From being President of the Students’ Union Government of the University of Uyo when he was a student, Rt. Hon. Onofiok Akpan Luke has risen to become a phenomenon in youth struggle, state and national politics. His story is that of God’s amazing grace, a term that has come to connote all he is and stands for, in private life and politics. He was a two-term member and Speaker of the 6th Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly and presently the member representing Etinan/Nsit Ubium/Nsit Ibom Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives. Today, the President of the University of Uyo Alumni Association shares his thoughts on a wide range of developmental issues with #IbomTelegraph, a team of seasoned journalists drawn from National and State-based Newspapers, dedicated and committed to the development of Akwa Ibom State through positive reportage by changing the narrative. Excerpts:
Do you think the current agitation for the autonomy of the Judiciary and Legislature will see the light of the day or is it just another banana peel for 2023?
I might not be in a better position to speak whether or not the current agitation of the autonomy of state legislature and judiciary will see the light of the day. The ball right now is in the court of the Governors. When it was in our court (the legislature) I knew it will see the light of the day because I had the power of advocacy. In the 5th Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, I also had the power of advocacy and that of the presiding officers in the 6th Assembly. In consort with my colleagues at the Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures, we knew that it was going to be possible. That was why, against all odds, the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly under my leadership, was able to ratify the proposal of the National Assembly to make for the independence of the judiciary and legislature at the state levels.
So, right now the ball is in the court of the Governors. For me, where I stand is not in doubt. I displayed my position in this matter in 2011 to 2015 and I was bold to state where I stand from 2015 to 2019 when I was at the state legislature. I stand with the Parliamentary Workers Association of Nigeria (PASAN) and the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) in their agitation, except for Federal Courts workers who do not have business in the agitation.
I would only make an appeal that the Governors should please see the reason why they should grant financial autonomy to state judiciary and legislature or respect the positions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as stated in Sections 83 and 121, as amended. We are already bedevilled with so many crisis and we don’t need these crisis at this level. So, it is left for the Governor to help us out of this situation.
Why do you think the Governors are afraid of granting autonomy to state legislature and judiciary?
I have not served in the position of a Governor before, so I do not know what they are faced with. So, I am not in a better position to talk on that. Maybe sometime in the future, if by the grace of God I happen to be in such position and capacity, I will do. However, my position and support for the autonomy of the legislature and judiciary as well as the Local Government, is sacrosanct.
What is your view on the legal framework of INEC and the amendment of the Electoral Act? Do you think the legal framework will be in place before 2023?
Within the timetable of the legislature, in this case the House of Representatives, we had hoped to pass the Electoral Reform Bill and the Petroleum Industry Bill before we go for our annual recess in July or August. The Committees that are saddled with that responsibility have been working. The position now is how to marry the issues within the version of the House of Representatives and the version of the Senate before the Bills are passed.
There are critical things that need to be put in place if we are talking about credible elections. We are looking at it and I know that we are still within the timeframe, which we had set for ourselves both in our legislative agenda and calendar. The highpoint of what we sought for depends largely on individual positions. Some of us had canvassed for Electronic Voting; some of us had canvassed for Diaspora Voting; Electronic Collation of results, and issues to deal with electoral offenses. So, it is a potpourri of so many issues and until we have a final report by the Committee, presented before the House, we cannot speak authoritatively on the position. It is a mixture of so many issues and the totality of it looks toward credible polls and credible electoral processes in the country.
Insecurity has become a big threat to all parts of the country, how do we begin to get it right? What do we do to ensure that we do not sink before 2023?
We have to look at the country as a country. We should be thinking about a strong country beyond the next election, which is in 2023. A country that we can all go about our duties, a country we can realize our yearnings and aspiration without any fear of intimidation and without any harassment.
What we are currently facing is beyond insecurity. There are other issues within the country that is dragging the country to its knee. When the former President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, was fighting insecurity, certain sections of the country cried out saying he was killing people by extra-judiciary means and another section cried of marginalization, oppression and all that. We did not know that we were going to get to where we are today.
We had an Executive Session recently in the House of Representatives and for the very first time everybody spoke in one voice, knowing that we are facing a common enemy. One thing was clear and this is my personal opinion, that there is lack of leadership. Everybody seems to be operating in silo. The military is operating in silo and the police is operating in silo. The basis upon this conclusion is that at a point in this country, we heard that even the security Chiefs were no longer answerable to the National Security Adviser. And so there is a clear lack of leadership.
The President has been lucky to enjoy a bipartisan support in the legislature and now is the time that he should take the benefit of the doubt and rise to the occasion. The President needs to seek the help of everyone in this country. I want to use this opportunity to appreciate the foresight of the leadership of the House of Representatives, led by Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, for setting up a Security Committee. The Committee will look into so many issues because the incessant killing of security operatives in the country is demoralizing.
