Governor Liyel Imoke
Sometimes, problems come in torrents. This perhaps best describes the case of Governor Liyel Imoke at the moment. Few days after the Supreme Court ruled that 76 oil wells once owned by Cross River State belong to Akwa Ibom, and stripped the state of its status as oil-producing area, Bakassi erupted with the declaration of sovereignty by a group. He is, however, taking the challenges in his strides as Roland Ogbonnaya and Ahamefula Ogbu discovered
What is the situation now with Tinapa?
Tinapa is a long term development project. We have come to terms with that fact and we are beginning to see additional investment in Tinapa. The facility is operational and some of the assets are self-sustaining including the hotel, Water Park and now the studio. The occupancy rate in the malls is not yet as high as we would like it to be but, overall, we are quite pleased. Inspite of the initial hiccups we have been able to keep Tinapa going and we expect that Tinapa will grow significantly over the next few years as we continue to grow in making Tinapa thrive.
Does the problem of Tinapa have to do with the conception, the vision or issues of policy from the federal government?
There are quite a number as you know, it is a huge project so in terms of policy, a number of policy issues should have been addressed. The infrastructure challenges that Tinapa faced and of course you can also appreciate the fact that as a result of those challenges the concept as developed or as conceptualised has not been realised and it has not been realised not through a particular fault or a particular thing; just the fact that a lot of what you needed for Tinapa to succeed were outside the control of the state government in terms of policy, in terms of regulation and in terms of infrastructure; they are all outside the control of the State government . Of course, there have been some people who will argue that it is too big a project for Cross River State but that is neither here nor there. The important thing is that the project is there and we have to do everything we can to make it viable or to make it work.
How true is it that it has made the state largely indebted?Well, Tinapa as we all know was funded largely through debt with the state providing guarantees on that debt and when Tinapa was not able to pay back that debt, the state having issued the guarantees was responsible for paying that debt. So, to that extent as a state, we‘ve carried the debt and it was conceptualised as PPP project of sorts but as it is, the state put in close to 90 per cent of the equity and as it is, that equity was funded through debt.
How much is the debt in terms of figures?
I don’t want to give you wrong figures; I can get it from the Debt Management Office. I need to be more exact since you are asking for specific figures. The project cost $450 million and a considerable part of it was funded through debt.
Would you say the frustration of the project is coming from the federal level or where exactly?
There are a number of things I think that are first of all from the regulatory point of view: the management and regulation of Free Trade Zones is on the exclusive list, so we can build but we cannot operate without being regulated by the federal government. So it is sort of you build a house but someone else has to control how you use the house. The regulatory environment for Free Trade Zones is on the exclusive list and that of course is a problem with the project of that nature. The nature of Tinapa was conceptualised as a Retail Free Trade Zone and of course for that to happen fiscal policies have to be put in place by the federal government. Retail Free Trade Zone means that you are competing with sometimes, other retailers who don’t have the incentives that should have been available in Tinapa and also competing to some extent, with domestic markets, so for Tinapa to work, you have to put in place a fiscal regime designed specifically to make Tinapa work and because Tinapa is not a federally-owned Free Trade Zone, the federal government does not necessarily feel obliged to bend over backwards to put in place that fiscal regime. In addition to that of course, there is an assumption that there being a new airport or an expanded airport infrastructure; there is an assumption that the Calabar Port would be dredged and expanded; there is an assumption that the road leading to Calabar would be fixed and dualised and everything that I have mentioned are owned by the federal government. But the state made those assumptions when the feasibility study of Tinapa was being developed and of course none of those things happened. With none of those happening, the captive market for Tinapa became Cross River and its environs and the size of Tinapa was such that the purchasing power and the population did not exist in Cross River. For us, it was a project that had the best of intentions but when it was delivered was fraught with a number of challenges some of which I have listed.. As a result of all of these we still carry substantial debt on Tinapa. The thing is that Tinapa still has tremendous potential and as it is a long term development, we are still investing in Tinapa and we are trying to develop a new community within or around Tinapa. We have what we call the new development area. We are trying to bring Tinapa close to the city so that its utility would be to some extent improved upon and expanded because if it gets closer to the city, it becomes much more accessible to users. Right now to get to Tinapa you have to sort of drive a bit out of town, but what we are trying to do is to build a much shorter road that takes you to Tinapa as well as invest in other facilities within the prisms of Tinapa just so that we can continue to drive traffic to the place.
