Emmanuel: We’re the Ones Funding Security

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Akwa Ibom State Governor, Udom Emmanuel, at a recent gathering with journalists in Lagos State, said in spite of the fact that security is directly under the purview of the federal government, governors are the ones directly funding security in their respective states. He addressed many other issues, including the current effort to reposition the PDP. Olawale Olaleye presents the excerpts:

What are your reflections as the governor of Akwa Ibom State, barely a year in office?
We want to count the resources of this government. Almost everywhere, there is something actually that the whole world would be looking for in Africa and then in Nigeria. The question now is: how come we do not sit on the same round table with the world? That actually should be our cause for concern. I keep borrowing and I keep saying so anywhere I have the opportunity. If you look at the G7, they do not sit there because they can shoot gun or do propaganda or anything. When you hear the committee of G7 nations, it is those that have the economic power.

So, the question then is, we even have better than what they have but how come we are still where we are today? I am one governor that initially believes that I do not need to tell people what I am doing as a governor for my people but I also have to move in line with the environment that one is operating. I do not need to tell people whether I have given my people water or not because I take those house-keeping things as basic.

I saw it to be very basic because how would people in the outside world hear that it is just now that I am connecting people in the villages to the national grid? The question then would be all through the ages, does it mean they did not have light? It means they did not have but that is the truth about Africa. How come now is the time I am thinking that my people should have portable water to drink but that is the truth about Africa!

You cannot take some of those things away but these are some of the things that we call house-keeping that we picked it up initially. We tried to change the basic things and see that irrespective of the lean purse that we have and the lean financial resources that we are managing to do those things. At times, it is not how much but how you put those things to use to really affect people. We also look at a whole lot in terms of human development. I keep telling all of us in Nigeria that if you think that you can afford medical treatment offshore and you can ignore medical facilities here, wait until something happens that a flight of 53 minutes would seem to you like a flight of 15 hours. Then you now know the difference. I am saying this because I have seen it severally even when you have the money.

To take the person out of the country, for the person to even fly like say from Uyo, he is already in ICU; then, tell me how you take the person to Europe or anywhere? Based on that, you must really, really look at several other areas. That is why you see us trying to look at basic things like healthcare, education and see how we can actually improve where we met it. In the system we run, we believe that government is a continuum. We are one set of resource managers that we do not just think that because a particular administration stopped somewhere, we should come and start all over again.

This is because the resources of the people must have been committed to a particular point. We need to take that to a certain level so that we can actually draw so much from the benefit of deploying those resources to the people. So, that led us to so many other ongoing projects that we are trying to complete that would impact the lives of the people. And we also look at the minds of the people because no matter what you do, the question there is in Nigeria, in the past 30 years, let us compute as a country how much we have made. Let us even take the crude oil that is the main thing; how much have we made from crude oil? How come it is not impacting on the common man?

So, there is a whole lot to do in the minds of the people. How do we now work on the psyche of the people to bring them back? This is because whatever you want to do now, the mindset must receive it. If the mindset does not receive it, forget it. Whatever you do cannot stay. We had to launch a whole lot of campaigns. We had to launch a lot of philosophical campaigns to jerk the minds of the people. We also believe that as a leader, you need to provoke the people to get into action that would actually bring out positive results.

Things that naturally if you leave them could not have been done. As a good leader, you must provoke the minds of the people to get to do most of those things. So, that led us to a whole lot of actions and things we have done like the youth development, the Dakkada philosophy that you guys have been reading everyday in the papers. We have been trying to see how we can raise Dakkada ambassadors and use that to challenge the minds of our people that once the passion is right, nothing is impossible so that all of them can actually realise their potential. And it is yielding good results. If you check in youth development, we are trying to also let people know for the fact that if you cannot make it in the class room, you can make it either in the football field or the lawn tennis court or in film making.

For every single human being, there is something God has put in you that can actually make you realise those potential. That has been the focal point of youth development in Akwa Ibom. In terms of mindset, we are trying to bring the people back for us to do a whole lot in terms of economic foundation that we are trying to lay. I would limit going into specifics. Today, I have a hospital in my state that the average number of patients is 1,230. So, you now can find out the challenge that we have in terms of that. And you need to do a whole lot to make sure the facilities in the hospital can cope with that traffic.

There’s a public perception that your predecessor left a very big shoe for you. Do you agree?
I said earlier that government is a continuum. If someone gets into power in year 2007, the shoe size is 2007. If I get into power in 2015, the shoe size is 2015. So, which one is actually bigger? I do not know how a 2007 shoe would be bigger than a shoe of 2015. The 2015 shoe size is actually bigger. At times, Akwa Ibom is a little bit different because of the way we are structured and that is why we are going the way we are going.

