Barrister Jerry Akpan, a committed member of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), who stepped into the political hall of fame early in life as Premier Chairman of the Akwa Ibom State Local Government Service Commission. He is from the famous Ikpa Ibom Clan in Mkpat Enin Local Government Area and was a Special Adviser in the Bureau of Political and Legislative Affairs and Commissioner for Economic Development. He has remained a major factor in the politics of the state, particularly, that of Eket Senatorial District. In this interview with Ibom Telegraph Crew, he explains his political leadership status in Mkpat Enin, describes his House of Assembly representative as a neophyte who chose to work with political retirees like ex-Deputy Governor and Commissioner for Rural Development. Excerpts:
What is your view and sentiment concerning the recent ruling of the Supreme Court on the Akwa Ibom State Governorship Election?
The Supreme Court ruling on the Akwa Ibom State Governorship Election was a victory for the judiciary, a victory for democracy. Victory for the judiciary in the sense that the Supreme Court was able to right the wrongs done by the Election Tribunal and Appeal Court. It was a very well researched judgment for the people of Nigeria. It showed that the judiciary is really working. For us in Akwa Ibom State, especially those of us in the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), it was an exciting judgment. I was very happy and the good people of Mkpat Enin were very happy. The judgment also reaffirmed our position that Udom Emmanuel is God sent for the people of Akwa Ibom State and I thank the people of the state for their support. And should the judgment had been otherwise, PDP would have won with no second.
Analysts say the judgment was not bias but based on the Electoral Act. Given your background as a legal practitioner, do you see any fault in the Electoral Act?
The card reader issue, which was one of the hinges of the Supreme Court judgment, was not done through the ambit of the law. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) introduced it with going through the law that allows for such. So, the Supreme Court was right that the card reader was not provided for in the Electoral Act and Nigerians agreed to it in totality. The Act has stipulated ways and manner an item could be introduced into it and INEC did not follow that. But as a whole, I do not see any fault in the Act and, certainly, it can be amended before the next general elections.
It is said that President Muhammadu Buhari’s economic policy has affected Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs), as a forerunner of a platform that produced the Udom Emmanuel’s administration that promised industries and FDIs, do you think these promises are feasible?
President Buhari policy is aimed at streamlining and ensuring that our Naira gets the required strength over Dollar. So, Federal Government is not barring foreigners from coming into Nigeria to do business. The policy is even promoting industrialization, how to fix power, roads etc and the people that can give us technical backings are the experts who are mostly foreigners. The Federal Government is thinking of Private Partnership Participation (PPP) and BOT (Build, Operate and Transfer). All these, Nigerians may not be able to do it alone. So, there is no hindrance at all with what the Udom Emmanuel government has promised to do. All his campaign promises will be accomplished.
The hike in the exchange rate seems to create some level of fear in terms of investment but tend to favour those who are trading with the foreign currencies. What will be your advice to Nigerians in the Diaspora, particularly Akwa Ibom people, who might want to invest?
I urge those who may have the money to use this opportunity to invest because this position will not remain forever. To our sons and daughters in the Diaspora who are buoyant enough, they should seize this opportunity and invest their money in the state. I am saying this because I am very sure Naira will soon equate the Dollar and other foreign currencies.
Your locality seems to be favoured with the establishment of the Coconut Plantation and Refinery, what is your take on this?
We are very grateful to the State Government for deeming it fit to site a Coconut Refinery in Mkpat Enin Local Government Area. Our people have sworn to stand by the government to make sure this project becomes a reality. As a stakeholder in the area, I have been meeting with the Village Heads, youths and other stakeholders and leaders of the area to ensure we give the necessary support to the State Government to achieve its plan because it will be very beneficial to us; our youths will be gainfully employed. So, it is a welcome development and we are very proud of it.
As a key stakeholder in Mkpat Enin, what is your opinion concerning the speculated political tussle in the area as regards the forthcoming PDP convention and Local Government Elections?
There is nothing like political tussle in Mkpat Enin. There is nothing like faction, as speculated, in Mkpat Enin. Mkpat Enin and PDP remain one and we are politically led by Chief Richard Umoren, a seasoned and revered politician. Upon a meeting that we had recently by stakeholders from Mkpat Enin, including all woman leaders, youth leaders, past and serving Chapter Chairmen of PDP, Chairmen of Council, political appointees in the state, it was resolved that in view of the fact that Chief Richard Umoren, though not sick, may not be able to get his way into a meeting hall due to age, there should be appointed, among ourselves, somebody who is smarter and more energetic than him. The mantle fell on me. I vehemently opposed it but the people said I had no choice and that I must accept it. That decision was taken on Friday, February 12, 2016, and they said it must be me because I have a lot to do. And since the masses have spoken, I had no choice than to accept it and I knew to whom much is given, much is expected. So, the following day, Saturday, February 13, 2016, I was taken to Chief Umoren, who was exceedingly grateful. He blessed me and asked me to represent him. So, I am not the political leader of Mkpat Enin. I am the political leader’s representative and I cannot do anything outside he has asked me to do. Chief Richard Umoren remains the political leader of Mkpat Enin because a man that age, above 80 years of age, is such that we cannot do without his reservoir of wisdom and experience politically.