We take it that there are actions that are already in place to address the problems that have been identified as militating against getting the best out of the investment?
The ones that are in our control we are addressing effectively; the ones that outside of the control of the state government we are pursuing with the federal government. Actions are being taken across board. We are pursuing for example the dredging of the Calabar channel and we like to see that happen but, like I said, it is totally out of the control of the government of Cross River State. There is a need for us to understand the project and to support the project. For us we have to modify the use. We are happy that today, I think the occupancy rate in the Tinapa Lakeside Hotel is between 60 and 75 per cent. We have managed to open a small conference facility which we funded because the hotel didn’t have any conference facility. We are happy that today the Inspire Africa Group, Moments with Mo have taken over the studio and are now operating the studio. We are happy that the block buster movie, “Half of a Yellow Sun” was made in Tinapa very recently at the studio.
Most states are said to be broke or in dire financial straits, what is the situation with Cross River?
(Laughs) No we are not. Why would you think we are? We are not at all, we are just striving hard to manage our resources in such a manner that we can guaranty and ensure that public servants and civil servants get paid on time and at the end of the month, and that we can deploy resources towards projects. We do a lot of planning with our projects so we don’t run into the type of difficulty some might run into if their projects are ad hoc or vendor driven. For us we do a lot of planning, a lot of budgeting and so we can finance our projects. We even anticipate our economic down turns and we plan towards them. But for us being an exemption, no we are not; we are as broke as everybody else.
What is the state’s IGR like?
It was about N200 million monthly when I came in; now it is about a billion, I think N1.1 or N1.2 billion.
What did you do to increase it?
Efficiency. We didn’t really increase rates, we just improved collection; efficiency in collection. We believe that we have the capacity to do a bit more. We set a target of N2 billion and to be achieved by the end of this year as monthly IGR because that helps us also to address some of our programmes and initiatives.
How are you leveraging the BRACED (Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa-Ibom,Cross Rivers, Edo and Delta) States to improve your economy?
The concept of the BRACED States was basically for us to be able to agree to certain quality standards and to also invest meaningfully in infrastructure in a complimentary manner so that we will not duplicating resources on investment. To the extent that I am able to sit down and say in Cross River State I am going to do conferencing and my colleagues in the BRACED States say okay we are now going to patronise your conferencing; it works and we understand that each of our states has areas of comparative advantage and what we have tried to do Is understand those areas of comparative advantages and allow the states to grow those areas of comparative advantage but more importantly, what we are doing now is more public sector work. Our various MDAs are meeting to harmonise policy to ensure that they are complementary. So the Commissioners for agriculture for instance have met recently to look at agriculture policies in the six states; to look at agricultural production in the six states, not only to look at it in the way of best practices but also we ensure that among ourselves we don’t compete or we reduce competition. I may be doing oil palm, Rivers may be doing oil palm but we understand the oil palm market better and we understand how to approach oil palm so that we will not seem to be competing with one another , of course, I am picking up best practices from Rivers and vice versa.
There is this notion that the South South Governors have not been supportive of President Goodluck Jonathan. As Chairman of the South-South Governors Forum what is your reaction to this?
No. I don’t think that is correct. Mr. President is from the South-South and we gave him support through the electoral process. He is one who as far as we are concerned, is the leader of the zone and as the leader of the South-South zone we have duty and obligation to give him all the support so the South South zone and the South-South Governors Forum strongly support Goodluck Jonathan and his administration.
What are your perspectives on the review of the constitution?
