‘Cross River State is Too Delicate for Political Strife’
Nseobong Okon-Ekong encounters former Minister of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation, Chief Edem Duke who believes in his capacity to deliver the dividends of good governance to meet the yearnings of the people of Cross River State
You already have a good reputation as a philanthropist whose charity touches a lot of individuals and the community at large, do you need to become a governor to dispense goodwill to the people?
We must try to differentiate personal generosity occasioned by God’s blessings and the ability to allow what accrues to you to trickle down. It is not the same thing as building the people in consonance with the assets and liabilities that form the socio-political asset base of the state. When you do personal philanthropy, it has no timetable. It has no strategy. It does not answer to any critical and urgent need of the macro society. It is only seasonal, at best, propelled by what you have and what you can spare at any given time. Of course, it is fuelled by the spirit of sacrifice. If you have enough to satisfy yourself and family and you cannot share, then you are a poor man. In sharing, you take a bit of yourself, you sacrifice a bit of yourself. In giving, you grow a bit of somebody else. You diminish yourself in order to enhance your fellow man.
When you seek public office, you seek it to a certain level, having evaluated the totality of the needs of your people and weighed it against the assets that are available to it and the skill and ability to build the team of the handful of people that are willing and able to sacrifice to entrench prosperity in the midst of wants and challenges. Often times, some people seek political office even at the level of governor in order to enhance their curriculum vitae. Some seek it as a way of settling old scores. Some seek it as puerile adventurism. That is, they see the governorship as a tool to promote their own ecstasy. There is some ecstasy about being a governor. They desire to get there before they know what to do in the office. That is why you find in many instances in Nigeria, people say that they use the first four years to learn the ropes and curves and then struggle to win the heart and mind of the people in order to now work for them for four years. Eight years of the people can disappear like a flicker of light. I, High Chief Edem Duke without being immodest, know where I am in life. The knowledge and experiences I have acquired, the vision that I have. I am more prepared to assume the role of a servant-governor.
Cross River State once held a lot of promise as a model for good governance. What went wrong in your reckoning?
Whilst we speak specifically about Cross River State, it is also applicable to many states across the country. People come to this aspiration to being governor ill-prepared and ill-equipped in every ramification. After the euphoria of political endorsement and winning, they spend a reasonable period of time fighting in the court and by the time they settle into office, you will only discover that these guys were not actually prepared for the enormous responsibility. Unfortunately, many also see the position of a governor as a passport to the dispensation of prosperity. That is, ‘if I’m able to be governor, I can make Mr. A rich and I can descend with vengeance on Mr. B and bring him down.’ There are people who are propelled by such drive. I know that the Cross River State started on a very promising note and the unique selling point for Cross River State which enabled it to continue to attract interest by the generality of the public and outsiders was the fact that we set our target within the limit of promises available to us. We identified what the low-hanging fruits were and we focused on those. These initiatives transpired from the Donald Duke government to the Liyel Imoke government. There were a few distortions in the sense that we always find a situation whereby people want to build their own legacies. But between Donald and Liyel, whatever else I may not be aware of, you still saw the sustenance of a stream of activities that maintained that positioning of the Cross River State. However, rather than build on those initial successes, you now find a government that takes off at a completely different tangent, articulating policies, the framework of which you could not see in the immediate contraption of those policies. Then, you know that the state will commence a dangerous nosedive.
When you noticed this plunge, why didn’t stakeholders like you immediately speak up?
You need to understand the challenges of interfacing with people who do not understand how to manage power. I want to be a bit cautious in my statement. You need to have a structured government and administration that has an agenda properly articulated and interrogated. Every stakeholder, no matter how big or small must see the roadmap clearly and know at which milestones and junction they can interplay. More importantly, leadership is a team game. In whatever kind of game you can imagine in your head, there is no how you will respond to the start out whistle without having a strategy in place. As time goes, pending on the vicissitudes of your circumstances, you can always adjust and have a team with different competencies and capacities, that can bring the wherewithal that is necessary, either to consolidate the original vision or to re-orchestrate or recalibrate it and still help in ultimate delivery of your set goal.
Is there such as a wide departure from where you perceive two other administrations were heading from the present one?
I think that it will be a futile exercise trying to speak to that issue because words are insufficient to illustrate the departure from what we had begun to see as a trend in Cross River State and the ultimate point at which we found ourselves today.
You were a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Was that not sufficiently high office for you to impact on Cross River State?
You must understand the difference between your assignment as a minister and your relationship or influence or lack of it in the state. As a minister, the entire country is your constituency. Therefore, it is expected that if you are able to do one thing in your state, you must have replicated that one thing in as many states as possible if not in all of your states. Therefore, you have to be judicious in utilising that position and responsibility. As a governor, you have powers limited only by the legislature in your state. There must be some checks and balances. Where governors are uncomfortable with the constitutional responsibility of the legislature in their state, it is a recipe for disaster because conflict will emanate very early.
