Dr. Chris Ekpenyong, a stalwart of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), a Fellow of the Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE), is a former Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State and General Secretary, Forum of Former Deputy Governors in Nigeria. He shared his thoughts on governance in the state and sundry matters. Excerpts:
We have had some challenges, prospects, ups and down in our 18 years of uninterrupted democracy, how well do you think we have fared?
We are making progress because the worse democratic practice is better than a military regime. I cannot liken the development I have seen even in my own obscured local government, Obot Akara, which has happened between the period of democratic experiment from 1999 till today to what happened during the military era. Democratic governance has addressed most of the injustice that happened during the civil war particularly in the South-East and South-South part of Nigeria. The American democratic experience, which we have borrowed, the height of attainment by the America has been very unprecedented and it was not just noted within 18 years. So, I believe Nigeria too is going to attain the same feat as we progress. By the time we reach 200 years like the Americans, we would have been somewhere though most of us will no longer be around but our great-great-great grand children would have seen a new world.
So, what has been the challenge so far?
The challenge is that democracy is still a new phenomenon and there is a lot of expectation and the people believe that we have been so used to the military order of immediate effect. But immediate effect is a very narrow concept, narrow reward but the democratic experiment poses a situation where dialogue has to be the order of the day; agreement has to be the order of the day. It is just like you are baking bread. You cannot just have bread without going through the baking process of adding some addictives and all that and ensuring that you get the finished product. That is exactly what we are going through in our democratic experiment. And so, the challenges have been discordant tones and all that. Again, the leadership quality has not been properly defined,right from the party structure to the main government. Incidentally, one cannot contest an election on his or her own because of the provision of the constitution. So, it is more of a constitutional arrangement.
Today, so many diverse interests come to play. People want to make quick money; people who have been used to stealing before the democratic experiment are worried because of the new dimension in which democracy has brought into play. These are some of the constraints in our democracy.
In Akwa Ibom, how has it been in the last two years of Governor Udom Emmanuel’s administration?
For me, Governor Udom Emmanuel is doing well. He happens to be one of those Governors that have quality. I know Udom is a thinking Governor. It is not by noise making; it is not by the utilization of the media that I think he has performed. I have seen Udom as a performing Governor. One, he is trying to understand the needs of the people and addressing the needs, and the need of Akwa Ibom people today is industrialization. The need of Akwa Ibom people today is communication in terms of road network from one local government area to the other. So, Udom is reaching out to the hinterlands that had been forgotten. The unfortunate thing that has happened is that the resources he had thought will remain as stable as it were in the past eight years is the reverse. That is the undoing. He does not have sufficient economic strength to actualize his dreams for Akwa Ibom.
So, for me he is doing well in his first two years and I believe in the second two years that we are going before his second coming, he would have perfected his vision and philosophy of asking Akwa Ibom people to rise to their greatness. I think he is laying a very good foundation for his people and that is compatible with the resources at hand.
You can be called an agriculture development expert and one of Udom Emmanuel’s cardinal focuses is agriculture. How can you assess him from the agricultural perspective?
Well, first and foremost I am an electrical engineer by profession and I have risen to the rank of a fellow of the Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE). Like you have rightly said, I am a multifaceted entrepreneur and where we are now is our hospitality environment, which by the grace of God, I founded with my family and other investors like Union Bank Plc which saw the vision with me. We have now ventured into farming because I believe agriculture is a way of life and the way in which we can change the circumstances of Nigeria and of course, our immediate environment. So, Governor Udom Emmanuel keying into agriculture is the best thing that he could do and if we could use the Hydrocarbon resources to impact on agriculture which will be a lasting instrument of change for lifting our people from the doldrums of poverty to that of glorious, wealth creation and wealth ownership, that is where I share the vision with him.
I went the other day to INI Local Government Area and I saw the road that the Governor is creating to link the Rice Farm that the State Government is acquiring. I went there with other persons who want to acquire land for rice farming and I feel we should turn Akwa Ibom into a rice city just like any other state. We are not competing with any state though, but we should also have a distinct identity that in spite of our reliance on hydrocarbon resources that we have what it takes to feed our people and to transform the byproducts of that into industrial utilization. So, Governor Udom Emmanuel to have defined that horizon for Akwa Ibom and its people makes me to be attracted to his administration.