From Joe Effiong, Uyo
Chief Nduese Essien was two term member of the House of Representatives for Eket Federal Constituency of Akwa Ibom State, former minister for lands, housing and urban development and former member of the National Conference and a foundation member of PDP in Akwa Ibom State. In this interview, Essien opines that PDP would soon return to power at the federal level but he feels the ousted PDP federal government didn’t treat Akwa Ibom State well.
What have you been doing since you left power?
After my exposure at the national level since 1999, each time I finished my tenure at the national level, I usually came back home to relate with my people and also offer myself as a connection for them at the national level. Between 2007 and 2010, I was between Akwa Ibom and Abuja until I was appointed into the Federal Executive Council and even there, I was also relating with my constituency back home. I do not believe in staying away from home, because of a national appointment. My national exposure is basically to create a link between the individual and national politics. This has been my approach. It keeps me apprised of what is happening at home as well as what is happening at the national level.
Almost two years ago, the PDP lost out at the national level. What’s your rating of the present government with regards to the economy?
First of all, let me address the issue of the PDP losing out at the national level. My reaction is that break was necessary. PDP, having run the government for 16 years, was regarding itself as the alpha and omega of Nigerian politics and even boasted that it would rule for 60 years and in the process, the PDP assumed far too much, regarding itself as infallible and unchallengeable. Consequently, it ran into series of blunders that could have been prevented with regular assessment. So, this break has given the party enough opportunity to reassess itself, so that when it gets back to power, it will act differently. Fortunately for them too, the APC did not prepare to run a government. They were only concerned about pushing the party in power out, maybe without even expecting that it would succeed. It has succeeded but it’s finding it difficult to run a successful government.
You raised an issue about PDP possibly getting back to power. Do you foresee that happening very soon?
The PDP will definitely get back to power, because APC has not been able to hold itself. It also has some internal issues just like the PDP. Some Nigerians disapprove their performances to the extent that they are either looking at the PDP coming back or another party coming to change the administration of the APC. So, there is an opening at the national level for positive change in 2019.
Let me also add here that the internal disagreement in PDP at the national level is self-imposed because the governors that invited Ali Modu Sheriff to run the party for them made a very serious blunder despite the advice of several Nigerians that knew Sheriff very well. We saw it coming that this man did not come with good intentions and that certainly he may have come with a plan designed by enemies of the party to come and scatter the party and make APC a dominant party in the country. So, that should be a lesson to people who come into office to always endeavour to relate with those who have been there before and those who have held office for a long time, to understand political interest better than those that are just coming in.
Let’s still get back to your assessment of the economy under the present federal administration…
The situation of Nigeria’s economy at present cannot be blamed on any specific government. It’s the cumulative effect of several misdeeds of the past that has led to the near collapse of the present economy. You know Nigeria is a country that is heavily dependent on oil. Over the years, we have not taken charge of the production of oil ourselves; it has been in the hands of expatriates. And they, together with the connivers, did whatever they liked. This dragged on for years. In 1999 when the National Assembly was first constituted, a number of us had the first exposure in the industry and we found a very deplorable situation where Nigeria had no control over its oil production. We noticed that nearly everything in the industry was handled by expatriates. The equipment that were used for both control and production were brought in by expatriates and managed by them. Agencies that were set up to regulate the processes were bribed or induced to taking their own share of the loot. This continued for years and so we lost a lot of our resources through this process.
Again, revenue that came to government was also looted by the people in government. I am saying this authoritatively, because now you can see the amount of money that Nigerians own. Nigerians are now talking of ownership of cash in billions and you begin to ask what they will use such money for; certainly not for productive purposes. It’s just a crude accumulation of wealth with no positive intentions. If you accumulate so much wealth, what do you expect your children to come and do? If they come to see too much, they will find a way of squandering it. We have had this system for a long time and the most dangerous situation that promoted looting is the fact that, in Nigeria, the oil belongs to nobody and so it’s everybody’s. Whoever comes into the petroleum industry in Nigeria is coming as a thief.
The oil companies are stealing, the government is stealing and Nigerians are stealing. All of them are looking for a way of grabbing as much as possible from the industry. So, it’s still incumbent on Nigerians to let the oil belong somewhere so that there will be a direct responsibility for the exploitation of our resources. That’s why we are clamouring that each state should be directly responsible for their resources. It’s then that you will have people on the spot to control the process of the production of oil otherwise we will remain where we are.
Going back to your question of who is responsible for the economic woes of Nigeria, the blame is not only on the present government but also on previous governments, beginning from the military since 1966. It has been a gradual process; those who came in as military leaders in 1966 were more god-fearing people and were more mature people too. But the ones that came after them saw the opening in the system to exploit and made wealth for themselves. And it degenerated to the situation where the civilian government even did worse. Even the present government is not doing any differently, because we have heard of people who are accumulating so much but since they are in government, they feel protected. Again, you will also see that a lot of people who are running from the PDP to go and join the APC are just going for that protection so that as APC members, they will not be persecuted by the present government.
