- I Left Akwa Ibom Far Richer Than I Met It’
In an interactive session with Nseobong Okon-Ekong, former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Senator Godswill Obot Akpabio throws light on a number of attacks on his reputation including the widely held notion that he switched political party allegiance from the Peoples Democratic Party to the All Progressives Congress to escape the dragnet of the anti-graft agency
Governor Udom Emmanuel, Sen. Bassey Albert and Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Hon. Onofiok Luke have acknowledged you as their leader at different times. If you have this charm, why weren’t you able to win them over when you changed political party loyalty?
It is simply because salvation is personal. No matter how close you are to your brother, you can only do your best to convince them. If you’re a Muslim you follow the age-long teachings of Prophet Mohammed, and of course, as a Muslim, your end will be paradise and as a Christian, your end will be heaven. Political affairs should be voluntary. A leader may persevere but shouldn’t force a subject to follow his own line of thought. What a leader sees still baffles a lot of people, not just in Akwa Ibom, but in Nigeria. I was born into a political family and our age-long tradition in the South-south has always been alignment with the North politically. For the first time, there was a son of South-south in 2015, our former President Goodluck Jonathan, who contested, till the South-south lost the opportunity to place itself in the central politics of Nigeria. You have the South-west working together with the North; so there was need for someone to think of how to integrate the South-south into the politics of the nation, particularly as the zone that produces 90% of the wealth of the country. That is the thinking of a leader. That does not mean that if those who are comfortable in running the state, for instance, if you are a state governor, a senator, you are this or that in your zone and you are comfortable, you don’t have to follow your leader. But your leader sees farther than you. I don’t think there was a need for me to talk to anybody, not even my family members. It was just an inspiration that I had. I am very spiritual in nature. I felt that there was a need for me to re-ignite that age long unity that has existed between the South-south people of Nigeria and the North, particularly with the coming on board, from 2015, of the South-West into the central politics. The South-west, predominantly, used to be in the opposition, even during the days of Action Group and the days of ACN. Now, under the APC, the South-west is at the centre of Nigerian politics. I don’t think it will be a good idea for the South-South to be left in the lurch. We have been left out for four years because we had a son of the soil contesting. It will be foolhardy of any leader not carry his people into the centre of politics in Nigeria. That was the reason I made up my mind, in the national interest, to join (the APC) and stabilize the polity. I felt it was not necessary to make it a compulsory thing for my followers, my brothers or my relations to follow me, but in the course of things evolving, almost 85% of those who believe in me have joined the APC. At the outset I did not really talk to anybody. I thought I was alone, then I turned around and I saw up to five members of House of Assembly declaring and four House of Reps members declaring. I saw a lot of elders, in fact, one of them managed to climb the stage, a political titan from Ikono, somebody who has been doing politics from the days of Southern-Eastern State and Cross River State. He said, ‘you are a leader, you can’t go alone, we are many here, give me the microphone, give me the opportunity to let them know that you are not alone.’ I started laughing and said, ‘Chief, I never said I was alone; I only said I was moving.’ I did not say I had defected, because that is when I will need other defectors to come. I have only walked away. I am like a woman politically that has a generation behind her. When I said, ‘I have moved’ it means that a generational group of young leaders in the North and particularly in the South-south have moved and that has created a void.
You are talking about those who are holding positions in government. You talk about the speaker and the senator, they are in a position to assess where their interest will be best served by staying with the current government of the state. It is not my intention to cripple governance in the state before election. There is no need for me to tell the people to leave the government. They should stay in the government, so that we will still have a government in place between now and May 28, when they are going to hand over to the APC governor on May 2019.
Some people think one of the good things your movement from the PDP to the APC will do for Akwa Ibom is that for the first time there will be a proper election in the state; at previous elections, results were allegedly just written, as opposition was weak. In the upcoming election in the state APC and PDP will be equally matched. Do you agree?
