Former Akwa Ibom State Governor, Obong Victor Bassey Attah, popularly known as the Resource Control man and the initiator of zoning in the state’s politics, was recently crowned the leader of the state politics. In this interview, he bares his mind on contemporary issues at the national and state level. EXCERPT:
You once said that if a man’s hands are tied behind him, even if such a man is fed with the best meal in the world, he doesn’t enjoy it. What is the way you would want Niger Delta people to be fed with?
Involvement. I made that statement long time ago but someday, people will get to know. I made that statement to former President Obasanjo when I was the Governor of Akwa Ibom State. I said to him that 13% is guaranteed by the constitution and we know how we fought for that. But there must be some involvement. That’s the word to be used, ‘involvement’. And that’s for your information which you can now tell the whole world. That’s the whole concept that brought Marginal Oil Field to be. As Governor, I had a man called Godwin Omene; a specialist in that area. He prepared me a presentation which I presented to Obasanjo about oil fields. And I said look, if you just allow us get involved in this oil business, even if we are drilling 5,000 barrels per day, we won’t be jealous of Mobil for drilling 500,000 barrels per day. But we are saying that when Mobil drills, sells and government collects the money and come and give you 13%, it is not satisfactory. Go and find out from Okpolokun who was the Group Managing Director of NNPC then. That’s how Marginal Oil Fields came to be.
Because I initiated it, you will also get to know that Akwa Ibom was the first entity to sign Marginal Oil Field list. We were the first to sign it because I initiated it. And believe me; everybody is now feeling satisfied that we have Stubb Creek. So, we are involved in the oil business and if we can just extend that so that we find a way of involving all these militants in various aspects of the oil business. It doesn’t always have to be by owing oil fields or owing marginal or large oil fields, but it can be the refining business, it can be marketing business. Just get us involved in this thing and you will see that some measure of peace will come to the Niger Delta region. That’s what I meant by ‘not sitting down and opening your mouth and someone is feeding you.’ But if you get involved, even if the food tastes bad, you will still eat it. And that’s the satisfaction that comes out from being involved.
What happened that we don’t have Amakpe Refinery till this moment?
Stupidity on the part of the promoters. The private sector stupidity. They said they wanted to do a cracking unit. And I said cracking unit for five thousand barrel of oil. Cracking unit is what we have if we have a major refinery producing PMS. I can tell you that as a Governor, I had got Mobil to sign an agreement to pay all the NAFSA, all the Kerosene, and all other products that were to come out of just refining 5,000 barrels per day. But without a cracking unit which produces PMS. How much PMS do you produce out of 5,000 barrels per day? And yet the cost of this cracking unit was such that you could never recover from. And I said, I’m not putting government money in this, if that is what you want to do. I am not going along with you. So, we had to go to court to disengage ourselves from Amakpe because I was not prepared to accept what they were proposing.
So, what happened to the initial money your government paid to the promoters?
Yes, we had put in $10million. It was one of the first few projects that I promoted here because I said Akwa Ibom people must get involved. $10million was what we paid and we went to court to disengage and get back our money.
Apart from the Amakpe Refinery, there were other projects you initiated and were abandoned by the successive government
Please name them for me
Like the Science Park and others
Is that all? You don’t know that I initiated and did the Ibom Airport? That I did Ibom Power Plant? You don’t know that I initiated and did Five Star Hotel? Why do you want to talk about only those that have been abandoned rather than those that have been completed? Don’t you know that I initiated and built Ibom Power Plant? Find the ones that I was able to complete. I completed them, and the ones that I carried to a point where nobody could stop, they couldn’t stop them. But those they felt could stop without studying the feasibility. You want to pretend that you don’t know that the government that came in after me had a philosophy of destroying everything that I did?
We are aware….
Then why do you asked the question? You know and aware that their philosophy was to destroy so that they could boast that Obong Attah did not do anything when he was here. Unfortunately, that statement is being given a lie now because everybody knows that it is not true. Most of what had happened here that is functioning, I initiated them to a very large extent, carried it very far if not entirely completed them. I did it very far, if not entirely completed by Obong Attah.
