Dr. Chris Ekpenyong, a chieftain of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), a Fellow of the Nigeria Society of Engineers (FNSE) and scion to member of the Eastern House of Chiefs, is a former Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State and General Secretary, Forum of Former Deputy Governors in Nigeria. He shared his thoughts on topical national issues recently. Excerpts:
The crisis within the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) was recently brought to an end through the Supreme Court ruling and the party thereafter held its non-elective National Convention. As a chieftain of the party, do you think that convention has any prospect for Nigeria?
Yes. There are so many prospects for us in Akwa Ibom and in Nigeria, even though we have been subverted by intruders. The PDP is extremely lucky that the ruling party, the All Progressive Congress (APC), don’t seem to have an agenda for Nigeria. So, Nigeria is eagerly looking for an alternative party and they have found out that the only one party is the PDP. By the grace of God the leadership tussle has been put to rest by the Supreme Court and we were able to acknowledge that through the non-Elective Convention that we had, which confirmed the capability and capacity of Ahmed Makarfi as the National Chairman of the PDP. The Convention also extended his tenure by four months so that he could reinvent the PDP of our hope that will shape the destiny of Nigeria. We believe that we have made mistakes and we have corrected our mistakes and Nigerians are out to support PDP
Four critical clauses failed to sail through at the National Assembly during the Constitution amendment process. These were Devolution of Power; Land Use Act; Affirmative Action for Women, and State Creation and Boundary Adjustment. Do you think the National Assembly’s action regarding these clauses were in tandem with the wishes of the people?
Do you want to have the truth? I have never seen my representative for two years coming to ask me what he was going to take to the table at the Senate floor. I have a Senator. I don’t know if he had consulted others but if he could consult others why must he not consult me as somebody who has been in the political arena and understood the workings and desires of Nigerians vis-a-vis our own environment. So, I have not seen anybody. I just watched and saw that certain individuals in the Senate thought otherwise in not agreeing to the desires of Nigerian people that power should be devolved from the centre to the states vis-à-vis the resources; because you cannot devolve power without accompanying resources.
When I came onboard with Architect Obong Victor Attah as the Governor and Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State in 1999, we agitated for Resource Control. The essence was asking for the devolution of power. We knew where the shoe pinches. We knew that we have to give good education to our children, starting from primary education. We knew we have to give good healthcare, which was why we designed our healthcare vision to include health post, secondary health post. That is each Ward will have a health post, and each Local Government Area must have a general hospital, and each local government area must have a comprehensive health centre and there must have two Doctors, and then have nurses. We defined the number of nurses that we will have in each of the hospitals and in each of the health posts so that health system will be administered to the poorest of the poor. But I have never heard that again and so people go to the Senate and they don’t know what the peasants and the rich are going through. How many people will have money to go to National Hospital in Abuja to treat cancer or to look at postrate cancer or for childbirth? These were things that we were fighting for in 1999 to 2005 by the time I left government 18 months before the expiration of that administration.
So, we were asking for devolution of power with the accompaniment of resources. And that was why people thought that we said Resource Control. And then people went to the National Assembly this time around and said there is nothing like devolution of power. It looks like they are not Nigerians and they are representing their personal interest, and not the interest of Nigerians who are yearning for total development; who are yearning for healthcare, for education, for good road, for water. I have never heard of distribution of water in Akwa Ibom right from the last government till now. How water is to be taken to the poor in Uyo; to be taken to the people of Itu, Ibiono Ibom, Ibeno, Ikot Ekpene, Obot Akara, Etim Ekpo, Ukanafun, Ika, Ikono. I have never heard of that. And I have somebody who is representing me in the National Assembly and he has not told me what he voted for. If he voted for resistance to the devolution of powers it means that he has not represented my interest and the interest of my followership.
In Nigeria today, the debate for restructuring has taken the center stage of of our body polity. What exactly is the idea of restructuring?