If they say there was no election in Akwa Ibom, that results were just written, it means you have never voted since you are born and you are from there, that is the first thing. Secondly, you mean there was dereliction of duty and you never reported it, that elections did not hold, names were just written or results written, you can see the fallacy of that. Of course, go back and look at the results of the elections, you will see some instances there were so close. We did primaries at a time in Eket, the man that defeated the incumbent, a sitting member of House of Assembly, clinched victory with only one vote. In the first local government election I did, a local government fell into the hands of ANPP. You can’t say elections in Akwa Ibom are always written. The opposition struggled, they even went to the tribunal. That assertion is wrong and one thing you need to know is that if you’re a good politician you will know that you cannot rig election where you are not popular. Such results cannot stand. If the people are in agreement that the NPN was the party they wanted and there was rigging, because no election is perfect, you will see that it will pass smoothly. If for instance, the results are always written, how come somebody cannot come from APGA and write results and announce APGA in a place like Akwa Ibom? Do you understand what I am saying? If a political party like APGA is very popular in Anambra State, PDP cannot go and write results and announce it. If you noticed, the governorship election in Anambra state has never really been won by PDP, are you saying they don’t have the power, even when they had the power of incumbency? There presidential incumbency and Anambra that was in opposition was still winning an election. How come in Lagos, when President Obasanjo was struggling to see whether he could take South-west and turn them to PDP, he could not take Lagos State under our leader, Ahmed Bola Tinubu? It is not true that elections in Nigeria are always written. There is no perfect election. Anyone who is saying that is saying that because the person wants to underrate the prowess and political sagacity of Senator Godswill Akpabio, his ability to annex and work closely with the people in 2002 as chairman of mobilization to ensure the re-election of Obong Victor Attah as the second executive governor of Akwa Ibom State. You want to underrate that effort, that is when you will say there was no election, but it was through mobilizing of youths, mobilizing of women through strategic campaigns to ensure the re-election of Obong Victor Attah in 2003. In 2007, 59 people contested and the exercise lasted five good days, some people slept on the streets. If there was no election in Akwa Ibom, why would there be such a very prolonged primary to the point that even the governor preferred another candidate, who despite all the intrigues still lost; the Secretary to the Government of the Federation at that time preferred another candidate but lost, even when he was at the federal level; and the governor of the state came in person to lobby delegates to ensure election of his anointed candidate and he lost. I emerged as the governorship candidate of PDP out of 57 aspirants by 2007 that wind up to one or two months between December and January. It became so hot that I ended up in the hospital many times. I could not go home because I was afraid those powerful people who lost the election may attack me, but the populace was on the street sitting on the floor. I appreciated the people of Akwa Ibom across the state and my acceptability is across the state. If I won that election you will come and tell me that election was written, because even the incumbent did not support my election in 2007 and yet I won. I also won the election in 2011. Didn’t you hear about the struggle between the then ACN when there was a lot of tension in the state? At the end of the election, we won. We only lost in one LG and even in the LG we had almost 48 to 49%; we won in 30 of the 31 LGs. Who told you there is no election Akwa Ibom? In 2015, we lost the presidential election 11 days before governorship election. It was not an easy task. I can tell you that many states failed like Jigawa and many other PDP states; they could not withstand the tornado of President Buhari in 2015, but Akwa Ibom won. We stood our ground and we voted for the current governor of the state, Udom Gabriel Emmanuel and I was also returned as the senator against my brother, Chief Inibehe Okorie. I polled 472,000 votes because of card reader and he had 14,000 votes. I would have had more than that because normally, we had over 700,000 registered voters in my senatorial district, which has the highest number of polling units in terms of population even more than Eket and Uyo senatorial districts. Uyo has about 900 polling units. We have about 1224 and Eket has about 800. I know these statistics as a politician, the reason I’m mentioning this to you, under normal circumstances as a former governor and someone that is looked at as the son of the soil, there is no way my people would have given me less votes than they gave my predecessor who had a lot of votes when he was going for the Senate. Former president Jonathan had a little over one million votes in 2015, the total registered number of voters is about 1.7million. So if you are writing why can’t you say let me give the president 1.6million or 1.7million votes? There is no system that is perfect, even in America you can’t have a perfect election. There will be slight issues here and there, even in any operation you try to give room for 5 to 10% mistake. On the whole, you will be insulting the current INEC Chairman and Professor Attahiru Jega if you say elections in Akwa Ibom were not fair enough; what kind of propaganda is that? It is the defeatist tendencies of those who say they will make an impact when the whole state has moved.
