2015, I still had my belief in Gen.Buhari and worked with the Buhari Campaign Organization (BCO) and the APC; an effort that brought the current administration into office. So, I’ve spent a good part of the last 20 years participating in public service endeavours.
Are we still going to see you running for governor in the near future?
I don’t know. Never say Never, I am still a public servant at heart even though I am a business man now and I’m quite happy doing what I’m doing. But, public service is what I was born into and grew up with. My late father and his brothers were all public servants. My late father was legal adviser to the Governor-General of Nigeria, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe And later became the first Attorney General of the South Eastern State and ended his public service career as a judge. My mother started her career in the Ministry of Education as a teacher. My father’s older brother Dr. Esin A. Esin was a minister in the first republic. So, I grew up knowing public service and it was preached at home that you should give back to the community and carryout your duty to your country and it doesn’t matter in what capacity. So, if I’m called upon to serve my country, I will. But I am not sure I feel the same way about elective office anymore, especially given my experience with our electoral process; especially at the primary level. Having said that, you never know; my options are still open.
What do you make of President Buhari’s administration since its inception in 2015?
I think one has to be honest in answering questions like this, my view of the Buhari administration is that in the first term unfortunately, the president had suffered ill health during the entire four years it seems and so, the country never got to experience the real Buhari; the vision he had for this country was not effectively realised in the first term by virtue of the fact that he was ill. The lieutenants assigned the responsibility of implementing that vision, may have lacked an understanding of President Buhari’s vision as well as the constitutional authority to drive that vision. Thank God the President’s health has been fully restored and we are now beginning to see the real Buhari emerge. I just hope he has enough time to get back on track and land the country where he wants to or where he had planned to in his eight years as president. The man Buhari, has not changed; people that are not close enough to him have the wrong opinion about him. I was close enough to him during the CPC era and also during the 2015 campaigns. He is still a man of integrity. Recently, I was talking to a former MD of the Niger-Delta Development corporation(NDDC) about the crisis in the Niger-Delta and he said to me that this is the first President since the founding of the NDDC that has not made any demands on the NDDC. If you ask most people that work for President Buhari, they will tell you that he does not interfere; he delegates and allows you the space to work. That is a mark of good leadership. As President, if you delegate responsibility to a minister or whoever in your government, that person should have the capacity to implement that responsibility effectively; the President does not have to tutor his Ministers. When I worked in Cross-River State under Governor duke as head of Tourism, I was delegated responsibilities and the the governor expected me to live up to those responsibilities because it is practically impossible to direct and tutor every cabinet member as President or Governor; especially where you are dealing with political appointees from all over the country …. most of which you had no prior working relationship. Most people do not also know that he is largely de-tribalised.
Do you not think that a more hands-on approach to governance would have helped detect the fraudulent practices of the suspended EFCC chairman, Magu, earlier.
Buhari has been in office for five and half years. As I said earlier on, he was mostly ill during the first four of those five years. Most of what happened during the first four years can be blamed on the fact that he did not have the opportunity to steer his government in the direction and manner he had envisioned due to his ill health. Today in his first year of his second term, we began to witness and feel the Buhari that Nigerians has voted for overwhelmingly in 2015 where no substantiated allegation of corruption is left idle. Hitherto, these allegations were left mostly unattended. But now that he is fully on seat, these allegations have come to the fore and are receiving executive attention; the President has taken action and the Magu case has been filed. Buhari, the man, the corruption fighter is still very much intact. Furthermore, as a leader or Head of government, President Buhari does not react to rumours and social media reports; he react to facts. He weighs the facts and takes necessary action, albeit outside our expected timeline. As President, you can’t afford to react to rumours and biased narratives on social media.
What about the allegation of sexual harassment by a former M.D of NDDC against the Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs? How do you think Buhari will handle it?
As regards the Minister of the Niger-Delta Affairs, the President I believe should and will wait for the facts on the allegation to emerge and then he will take a decision that will be in the best interest of the government and the country. That is good leadership.
Due to the recent events surrounding the suspended APC National Chairman, Oshiomhole, which led to the defection of the Edo State governor, Obaseki, to the PDP. Is it fair to say that the state has now become a PDP state?