You want to restructure Nigeria? Do you know what we are talking about? You were not born. I was born in 1954 and I am going to be 63 by 29th of this month. So, I have seen Nigeria. At least, I carried the flag of Independence looking for self actualization. I can remember the test I went through that very year. I can remember I was told that I was not qualified to commence primary school. I can remember it was in 1961 that they said okay, you are now qualified. But Nigeria had attained Independence. So, the Jack’s flag was lowered and Nigerian flag was raised up. And there was an anthem, “On Brotherhood we stand.” But we came to change the anthem. Then in 1963 we had a Constitution that was written by the people of Nigeria. At least my maternal grandfather took part in it. He was a member of House of Chiefs in Enugu. People of credible integrity, people with high pedigree took part to shape Nigeria, noting that we have over 350 dialectical constituencies. And they said look, if you are producing potatoes or onions or groundnuts, when you sell, take 50% out of what you made and develop your education, develop your healthcare, develop your roads, develop your airport, and whatever you have. If you are producing Cocoa, like Awolowo did. He knew the history that the greatest Industry and the greatest power he will give to the Westerners were to ensure that they had free basic education. When I went to London in 1966, I saw men women and when I asked some of them what time they came to London, they said since 1954 and 1955. But here, only very few of our people had that kind of opportunity through the Ibibio State Union.
I am taking you through this history lane for you to know why we must look at the components of Nigeria, as it is today, and see whether there is any benefit. So, we are saying Nigeria should be restructured. Not restructuring by dismembering or by disintegration. No. We are saying restructure Nigeria so that every section of the state today will go back to their drawing board. Akwa Ibom will go back to their palm fruits and estates that our fore fathers established before the Europeans and the Malaysians came took our palm fruits and became developed. Today, Malaysia is the highest producer of palm oil and Akwa Ibom and Nigeria are lagging behind. Michael Okpara was using that to establish University of Nigeria Nsukka and develop the Road from Enugu to Oron which your fore father’s inherited.
So, what we want now is that there must be a restructuring that will give you strength, that will make you think about yourself industrially, think about yourself educationally, think about yourself health-wise and in all ramifications. For instance, if you are producing hydrocarbon, like the oil we are talking about, when you process it, you give a fraction to the centre and use the rest to develop your nooks and crannies. That is what we want by restructuring. People are talking of regional interest; if we now say the six states of the South-South should have a region, which state will you choose to be the capital? So, what we should be talking about should be self identity, resource control. Every state in this nation has one resources or the other. If you think you cannot tap, explore and exploit your resources, then you collapse and join the state that you know will sustain you. That is the way it is, and it will create room for comparative advantage, for hard work. That is what we are looking for.
Many people, particularly politicians and elders, believe that the implementation of the resolutions of the 2014 National Confab will get Nigeria out of its myriads of problems. Do you agree with them?
Yes, to an extent because the National confab discussed most of these things that I am talking about. But I think it failed because we did not agree with the formation of that National Confab. Why will you come and then pick one person per Local Government? We have 774 Local Government Areas in the country at least that will involve the ethnic configuration of Nigeria. Aside what was done in 1914, the amalgamation of the North and South, a false marriage. The Constitution has been unitary in form since the military intervened in 1967 and they went ahead and changed the Constitution that was applicable, that could have actually transformed Nigeria in 1963 and they changed it to unitary system where they cornered all the resources, particularly those of the South-South. This gave room to militancy. If you married your wife and then you suppress the mother and tomorrow the children will grow up and say, ah Papa, our mother did not commit any sin, why do you suppress her? So, this is what is happening.
Before now they were eating fat from our resources using the draconian law or whatever regulation they were using, by instituting a unitary system of government. Everything unitary, taking your resources by force. So, we want to go back and the people are resisting now. The resistance will be higher than whatever we are seeing today. Nigeria is sitting on a time bomb. People are agitating and they are saying ‘go back to your state.’ It will be a continued exercise. The best solution is that we should sit down and talk and devolve power and allow every state to control their resources.