Yes I do, I have always had strong views on constitutional issues. I think that we cannot sustain the hybrid that we have now. We have a hybrid political system in place which to my mind is not just sustainable and we are not practising true federalism, we are not practicing parliamentarian system so we need to define what exactly it is we want to practice. If we do have a federation called Nigeria and it is based on principles of federalism, then I think we need to practice true federalism. True federalism is about allowing the components, the sub components in a federating unit to have responsibilities that are defined in the constitution which to my mind currently are to a significant extent on the exclusive list. There is need to move some of the items on the exclusive list to the concurrent list at the very least if we must practice true federalism. But are we practising true federalism because we want to improve on governance and development and that is really the question. Do we want to develop the society? If we want to develop the society then what type of government best suits our own environment? I believe very strongly that the States as federating units are centers for growth and development and we need to pay more attention to that. I believe very strongly that the issue of policing for instance has to do with crime; the management of crime and security, law and order, let us not take policing to the realm of politics. Now if the management of crime in society today was efficient, there would not be a single person requesting or mentioning the thought of a state police. To me what I think we should do is to look at the constitution, look at the areas of constitution that will improve governance, improve efficiency and amend the constitution accordingly. I believe very strongly that with the amended constitution you will now have to look at the revenue sharing formula because responsibility would have changed from one unit to the other and of course funding would also change. Take for instance the issue of solid minerals, I have a challenge in Cross River State where we produce a lot of solid minerals, lime Stone and so on but I don’t derive any revenue from them. Solid minerals is on the exclusive list. I suffer the environmental degradation, infrastructure degradation; an average of a thousand trailers is moving in and out of Cross River everyday, running down the infrastructure in the state. But what happens? They get a licence from Abuja to exploit the resource, they get a licence from Abuja for the environmental degradation, they get approval from Abuja for everything and then for some strange reasons, 13 per cent derivation is not paid on solid minerals because it is focused on oil. So it does not make sense. I have few major companies operating here and all the taxes that they pay outside of PAYE are paid to the federal government. There are few things that I feel we need to address. So to my mind, the amendment to the constitution would be extensive and I think the key thing for us in determining how those amendments should be improve on governance. Would they add value to governance and to the people themselves? Those are the arguments that should prevail. I don’t like arguments that say if you amend the constitution these politicians will abuse it. That is secondary. The key thing is what impact does that amendment have ultimately on governance and ultimately on the people. I don’t understand why the federal government should have medical centers in the states; I don’t understand why the federal government should involve itself in anything below tertiary healthcare delivery. I sit down in Cross River State and I am told that primary healthcare agency in Abuja has sent drugs to health centres in Cross River; the same thing with education and other services. So there is need for us to look at all of these with a view not so much to say who has the power or who is given more power and who is given more money, but with a view to understanding and appreciating. Ultimately the constitution is about the people; so we can amend the constitution so we can serve the people better. If we can amend the constitution so that we can serve the people better then I think we shouldn’t shy away from doing that.
How are you responding to the Bakassi Self Determination Front?
I know it sounds a bit odd; when I get questions like this, one thing comes to my mind. I don’t think that Nigeria has come to terms with the fact that Bakassi is in Cameroun. You are now asking me of a militant group in another country and how I am going to deal with that militant group which is to all intents and purposes in another country.
But those who claim to be members of this Bakassi Self Determination Front are Nigerians?
Well, that is your assumption that they are Nigerians; they said they are from Bakassi and that they want self-determination. Is it from Nigeria or from Cameroun?
Are you not worried that being the next neighbour to them their action might affect your state security-wise?
Yes, of course, from the security point of view. It is something that we have to be proactive about. It is a potentially difficult security situation but from our own point of view we don’t seem to have come to terms with the ICJ judgment. As it is, the preponderance of questions that I get relating to Bakassi are questions that are similar: how are you going to deal with the Bakassi problem? How are you going to deal with the people in Bakassi when Bakassi to all intents and purposes is in another country and is being dealt with by that country? The point I am making Is that Nigeria is yet to come to terms with the fact that that territory is no longer in Nigeria; so I think for us, when you reflect on the fact that we acted on the ICJ judgment to a large extent I feel very strongly that it might have been wise for a plebiscite to have been conducted in Bakassi, that would have solved this matter once and for all but that was never done, the people became secondary to the judgment and that is what we see playing out, the non-acceptance of the judgment by the indigenes or citizens of Bakassi.