There is a greater security concern in our country and that is unemployment and poverty. The political class must tone-down personal aggrandizement and greed. We have to have a synergy in the policy plans and programmes that will touch on the lives of the people, not political programmes for publicity stunt. If we must stop insecurity, we have to do strategic investment in that area, particularly in intelligence gathering. We have to deeply and sincerely encourage Small and Medium Enterprises. We have to encourage innovation and creativity amongst our youth. For instance, we are stifling technology in this country. Too much regulatory policies by the Central Bank, Security and Exchange Commission and others are stifling technology in the area of FinTech. Cryptocurrency is growing in other climbs but in Nigeria it is tied down by regulations. So, some of the youth who were making a living in this area are being shut-out of business and livelihood. Certainly, they will resort to criminality and other vices. So, while we are fighting insecurity with guns, we need to put up economic policies that will help grow our economy.
Your position on the activities of illegal bunkering and why is Nigeria still importing crude products?
The issue around bunkering is a cartel thing. It is a cartel thing in the sense that even the state actors posted to stop it make a living out of it. In fact, they encourage it to happen within the region. And that is why they don’t have the willpower to stop it because they are feeding fat from it. Those who engage in it do so because they don’t have the alternative means of refining. They have the technical-know-how to do it and given the enabling environment, they can do it legitimately.
Again, on the issue of refining, we have just heard that the Federal Government has approved $1.5Billion for turnaround maintenance of our refineries. We already know what will happen because it is not going to be feasible. Technology is dynamic and we must stay abreast with it. $1.5Billion can give us 250,000 Barrels per day capacity Modular Refineries. Why do we seek to put $1.5Billion in old and outdated refineries? There is something that has not been explained to us.
Why are we still importing? I am still studying the nation’s oil and gas industry to unravel the issues surrounding the industry. NNPC has just said there is no money to remit into the Federation Account for April and May because money has been paid on subsidy. The question right now is, did we make a line item in the 2021 Budget for subsidy? If the answer is no, then where is the NNPC getting the money to pay for subsidy? Again, this is a government that said we should not subsidize for petroleum products. So, why have we not been able to proffer solutions to the problems they found six years ago? There is something wrong. We are in crisis and we are going to experience more crises in days to come if nothing is done.
Let me paint a picture within the Oil and Gas Sector. We are going to pass the PIB and it is going to favour the host communities and government. But there are certain persons that the PIB will not benefit, the International Oil Companies, IOCs. This is going to be a big problem. The IOCs are no longer investing in the industry. In fact, most of them are drilling old oil wells because there is no enabling environment for them. I am not advocating for the IOCs, but we have to strike a balance. While government wants to make revenue, while the host communities wants to benefit, we must create enabling environment for the IOCs to operate and do their production, which will in turn benefit them. So, as a mono-economy nation, if we pass PIB without resolving these challenges, it will affect us all.
Talking about refinery, I appreciate what Dangote has done and we should encourage the building of refineries like that across the country. The Federal Government should give license to people in the Niger Delta region to begin to build modular refineries. There are people who have been trying to build a Modular Refinery in Ikwe, ONNA Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State and I know that part of the Industrial City idea of Governor Udom Emmanuel has to do with the petrochemical industry and a refinery at the end of it all. By the grace of God, we will be given license for it. We must support Governor Udom Emmanuel to make sure that becomes a reality. Thank God we have been able to get the license approval for the business case of Ibom Deep Seaport.
The issue of insecurity in Nigeria today seems to go beyond lack of employment and poverty to one that is borne out of an international agenda. Do you share in this view? Do you also think State Governors should continue to get their security votes even when it is obvious that they cannot handle security issues within their jurisdiction?
Take a look at the banditry in Zamfara State, a predominantly Hausa-Fulani and a Muslim domain. I do not thing that the Nigerian Muslim would want to kill their follow brothers in Zamfara. Same goes for Borno, Katsina and Yobe States. So, I completely share in your view of an international agenda and this is as a result of our porous borders and the influx of arms from conflict regions. That is why the crisis in the Republic of Chad is a big concern for us.
On the issue of security votes for Governors, I am an advocate for state police. I have a Bill at the floor of the House seeking the alteration of the Constitution to make matters of policing to be delisted from the Exclusive Legislative list to the Concurrent list. So, the Governors can only do a little within the present security architecture of the country. They can only give vehicular and logistics support, and these come from their security votes. So, it is a mix. There are Governors that have utilized their security votes judiciously to the benefit of their people and there are some, right from 1999, who have not utilized theirs. You cannot, as a state government, go to procure arms and you cannot determine the arms to be brought to your domain. Only the Federal Government has that power. So, within that context, there is hardly what a State Governor can do. Akwa Ibom State is a maritime belt and the security demand here is not the same with a non-maritime belt state.
