Thursday, June 20, 2024


Chief Otu Ita-Toyo, an architect, scion of first republic member of the Eastern House of Assembly and former Treasurer of the Dr Egbert Udo Udoma led C-O-R State Movement, Barrister O.O.Ita, is a thoroughbred professional, politician, public affairs commentator and a social analyst. Married to former Member of the House of Representative and Nigeria’s former Ambassador to Ethiopia and the African Union, Ambassador Nkoyo Toyo, the former Personal Assistant to the late Senator Victor Akan, was once State Chairman of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and was nicknamed Total Chair for his dexterity. Today, the alumni of the Hope Waddell Training Institution, Calabar and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, who cut his professional teeth at Obong Victor Attah’s InterDesign, is a chieftain of the All Progressive Congress (APC). He shares his thoughts with Ibom Telegraph. Excerpts:

We have practiced democracy as a country since 1999, how have we fared through the years?
It has been quite a successful journey, if you think of what could have been in the sense that Nigerians have finally understood the fact that military interventions takes us backward rather than forward. So, even if politicians are not doing very well, there is still a hope that despite their infirmities, they are a better option for the good of Nigeria. That we are still in a democracy till today, no matter how limped that democracy is, I think we have done well except we want to compare ourselves with other democracies elsewhere. For instance, I stumbled on the fact that South Korea and Ghana got their independence on the same day. Now, can you compare South Korea and Ghana? And then you come back home, can you compare Nigeria and Ghana? So, everybody has their own little niche and how they are going about it.
Our problem, probably, is that we have not decided consciously to build a nation or even a state on the principle of equity, goal or excellence in which the brighter people, the more informed people, the go-getters are made to drive the dreams and then the entire wagon will get to its destination. Now, sometimes we put the wagon before the engine and you know how difficult that could be.
There has been too much of politics in the democracy, don’t you think so?
It has, in a manner of speaking. Politics, itself, we must understand, is what builds democracy or the culture of democracy. The fact that Nigerians are more involved in the politicking than in democracy is just because of the lack of engagement and knowledge. Leadership in an economy like ours has a dual purpose, to lead and to teach. And for a long time, I have not seen a Nigerian leadership teaching and that has affected us. The last time Nigerian leadership taught Nigerians anything is, probably, during the First Republic and after that, nothing.
So, what do you think can be done to re-invigorate leadership in Nigeria?
I think people are beginning to become aware that that lacuna is missing. Take the last election for instance, my interpretation of that election was that the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) lost, not necessarily that the All Progress Congress (APC) won. And that is a signal that the Nigerian people have at least arrived at a stage where they can decide that they don’t want you and that you are not doing well. Maybe they don’t know who else they can give it to, but as long as you are not that person and whoever else comes in, they can work with that person. But as we speak, the people of this country know how to remove a government and you must give credit to them. How they stumble on that, only they can tell the story because they have suffered, they have been humiliated, they have been raped. Yet, if they removed the largest political machine in Africa, then you must be aware that they are not stupid.
What do think leadership can do, beyond teaching, to set our democracy on the path it is supposed to be?
First, leadership itself has to be committed to democracy. If you look elsewhere, like the United States for example, you can see what Donald Trump is doing to the United States. He is destroying the democratic interpretations. He is like a Nigerian in white skin. He goes around doing things which he knows are wrong but which he knows are not illegal.
So, there is a call within leadership for you to do the right things, not necessarily legal and our leaders must learn the difference between the two and that is the only time they can stand on a pedestal and be accepted as teachers for the people. That is why we had somebody like Obafemi Awolowo, we had Mallam Aminu Kano and I cannot think of anyone else. These two were exemplary and in late politics, we have not had anybody like them at all, maybe, because of the rapid turnover of leadership. Take the PDP for instance; it’s had many Chairmen in the last years and that in itself does not speak well for the party, it does not speak well for the people and for democracy. We need some stability; we need some redefinition of the party as political organ, a redefinition of themselves along the political, the ideological and the platform for which they seek power.