From our own perspective we continuously still appeal for calm, we work with the security agencies here – the Navy the Army, the Air force to maintain law and order within the area but there is a need for this matter to be resolved so that permanent peace can return to that channel.
Taking into consideration the fact that this uprising is coming on the heels of the Supreme Court divesting your state of 76 oil wells, one would think that you would be indifferent to the threats of Bakassi since you see it as an issue outside your jurisdiction?
No you can’t be indifferent. I don’t know if you have had the privilege of reading the Supreme Court judgment. I think it was inadvertent. We have accepted the judgement and we believe that with the facts that were before the Supreme Court, that the Supreme Court delivered that judgement based on law. Now we thought that or we would have preferred that the Supreme Court was a court that would see the issue of policy and that the judgement would be based on both law and equity so that it was clear that there was a situation of force majeure. Cross River State had no say in whether we kept Bakassi or not; so if they had no say and they lost Bakassi, then why are they carrying the brunt of the loss? We hoped that Supreme Court would have addressed that but the Supreme Court addressed the issue of law as presented, so we have come to terms with the judgement and we accept the judgment but what has happened is that in delivering the judgement, the Supreme Court itself based the judgement on the loss of Bakassi.
If there was no reference in that judgement to Bakassi, that you have lost the oil wells for this reason but the Supreme Court made that reference to the fact that in 2008 Bakassi was formally handed over and the territory handed over by the Nigerian government to Cameroun, that that act itself meant that Cross River became a non-littoral state from 2008. As a result of the handover of Bakassi and what has happened is that the people of Bakassi are now saying ‘oh, so it is because of this we are suffering this; in that case since we were not consulted and we did not agree to go to Cameroun, we don’t want to be punished for that decision.’ So as a result of the Supreme Court judgement and the basis of the Supreme Court judgment I think it has brought back inadvertently the Bakassi issue to the front-burner. They are two separate issues; the issue of the 76 oil wells is completely different from the issue of the loss of Bakassi, but I think the reference in the judgment to the loss of the littoral status was as a direct consequence of the loss of Bakassi is what has created this new interest or new concern for the status of Bakassi especially given the fact that there are just a couple of months more for Nigeria to be able to request for a review of the judgment.
What do you see as the way out?
I think there are a number of issues that have to be addressed. There are humanitarian issues, societal issues, there are issues of citizenship. The options that were given after the ICJ judgment were simple: you can stay in Bakassi and become a Camerounian, or you can leave Bakassi and come back to Nigeria or you can stay in Bakassi as a Nigerian and be treated as a foreigner in your own land. Those were the three options. In the 60s there was a plebiscite, people voted, why were these people not given opportunities? I think there is still time to review that; I think there is still and opportunity for us to put the question to them. It is not so much about the geographical territory as much as it is about the people. As long as there is a window and we have looked it and there are quite a number of instances of decisions of the ICJ being reviewed, it is not something that we should be totally averse to if it will bring lasting peace to the region. The most important thing to me is peace, anything that will bring lasting peace is what we should advocate for Bakassi and I think that is what we are trying to achieve. So my own views are that we must take the bull by the horn, we must commit to peace in the Bakassi Peninsula one way or the other.
The issue of oil wells is basically consequential. I have said it that it shouldn’t be punitive on Cross River or any other State, I wouldn’t want it to be punitive on Akwa Ibom. Let’s say Bakassi was territory in Akwa Ibom that was lost to Cameroun, we wouldn’t want Akwa Ibom to suffer additional losses, additional consequences from the loss of that territory beyond the challenge of the loss. Why Cross River State will carry the burden of resettlement and at the same time lose its revenues is something that I think the Nigerian nation ultimately has to address. The perception of injustice create insecurity and that is what we are facing; a situation where there is a strong perception of injustice which we need to address.