We have structured it in phases and that is what you would be seeing in the next few years if the Lord tarries. When my predecessor came, there was total decay in infrastructure. Mind you, when you are talking about infrastructure, you have certain infrastructure that you say I do not want to count these ones. We met a total decay. So, what we needed to do was to try and arrest that and by doing that, it was like somebody laying a foundation. It was like doing a tiling for a skyscraper. And you would be conscious of the fact that if you have to build a skyscraper, you do not put a quack that would come and do a bungalow. If you do, you would have lost the resources there. So, if you want to build a skyscraper, you must look for a steely manpower that would come and give you the number of stories that you want to do.

In government and governance, that is why you get it all wrong in this part of the world. You just thought that any governor is coming to start afresh and alone. No, that is not how we want to run Akwa Ibom. That is not the type of Akwa Ibom that we are designing. We are designing an Akwa Ibom that one person comes and he does a pilling for a foundation of a 100 storey building. If I come and take it to the 11th floor, another person would come and take it to other floors until we reach where we are going to.

This is because we have realised that within a short period, getting to Abuja to seek bail in and bail out might not work. You must be the architect of the fortune of your own state. My predecessor came, he had a focus and he attacked that. I am coming in and I would build on infrastructure but at the same time, I started by telling you that if you get to the G7 nation, they sit there because of their economic power. I am coming to let people know that there was a time Akwa Ibom was the fourth largest producer of Cocoa and today, we are not even in the top 10.

We want to go back to at least the first two. Why, because the flavor of our cocoa is among the best in the whole world, so why should we let it go? I am coming to let the Akwa Ibom people know that we have a 129 kilometer shoreline and that that alone could be turned to wealth. There is nothing in Singapore than their water, so why can’t we turn our water to wealth? I must drive a policy and governance in the mindset of the people to let them know that they are sitting on wealth. I am coming to let the Akwa Ibom people know that in a whole year 24/7, we have an evergreen area.

That alone suggests that you can actually feed the entire world with the raw materials that they are looking for. So, there must be something there. I am coming to let the Akwa Ibom people know that even if the crude oil price is $150 and you put the money in your house without a solid economic foundation, that money would fly away overnight. That is not wealth creation. That is not poverty alleviation. I am coming to let Akwa Ibom people know that in the past 16 years that we have been doing poverty alleviation and putting money in peoples’ hands and the next thing, they go and buy ‘I better pass my neighbour’. No money to even fuel it. That is a total waste. I want them to know that gone are those days.

Now, you must be a seed sower. Things have changed. We are building blocks. We are also coming because you see, anywhere in the world, what drives the economies of great nations, security is number one. Number two is reliable infrastructure and three is transparent legislation. Security is ongoing and you can’t finish on that. We needed to lay a foundation on reliable infrastructure. That is what we are building on and you do not wait until you complete the infrastructure before you now start to build on the economy. So, it is not a question of shoe size. I think we are going somewhere as Akwa Ibom.

What are the effects the decline in the oil price have had on the pace and style of your administration?
There are certain things you need to know. The cost structure when the economy was running on $128 per barrel, $130 and $140 would remain the same. It is not easy to change that cost structure under a democracy especially in a system, where most of our people rely on government. Here, government influences a lot of things even the financial services. If there is no statutory allocation, look at how liquidity would dry up in the system. A whole lot of things are wholly dependent on the direction of the government.

The cost structure when the oil price was $140 is not coming down; it is rather going up because inflation is not static. The population is growing, people are growing from new age grade to another; that calls for certain classes of demand for goods and services in addition to the cost structure you are running. So, you are running a cost structure that the revenue you are earning today is less than 25 per cent of the revenue that actually put that cost structure in place. So, that calls for ingenuity in managing the resources. We are not boasting but go and check it. People think Akwa Ibom collects so much. It is a relative term. What we collect today is relative to what we used to collect that our cost structure was based on. Every state government is in the same situation but what would differentiate you is a little bit of ingenuity, ideas and creativity. That is why you do not make noise about it.
How can you tell the whole world that you are paying salaries? But in Nigeria, it is an achievement. If you are paying salaries and pensions because when you turn around and you see others owing eight and nine months, you come back home and say, God I have tried now. Take for example, this month, the local government and primary school teachers; you know we run free and compulsory education at basic level for even people from our neighbouring states. So, the enrolment is much. I have a lot of primary school teachers because people from neighbouring states come to my state to go to school because it is free.

