The National Chairman of Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Senator Emmanuel Ibok Essien, has lampooned those defecting from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), describing them as ‘stomach politicians’, who have skeletons in their cupboards.
In an interview with VINCENT KALU, Essien, a PDP Board of Trustees (BoT) member who represented Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District between 1999 and 2003, emphasised that the party has not zoned the presidency to any section of the country, as the committee set for that was yet to turn its report.
What is your view on the state of the nation?
It is very unfortunate and nobody had thought that Nigeria would deteriorate to this level, especially in the last six years. The level of kidnapping, banditry, insurgency, Boko Haram and the rest is becoming very frightening and threatening, and it shows the collapse of governance. As it stands now, nobody is secure in this country. The other day, the son of Senator Na’Allah was killed in Kaduna. Few days ago, we read that the children of the SSG of Katsina State government and his family members were kidnapped. So, where is the security in the country? It has completely collapsed. I call on the government of the day to look seriously in to the security architecture of the country; they should leave nepotism.
How can you take the security of the country and put in one clan? You put the security of the country in the hands of a certain religion and region, Muslim and the Fulani Northerners. You can’t do that in a multi-ethnic country. It means you are compromising security and there is probably an agenda that they are trying to enthrone in Nigeria. You could hear that even Miyetti Allah is saying that any state that passes anti-open grazing law, that they would forcefully take a land in the state. That means there is complete breakdown of law and order in the country; people can take the law into their hands, people are becoming helpless.
The other day, the Katsina governor said people should be free to carry arms to defend themselves. It means that there is no more government. We are praying that Nigeria should wake up. It is time for the country to be restructured so that every state can take responsibility for some of the things that are happening in the states.
You mentioned restructuring. A burning issue now is the judgment of a High Court in Rivers State that gave the state the power to collect VAT generated in the state. However, Governor Bello Masari of Katsina State and other Northern leaders said that the judgement cannot stand. What does this portend?
If there is a court pronouncement and somebody says it cannot stand, it means that the person will be taking the law into his hands. There are three tiers of government – The legislature, executive and the judiciary. The job of the legislature is to make laws; the judiciary interprets the law, while the executive implements it.
If the law establishing VAT has been interpreted by a court of competent jurisdiction, and it says, it is the responsibility of the state government to collect VAT, then it is for everybody to obey it. Most of the things happening is because some of the laws are not challenged in courts. With this judgement, it is the responsibility of the states to collect their VAT. That in itself means that restructuring has started because every state now collects its VAT, and there are some states that would not collect VAT on certain items. For instance, a state that prohibits the consumption of alcohol will not be entitled to VAT from alcohol consumed in other states. I’m happy with that court decision, not only Rivers State, other states should start collecting and retaining their VAT.
When Petroleum Industrial Bill was signed into law, PANDEF and other Niger Delta groups were shouting that the law cannot stand. Since then, nothing has been heard about it from you people. Were you blowing hot air? What is your next move?
Our position up till this moment is that we still have not accepted that law. We have not accepted and would not accept it.
Are you going to challenge it in court or what?
Of course, we are going to challenge it in court. We are still consulting and studying the law, and will take appropriate action.
You are a member of the Board of Trustees of PDP, and an exodus has hit your party. What do you think is luring the members to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC)?
Which exodus? Where?
You have lost three governors, some senators and members of House of Representatives in recent times. Is this not a big blow for a party that is trying to find its feet?
Most of them leaving are stomach politicians and they are not principled. Sometimes, you have skeleton in your cupboard and you are trying to run for comfort. You remember that the former National Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole once said that anybody who comes over to APC that his sins were forgiven. Most of those people, if you check their records, they are going for what I call, ‘safe landing’. But, when you commit a crime, no matter how long it takes that crime will look for you.
So, whether you run to APC to escape judgement, but on the judgement day, you still pay for it. Some of them have started regretting. The Ebonyi State governor said if the presidency doesn’t come to South-Eeast, he would regret every going to APC, I read it in the paper. You can see already, what he was hoping for; that illusion, that mirage he was looking at, the reality has begun to dawn on him and many others. Wait a little, you will see what will happen in the next few months into 2023; you would be amazed how many people would be returning to PDP, because it is the party to reckon with. How can this other party, which in the last six years it has run the country has collapsed everything and you think it is a party to go? That means you want Nigeria to close because if it continues to rule after 2023, Nigeria will be shut down. I’m very confident of many people coming back to PDP in the next six months.
But PDP is accused of laying the foundation for this rot that the country is experiencing today?
Our party didn’t lay foundation for any rot. Assuming that our party laid the foundation for the rot and you came in to clean up the rot, but, in six years, you have succeeded in collapsing the country. Why didn’t you allow the country to be the way you met it instead of allowing it to collapse? This party ruling Nigeria today has nothing to offer Nigerians other than suffering. Everyone is affected, even the very high; those on top are also affected. None is left out. They don’t have the capacity for the running of the country. Nepotism has eaten deep into the polity, which is also killing the country. PDP is coming up to clean up the mess APC has created in the country. How much was petrol and diesel when PDP was in power? How much was the dollar then and how much is it now? How many billions of naira was sent of petrol subsidy and today how much are we spending on subsidy? PDP did well for this country; it brought this country to become the largest economy in Africa, but today, we are one of the poorest countries in the world. PDP made this country a secure country, but today we are ranked third as the most dangerous country in the world. Very soon, we may be the number one country in the world in terms of criminality, violence, terrorism and the most unsafe place to enter in the world. It is very unfortunate that this is happening to our dear country.
PDP was founded on rotation principle between the North and the South, is this going to be upheld in 2023?
The PDP has set up a zoning committee in the last NEC meeting. We wait to see what the committee will come up with. So, I cannot really comment because I was at that meeting where the zoning committee was authorised to be set up. I cannot comment until the zoning committee has finished their work.
Like PDP, APC is also facing crisis. It is said that while the ruling party is asphyxiating, the opposition party is haemorrhaging. With this scenario, what do Nigerians expect in 2023?
As you can see, 2023 is by the corner. Even INEC is jittery over what is happening in the party and the number of court orders flying around. These orders are from courts of coordinate jurisdiction. The National Judicial Council (NJC) should call the judges to order before they make a mess of our democracy. There is always internal wrangling in a party; you cannot stop that, but the ability for you to come back together and move together and win election is what is important. In my party, we are doing that at the moment.