I give you something which has been exercising my mind; I don’t see why the APC has been in power for two years and it’s not already restructuring this country. The APC Constitution speaks about restructuring very powerfully. The manifesto with which the APC ran the last election has restructuring as the number one item and then you look at the APC, they are behaving as if those documents do not exist. I mean people should hold political parties to account and good leadership will interpret those things and make them actionable. I decided on APC because I thought their documents were a bit more liberal or progressive and then you come in and find out that they have very short memories. We cannot build a country like that. So, leadership has that duty to pioneer its objectives.
Are you regretting joining the APC?
Not at all. It still has not fallen far behind the pedestal which the people gave to it but it has to mend those potentials to do more. And my question is, why are they not doing more? The reason you are the leader is because you are ahead of the people in spirit and in enthusiasm and therefore, it is your duty to ensure you succeed.
As a stakeholder that believes in the progress of Akwa Ibom State, do you think we have kept to the dreams and visions of our forebears, as a state?
Well, in a sense yes. In the sense that we have survived for 30 years and we are still here and maybe can do better. But here is the other point which I am unhappy about: I think Akwa Ibom has lost a major opportunity in the sense that the Nigerian federation is quite unkind to minorities. So, while we are here, the cow- of course ,remember that our Governor is bringing in some 2000 cows and you must make the difference between those types of cows and the one I am talking about- and they are milking us dry. There is nothing that tells me that Akwa Ibom or indeed, the South-South, is sowing to reap in the future. That is my only worry and since it’s not quite late, from now on, we must begin to look for leadership that understands the dynamics of growth into the future. Leadership that knows that it takes only 10 years for an 11-year-old child to become an adult, and if you look at it, it is two terms of a Governor’s tenure, and the man becomes an adult and has no preparation.
We must begin to build an Akwa Ibom of the future through our young ones. Let me ask you a question: is there any reason why we should not have secondary schools in Akwa Ibom and teachers who draw in students from every parts of Nigeria and become the educational hub of Nigeria? It might interest you to know that 25% of the Britain’s GDP is drawn from the educational institutions and we could do the same thing here. We must look at things which we have comparative advantage at. We have good environment and our people are hospitable. So, we could become educationists, as we were indeed. We can become the fishermen of Nigeria. We must create something for our future. Look at Dubai, 40 years ago she was worst than Oron. Her people turned it into the world’s metropolis and not with their own money. We can do that.
So, the founding fathers of Akwa Ibom gave their all for Akwa Ibom. Incidentally my father was one of them. He was the Treasurer of the COR State Movement. He was a member of the Eastern State House of Assembly alongside Eyo Uyo(Chief E.O.Eyo), Prof Eyo Ita, Dr I.U.Akpabio and Sir Udo Udoma. He was the 47th registered lawyer in Nigeria, a classmate and contemporary of T. O. Elias and Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the London School of Economics and he chose to come back to Akwa Ibom. He could have stayed in Lagos and become whatever his contemporaries became in Lagos but he came back and joined the fight for a state of our own to escape the problem of Eastern Region. They gave everything for Akwa Ibom. Look at Eyo Uyo, he died almost without a house. Look at the former Ntisong, Sebastian Umoren, he went to jail three times for the same course and today, nobody remembers him.
And by September we will be celebrating yet another anniversary of state creation, 30 years. And I ask, 30 years of what? We had so much money under former Governor Godswill Akpabio and he built a couple of nice roads and some entertainment institutions, what next? Where is the root for growth tomorrow? So, we must begin to rethink our drift and thankfully there isn’t that much money in the Nigerian term, but we still have money. And the founding fathers would probably rest a little easier if they see that we have planted a state and an environment for our children the way they planted for us to inherit. The schools in Akwa Ibom State are finished and all we have going on for us is our knowledge-based economy for now because God has endowed us with brains that work.
So, we must change and begin to build our state. There is too much partisanship, I mean this ethnic thing. By all means ethnicity must thrive but I do not want to be the man from Bamenda. I am an Oron man. But that does not mean anything; it just means I am an Oron man. It means that if I am the best diver in Government House I should emerged Chief Driver and not because I am the Oron man or I am from ONNA and that is why I must drive the Governor. It is absolute backwardness; we must trace back to those days where we trusted each other, when we gave each other respect for our talents and where we depended on each other to build a successful enclave for all our children. You never know who will take this state to higher heights.
