Former Chairman of Okobo Local Government Council and Deputy Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Princess Felicia Bassey, speaks on the state of affairs in the state and n sundry issues. Excerpts:
Oron people seem to be marginalized in terms of infrastructural development and strategic appointment in the Udom Emmanuel-led administration. What do you think is the feeling of an average Oron person, 29 years after state creation?
Everybody complains. Even those who should be satisfied in terms of government’s presence in their locality, still complain. So, if you see that the state of development in Oron is not impressive, I can also tell you that the government of this state is doing everything possible to put smiles on the faces of Oron people.
For me, the present Governor is an Oron son. I call him Okpe Oron (first son of Oron), because he doesn’t need to come from Oron to touch the lives of the people. I know he is going to do more than that. He has visited Oron more than any other Governor. So I have hope. I know that within a short time, things shall be well.
For appointments, I tell you as an Oron person, he has tried. At least we have 13 Special Assistants. Before now, we were not that much. Each day we meet him, we tell him the need for him to live up to reasonable expectation. Infrastructure wise, he has tried. If you used to know where we call Mainland Avenue in Oron Town, then you will appreciate what the Governor has done.
We will cry out. No matter how it is, we have pleaded with our people to support the Governor because if you give him the friendly atmosphere, you will give him the chance to come closer. You can dialogue and negotiate to obtain whatever you want. The other day, I went with him to a church service in Oron, on our way back, there was a bad spot along Okobo Road, I told him about it and he acknowledged seeing it. As we speak, work is ongoing at that spot. So I believe that Udom Emmanuel means well for Oron and we are ready to support him.
On September 23, Akwa Ibom celebrated the 29th anniversary of the state creation; do you think there were reasons to celebrate?
In Akwa Ibom, we have reasons to celebrate. At 29, the state is doing very well. God doesn’t make mistakes; He created Akwa Ibom out of Cross River State. We came in as children, we have learnt, and the Lord has been faithful to us. Our leaders, from the military administrators to the democratically elected governors, have in one way or the other contributed to the development of the state. We used to be houseboys and house girls; now the story has changed for good.
We are now proud to come from Akwa Ibom State. If you go anywhere within Nigeria now, and you are asked where you came from, immediately you mention Akwa Ibom, you will be surprised at the way people will respect you. To God be the glory, the present governor, Deacon Udom Gabriel Emmanuel is indeed a technocrat. He is doing his best in spite of the harsh economic challenges to consolidate on the performance of his predecessor. We have every reason to celebrate, for me, Akwa Ibom is great.
The Fifth Assembly was against the financial autonomy of the legislature. Today, it appears the Sixth Assembly calling for its financial autonomy. Is the Governor interfering with the activities of the House?
There must be positive change. Democracy is developing from one stage to another. That was their time; they had the right to say no, we have seen reasons to say yes. If you have your independence, there are lots of things you can do without hitches. So, the Fifth Assembly knew why they did not want it. But, I think it is better for the House of Assembly to be financially independent, even the local governments, so that they will be able to do what they ought to do. It is a familiar story that people will complain, that is because they didn’t give them money, they could not execute their projects.
You know, we like excuses, we like to shift blames on people. If you have your own money, you’ll know what to do with it, and when the public asks, you won’t give excuses. So, it is good we asked for autonomy so that we can do our own work the way it is supposed to be done.
Would you say the government has carried women along in terms of appointment and empowerment?
We are not ingrates. You are talking to the Deputy Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, a woman. Apart from Godswill Akpabio’s regime, it was not like that before. We used to count the protocol of the state up to 30 and no woman could be mentioned.
So, if I am a Deputy Speaker and the Head of Service is also a woman, there are other women in the Board appointments. In Local Government Transition Committees, it is compulsory that women be found in each of them. So, he is doing very well. We cannot just wake up and demand equal rights. Men won’t allow that, it is gradual.