I did not say I defected, politicians use the word defect. I only moved in the national interest to join the current president to stabilize the party. When I say I moved, it is pregnant with meaning. It means that the entirety of those you might call the political class, those who vote, not the elite who enjoy the government because government gets a monthly allocation and the masses who know what it means for their lives to be touched when a good government is in place have moved with me. If you thought I was alone, then why did you have such massive crowd that you have never seen in the history of defection in Nigeria? It took 17 minutes to get to the venue because of the sea of heads.
Why is the South-south always aligning with the North, is it a good thing politically? With the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria, are you saying the Northerner love the South-south more than her brothers in the East who they share some cultural affinity with? Why can’t the South-south build up an APGA or any other party for the South-east and South-south? At least, a state like Akwa Ibom used to be part of the defunct Eastern region, if it had progressed with that kind of understanding, the South-east and the South-south would have a stronger impetus when they come to the centre to negotiate.
I think the problem of the minority has always been fear of domination, fear of becoming extinct. If you say we should join the South-east in totality to build APGA, the question is what has been the experience? I think one of the problems that people made in the past was that while we were fighting the civil war, many of the local governments in the minority areas, their names were changed, many places were renamed. So that sent a very terrible signal and historically also, you will see that Ojukwu had 12 generals, four of them were from Asaba area in the Delta region, but when the map of Biafra was drawn, it was brought out that they were making some strong in-roads in the 1960s, Asaba was missing. It was included as part of Nigeria, it was not as part of Biafra. Four of the generals were shocked. ‘We were here fighting for Biafra and our area has been removed from the country?’ You will also recall that during one of the coups in Nigeria, the coup plotters announced that seven states had been sent out of Nigeria. I think some of these actions in the past put fear in the minds of the minority. So there is a lot of need to assuage those feelings and try to show love. That’s why they always align with the North who they believe will allow them to remain with their own ethnic identity. It is not something one can explain so easily. Don’t forget that the Yoruba are always very monolithic in their voting. They always go together politically. The first Yoruba leader that has made good efforts to reach out to the larger Nigeria is Bola Ahmed Tinubu. For instance, if you have a presidential candidate from the minority, supported by the North, with the vice presidential candidate in the case of Goodluck Jonathan. People are likely to have more confidence. These are the various reasons and the Easterners also have this idea that during the war, the South-west should have joined them but did not join or should have declared independence but did not declare. The younger generation has a lot of work to do outside inter-ethnic marriages. We have to reorient our people so that we can forge stronger ties between the South-east and the South-south and the South-west. I think, historically, the type of decisions taken by leaders can ultimately destroy things. When the Great Zik was going to be the leader, of government business in the South-west then, overnight you just heard the famous cross-carpeting and seven politicians stood their ground in the South-west. Overnight, things changed, the minority party became the majority on the day of forming a government. That brought suspicion and distrust and Zik also did not like what happened to him in the South-west and moved to the South-east. The answer is not from me. The answer is in our history. That kind of treachery has not happened between us and the North. Look at the distrust between the South-west and South-east. Before that time, you could contest election anywhere. The first Mayor of Enugu was a Hausa man. Zik, an Igbo man won the election in the South-west. The leader of the North did something, Sardauna of Sokoto, as the leader of the North did not come to the centre to become the Prime Minister. He sent Tafawa Balewa instead. He was more interested in being the Premier of the region. Their approach to power is different in Northern Nigeria. If Zik had been picked as the leader of government business in Lagos, till today there would never have been a need for agitation for state creation. Nigeria would have remained in a regional structure. But now we are correcting that, for example, my wife is from the South-east, through association and assimilation. We are working very closely with the governors of the South-east and leaders of the region. We even founded the South-east and South-south Governors Forum and we are trying to see how we can integrate economically. Through commerce, we have been very close. Politically, we need to work on that and make conscious efforts to let of the past.
