From Judex Okoro, Calabar
In this interview, Daniel Asuquo, representing Akamkpa/ Biase federal constituency in the House of Representatives, gives reasons why he dumped the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for Labour Party (LP).
Asuquo, a former council chairman now running for the Cross River South senatorial seat in LP speaks on various issues.
Before the PDP primaries, it was alleged that some stakeholders within the party lobbied you to step down from running for the governorship race and go for the Senate ticket and you turned it down. Then after you lost out of the governorship primary, you allegedly approached the party leadership to try to convince the PDP senatorial candidate for the South to step down for you to take the slot and they refused. Is that what motivated you to defect to LP to realise your political ambition?
Let me state here that I don’t accept belittlement in any form because in my political carrier, I have never been anointed. The process in PDP then was an open contest. So, as a southern person, I came out to contest for governorship because the South was a governor 16 years ago and I stand for equity and fairness. So being interested, I went round and consulted widely, telling them that this position is supposed to come down to the South after Governor Donald Duke in line with zonal principles enshrined in PDP. So, let me know whosoever that said he engaged me or offered me anything because governorship ticket is not offered to anybody on a platter of gold. I canvassed for it. Somehow, that kind of engagement happened two days to the primaries in one of the stakeholders’ houses. So, when people try to come out and say they offered me the Senate ticket seat, I rejected sounds very insulting to my personality after I have done PDP a favour several times. They were not doing me any favour. So, nobody offered anything and could not have offered me the Senate ticket because it was not in their pockets. Remember too that elections in Nigeria are not cheap. So, I ran for the governorship primary election in PDP and I had no sponsor. Nobody including former senator, Reps or governor supported me. I came out believing in the power of the party and unfortunately, the Electoral Act had some issues. But my grouse with PDP was that they abandoned the zoning it championed at some point. What happened was that after the opposition party, PDP, decided to play their politics the way those in government may not even have played it. I decided to take a second look at the party. Besides, people with internal and external influences destroyed the zoning. I stayed to see it to the end and convinced myself that this is not the house I should belong. At the end of it, I moved on after series of consultations with my people on the way forward.
So, moving to another party, LP, was a response to the call from my people. I could not have said let me stay and support PDP or its Presidential candidate because the principles of zoning enshrined in the constitution were not followed in my state. Then in the South, I would come and align myself with what I see as the same issue of unfairness where the APC governor and southern senatorial candidate as well as PDP senatorial candidate for the South are from Odukpani local government area and above all from the Efik tribe. The PDP Deputy Governorship candidate is from Akpabuyo, where is the place of Akamkpa and Biase local government areas in this arrangement? These are the three positions we share among the seven local government areas in the South. The question is: Must we be subservient forever? I fight for the people, I fight for justice. So, I told my people there is no room in PDP and APC, but APC, in fairness to them, consulted me. I told them to readjust the zoning of the Senate seat or give the ticket to one of the sons of Akamkpa, who was in the race for the Senate seat before they took it away from him. When they failed, I left for LP, which came out to express that aspiration for the people. So, my running for Senate is to achieve that unity, fairness and equity that my people are clamouring for, even though I believe in back to South. However, I would support the LP candidate and I expect my people in the South to vote for me to actualise that peaceful co-existence in the South.
Nigerians have accused PDP of mismanaging the economy of this country for 16 years and you were part of it. Now, you have defected to Labour Party (LP) to contest for Senate in 2023, why do you think your constituents should trust you with their mandate again?
Let me point out here that I did not start my political carrier in PDP. I started my political carrier in All Peoples Party (APP) in 1998 and became the Akampka local government council chairman. The party later transformed into All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and I later moved to PDP because I believed that PDP was delivering the dividends of democracy as expected, at that time. I was given an opportunity then to become a pioneer director-general of the state electrification Agency (SEA). Then, we delivered on the promises of Sen. Liyel Imoke administration. In those days, we used to go into rural communities and canvass for votes and I used to tell them that as council chairman and DG of electrification agency, I delivered with verifiable projects that were done. However, I made those promises as a person and not as a party but our constitution mandates us to contest under a political party.