As a minister, I had the privilege to see every state of Nigeria, of relating with your sector on the continent and globally. You are a very rounded citizen and administrator, a very seasoned administrator. You could see the good, the bad and the ugly. That is one of the things that prepared me adequately for the aspiration of governor. I have looked within Nigeria and I am satisfied that Cross River State has something unique than many other states. I have looked at some countries in Africa and around the world and I have seen that Cross River State is more blessed than many countries that are reveling in prosperity. I know what is fuelling and propelling this prosperity. I know that I can harvest these ideas, opportunities and network them in order to develop and grow a Cross River State that will resonate again with our people and as a country to what it used to be, in fact, far beyond what it used to be.
Do you foresee any challenge to this aspiration, whether regional, communal or political?
The challenge that I anticipate would be two-folds. One fold is whether your electorates will be able to see the vision that you enunciate and buy into it and translate that to confidence in you at the polls. On the other hand, you see a challenge with other aspirants and power brokers who would rather want to diminish or deprive the people from that prospect in order for you not to look better than them. Not for any other reason.
Zoning has become acceptable in Nigeria even if it is not quite spelt out in our constitution. Will that hinder your quest to become governor of Cross River State?
Cross River State is too delicate for political strife and bitterness. The point at which Cross River State is today demands that those who see themselves as possessing the requisite competencies to lead should be free to express their aspiration. It is important to plead fairness across the board, in terms, of who is representing the state in various capacities in order to give a sense of belonging to all parts. I believe that this question should be moderated by a sense of political morality. We are like a family and in a polygamous family, so to speak, which is not an aberration in the Nigerian cultural context; we must be able to look at the political landscape of Cross River State and see how equitably positions have been circulated. It will be unreasonable for a certain section to be loaded with a certain quantum of the wealth and benefits that answers to the state whilst other sections look more like orphans. In this strategic engagement, it is important for us to be equitable in allowing every section of the state to have that sense of belonging. We have always had a political culture where things are spread equitably. I believe to a large extent that if for any reason, the All Progressives Congress (APC) to be specific sees a golden opportunity to take that power in Cross River state, it must put its best foot forward and that best foot must be able to galvanise good will, must also be able to go out in the outfit of equity, in order, for us not to create a crack in the family which ultimately can lead to the loss of the golden prize.
For some of us, but for the love of the state, we could have settled in our own private comfort zone. There are people who said that if they needed recognition and appointment, they needn’t sacrifice to redeem the state because it entails a lot of sacrifice. For me, I’m wired, equipped, to lead the initiative that will restore the Cross River State to the paradise that it used to be. I am better prepared and equipped than most people who have assumed the position of governor in different parts of Nigeria. I also know that I have the ability to heal whatever broken pieces that must have brought disillusionment to our society. I am that leader who is able to accommodate all leaders; not just the APC political family but bipartisan family. I am that leader who is willing and able to reach out to people from other parties who are secretly yearning for a leader with a big heart. I am also experienced enough to know what kind of economic environment to drive the Cross River State in order to generate prosperity. Most importantly, I am that leader who can provide vision and hand-holding to the youths and women of Cross River State. I am that leader who can provide the comfort and safety, and accommodation that is important for the resident indigenes.
There is a matter of you getting the ticket for the party, how do you hope to secure the understanding of the interest groups and the powers to emerge winner of that ticket?
It requires strategic partnership and engagement in which all must come out as winners. You must be able to sell an agenda that is accommodating. An agenda that is compelling and superior. This will be anchored by your pedigree and what you have achieved in the past. I am the only aspirant who has never been hand-held into political office in order to acquire the status that I have today. I am the only aspirant in the field who has not grown on tax-payers money. I built my business. I employed people. I have created wealth. I have risen on waves of my environmental challenges and was able to maintain a certain level of distinction. That is very important in the quality of leadership we want. Often times, you find somebody who comes out of the blues and he is hand-held into that office. From that office, he suddenly sees himself as being entitled to once again ride on the lives of the people to prominence.
It is time that we as APC come together and realise that if we frustrate ourselves for a candidate to emerge, we will lose the energy to fight in the general election. Our state is too delicate for political strife.
You were one of the first to move from People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to the APC, how did you know that the APC will become increasingly popular in the South-south?
I wasn’t guided by anything other than intuition. Your contribution to a house that was not built is more visible than your contribution to a house that is already occupied. I needed to show that capacity and the government in the state used my name to market itself which means that they themselves see something in me. It’s like approbating and reprobating. You want to use this person value proposition but you do not want him to have the beneficiation of that contribution. I have been President of Chambers of Commerce. I have been a member of Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA). I have been a private investor; gone round the world and built small bridges. You want to build a super highway and you want my name to be associated with it. You want to play a Bakassi seaport and you want my name to be associated with it. You want to build a five-star hospitality facility, you want to bring a revolution to your carnival, you want to build an airline and you want my name to be associated with it. And not once did you show good faith. You want to build CalaVegas, you want me to drive it. All of these turned out to be disastrous. In fact, they are nonstarters. Then, I say to myself, ‘there is something residual perhaps that you must be underplaying. So, why not step out and harvest that, and renew those things, even if it is a minimal progress.’”