Did you leave any debt in Akwa Ibom as governor?
There is no government without debt. Even the current administration of President Buhari inherited debt. The colonial masters left debt for Tafawa Balewa. When it comes to what they are speculating, it is balderdash and I am happy you asked that question. Some people say Akpabio left behind a whopping N500 billion debt, which is not true. What happened was that the total amount I collected as loan from banks was N80 billion. It was the first N50 billion and later N30 billion and the reasons were very simple. We were struggling to get Paris Club money of over USD100 billion, if we had received that, we would have offset the N80 billion loan. During my first term, I did not borrow N1. It was when we started having dwindling revenue from oil; we were having zero allocation from NNPC. So when you hear, ‘Akpabio promised 31 industries but did not build any,’ it was because the money was no longer there and I was not going to build those sites. I was going make available N20 billion through the investment arm of the state every year for those four years so that people can access the money with conditions and then set up the industries. The plan was to ensure that, at least, one person per local government was able to set up one industry, that was the way we wanted to do it and so we budgeted N20 billion, but we never touched N20 billion because the money was not there. Part of what confuses people is that they don’t know that budget is an estimate. It is not realistic, it is when the incomes come, whether through IGR or FAAC, that you have the right to budget and project, it does not mean you have spent the money and lack of funds also slowed us down in completing few of the projects we did not complete. We had over 3,000 projects completed at a time in one year. We commissioned about 1600, when people started arguing, we put it out on the internet for people to see and named the communities. We laid underground pipes to bring the menacing issue of flooding in some part of the state to an end. We built flyovers, the kind of project we had was to turn Uyo to a small Dubai. We were even planning to have a fuel depot in Uyo at the airport so that we can start flying with Emirate. That was why I started the taxiway so that when the plane, because of the large wing of the 777 could have a free ride, that was why I expanded the runway from 3.6KM to 4.2KM and brought in the best lighting system and we made sure it was in the same category with airports in London and other advanced countries. We did underground pipe drainage system, 10.8 kilometres from the stadium; this is available for everyone to see in order for the road to last and that is the secret why some of the roads we commissioned in 2009, nine years after you will not see a single porthole, that is the secret of the survival of Itam Junction that was flooded for 39 years and vehicles could not pass. That is the secret to make sure that area by the mega filling station that used to be permanently flooded during rainy season. I was privileged to see a paper from the Debt Management Office, (DMO) in 2016, the current administration when that bit of economic rush came in, when the current government started insisting that the states should comply with the government because it had just been in office for one and half years so they had also incurred their own debt. They added that to contractual indebtedness and outstanding obligation of my government and they brought it out and what they submitted to the DMO was about N147 billion in December 2016, one and half years into Governor Udom Emmanuel’s administration. The total debt profile in the state- contractual and otherwise was submitted as N157 billion. That is not what they said I left behind.
But what did you leave behind as debt?