As at today, the statutory allocation from the federal government for primary school teachers and local government employees came to N2 billion, but on a very screened, and when I say screened, I have done all the biometrics, I have put all the checks and balances and I still have a structure of N2.77 billion. The question now is, if what you are getting could barely meet that, how are you managing to pay the salaries and still run general administration of the state and be able to meet all other challenges of governance?
That is when creativity, ideas and ingenuity would come in. That is why I tell you today that those that are paying salaries, it is a big achievement. There are challenges but the question there is as I said earlier, what brings out the best in a good leader is when you are faced with those challenges. For somebody like me, that is when you put me in my best and make me to put on my thinking cap. So, those challenges are meant to bring the best out of us.
Probably, if I met oil price at $140, $150 per barrel, I would have, like those days we used to enter Molue, say ‘go on soun”. I would not have checked those things that make us to move forward economically. That is not the thinking of today. That is not where the direction should lead us to. We should not behave like the days of manner falling from heaven. These are the days of tilling on the land. People must be able to work to create wealth. That is a challenge and that is why you see a whole lot of our economic policies at channeling towards addressing that.

Has the long time you spent at the tribunal not disrupted the chain of your programmes?
Time is money but at the same time, I am not a lawyer. So, throughout the tribunal – from tribunal to appeal and to Supreme Court – I went into the court premises only once. I am not a lawyer and I did not need to go there to defend myself. I just concentrated on my work. Why? Because I knew that if the mandate was from the people, whatsoever happened, as far as the people are still alive, there would be no problem. You know, when people were shouting rerun, I did not know what they meant by rerun because rerun to me is a very lay man’s language. It is run the way you were running before.

So, if I was running before, why should I be afraid? So, I do not know why that was the main issue? You know that people made mountains out of that rerun. For me, rerun is run again the way you were running before. It also means re-vote the way you voted before. That rerun to us was not an issue. And let me also tell you, I have a kind of principle; I am like Cocoa Cola and inside Cocoa Cola company, you cannot mention Pepsi. You hardly hear me mention any other political party. As far as I am concerned, it is only the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). If you look at the cardinal things of my party, you see progress and that is what you see in Nigeria; it is power to the people.
So, everything I need on a platform to showcase my governance and administration is on the platform of the PDP. Every other thing you hear in terms of political party stops at the plaza in Uyo. You know there are 31 local governments in Akwa Ibom and 329 wards and if they are gathering in one ward, they have left 328 for me to explore. So, why should I bother myself with what they are doing? That rerun you were hearing, they were telling my people to run again and to run even faster than the way they were running before. So, it was not really an issue. What really affected us was the second aspect of the question I answered, the reason being that it is not difficult for people like us and for somebody like me to create money or to raise money to do what I needed to do. But you know that in the system of government that we are running, as a state government, you do not have the liberty to raise money anyhow.

If you want to raise money, you must have to go back for approval. It is completely different. For the federal government, even if they cannot pay salaries, they just call on one bond without approval anywhere and pay salary. I have a lot of laudable projects that I can borrow to finance and all I need is a year or two moratorium and those projects would pay for itself without anything from the government but I do not have that liberty. It is not the same thing with the state government.

That is the only thing that is a little bit of drawback to people like us that can just raise money for projects. All I need is a year or two moratorium and those projects would pay for themselves from the beginning to the end without anything from the government but I do not have that liberty. That is the only thing that is a little draw back to us that can easily raise and create money. You need approvals for all that and even approvals to improve on federal assets are not easy.

On the national convention of the PDP, the South-west are making a case and they are not joking. Is that not another crisis brewing?
On South-west leaders of PDP in relations to the party’s National Convention, I think that was two weeks ago, but as at today, we all have the same view. Let me say something, there must be some dissenting voices here and there whether you like it or not, even between two brothers, where they are seated, it doesn’t mean two of them must then agree on certain things at the first instant. Be that as it may, if you keep doing things the same way, you will keep on getting the same result. But in politics, you should know that when you have the majority, you are home and dry, and today we have the majority. What do we want? We want a solid and virile party that is united and that can handle the problem of this country.

Somebody like me, I don’t have any other party, the only party I know is PDP. This is because that is the party that brought development. So, as far my people are concerned, that is the only thing they know. So what we are telling people now is look, what do you want to achieve? Can we work from what we want to achieve? We must leave all those things, all those sentiments, biases and so on that we started from outside before we can determine where to go. So that is the new direction and that is why you see some of us in the frontline of repositioning our party. Sorry to say, we would not allow the selfish ones to derail what we are doing. That is what we are working on and we would succeed.

Do you envisage a predecessor/successor crisis?
One thing about human beings is how to manage fellow human beings. So predecessor/successor’s relationship in Africa as a whole occurs because people don’t know how to relate. Two, you must put a round peg in a round hole. If I am a professional in politics, I must also know that a professional in politics would succeed me to ensure there wouldn’t be problem. If I am a professional in politics and I go and look for a professional politician, there would be a problem in his own ideology and so on. Three, it also depends on what are you are looking for because that is the question many people don’t bother to answer: what are you looking for?
I am looking to set my dream and if you are also looking to set your dream, then you must face that project. And if you are facing that project, there must be no problem. So, here we have no complaints; our goal is to make Akwa Ibom a better place. That goal actually unites our sense of direction and purpose. And also, there must be personal determination because they say determination is victory. If you are determined, the banana peel that others matched, you wouldn’t match it because it is a banana peel; we’ve just decided two of us won’t match it irrespective of the pressure.