You should ask the people. Do you know something called AKWASOL? AKWASOL was the company formed by the Akwa Ibom State Government that I led in conjunction with the Barbados Government, $1million from the Barbados Government; $1million from Akwa Ibom State Government with a few private investors. We were producing; we had a factory in the state that produced Solar Water heater. Today, everybody is talking about alternative energy, but the government that succeeded me destroyed it, that government vandalized the whole place. The whole place is a ruined now. Just go and see AKWASOL. And the matter is in International Court because the government of Barbados wants back its money. That’s still that. So, when you have a government that comes and goes and after another government that comes and does not want to do whatever the previous government did is what you get. And that’s why the Science Park is where it is now. And today, we’re talking about ICT, we are talking about Alternative Energy, we are talking about all the things that I foresaw. Why don’t you talk about the University of Technology? Did I not initiate and started it? It has been bastardized and made to become a regular university so that campuses can be put in various people’s villages out of influence rather than logical location. So, that’s what Akwa Ibom people have to live with.
You once fought about bringing Mobil Headquarters to Akwa Ibom, what happened?
Till today, I am still fighting for that. But that one cannot be blamed on Akwa Ibom State Government even though there could be a lot or more. It could have pursued it a lot more strongly than what I am doing. But it will depend also on the Federal Government. Don’t also forget that all these IOCs, Federal Government owns sixty percent of them. So, you have to get Federal Government consent to agree to bring those things here. And unfortunately, we do not get that kind of backings from the Federal Government. If the Federal Government says ‘Yes, I agree’, this will bring peace to the Niger Delta. Perhaps, it would have moved, but the Federal Government did not come out strongly in support of that position. They just decided not to do anything.
How true is the notion that the government that succeeded you pushed you aside from the government activities?
Nobody pushed me aside. You see, we have to use words very carefully. I made a statement. There was an attempt by people, using the word reconcile, and it got very angry. You reconcile people that had a quarrel. I don’t have a quarrel with my successor, Godswill Akpabio, but since people insisted on reconciliation, they took us to a church service and I got up and made a statement. My name is Obong Attah; I served this government for eight years. I’m out of government, but not out of ideas. But I cannot give ideas to someone who doesn’t want the ideas. I’ve not been called to give any idea. Including Udom Emmanuel, he has never called me to mention what his government is all about; whether there’s anything I can contribute to that government. So, don’t say anybody pushed me aside but I’m there waiting and expecting and if there’s somebody that still needs my contribution, I will provide whatever ideas and advice I can. Until somebody does that, but I have not been pushed aside. They just decided not to involve me in their government and I will not quarrel with that. They have the right to.
What is it about the 16 points agenda presented by PANDEF to President Buhari?
You know, after the presentation, the Government was going to set up its own dialogue team so that we can dialogue with the President. Well, you might have seen a recent publication or statement that was claimed to have been made by the President that they are ready to dialogue with the militants. And he said he must have either been misquoted or was not properly presented because we don’t expect that the President wants to go into the creek to dialogue with the militants or he wants the militants to come out with their guns from the creeks and dialogue with him in Aso Villa. But rather that he is prepared to talk with representatives of those young men that have reasons to feel cheated and going about the solution in what we considered the wrong way by destroying national assets. And as soon as the President sets up his dialogue team, we, from PANDEF representing stakeholders in the Niger Delta, are ever ready to dialogue with him.
What is the assurance that the dialogue will bring about development in the region?
How else can you be sure without the talking? The important thing is to talk about it, but we know that it took time for us to know what their grievances were and we presented them to the President. It is the conclusion we will come to and the actions that will be taken after discussing with the Presidency’s Dialogue Team that will determine whether we are getting the results we wanted or not.
The Federal Government is looking for a leader from the Niger Delta, what qualities are we looking at?