I don’t think the debt profile that we left behind was anything up to N60 billion. Don’t forget that except payment for contractors, which are paid on milestones as they work, there must have been some outstanding IPCs also but what happens is that as money comes, in you settle. The state used to, sometimes, receive up to N15 to N30 billion, so it is not as if these things can cripple a state. Even if you don’t do any other thing at all you can pay all the debts in four months. Government is about being able to move the people forward not as if government cannot owe and whatever was owed by the governor was taken and brought over by the Federal Government and spread over 25 years by the Federal Government including Akwa Ibom, so that whatever the government will pay on a monthly basis will be reduced so that the government can move forward. That is what they did and the state government was not paying anything above N500 million a month. The N147 billion was bought over by the Federal Government. You can get the record from the DMO; they will give you the real details. People were saying I left behind N500 billion. That was why I went to find out what was submitted as total indebtedness of Akwa Ibom state by the Udom Emmanuel government in December 2016 to DMO. I have the record for all the states in the federation. What I saw there, I can’t remember off-hand was N143 or N147 billion. That is all. We were even among the least indebted states. Some states were owing as much as N600, N300, N400 billion, and for Akwa Ibom, with the level of economic income, we should be saluted. I also left behind economic enablers, that if you were able to take one of them and then privatize or sell off 50%, you will pay off the entire debt. For instance, I built Ibom Power Plant. I completed Ibom Power Plant. People were offering me as much as USD190 million to sell 60 per cent or 70% but I refused. I said if we expand it, it will bring in a lot of revenue to the state. I also built a gas plant in conjunction with a company from the United Kingdom. I brought in a gas processing plant built it in Esit Eket, a 69km gas pipeline and I made sure the state holds significant stake that will buy the gas. By the time they completed the gas, it was going for USD2.8 so that is also another income to the state and then we did 50 kilometres of gas pipeline from Esit Eket all the way to NIPP in Calabar. We are the one supplying NIPP in Calabar. I left behind economic enablers like hospitals. I built hospitals in Eastern Obolo and other places. These places are generating revenue. I built a state-of-the-art international hospital in Itam. We invested over N250 billion on federal roads but the government told us they are going to pay. What the Federal Government accepted to pay in my time was N145 billion. Before I left office, President Jonathan said part of it should be paid, I told the government after I handed over to pursue it. A month ago, they brought it to parliament because they wanted to use part of the borrowed money from China to offset some of the domestic debts. What was put in for Akwa Ibom was N178 billion and now from the N175 billion to be refunded to Akwa Ibom and the Paris Club money that I did not collect. From the Paris Club refund alone whatever I might have left as debt has been wiped off. We left a lot of economic enablers. When they talk about debt, I laugh. When a government of that nature, for a government that completed over 3,000 projects, and was able to carry out such quantum of developments that was applauded even by the United States congress, why are you talking about N145 billion debt, when the state is expecting 175 billion from the Federal road refund? Why do they not talk about the international prison that we built? Over N3.7 billion is going to be refunded to the state for that. The airport itself is an economic enabler. We were able to carry out free and compulsory education not to talk of N100 to N300 billion Paris Club refund left behind. I left the state far richer than I met it.
What was really the issue with the EFCC trying to get the state government to open its books to investigate you?
Those were baseless and unfounded stories. The job of the EFCC was to investigate a petition. There was a young boy, a lawyer, who had a personal disagreement with me. I met him and I assisted them in the Law School, I paid his Law School fees. Somehow, he had a personal disagreement with some of my staff. He has come up to say he was used by people I relieved of their appointment. He said so in an affidavit in the court of appeal, voluntarily. The EFCC has the right to look at that petition. When I came back, I had an accident in 2015 I still said I must go because I was not around when I was invited. I went to the EFCC personally to ensure that I answered to the petition and I answered them. I am the most investigated former governor in Nigeria. Go to anywhere in the world; I don’t have a single house that I could sell, whether in the United Kingdom or Dubai. So, forget about the contrived negative story that you heard about Godswill Akpabio.
