Described by friends, associates, religious organization as an administrator par excellent, Dr Valentine Attah, Chairman, Akwa Ibom Elders Forum, rose from the rungs to the peak of his professional career, is a valuable asset to the state. In this interview, he tells the Akwa Ibom story without reservations. Excerpts:
What is your assessment of Governor Udom Emmanuel one year in office?
I congratulate Governor Udom Emmanuel for surviving all the hurdles that has led to good governance for a year now and I know it’s been good, rough but worthwhile. And as a major stakeholder in this governance structure, I feel very proud to be one of the major players. Before now one would have said politics should be left to those we perceived as politicians and I know the path is rough and it needs more than it used to be for it to get improved.
In the past one year of this administration there has been growth without development. Growth is quantitative while development is qualitative. The growth in the past one is anxiety on building on the past; quantitative growth in terms of size and quantity of infrastructural development. But Governor Udom Emmanuel came in and we decided to follow his path of sustainable development and you talk about sustainable development, which is why I say growth, as development, which is quantitative like in the number of bridges, roads and all that. But development is qualitative and that is why this government is unique in the qualitative term and the focus of sustainable development. It has integrity and has human capital development at the centre of the development process and that is why I am involved. I can summarize his vision along that path of sustainable development.
You have to look at the drivers of the economy which is the human capital. Development, which I said is qualitative, first look at the human element that will drive the process. We have built very good Airport; we have built so many roads, what are the maintenance cultures, who are the people to fill the portholes that are now arising after eight years of quantitative growth? That is the gap which the Udom Emmanuel-led administration has come to fill so that the tomorrow of today shall be excellent governance of a past.
I want to say that there is need for some finishing after one year. We have to sit back and look at the development process, anything that exceed eight years is no more tenable be it as a participant and be it at whatever level. That is why even as a Permanent Secretary, the maximum period is eight years. As a student, four years undergraduate; one year postgraduate and three years Ph.D; eight years. Governorship, eight years. Everything surrounds figure eight which is qualitative and anything in excess has no value. And when something lacks value or loses it value it becomes a nuisance and that is why I say there is a need for overall restructuring in the concept of good governance. I am saying this as a development expert and even in the civil service, which is the platform of qualitative development, there is a lot more to be done. The civil service is the engine room of good governance and where there is problem you cannot qualify where we should be in terms of sustainable development. The bridges you must have built will get decayed out of abandonment, of not having the human to drive it. The human capital must drive the economy and they must be well trained.
There is a large gap in the middle-level manpower in Akwa Ibom State. For example, there is no average mechanic that can service the kind of cars you need here. Even your homes, the roofing and leakages, the best are not the best here for our tomorrow. People don’t want to complete their training and we have in the past not used the best and we have not trained for the best and it is affecting the present. We have to sit back as a people and look at the planning. The Ministry of Economic Development must sit back and go back and see what the gaps are. Gap career and gap analysis should be done to know how many pilots would be required at the airport, those who will maintain the airport even the stadium, which is one of the bests in Africa, we must have people to maintain these things, and we must create jobs for our people. This stop gap is not sustainable and that is why you see in the beginning the Governor trying to train a lot of people so as to qualify the quantity of physical development on ground.
We have a situation where one or two thing must be put in place. You cannot have a successful civil service without the platform of growth through the Civil Service Commission, which is constitutionally a platform for career, development and promotion of staff. The Law Reform Commission; the Pension Board; the Local Government Service Commission must move hand-in-hand because they are the drivers of the economy and development initiatives. Ad hoc issues no longer have a place and there are so many arms outside that should be brought in.
The greatest goal scored is that of inclusiveness in governance. You have seen like the Elders Forum, which I coordinate, has been the best bedrock for the development of the present government. It is purely advisory and the unity is stronger and I want to thank the Governor for strengthening the Elders Forum that has been absent in the past 10 years. Akwa Ibom people should give the Governor time. His efforts and prorammes will become more realizable in the second tenure and that is why we are appealing to the people to give him time so that his programmes can be realized even in 2019.
Looking at waste management, agriculture, power and health, how do you think the Governor can go about achieving maximum production in these areas?
Fantastic, these are the four areas that make good living. When you talk of qualitative development, you are looking at those things that we call sustainable development of the human capital that will serve as drivers. Good health relates to everything, like NTA Uyo recently did by going to local government areas to see the gaps in our health system, which I strongly appeal to government to make good use of those press information for its benefit and for correct things. These gaps are there because new ideas and new hands have not been brought onboard to fill those gaps. That is why there is a point of saturation; presidency after eight years is saturated; governorship after eight years is saturated, so anything beyond eight years is saturated.
Are you advocating for change of some members of the State Executive?