We sat down one day and Samuel Peter exploded on us. He was the world heavyweight champion, the man who wore Mohammed Ali’s crown. We must give respect, particularly, to our children, their education, their training. Now our children are rude; they have no breeding; parents can hardly control them. I know the economy is hard and difficult but leadership must insist on certain disciplinary behaviour and we can look forth to the next 30 years. The world in the next 30 years will be a very different world from ours. If I look into 30 years from today, only Lagos State is preparing for that world. We should not allow Lagos to leave us behind; we must also begin to prepare for it. Thankfully, God has given us the Atlantic, so we can link. I have a joke which I tell Oron people every time: I say, “do you people even worry about this Akwa Ibom. You are probably the only people who can go anywhere. If you want to go to New York, you don’t need anything. You just take your canoe and your paddles and paddle all the way to New York without stepping on anybody’s territory. When you get there you explain that you came from faraway, they will understand.” It is a joke and a very nice one but it shows how much God has endowed us as a state with freedom, with attitude, mental capacity and hard work. We must resist the new one which is indiscipline. It is tearing us apart; it is driving us backward and destroying the fabric of our society. Now you see young men who do not know anything about pupilage or sacrifice and they abuse the elders anyhow they like. They don’t even understand that those things carry spiritual connotations and how can you blame them. We need to work a little harder. In the next 30 years, we may have no need for petrol anymore and so our petrol will be useless. In other places already we have driverless cars, electric cars and all that and that is the new world coming. All those things are driven by knowledge and we must begin to look at knowledge as a resource. We must stop disparaging intelligent people. They are the future. You cannot go into the future without people of intelligence and those are the people we should breed.
Talking about venturing into things we have comparative advantage as a state, do you think the Udom Emmanuel administration is taking advantage of that, in terms of his industrialization drive?
I see the government, more than the immediate past government, energizing itself for industrialization. The Governor spoke to me a couple of days ago and he said to me: “what do you think about this industrialization drive?” And I said to him: “I am not sure I know and I have not read what the policy thrust of your industrialization is.” So, I cannot comment on that frontally. But I do know this: any government that approaches growth through the energization of the masses in terms of education, in terms of credit and support to the women, is unbeatable. But those things do not happen one day. They happen by planning. Look at what Chief Obafemi Awolowo did in just six years in the West and today, nobody can catch it. Our Governors here had eight years and all you see is abandoned projects. There must be something we can do. Industrialization, in my thinking as a man who believes in the growth of the ordinary people, should go beyond politics.
How do you think we can leverage on federal government development agencies like the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, in terms of drawing better attention to the state.
I am excited by the NDDC intervention in Akwa Ibom State. I am excited in the sense that NDDC had always existed but there were phantom things done by phantom people and this is the first time we are seeing an NDDC which we can reach out and touch. I have seen our people up and doing and trying things but unfortunately for us, because we have been so out of practice, many of our people do not have the papers, and NDDC now insists on correct papers. Of course it should be, our son is in-charge and we always do things properly. But having said that, NDDC is here and visibly and it is something that should make the State Government very happy because in their time, they have had a partner who now helps to make the state a lot better. It is also to their credit that there is a peaceful environment for NDDC to work. Akwa Ibom State is the only oil producing state without an Oil Producing Community Commission and why is that? It is because of the half-checked dereliction of duties by government. And also, I think it is the lack of courage by government to do the right thing for its people because now there would have been that kind of intervention arrangement for the oil producing areas, which should feel a little more pampered than the rest who do not have oil. But in Akwa Ibom, the reverse is the case. The oil producing areas are the completely neglected areas and that is not going to hang around for too long because the people are angry. And anger soon develops into very unpleasant circumstance. So, I think NDDC is showing the way and Government is also trying but we must also bring this one onboard too. It is a win-win situation and it should be.



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