I do not believe that the departure of one man would have such a debilitating impact on the APC and a whole state and deprive APC of victory. Let us not forget that Obaseki as governor succeeded as a member of the APC; you can’t therefore ignore the strength of the platform that facilitated the success he recorded. Without the party, APC behind Obaseki, he would not have been able to achieve what he did. So, the party does have a lot of credit in the achievement of Obaseki. Honestly, I know that these series of events have disrupted the momentum of APC in Edo State but there is still time to regain momentum and we will regain momentum in Edo as a party. If you assess what both parties have achieved in Edo State, beginning with Oshiomhole’s tenure and also into Obaseki’s first term, you will realize that the APC has achieved far more than the PDP have since they have both been in power. So, I don’t think that it is about Obaseki and Ize Iyamu, I think that the Edo people will look at which party has done the most in Edo State and I think that is what is going to determine who comes out on top.
Can you shed more light on the controversy during the 2006 governorship election in your state when you almost became the candidate of the PDP? What happened and why didn’t it come to pass?
The bottomline of what happened in 2006 was that the state caucus of the PDP during the tenure of Obong Victor Attah had agreed that the governorship position would rotate to Ikot Ekpene senatorial district before coming to the Eket senatorial district where I come from. The agreement was based on ethnic nationalities and the three major ethnic nationalities in the state are the Ibibios who are the largest, the Annangs who are the second largest and the Oron people who are the third largest ethnic nationality. And it was agreed then in 1988 when the state was founded, that the governorship seat would first rotate amongst those three. After H.E Obong Victor Attah had served as Governor, the caucus of the party in Akwa Ibom believed that the governorship position should go to the Annangs . However, the same caucus of the party decided in late November of 2006 that the governorship seat, even though it had been zoned to Ikot Ekpene senatorial district, should be opened up for the two minority groups, being the Oron and the Annangs to contest and whichever one won the governorship then, then the other one would have a go in 2015. As a result of this late caucus decision, I was the last person to get into the race. I got into the race just a month before the primaries in December 2006. Up until that caucus decision, I was running for the Senate.
So, having gotten into the race so late, the chances of me winning were slim but nonetheless, I contested the governorship and did the best that I could with the little time that I had to campaign across all the local governments in the state but when the result came out, I came third. We had almost 40 candidates in that election with some bigwig politicians contesting in that race, But, none of us scored enough votes for a clear victory, not even Akpabio. There was supposed to be a run off between him and the runner up in the person of Udoma Ekarika who happened to be the son-in-law of Obong Attah. I don’t know if you would recall but our primaries in 2006 was very contentious, it was cancelled twice; it was at the third try that we succeeded in having a primary and so there was no time for a run-off between the first two. There were also issues with Udoma’s candidacy to the extent that he was eventually disqualified by the national body. I then moved up and became second, there was still no time for a re-run between Akpabio and I and so the only solution was a consensus arrangement which Obong Victor Attah in his own wisdom called the meeting of the state caucus and decided that I would be the consensus candidate of the party. At the caucus meeting, our Annang brothers insisted on the earlier agreement that the governorship seat would come to the Annangs and I was asked to step down.
Are you a fan of Gov Emmanuel Udom who is widely regarded as a technocrat and what is your opinion about his administration?
I am one of those people that like to wait to assess the impact of governance on the governed. It is difficult to access the full extent of such impact during the life of an administration. Right now, it is all about commissioning projects and that is the easy part. You build a hospital and commission it but five years down the line, it no longer operates as a hospital again; the question then becomes was it or was it not a successful project. So, I will like to wait until Gov. Emmanuel Udom has left office, then we can look at his tenure and see the impact of his programmes and policies and project. As an individual, Gov Udom Emmanuel is a decent man; I think he is doing the best that he can in the circumstance he has found himself. The one thing you can say about Akwa Ibom today is that it has become largely peaceful . During Gov Akpabio’s time, we had major insecurity problems in the state and Udom has been able to quell that and that is a major achievement as far as I am concerned, But anything outside of that, I think it is best we wait till when it is done and then assess the impact.