But in a situation where the National Assembly had already thrown it out, what should be done?
Forget the National Assembly because they are selfish. Most of them did not pass through proper election. Most of them were imposed. They are impostors. They were not properly elected.
You are a stakeholder in Akwa Ibom and recently there were protest for and against a proposed Akwa Ibom Governor’s Lodge in Lagos. What is your view about the proposed Lodge?
I am not aware. The Governor has not told me he wants to build a Lodge. It could be flying news. So, I cannot comment on rumour.
President Mohammadu Buhari was out of the country for more than three months while Nigeria struggles to come out of recession. Do you think his absence affected our economy?
The President did what it should do within the confines of the Constitution; he transferred his power to his next in command, the Vice President. I remember when I was a Deputy Governor, whenever Governor Victor Attah traveled, he would write to the House of Assembly, conferring on me the full authority, the power of life and death. So then I could exercise that responsibility because he had given me the power in conformity with the provisions of the Constitution. Here, the President had transferred power to his Vice President. So, there was no vacuum at all. When I look at young people taking to the street in what they called ‘Return or resign’ protest I pity them because I know the problem. The problem is that there is no job.
Are you satisfied with efforts of the Federal Government in providing employment for teeming Nigerian unemployed youths?
The youths are they really wanting to work. Since I came back I refused to leave Akwa Ibom. I would have gone to Lagos; I would have gone to America. God has blessed me but I decided to stay with youths of Akwa Ibom. I am growing fish. In my farm I have over 100, 000 fishes. We have been selling to people within and outside Akwa Ibom. I have a poultry farm that had over 15, 000 birds until I closed down the poultry a year ago and I am about to restart it. I have never seen any youth that had indicated interest to come and work with me. The few that work, wants to build upstairs over night. The youths are not even serious. It looks to me that the youths were polarized and polluted by whatever they saw in this unitary system, like the army used to say with immediate effect. The immediate-effect syndrome of wanting to be rich has affected our youths so much. I always tell my family that if the civil rule had continued without military intervention, I would still been what I want to be, by the grace of God, because if you work hard, God will open the door. And of course what I have, I did not earn it through politics. I came into Akwa Ibom to give key how you can work and get to the top. That time I was a youths.
Before coming to Akwa Ibom I was a youth. I remember so many people in this state. I wanted people to see that we are what we are because a man is the architect of his own fortune and misfortune. By motivation, you can make yourself what you want to be. So I want to see Akwa Ibom person at the top, I want to see Akwa Ibom person as the President of Nigeria. I know we missed that opportunity in my generation but I do not want this generation to miss the opportunity. The opportunity is open, I hate seeing youths carry placards. What are they doing? They should go to the farms. But I also feel disappointed because it looks like government has not defined their vision on agriculture, vision on education, vision on healthcare and on social services. I have not seen the vision. But I am in love with this Governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, because I feel he is a thinking Governor. I hope he will think out of the box.
There have insecurity lately in Akwa Ibom State, particularly within the Etim Ekpo and Ukanafun communities. Do you think that security agencies have done enough?
I think it is a spiritual issue. You know we are so spiritualistic in Akwa Ibom. I just believe that the issue of Etim Ekpo and Ukanafun is a spiritual issue and I am praying seriously that the young men and the people involved in that dastardly act should retrace their steps. It has never been that way in the history of that environment where people now wake up in the morning and kill one another. So, I don’t think it is the problem of security. You want policemen to invade the place and take over the whole Local Government Area? It is not the best. I think I have used the one word for you, and that we have to make ourselves what we want to be. I pray that the people of Ukanafun, Ika, Etim Ekpo should know there is need for peace, a community without peace cannot develop. So, if they want development, there should be peace. If you are struggling for political office, political office should be a means of service delivery; it should not be medium of killing, self destruction. So, they should change their attitude because the problem is attitudinal.