The common dictum is that there is no smoke without fire, it is difficult to believe that these stories are completely baseless
That is the job of you journalists and the media in general. It is about the investigation; you think the world is stupid that one person will receive over 13 PhDs; from the University of Nigeria, Nnamdi Azikiwe University to University of Calabar to Uyo everywhere one individual could be so honoured. I am the only governor, past or present ever honoured with a PhD by the Nigerian Defence Academy, NDA, whether military or civilian. I am the only governor in my tenure, 2007–2015, who received commendation from the United State Congress for infrastructural development. Some people are fugitives from reality. You cannot take all these away out of either envy or petty jealousy. You will try to give the wrong impression about me. In my time, there were kidnapping and a lot of killings all over the Niger Delta. If one person was kidnapped in Akwa Ibom, 10 were kidnapped in Bayelsa, 15 were kidnapped in Abia, 20 or 50 were kidnapped in Rivers. In my own case, people use whatever happened as a weapon of campaign for them to unseat the governor. I understand what was going on. Would you believe stories that a sitting governor will kidnap a teacher or his brother? They even brought an ethnic angle to it. When someone is kidnapped they will write a petition and indicate that a person is an Ibibio man, but I thank God for the Police and the RRS, there is no single case of kidnapping that was not resolved; not only that, all the people that were killed, those who killed them were all brought to book. They are well documented. They documented their efforts very clearly and the people they arrested, many of them are at various stages of prosecution. When people are talking, my works speak for me. When you come to Akwa Ibom, you see the works of Godswill Akpabio. Once you land at the airport, you see my work, you enter into the hotel, you see my work, you walk to the stadium and you see my work, you go to the banquet hall, you see my work, you go to Government House, you see my work. You go to the streets of Lagos or you read newspapers that a house girl that had been brutalized during my tenure and then the person is no longer Akwa Ibom because we handed that industry to other Nigerians and West African countries because I introduced free and compulsory education. I brought my children from everywhere, the ones that are orphans, we set up a home in Uyo and called it the Divine Children Home and put them there, over 1,400 of them. We made sure that they went to school, so those children are still meeting me till today at the airport, everywhere. When I am travelling to Kaduna by rail from Abuja, they still come and hug me and say, ‘Sir, I am what I am today courtesy of your free and compulsory education programme, I never thought I could go to school. That is the joy I derive. I used to send, at least, 500 Akwa Ibom people on compassionate ground to different places in India for medical treatments and outside that I made sure that the children that I sent to India, one of them solved a 62 year-old Mathematics problem in India and got a first class. If you are a fugitive from reality, you can never acknowledge all these feats. You cannot run away from my transformation of Akwa Ibom. If you’re trying to run away from it, you are running away from your shadow which will continue to follow you.
One of the things you have been severally criticized for was when you had an accident, a lot of people complained that you did not go to the hospital that you built. How come?
At that time, we had not received the expatriates who were supposed to man the hospital. Though that hospital had been commissioned, we had not fully commenced operation. When the current governor had a medical problem, he was at the hospital and the result that he was given at the hospital was amazing. The hospital was meant to cater for all medical problems in the West Africa region, but we need experts who can handle the hospital. That was the reason I signed an agreement with Arabian management group who are also working with the Swiss management group at that time. Don’t forget that it was barely three months after I left the office, and they had not yet received the expatriate quota to finance the hospital. Some of them came for the commissioning of the hospital edifice but they had to wait for the funds to come in before they could start operating the hospital. If not, by the time I had the accident, why should I go abroad when I had a very good hospital of that magnitude? Don’t forget also that I was first taken to that National Hospital after that accident, and when I was discharged, I went for further medical observation to escape sympathizers who were trooping into the hospital every day. I couldn’t have some deserved rest. I also went to a London hospital to do some further checks, even when Mr. President phoned to find out how I was doing, I spoke to him myself and I give glory to God that I did not die. I was in a coma when I was taken away from the accident scene because the car somersaulted about five times. Don’t also believe the rumour that the driver was trying to escape traffic gridlock. That morning there was a federal road traffic officer who stopped us, and we were standing in one location on top of the bridge. I even took off my safety seat belt and I bent down to take my drugs from the bag, it was at that stage that somebody banged the car and said, ‘move’, and I replied, ‘what is it.? It was after that I saw a car coming towards us and I said, ‘God take care of my children.’ It was after that I noticed that I had a swollen chest and fuel was pouring from the side of my car. The car that hit me was a bulletproof American car. Eventually, when they brought me out, they all thought I was dead. Even the way I was dragged out of the car affected my neck because they used my jacket to drag me out, thinking that I was already dead. I thank God because He saved me when I was taken to the National Hospital. It was an experience that I will not wish for my enemy. All the stories you hear that the hospital was not okay are not true.
Do you think the current governor of Akwa Ibom is really doing well?
History will judge him, not me
What I am trying to get at is that you are the person who gave this governor to Akwa Ibom?
No, the Akwa Ibom people voted for him
Yes, they voted for him, but you facilitated his emergence?