You have to ask the Presidency if it’s true that they made such a statement. If he’s looking for something different from PANDEF, then he should say what else he’s looking for. But I read an explanation given by one of the media people in the Presidency that the Presidency felt disappointed that he should have met with us, the leaders. Let me use the word ‘so called leaders’. After that, the boys still went and bomb the pipelines two days after. That’s why the President is wondering whether we’re the true leaders. For me, I don’t know how to describe it, but it doesn’t make much sense to me.
Situations don’t just happen. Nothing happens overnight. You know what I mean. The people have had their grievances and have talked to us. But sincerely, one has to admit that since that incidence, they have no bombings. So, to use that incidence to discredit the leadership of PANDEF or to say that PANDEF is not a true representation of stakeholders of the Niger Delta, to me is wrong.
But after the meeting with President Buhari, militants dissociated themselves from the PANDEF
You have to tell me that because I don’t have an idea. It cannot be true. Though there was a time the Avengers felt ‘we don’t accept this dialogue thing. We want to do it our own way.’ But when we pointed out to them, look, if the government discerns on you in the manner it descended on the Boko Haram people, you will have yourself to blame. I think, everybody is toeing the line now. Like the only way to solve this matter is dialogue. If dialogue breaks down, then everybody will see that dialogue has broken down. But at least, let us have dialogue.
Are you also of the view that the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration does not favour the South-South?
What does that mean? That to me is nonsense. Sorry, I have to use that word. I listened the day that the Minister for Niger Delta had his thanksgiving in Calabar. Governor Ben Ayade said that Cross River has never had it so good. He named the Minister; he named the Chairman of NDDC and many others. And in this state, I remember the day Ita Enang talked on the radio, he told us about the Minister we have, the managing Director of NDDC and others including himself as the Senior Special Assistant to President on National Assembly Matters as well as other things that the president has done for the South-South.
I don’t like people just making statement that either don’t make sense or don’t relate to reality. If somebody should come and tell me that the President has cheated us in this manner; that manner, then I can listen. But to just make a statement ‘he has not favour us’, What favour did we expect that we haven’t got? So when next you see those people that claims the government does not favour them, ask them, what favour did we expect that they’ve not got?
How do you see the speculation that the International Airport be named after you?
But you know that the Stadium was named after Akpabio? So, it’s the government that decides this thing. It’s not the person that did it or the person that had left the thing behind. So, go and tell the government that you feel that the International Airport be named after Obong Attah. I am not the one to say that to the government.
How do you see the recent Collapse of Reigners’ Church in Uyo?
There’s a Commission of Enquiry that has been set up. So, let the Commission come up with answers. I don’t know what the answer will be, but I do know one thing. As an Architect, an uncompleted building is a construction site that only authorized persons, properly attired are allowed to go in. If it has been established that it was not a construction site, which anybody could go in, no problem. But if otherwise, there is a problem. Because I know what the Contractor All-Risks Insurance will include. It does not cover non-authorized persons at the site. So, it means nobody is going to get compensation from the insurance. So, it is very sad. So, it means it should never have happened if we had just observed the simple principle of a construction site.
Do you see any fault on the part of the Governor’s Chief Detail?
How can I talk about that? I don’t want to discuss it further because there’s a Commission of Enquiry. Let’s find out whether there’s any fault there. But I’m just making a statement as an architect. A very senior architect who had been a Chairman of the Practice Committee of the Nigerian Institute of Architects for quite a few years that a building site remains a restricted site until the building is handed over. A building site is a restricted site and nobody should have even attempted to go there.
What is your assessment of the Udom Emmanuel’s administration?
I am not going to do that. When I am ready to assess government, I will and I will make my own statement. But you are not going to ask me to assess the government.
What project did you leave behind that you had expected successive government to complete?
You had mentioned the Science Park. I mentioned the AKWASOL, which was already in production. I mentioned the University of Technology. I can now also mention Ibaka Deep Seaport.