For 2023 Governorship, what quality should the people of Akwa Ibom State look out for?
Why look only at one position, the Governorship? Why are we not looking at the quality of those who should be our Councillors, Local Government Council Chairmen, State House of Assembly Members, House of Representatives Members, Senators and President? Holistically, you cannot proffer solutions to people’s problem if you do not understand those problems. You cannot build a cocoon for yourself and also fence yourself from the people and expect to know their challenges. You cannot seek to go to the State House of Assembly to advocate for issues that bothers on the progress and development of your people if you don’t know their challenges. You cannot seek to know the problem of a man from Eastern Obolo going to Ibeno if you don’t know the problem of a man in Atabrikang. You can’t proffer solution to the people of the fishing community to aid their business if you have not been to the fishing community of Ebughu yourself. So, you must know the problems of the people before you seek to proffer solutions to those challenges.
So, for 2023, we need an intelligent fellow in all the offices that anyone seeks to occupy. We need men and women who have grasp of development issues within the context of the geographical entity that they seek to represent. We need a man who understands the issue of primary healthcare. We need a man who fears God, not by lip service. We need a man who will encourage youth to go into productive businesses, respect the elders and be gender sensitive. We need a man who has a mix of politics and governance. We need a man that is bipartisan, large-hearted and ready to forgive. We need a man who can unite, whom the Eastern Obolo people, the Oron people, the Annang people, the Ibibio people, the Itu Mbonouso people are going to see as a unifying factor, not an ethnic champion.
Recently, the social media has thrown up names of people allegedly anoint by the Governor for 2023 and your name is not among these names. How do you feel?
Go and read the Bible Books of Samuel and his mission to the house of Jesse. Power comes from God and He gives to whom He pleases. God will choose whom He wants as the next Governor of Akwa Ibom State. Governor Udom Emmanuel, as deeply spiritual as he is, has consistently said that it is not him but God that will choose his successor. The Governor has not endorsed anybody, I am speaking authoritatively. The Governor that I know will call everyone when it is time because we are all members of the Divine Mandate family. The Governor is a consulting Governor and he is a man that listens to God. So, God, at the appropriate time, will choose His own leader for Akwa Ibom State when the time comes. And I can tell you, the oil is waiting for the head of David.
If you must change something about Akwa Ibom State and her people, what would that be?
If I must change something about Akwa Ibom State that would be the re-orientation of the minds of the people of Akwa Ibom. There seems to be too much of hatred and bitterness in the land. And the political class are responsible for that. The problem of our state is not in the office of the Chairman, not in the office of the Commissioner, not in the office of the Speaker, and not in the office of the Governor. The problem of our state is in the nooks and crannies of our state and if you don’t go there you can’t see those problems. I would change the concept of human capacity development.
As the Speaker of the State House of Assembly then, you were in the forefront of the fight to rescue the state from invasion. You were exposed to lots of challenges both within and outside, you got a lot of offers but at the end you succeeded in being the Speaker and keeping the State House of Assembly intact. Now you are in the House of Representatives, have you ever regretted your actions and imagined you could have crossed over to the other side of the political divide?
The issue of changing mind has never crossed my mind. In life I try as much as possible to be consistent with what I do and I want to be known for being consistent. I am not perfect, I make mistakes, I fall but in areas that I can, I want to be seen to be consistent. I have never regretted what I did in support of Governor Udom Emmanuel and in support of his administration and I will never regret. My support for the Governor was borne out of conviction. And that conviction was borne out of my belief as a Christian and I was on a divine agenda and a divine position.
Yes, there were very big offers but I don’t regret my stand for Governor Udom Emmanuel. Given the opportunity again, I will do exactly what I did except that I will change style and tactics. For instance, I headed the Media Committee of the Divine Mandate Campaign Organization and I was given promises to give to the people in that Committee. We finished work and nobody has come to me to discuss compensation plan for those people till date and in all honesty, I feel so bad about it. So, maybe today, if I am given the opportunity to chair the Media Committee again, I would not accept the offer because I am yet to fulfil the promises I gave to the people. I have not been able to fulfil that promise because it is not within my power. So, I have no regret or whatsoever doing the things I did for Governor Udom Emmanuel because that is the thing that God will use to compensate me in the future and that is part of the thing that will form the GOAL.