So, the people trusted me and when I contested in PDP, I was elected into the House of Representatives. As characteristic of my style of politics, I promised to be a loud voice for the people of Akamkpa/Biase federal constituency. I also said I would attract some projects to my people. As at today, I did that as a person representing them. I did not do it as a party. I have given over 170 employment opportunities cutting cross the Navy, the Army, Police, Prison, FIRS, power agencies, etc. in the 21 wards of Akamkpa/Biase federal constituency. I have also verifiable projects attracted by me including roads, markets, hospitals, schools, transformer and solar lights. I have also conducted three medical retreats for my people; attracted major water projects to many communities. I have projects at Ekori, Ikom, Bekwarra and across the state. I attracted the biggest power project in Cross River worth N32bn. It is the 132 circuit line from Abakaliki down to Obudu to Ikom in addition to other electrification projects in the state. So, it is not about being a member of the party that failed. So, I cannot take responsibility of PDP at any level because I delivered at my own level.
Labour Party, especially the Presidential candidate, does not believe in lobbying the electorate and as a seasoned politician, do you share such view considering the nature of our modern day politicking?
We know that elections the world over are not cheap. Even in America, people contribute to candidates and you hear hundreds of millions realised from such donations. It is only in Nigeria that people expect that politicians must bring money to buy votes. So, we need to move away from that kind of mentality and that is why I support the policy of the CBN to change certain denominations and also go cashless; let us see where all these money bags would bring that money from to buy voters. LP Presidential candidate did not say he would not spend money on the logistics. No! We print posters, banners, hiring buses to go for campaigns and rallies. So, we are also contributing to the economy. What we are saying is that LP is against selling and buying of votes; against inducing voter because after that, they would not go back to the electorate till the next four years. That’s why we say “no shishsi! I, therefore, call on Cross Riverians not to bring themselves to that level where they can be bought over cheaply.
There are rumours making the rounds that you have an alliance with some political party ahead of the election and that is why your party is preaching back to South even when your governorship candidate is from central senatorial district
I am not officially aware that there is any alliance between LP and any other party. But let me say that the 2023 election is not going to be based on political party issues. So, when we get there, we shall cross it. However, our governorship candidate, who doubles as the chairman of our party, LP, is from the South by virtue of the fact that he has lived in Calabar all his life, and by way of where he is going to vote, which is Calabar. On that note, he is from the South. If one of the governorship candidates says that his mother is from one of the local government area in the South and therefore, he is from the South; why should somebody now deny our governorship candidate the right to come from the South too? So, we are for back-to-South.
Shortly after your defection, the APC took you to Court alleging that your emergence in LP did not follow due process and the federal High Court Calabar ruled against your candidacy. Is it not a setback for you and the party?
It is not a setback in anyway. Litigations and complaints are part of the electoral processes. But let me say that those who are looking for victory through the court are on a wild goose chase because I would run the senatorial race to the end. Indeed, the All Progressives Congress senatorial candidate for the southern senatorial district had dragged me to court over allegations that the LP did not follow due process in conducting the senatorial primary. Delivering judgment on the matter, Justice A.R. Muhammed nullified the primaries conducted in Calabar by the Labour Party for the Cross River State Southern Senatorial District. The court disqualified me and ordered my immediate delisting as a candidate by the Independent National Electoral Commission. However, let me also say that I scaled through all electoral processes to emerge and those who are fighting are just afraid of our going to the field.
For us, in LP, we are ready and prepared ahead of 2023. I and the party Presidential candidate, Dr. Peter Obi, looked at the Federal High Court judgment and decided to appeal against it. So until Appeal Court decides otherwise, I am still the authentic candidate of LP. No amount of backyard politicking and shenanigans would deter us. I assure the people of the southern senatorial district that your mandate would be achieved at the appropriate time through me. The judgment has nothing to do with any other body including the party other than myself. I have sought relief at the Court of Appeal and we would get relief. Even at that, we have commenced campaigns.