There is something that you need to know. I met the governor in a church in Surulere- Qua Iboe Church. I was told that he is a Deacon in the church and also a Deputy Director in Zenith Bank. For me, I believe in getting the best person for my people. There were almost 28 persons who wanted to be governor of the state. Later 23 of them bought the governorship forms. One left to APC and it remained 22 aspirants. We had some of my commissioners and lots of people who had worked with me. It was not an easy task for me. I concluded that I will see if my people will accept a peacemaker in the form of a neutral person that they don’t know. That was how His Excellency Governor Emmanuel was chosen. When he came, the people loved him and I loved him too, but the other 22 candidates formed an association against him. Even some elders went to court to testify against him then. I thank him because later he reconciled with all of them. He invited them one after the other, and he also honored those elders that testified against him in the court of law. I think it is godly for him to have forgiven them.
What is the disagreement you have with the governor now?
I don’t have any disagreement with him, just that we are in different political parties now. The only disagreement I had with him is that he said I came in a night bus to become a commissioner in 2001/2002 which is not true. I actually came in through Port Harcourt before my cousin took me up. Again, he said he came in a chartered plane to become the governor. He has forgotten that it is the state governor’s plane that he is still using that brought him. I carried him with the state plane he mentioned, which is a Gulf Stream 450 and that is what he is still using till now. The disagreement is on the mode of transport and not on his performance.
Is it true that you heard that the governor was going to move to APC, and you told him to wait for a while before you now made your own move?
It is not true; there is still room for defection, even till today
Lots of people think Akwa Ibom state will become a battleground because of your defection to the APC are you comfortable with the insinuation?
The APC had taken over Akwa Ibom even before I joined them. Do you know why a leader should move with his people? A leader should always look back and see if his people are following him. Even if they are running away from him, he will still hear footsteps, and if they are not following, you will definitely hear footsteps too. By the time I decided that I was going to APC and I landed at the airport, the whole airport was APC. The whole of the airport to the town was APC. The whole of the Plaza in Uyo was APC, the jubilation was too much. Women and men were bringing their brooms from under their bed, which means they had been hiding them because of me. They were sweeping the roads. A distance of 20 minutes took us over two hours to cover because of the jubilation of Akwa Ibom people that. I was saying, ‘so all these people belong to APC?’ When I asked them they said, ‘Sir, after you left office, it wasn’t the same again. We have moved to APC.’ I asked them when, and they said since 2015. Normally, every family has a civil servant. In Akwa Ibom, the head of the civil service commands a 64,000 workforce not to talk about the local government service in the 31 local government areas of the state. In some local government, we have up to 600 or 700 staff, so you should be looking at 24,000 people in the local government workforce. When you add that to the state civil service workforce, you will be looking at close to 100,000people. Because you will also add the state assembly staff, the NUT etc. Those people too have adult children who live on them. What really plays a major role in Akwa Ibom is that when the civil servants are happy, it reflects in their homes, in the churches. You have a situation that a civil servant says there has never been a pay slip to even show what he collects on a monthly basis. Many people have died without collecting their gratuity. Eighty per cent of the people in the civil service are sympathizers of the APC. By the time they got to know that the leader who kept them together has decided to share their own view, the result was amazing. A woman while struggling to get registered had her hand cut off. She brought out hand in a Coaster bus, and her hand was chopped off by the gate, and the hand fell on the floor. Up till today, my wife and I have been taking good care of the woman. It was an incident that made me weep. If you ask the APC headquarters, they will tell you that we have over 300000 card-carrying members within six weeks. When I hear that Akwa Ibom is going to be a battleground, I laugh because there is no battleground in a state that has already shown direction. The Akwa Ibom PDP members in the state know that they will not be given money at the headquarters in Abuja to share if they are not talking as they are doing now. I can confidently confirm to you that the first state President Buhari will win within three hours of voting is Akwa Ibom. It is not because of me but because of the change that the federal government has started. The reason I am being attacked is just because I am a leader and a lot of people came out boldly to associate with APC when I joined, but people have rejected PDP before I declared for APC.
Who is the leader of the APC in Akwa Ibom?