Do you know that the designs for Ibaka Deep Seaport were completed and my government actually paid $5million to the consultant that designed it? And all we needed to have paid was additional $5million. Till date no government has been able to implement that project. Do you know that the Steel for the MRO (Maintenance, Repairs and Overhaul) that are standing at the Ibom Airport were ordered and it arrived a few months after I had left Office? The building had since been completed and is standing there and nobody seems to know how to get it operational. This is something that would be earning foreign exchange for this state and this country. There are a lot of things that I started and they are standing without completion because either people seem not to understand them or people don’t believe in them or people don’t know how to go about it.
People say most of your projects were abandoned because you empowered local contractors that were inexperience. Do you subscribe to that?
Please name any of those projects they abandoned because I don’t know of any. I would never have called a local contractor to construct a runway in the Airport because I know they don’t have the ability to do so. I could never have called a local contractor to build me a Seaport because I know they don’t have the ability to do so. I’m not an idiot. But I do know that there were certain things you just have to give them, because all these people were not born with the skills; they acquire them. You see, I am not going to accept from you the statement that they abandoned most of the projects unless you can name them. I don’t know any of them that they abandoned because I left office knowing well that I did not pay for any job that had not been done. That I know.
I developed these local contractors so that they can acquire the needed experience. And more than that, there will be prosperity within the state. This money was meant for Akwa Ibom, so why can’t Akwa Ibom people enjoy some of it to the extent that they are able to produce?
How do you see the current recession in Nigeria?
Recession is cyclically; it comes and goes and so on. Even when we got into office, oil was selling at about thirty something. During our period, it got to a hundred and something dollars per barrel. Then, it later came down again. Even a well managed economy like America had a recession that lasted for almost ten years before it could get out of it. So, recession does happen.
What is critical is what measures you take to overcome the recession and how long it might take you to overcome the recession. Circumstances for recession are created by mismanagement of economy and Buhari has named some of them. We did not save anything for the rainy day. We squandered money. When I heard that one person is returning N4bn. And they are many like that. When I heard that they’ve just recovered 40 vehicles that one Permanent Secretary bought to use for a campaign and they were not even distributed. When I heard that in a certain place in Abuja is parked full of stoves that were ordered to be distributed to people all in the name of campaign.
But go and read Professor Akinyemi. He made a point that we all enjoyed this profligacy and all the corruption that was done because we are complaining now. Even the meson is complaining that he has not gotten a house to build in a longtime because people are not stealing money to be building new houses. The car dealer is saying that he has not sold an exotic car because people are not stealing money and buying exotic cars anymore.
We are now coming down to our level. By the time we come down to our level, maybe when the recession will go, but let me tell you something, we know how much it spent. In fact, it was established that fifty percent of our foreign exchange expenditure is on importing fuel. Tell me why it should be so when we are oil producing country? If we had fixed our refineries, we would not have spent fifty percent of our foreign earning in importing fuel. Would there be recession? Would there be shortage of currency? See how much we spent importing toothpicks, rice and all kinds of nonsense.
We will wake up one day and find out that this North that we are talking about had left us far behind. Because by the time this recession is finished, you will see who is producing rice; you will see who is producing millet and others. What would we say that we are producing, oil? And oil will keep on polluting our environment. Because we think we have oil, we also get angry that other people are sharing in our oil.
How can we come out of this recession?
I’m not in government. The government has to ask me and I will contribute. But one of the things I know that the government must do for us to make progress is that it must accept the basis by which the three regions had agreed to come together in the first instance. If you like, self help, which means fiscal federalism. Take what you have, develop yourself; pay a certain amount to the center, full stop. There, we agreed that that’s what we are going to do. And there will be total peace in this country. Massive development where people will suddenly realize that they have to do this for themselves that they can’t wait for money to come from somewhere. You will see a complete difference in attitude and pace of development. They will just be a Nigeria that we used to know before. (Source: Global Post)