I give kudos to the past but there is a point for which the past may not become relevant after a period of time. So, what I am saying is that this is a time for qualitative analysis of development. We thank the past for a good job and we are going to build on the existing capacity but this is a period of bringing in new ideas and if that calls for a change, as an elder, let it be.
What is your take on the Governor’s philosophy of Dakkada?
It is a very good philosophy which the drivers must be sincere about it and I think the Dakkada creed should be beyond the lip service. it should be seen in display beyond recitation, the philosophy should come in to how we think, say and act. We thought of Dakkada, we are saying it, we should now do it, and that is where we are getting to after this first four years. So, doing it, will mean a turnaround of everything.
You have at several fora said square pegs should be put in square holes in terms of assigning political portfolios. Don’t you think this viewpoint might compromise zoning?
I spoke about inclusiveness, which is very important, and inclusiveness means zoning and you cannot exclude zoning in administration otherwise you are not encouraging all the sectors of the state to develop and this could lead to crisis because there is no zero capacity in anything. You have to give other people a chance and that is why I am saying there is a desire and a need for a change to build stronger bridges and put up stronger pillars and structures based on knowledge, experience and wisdom. The elders are not competing with the drivers but in words of experience and wisdom, they are very great. And the elders must supervise, be as role models but where they are not allowed because of the fear of criticisms is not healthy.
As a stakeholder in PDP and the congress is here again and perhaps the LG election is staring us in the face, what is your advice in the course of selection, should it be the people or the power brokers?
It should be the people. Power should be returned to the people. We came and we are trading on the path of sincerity, inclusiveness and the decision of the Supreme Court is a good lesson which we should not depart from and that power should be returned to the people because they are the owners of the party. It is called People’s Democratic Party. And that is why in the preaching of the present administration, the same thing is preached and luckily at the national level our Governor is in charge of the zoning formula and he is doing that effectively. That means they have seen him as a symbol of sincerity, fairness and inclusiveness. We must agree in totality and not abuse the process of inclusiveness.
Considering the vision and drives of Governor Udom Emmanuel, do you think the declining nature of the Federal Budget will serve as hindrance?
As a development expert I do not think so. Also the Governor is an economist. He will bring all the good brains together and he will attract investors to fill the gap and that why the development process could not stop because there are economic theories, strategies and investment initiatives that will be applied to ensure that we get to the end. There are private sector financed projects like Dangote. We should build up more Dangotes in Akwa Ibom and we have, only that those resources have been misapplied to personal interest than looking beyond the person. Like in the words of His Excellency, you have no business managing a local government where you do not have the capacity and capability. You must have been seen to have managed a kiosk before you think of managing a 5-star hotel. You cannot just jump in and start managing a 5-star hotel; it will collapse on your head. You must learn to sit, crawl, and walk before thinking of running.
The Governor recently gave a boost to the education system through the development of sports academy in the 10 Federal Constituencies of the state, as an educationist do you think this is enough?
I was sad when I watched on television how our children have gone back to sitting on the floor in Akwa Ibom, we went beyond that. So you realize the growth I talked about. There was growth without development and the gap is what this government is trying to fill by monitoring and sustained monitoring. We would have produced enough teachers by now if there was that process of manpower development. There should be a manpower gap analysis to have projection into the future. The private sector should be brought into the system. Private individuals and even religious organizations are building universities. Look at Afe Babalola, he is in his 70s and what legacy could one leave than what he started. He never saw himself at the centre but people at the centre of that educational programme.
So, I want the private sector to be encouraged to support government because government cannot do it all. The industrialization process, the bedrock, has been put in place but when they are not maintained, they go into serious decay. For example, the erosion control project at Brooks Street should be done with biological control through the Ministry of Environment and it should be supported by enlightenment. All these things are neglected and these are ministerial responsibilities where you tell people who farm around those area to stop. The legislation of the forest laws where we use to arrest people who default are no longer being done because we have forgotten about the role of the forest within the system. That the day the last tree is cut down is the day the last man will live on earth and nobody is doing something about it.
Today, we do not have a trained Forester manning the forestry department. It is a profession, just like you can ask a carpenter to go and head the Ministry of Health and this is why we have gaps in the system. Even in education, there is educational measurement and management. You don’t just bring in anybody to manage. The Commissions should have experts manning them. And that is why I have said that in the last administration there has been growth without development and this is the time for development and our focus should be on development and not ordinary development but qualitative and sustainable development. And for sustainable development to be in place, it must be built on human capital which will run a viable economy. I would want people to allow this government to run itself properly. They should give this government a chance of intellectual supremacy, of collective decision taking, of political inclusiveness, of using the best material. The period of using mediocre to achieve target are gone because when mediocre find themselves in a place they stick to do-or-die syndrome. When you over stay in the system, the system will fade up with you or you fade up with the system.