You were once Chairman, House Committee on Anti-corruption. What do you make of the attack by most Nigerians on the Senate over its rejection of Mr Ibrahim Magu as the EFCC boss?
It’s provided in several laws of the country that a nominee of the president has to be confirmed by the Senate. That confirmation does not mean that the Senate should go over the past of the individual; it’s a screening process. If the Senate screens and finds the person unfit for the position, he should be rejected. Magu appears to have fallen into that category of being found unfit for Senate confirmation and so he was rejected. But because the government does not believe in its nominee being rejected, it had to find some other reasons to insist that he should be accepted. Magu had been found unfit by the Department of Security Services (DSS) and in writing, they advised the Senate that this is the man’s background, based on that, the Senate rejected him. I do not see any need for these attacks on senators just because of the rejection of one nominee of the president. Members of the National Assembly are Nigerians from the same backgrounds as other Nigerians. They too may have their own wrongs following them to the Senate, but a few wrongs of some members of the Senate should not be used to castigate the Senate as being corrupt. Not all Nigerians outside the Senate can be said to be all corrupt and in the same way, you cannot classify all senators as corrupt. So, it’s simple; a nominee was screened and found unfit for the position and was rejected. The matter should end there.
What’s your take on the Senate’s insistence that the Customs boss should appear before it in Customs uniform?
When someone is appointed to a position, he’s expected to accept the rules and regulations binding the office that he has been appointed into. An Inspector General of Police is expected to have risen from the ranks of the police force and so he is a policeman. It’s the same thing in the army and other forces. So, Nigerian Customs is a paramilitary organization. I watched a programme of the Customs where they recovered contraband goods and all the officers there were in uniform.
I just imagined how all those senior officers of the Customs would be in their uniforms and their head would be in mufti. It’s simple logic. It cannot be so. If you want to be the head of an organization, you have to behave as the head of that organization. So, as the head of the organization, you should be seen to be acting and dressing as a member of that organization. I think this is just another case of levity. The man just feels that he is too superior as a military officer to be wearing customs uniforms. Why was he appointed if he was not ready to obey the regulations of the Customs service? I hope the APC will not imbibe the tendency of impunity, which we are now all complaining about of the past governments.
Do you think whistle blowing is a better way of fighting corruption?
Whistle blowing is important in the fight against corruption. If you are fighting corruption, then you must be able to get information about corrupt practices and that is why the whistle blowing act was introduced and incorporated into the fight against corruption. When a whistle blower gives information, he is expected to be protected, because the information he gives is in the interest of the crusade against corruption and in the interest of the nation. Whistle blowing is a necessary ingredient in the fight against corruption and should be encouraged.
That is why people who have hidden money even in the banks are now being exposed. This will send a message to future looters that if you loot you will not have a place to keep it. Corrupt Nigerians are now afraid of sending their money abroad because of exposure by foreign banks and if you keep it at home, someone will get to know about it. So, that will automatically reduce corruption, because you do not have anywhere to hide it, you will not take it; you will allow it to stay where it should stay.
You are from Eket Senatorial District of the state and you have lost that senatorial district to the APC. Would you say that this is as a result of poor management of the PDP at the state level?
Eket Senatorial District produced the governor for Akwa Ibom State. Even though the governor is PDP at the state level, at the federal level, it’s another party that’s in control. Like I mentioned earlier, people have various reasons for changing political parties. When the senator left PDP, he said that he left because of the crisis in the party at the national level. We know that there is only disagreement of leadership at the national level. If the party was in crisis at the national level where another party is in charge of government, what was the basis for a senator leaving his own party at senatorial district level where his party is dominant to go and join another party, which is not there at the senatorial district?
So obviously, it’s for selfish reasons that he abandoned the people that sent him to the Senate to join another party. Before he even left, he never for once came back home to interact with his people and after he left, he has also not come back home to interact with his APC members because the APC is not there on ground. Like I said earlier, I think it was an attempt by the senator to run away from his responsibilities to his constituency. Now nobody can hold him responsible for the remaining part of his tenure at the Senate. He is neither responsible to the PDP that is dominant in the state nor to the APC that is not there in his senatorial district.
Do you not see this affecting the fortunes of the PDP in 2019?
Other people who have defected are mainly those who are looking forward to getting some benefits from the other party that is at the federal level. There have been some key appointments of Akwa Ibom indigenes at the federal level. So, some people, who feel that they can make some benefits from there, are running there to see if they can get some benefits. We have heard of cases of people who have been asked to defect before they are given a contract or before they are paid their outstanding at various organizations that are controlled by the Federal Government. So, they are just going there because they expect something. As soon as those gains are no longer forthcoming, they will return to the PDP.