Let’s go back to that issue of Bakassi, many of them in the last general election said you deprived them of their franchise because you insisted that they were not going to vote in Dayspring Island?
No, there is nothing like that. Before I came in as governor, there was already an agreement reached between Bakassi people and the people of Akpabuyo on how they will co-exist and sharing of political offices and political ward. Dayspring was not part of that agreement, I inherited that agreement and the courts had upheld that agreement. I also inherited a law that supported that agreement that was passed by the Cross River State House of Assembly. As Governor of Cross River State, I was bound to uphold that law. Dayspring was not part of it, not in Bakassi; Dayspring was in Akpabuyo Local Government, not Bakassi. People have the impression that Dayspring is Bakassi, it is not. Dayspring is part of Akpabuyo Local Government. It is an undeveloped swamp and they thought that since it was uninhabited relatively, let the people of Bakassi who are used to living under those conditions be relocated to Dayspring.
Generally, do you think the handling of the Bakassi issue was tidy and satisfactory?
No, it couldn’t possibly be. If it was then there would be peace and there would be no issues, there wouldn’t have been agitations. Unfortunately for me, even in 2008 when the territory was handed over, I was out of office, it was after my election was annulled so I wasn’t even part of that 2008 process because the ICJ judgement was in 2002 long before I became governor. With the benefit of hindsight, I think there should have been certain things that should have been put in place .I think the United Nations should have taken certain actions which it didn’t. We tried to call the attention of the Mixed Commission to that few years back but I think that the federal government took certain actions maybe we did not legislate on those decisions because actually they were political solution that was in place in terms of oil revenues and oil wells and which according to the Supreme Court, was frustrated in 2008 by the handing over of Bakassi. So if we had insisted that that political solution went through legislation as the political solution on the onshore-offshore dichotomy, maybe we would not have some of the agitations that we have now. If we were able to have resettled the people and the people had made a meaningful choice, had participated in a plebiscite and voted on where they wanted to be, maybe that too would have helped the situation. I think there is room for us to improve on the way the situation has been managed. I believe that the President is going to intervene on this matter as he has been fully briefed on it.
What has been you biggest challenge in governance?
Money. That is simple. You have a vision, you have a plan and you need resources to meet those plans so your vision sometimes can be limited by your access to capital to fund them. The number two is capacity. Governance as should be is very serious business and the capacity to deliver on programme or project is sometimes limited; so those are the two major challenges I will say we faced as an administration but we have overcome most of that.
Having been minister of power, why do you think it’s difficult to have regular electricity?
Power stability in Nigeria is possible, we have been a bit negligent in the sector but what I think is critical is the management of the sector. You can’t have efficient management when you have basically a centralised system of management for the utility. If you recall, we had started the process of unbundling the utility, creating different entities, different companies that were going to privatised. We created 11 distribution companies, a transmission and generation companies and we started the NIPP projects and each of those stations was an independent company that was also supposed to be moved up. For us to deliver power efficiently in the country, we must decentralise and deregulate. Significant reform has to take place leading ultimately to privatisation of the assets.
That is what we need to understand and appreciate, we cannot continue doing the same thing the same way and expect a different result. For the power sector I think we are heading in the right direction, I hope we can sustain and do meaningful reforms through that, probably see injection of more or additional capital and see ultimately the development of that sector.
Would you agree that giving contracts to companies that lack the capacity to deliver in our power sector is part of this problem, then who are the owners of these companies?