So, the following week, we needed to congratulate Governor Udom Emmanuel on the Supreme Court victory and we placed a congratulatory message in The Nation newspaper. It was when a few persons saw the publication that what you call speculated political tussle started. They were not happy because they felt they should have been the one to have done it due to their deep pockets. What I am telling now is that Mkpat Enin is one. Where you have 30 people against three people, you won’t even tell anybody that the three are minority. At best, you will call them inconsequential minority. These three people are the man we asked to go and represent us at the State House of Assembly, Engr. Otobong Ndem, the serving Commissioner, Barrister Ekong Sampson, and the immediate past Deputy Governor, Lady Valerie Ebe. Let me further shock you, when Mrs. Cecilia Umanah was a Commissioner for Education, Lady Ebe, who worked under her was a level 13 officer. Mrs. Umanah was 31 years old when she became Commissioner. When I was the Chairman of Local Government Service Commission about 14 years ago, I was about 41 years old. After that, I became Political Adviser and I went round the entire state politically and I later became Commissioner and these happened many years ago.
When Chief Richard Umoren was Chairman of the Local Government, many of them had not dreamt of leaving Secondary School. And I am very sure the House of Assembly member may not have entered secondary school when Chief Richard Umoren was the Local Government Council Chairman. When Udomsam Umotan was Council Chairman and Head of ALGON, I don’t think my House member had finished secondary school. When Obong Udobong Ekpo was the House member, I don’t think Otobong had finished secondary school. When Akan Afia, who is of the State Chapter of PDP, ventured into politics, I don’t think my House member had finished secondary school. We also have in our midst the Chapter Chairman of PDP, Ubong Inyang, Ubong Ekefre, Imefon Udoh, Chief Ekong Mex, who had gone to the House Representatives before, Chief Friday Iyara, Ekaette Usip. The list is endless including the Paramount Ruler and youths. All these people are working with me to support our political leader. These people were tired of imposition, a situation where things were done and list compiled in one person’s house. They saw as one who is given to selfless service. So, Mkpat Enin is one and those three people are only grumbling for nothing. Their grouse is that they should have been the one to have first congratulated the Governor. We do not have anything with what they are doing. All we want is to put to end the situation of always sitting in someone’s bedroom to write names of people and submit without the knowledge of all. We want to put to end “self” and thank God, today, it is the elders of the Wards that take charge of their Wards and they report to the central body. The House member and the Commissioner cannot be bigger than the people. The people of Mkpat Enin sent them there. The people can no longer tolerate indiscipline in the party and indiscipline in the polity of Mkpat Enin.
What should the people of Mkpat Enin expect in the forthcoming PDP convention and Local Government Elections?
The people of Mkpat Enin should expect nothing of the government of the people, by the people and for the people. Ordinarily, we have given them a marching order to go to their Wards and sit with elders and stakeholders and brainstorm and come out with a list of names through equity, fairness and justice. The people of Mkpat Enin should expect evenly distributed governance and dividends of democracy. We have just four Clans in Mkpat Enin but do you know that out of the present seven-man Local Government Transition Committee, there is no representative from Ikpa Ikono? This must stop; this is what the people should expect.
Given the Chairmanship position at the Council, is the zoning arrangement going to stand?
Yes, it stands. The Chairmanship is to the Ukpum Miya Clan and at the appropriate time we will ask them to meet and come out with their best three for us to look at and probably put into voting in the house and I tell you, there will be no violence in Mkpat Enin regarding the forthcoming LG elections. We will do justice to all concern because justice, equity and fairness are our guiding principle. Our thinking is in line with that of the Governor, that is, the popular candidate must emerge. And this is what this three people don’t want. Well, you know there must always be a Judas out of the 12 disciples.
The Ikot Edeghe-Ikot Usop Road happens to be one of the signposts of infrastructural transformation that the Udom Emmanuel administration has performed in the area, are you satisfied with the pace of work?
I am very hopeful considering the fact that our Governor is a man of taste and the contractor handling the job would have no choice than to satisfy the Governor in order to have more jobs. So, it will certainly be a quality road, I am so sure.
What is your advice for the people of Akwa Ibom, particularly those who did not support the Governorship of Udom Emmanuel?
I kept telling those that were not in support of Udom initially that Udom is a good product. I kept telling them to forget about the container and drink the content that they live. Their problem was that he should not have come “this man” and I kept saying “forget about wherever and however he came,” because God must always use man to effect His purpose to His people. Now that it has happened, on their own they will start coming to work with this government. So, I call on all people to come together and support Udom Emmanuel to succeed. Where we are is better