That’s why the little we see, we appreciate. When you tell your father thank you for the little thing he does for you, he will increase it. So, I always tell him thank you for the love you have for the women of Akwa Ibom State. And for giving us the privilege and opportunity to function in his government, we say thank you. We are asking for more, and I know he shall give it to us.
Are you implying that the Governor made you the Deputy Speaker?
Let me tell you this, in politics, you cannot rule that out. You can’t come and sit just like that. He is the Landlord. Although it is the members of the House that elected me, I know that the Governor gave me his blessings. So, that tells you that he is a gender-friendly Governor. If the head is good, other parts of the body will also be good.
You seem to be the only member that appears happy. Other members are lamenting, even the slash of their constituency project fee by the State Governor. What is happening?
When life is real, live it right. The Governor has tried, times are hard. You cannot compare this time to the period of oil boom. Nigeria is in recession. If we used to take certain amount for constituency project and we decided that it should be reduced in view of the poor economic situation, it is just a way of reflecting the present economic realities. You know, there must be synergy in this business.
The idea that we must get to where we used to be is not tenable because, practically in our homes, we don’t do that. So, we can’t apportion that kind of blame on the Governor. He has paid us what he supposed to. But as humans, we still ask for more because of the pressure. So, as a member, your constituency is on your neck. We just have to manage until we are out of this recession.
With the all-inclusive Scholarship Scheme for your constituents, are you in any way faulting the Free and Compulsory Education Policy of the Akwa Ibom State Government?
Giving is love. The state government’s free education policy is at the basic level. But there are some people who can’t write UTME. We are talking about those in the universities and polytechnics. It is a form of assistance that I am giving to the less privileged and those without sponsors.
Let me tell you, even the free education that we take for granted is something we should commend the government for. When I was in secondary school, there were many people who could not complete Class Five. That was the system at the secondary school then. Not now that we have Senior Secondary School Three. Just because of 10 pounds, they could not complete Class Five. Even now, it is still difficult because you need to buy books, the uniform, and the rest. My scholarship scheme is to complement the effort of government towards education.
I made promises during my campaigns and people believed and voted for me. I don’t just give it to rich persons. No, I give it to those who have the need. Some of the people I assisted to take the UTME scored very high. And if you look through a family, you will see three very intelligent children whose education could not be afforded by their parents. So if you see such stars and prospects, what do you do? Do you leave them like that? No. I have to show love.
But you trained people and empowered others during your tenure as Okobo Local Government Council Chairman; still, some did not support you when you were contesting the Assembly seat. Do you intend to continue despite economic recession?
Politics is a game. Everybody cannot love you; everybody cannot support you. In fact, the freest election was that won by the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola. Where is he today? So it is good for some people not to support me. But let me tell you; the day I won election, I won to represent the entire Okobo Local Government. I am not interested in the party you belong to. Some people who benefit from me could even be members of the APC. They come to complain of school fees, I give them.
Is that not anti-party activity?
I am saying that I was voted as an Okobo representative. You don’t split the constituency. Those people are Okobo people. In politics, people who don’t support you today will be the ones carrying your flag tomorrow. If I am running an election tomorrow, the man who confessed that he never voted for me may lobby to become my campaign manager or my media consultant. Some of them even asked me, why do you treat me better than them? You cannot force people, be able to show them the reason.
Tell them that you can do it. Now, many of them will keep supporting me, I trained 240 people during my time as chairman, I gave them starter pack. I offered scholarships and other things. I don’t need to praise myself. In every opportunity, use it to better the lives of other people. For me, I am still longing to do more; I will still continue to train, empower and assist through the grace of God.
The Fifth Assembly was tagged rubber stamp; the Sixth Assembly, deaf and dump, due to its continuous approval of loan request for the Governor. How do you monitor the approved funds?
We are not deaf and dump. As you are talking to me, does it seem to you that I am deaf and dump? I can hear you clearly. I don’t have any hearing defect, likewise my colleagues. The government of Akwa Ibom State is working even when some of you tend to disabuse people’s minds from it, it is still working and we shall get to our destination without distraction. (Culled from New Telegraph)