There seems to be more appointments of Akwa Ibom indigenes in the present administration than when PDP was at the centre and the state levels of leadership. What do you make of this?
It’s very true that Akwa Ibom State has benefited from more federal appointments in this administration than in previous administrations. That’s mainly, because the state is controlled by another party and the Federal Government controlled by the APC is trying to make some in-roads into Akwa Ibom and one of the ways they can do that is to appoint people from here to form a nucleus of support for the APC in the next elections. That is principally the aim of those appointments. We appreciate that the appointments are coming; although to be sincere, the PDP did not treat Akwa Ibom well throughout its tenure at the federal level. Well, I know there were some situations that created those losses for Akwa Ibom.
Among them was the absence of leadership at the federal level, because at times you find out that the leader in the state also wants to be leader at the federal level and it frustrates the efforts of the people who have been there representing the state. Second, was that when revenue started flowing into Akwa Ibom, we behaved as if we were too comfortable and rich not to want anything from the Federal Government and so we lost out. Remember that even at the elections, Akwa Ibom was treated as self-sufficient and could cater for itself without help from the Federal Government. These are the things we need to try to prevent from happening again. Let us use this opportunity that we have now of an effective government at the state level and some sympathy at the federal level to combine the two to build a stronger state.
Do you see the PDP winning the governorship election in the state in 2019?
At present, I do not see the possibility of another party taking over the governance of Akwa Ibom state in 2019. You know it takes some years to build structure from the ward level to the local government level and to the state level. Other parties now coming to Akwa Ibom are just beginning the process of building and before they can attain it, I think we should be thinking beyond 2019. In 2019, no other party will be strong enough to form a structure that will remove PDP from office in the state. PDP has taken time since 1998 to build a structure and strengthen itself at the base. Till today, people still know and remember PDP as the only party here. Others are insignificant. It’s only in states that two or three parties share the power base that you have found changes; but the state that are one party like Rivers, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom and Delta states cannot be taken over by other parties.
With the defections going on at the national level, don’t you think that would affect the dominance of the PDP in the states you have mentioned with time?
The defection of National Assembly members cannot be a determinant of the future of the party.
What if the Minority Leader of PDP in the Senate, Senator Godswill Akpabio joins the fray?
If the present minority leader in the National Assembly ever defects, it will be a strong capitulation for the PDP, because the present minority leader already has a base at the state level. If he defects, he will be going with that strong base. But knowing him for who he is, he is not likely to defect. The other people, who are defecting, do not even have a base to defect with. Their defection has a very negligible effect on the future decisions of the area they represent. That is where the difference comes in. The minority leader comes from a strong home base. Some of the defectors at the National Assembly do not even have a base. They were put there through the influence of other people who are still within the party.
What in your opinion is responsible for the seeming diminished impact of the state at the federal level?
I think it’s the selection process that’s responsible for the performance of the people at the national level. I vividly remember that in 1999, the selection processes was solely dependent on the popularity of the individual in their constituency. So, a lot of people that won the elections in 1999 did so, because they were popular and mature enough to be there. But in 2003, imposition and impunity started and so the politics of representation started to decline. I know of a situation where someone would send his PA and even his cook to represent the people. When that happens, you do not expect the quality of representation to be the same as the one by the people of the constituency. I still hope that we will get to a point where the electoral process would allow the people to actually vote and produce their representatives.
Akwa Ibom people tend to peter out after a brief showing in the Senate or House of Reps or even as a minister whereas you see people from other states rising and garnering more experience. What’s responsible for this?
I don’t think I will agree with you. I am an Akwa Ibom person who also represented my people. I have remained relevant ever since, but that Akwa Ibom people don’t always seem to remain relevant after their initial exposure as elected or appointed is, because when one person emerges and holds office, many other people in Akwa Ibom are battling to bring him down so that next time they may also go. So, in the process, we tend to bring down all those who have made a name so that a nincompoop can just go and make a name for himself and then come back home. We do not sustain the building of leadership and representation. It’s always good that if somebody served at a lower level, instead of throwing him away from that lower level, you let him go to the next level and grow and become more experienced and mature. You can even look at the National Assembly for instance with some members of 18 years stewardship and as such, you don’t expect a new member to head a committee when members of 12 years would also be there. There has to be somebody that has knowledge and experience of what is done at the level to become a committee chairman.
So, if we continue sending freshers to represent us, we should forget about chairmanship of worthwhile or strong committee in the National Assembly. This is a gospel that we should preach to our people. When we went to the House in 1999, we were all freshers. But then, from the South West, there were a lot of mature people who had worked with people like Chief Awolowo and of course they would stand out in any gathering; and they were preferred as leaders of any group. But for the fact that we were all freshmen, we had equal right. But with time, those that were more experienced and more mature stood out and became leaders while the rest had to learn within the short time. Now things are different. So, we must know whom we send to represent us.