Giving contracts to companies that don’t have capacity definitely could be a big problem. Who are the people I don’t know but let’s take NIPP for instance, we ordered all the equipment from General Electric, the original equipment manufacturers and all of them were delivered to Nigeria in 2007, all the generators for all the power stations under the NIPP, all and we bought them at GE at discounted prices. There was no middle-man, we dealt directly with the manufacturers
The erection of the power stations were by GE nominated contractors because you cannot buy equipment from GE and they do not nominate those that were to build. Take for instance, out of all the five power stations under construction at the time Marubeni was building three of the power stations. Marubeni built Egbin which is the biggest power station in Nigeria and it is still running. Marubeni built Jebba. Marubeni built Delta too and they built I think the last unit in Kainji, so Marubeni is a global company. So in terms of the companies that you are using and the quality of material that you are using is first class, so tell me why are the stations not delivered?
Why was it the case?
There are several factors that led to that, of course you remember the power probe and we stalled the projects and there were stories that there was no NIPP and that nothing was happening, there was equipment procured and that there was nothing on ground and yet today they are commissioning the same projects. The NIPP projects that they said did not exist they are commissioning now with significantly high cost than it should have cost if we had sustained the programme and delivered them.
Let us hope that we learn from those experiences. There a number of factors that really contributed to the problem. I mean when we were ordering the turbines, Saudi Arabia copied our model. We ordered 18 or 21 turbines and Saudi Arabia ordered I think 27. Saudi Arabia has all the power stations today, all working. Today in Nigeria we are still going back and forth. They say that we didn’t plan for gas and you wonder whether you are a mental person or that you didn’t plan for gas. You attend a meeting and they tell you something like the route to deliver the turbine was not well mapped out and they have to reinforce bridges and do all sorts of things and you wonder because first of all the procurement process of a power station has what we call a route survey so whoever is building, like if Marubeni is building a power station in Calabar, the component of its tender is the route, see what I mean? There is no how a company could have to come to Calabar and plant the power Station, it now knows that it has to move those turbines so a component of the tender is the route survey and it is priced in the bill of quantity.
What do you think of privatisation of the power sector?
I support privatisation and I think that privatisation is the way to go but I have cautioned on it. I cautioned on it because the greatest number of privatisation failures in the world are in the power sector privatisation and sometimes because of the failure to think through the privatisation and sometimes for other reasons but failure rate is very high and so for us I think that we should be gradual. Trying to sell the entire utility within three months and in two transactions has never happened in the world. This is the first time that there is such an attempt, so let’s hope it doesn’t fail.
You have an advantage in tourism, how do you intend to improve on tourism to boost your economy?
The month we record our highest internally generated revenue is December, infact it is almost double of what we get in other months. That is clearly indicative of the potential for tourism. For us, we are investing significantly in projects in that sector and the beauty of tourism is that it is peculiar for us in the sense that we have natural endowments than any other part of the country either with the Obudu mountains which has now translated into a resort, whether it is the forest, the national park, right down to cultural and historical tourism here in Calabar, Cross Riverians have a comparative advantage and tremendous potential than is now being exploited and that is why I talk about driving service so we can provide the service.
There are 16 flights to Ghana every day from Nigeria and there are three or four to Calabar. If you have been to Accra, if you land in Accra, you have landed in Calabar and with all due respect, Calabar looks nicer than Accra. Now why do people pay twice the fair to Accra because it is an international flight and will cost two times more than it costs to Calabar with the hassles of going through immigration and all that to go and spend a weekend in Accra? That is why we think we will invest more in that sector for visitor readiness, making some of our assets visitor ready. We are also investing in marketing our destination; to us that show tremendous potentials, it is a growth area. We see the middle class in Nigeria growing, we also see the opportunity. For us, tourism and hospitality and of course our festivals constitute great opportunities for alternative economy in the State..
What worries you about Nigeria?
What worries me about Nigeria is nationalism and patriotism. What worries me is that I don’t believe we are yet a people in a nation. What worries me about Nigeria is that I don’t believe that we are yet a people in a nation. What worries me about Nigeria is that the average Nigerian is first from his town or his ethnic group before he is a Nigerian, so I am first a Cross Riverian before I am a Nigerian. We must first be Nigerians before we think of anything else and when we do that, we have a Nigeria of our dreams.