At times, some of the pressure is from the press because in Nigeria, people don’t believe that two people must work in harmony. If you work in harmony, they start looking for a name for you, because they expect you to quarrel with your predecessor. That is what people expect and if they don’t see that happening, they say no, he is subservient to this one. You know it does work that way. We must learn to work with one another for this country to move forward because it is going to be a major distraction for you to leave what you are doing to be doing what does not benefit a common man. How does that bring food to the table of that poor girl in a village that has not eaten since morning?
So I don’t pray that Nigeria should continue that way. People should also learn to know where they are going to and design their style of living and everything because at the end of the day, what matters most is the people, the citizenry and we must be able to actually take them from where they are to a better place.

Why did you turn down the hosting of the National convention?
You know very well, that anything we do, we do it best. I wasn’t in my best form to hold the national convention because you never have a second chance of creating the first impression. I want to create an impression with the kind of hospitality business that we have in the state. So the Four Point by Sheraton that could have blown the minds of the people, the software wasn’t ready, they are still trying to complete the software because of that, I don’t want to do an haphazard job because I would never a second chance of showcasing the level of hospitality business we have in Akwa Ibom State to those calibre of people. So it is better I shift it and wait for another opportunity to showcase it rather than showcase things that would imply we are still not there.

Are you making up with the opposition?
Over and over again, I made that point that we have only one project in Akwa Ibom and we should all join hands to come and work for Akwa Ibom. As at today, if you come to my government, there are a whole lot of people, they were those that were carrying brooms. So, immediately they left the broom, I embraced them because they are Akwa Ibom people. You see the day I won my election, I said that was the year of campaign partisanship and that I have just settled for governance, and for governance, I go for quality not partisanship and so at that point in time, where are ready.

But at the same time too, you don’t just single out a human being out of 6.2million people. You see, these days, we are building structures and those structures should be able to sustain and endure even in my absence. That is why I say an open invitation shouldn’t revolve around one man; it revolves around an institution.

What is your take on State or multi-level Police?
Unfortunately, I can’t say much on security but take it from me and you can quote me anywhere, every state governor would tell you the same thing: the little money we get today from federal allocation, we spend a lot on security. I want to be quoted anywhere. Let me tell you something, the late MKO Abiola once said if you think education is expensive, try ignorance. If a state is not paying attention to security, and say it is a waste of money, go and sleep and see whether you would sleep well.

And there is something a lot of people don’t know, if government stops to work for one minute, you wouldn’t sit where you are now. So government must work 24/7 before you can sit where you are sitting. So, somebody like me, call me 2am, in most cases, I must be somewhere doing night patrol with the security forces, even if I cannot shoot gun. Even mere driving, telling them let’s enter this side, they feel so excited that as a governor, you are showing concern for them because they are human beings like you too. They have family, they have children. That moral support goes a long way brother; it goes a long way.

Pick up phone and call them, where are you people going on patrol today, who is who? Let my ADC and my CSO know. So at times they need a little support morally, you don’t just sit in the comfort of your room. Take it from me, governors spend a lot of time, energy, attention on security, not only in Africa, not only in Nigeria, but everywhere in the world. Security is a major issue and whatever you spend on security is an investment.

How do you see the present Structure of Nigeria?
I only concentrate on things I can change, things I cannot change, I leave them for God. I cannot change this one, if you want to change this one, call a Sovereign National Conference, I will attend. My change mantra doesn’t extend to this one.

How did you resolve the invasion of the Government House at the beginning of your government by security forces?
One thing I have to state clearly here is that the bail of money you saw on the internet had been on Google since 2011 or so. They just put the picture there. It didn’t come from the Government House. I was there. Two, I want to also commend the president because immediately those guys came, I picked up a phone and called the president, and he answered and he called them out immediately.
So, they didn’t see a dime not to even talk of the money whose pictures you saw outside that they referred to. But to me, I just see that as one of the challenges of a developing economy. When an economy is developing, it is like a child that is learning to walk. He would walk, he would fall; he would hit something. At times, he would walk and hit the glass and get some injuries. It is in the process of walking and by the time he starts walking, he won’t make those mistakes again.

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Unfortunately, I can’t say much on security but take it from me and you can quote me anywhere, every state governor would tell you the same thing: the little money we get today from federal allocation, we spend a lot on security. I want to be quoted anywhere. Let me tell you something, the late MKO Abiola once said if you think education is expensive, try ignorance. If a state is not paying attention to security, and say it is a waste of money, go and sleep and see whether you would sleep well.