We have a leader in the person of Atuekong Don Etiebet. They didn’t probably know the number of followers they had until I joined. I was in London on a Monday. I joined on a Wednesday. I couldn’t even move with my car when I arrived the venue of my declaration. I had to trek. Even when I was coming from the burial of my wife’s grandmother in Enugu I was called on the phone that the youths from my senatorial constituency want to hear from me directly about my defection to APC. They actually applied to the local government chairman to get a hall for the reception, but they were refused use of the hall by the chairman. They forcefully found their way into the hall but the chairman did not allow them use the electricity generating set. I was shocked when I saw the crowd because it was raining on that day, and there were about 45,000 youths. You need to do your independent investigation about what I am telling you in Akwa Ibom. They said they will go anywhere I move to and I promised to take my people to the centre.
Can you clarify to us the statement often credited to you that what money cannot do, more money will do?
I don’t know where you got that from. There was a Youth Corps member who worked with me as a personal assistant who now works with the present governor of Akwa Ibom. He has been writing all sorts of things about me. He even calls me a comedian for moving into APC. He formed a team of writers online to be writing all sorts of things about me. He has been going around churches telling people that I want to form a cattle colony in Akwa Ibom state. There is no government that will like to kill his people. That was what people said during President Jonathan time. People were saying different things about him. Don’t let us mix religion with politics. I never said what money cannot do; more money can do, because for example; money cannot buy life. Money cannot cure cancer, right now. If it is your time to die, will you use money to escape it?
It was alleged that at your first appearance at the National Assembly, you gave so much money to members to become a principal officer of the Senate?
People don’t like to give credit to who it is due. There are people who shy away from the truth. The people of the South-south are very proud of me because I changed the story of the South-south. A lot of people say that lots of money goes to the South-south, but there is little to show for it. When I became a governor, that insult vanished because of what I achieved. If come to Akwa Ibom, you will see some of my achievements. There is nowhere you come from this world and you come into the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Akwa Ibom and you walk into the VIP stand with 250 bulletproof seats that you will not commend me. When you walk into the Governor’s office constructed under my regime, you will marvel. It was constructed as an ICT compliant facility. When the position of the Minority Leader in the Senate was zoned to the South-south, the people from the South-south in the house said as their leader I should be the best person for the post. When they approached me, I refused and told them that I have never been on leave for eight years, and I needed to rest. They insisted, and I had to honour them by taking the post. Don’t forget that I have been the chairman of PDP Governors Forum. I also owe the South-south senators an apology for going to the APC without informing them. After my meeting with the president, the story was already everywhere in the world. I believe that even if I called them then, they will be looking at me as an APC person. I owe them an apology for not informing them. Some people were saying that I left without any followers but what about the 45000 people at the stadium. When the president came and you saw over 70000 people at the stadium, some people don’t even have seats to seat in the stadium in a South-south state. It is only God that can enthrone kings so I don’t want to brag. I have done over 78 jobs in the state as a senator. I have been a governor of the state for eight years, and I will always serve them till I die.
Some of you in the Senate are receiving pension as former governors and also receiving your salaries as senators, people are saying that one of those should be stopped?
There is nothing like two salaries, because we are collecting pension as former governors. As a serving senator, we must be paid our allowance when due. At least we must maintain our offices. As a former governor, we must get the pension for working as a former governor of a state. People don’t understand because you can only receive only one pension as a former governor. As a serving senator, you must get your allowance.
The issue of security vote to governors is another sore point with many arguing that the funds should be given to the police to make them more effective in their operations.
Whether you like it or not, security vote should always be available to governors to keep the states crime free. There are things that you must make provision for; welfare of the people and secondly the security of the people. We are operating a democracy and the constitution says in section Two, subsection 2b that the primary duty of government is to provide security of life and property, and the welfare of the people. If anybody tells you that security vote should be stopped, that means the person doesn’t know what he is saying except if there is a misuse of the funds by the state governor.
Will vote for state police?
I have always voted for the state police. I am always an advocate of state police. If a security man is from another state, he may not know the terrain like a person who has lived all his life in that particular environment. During the time of our fathers, they knew the bad guys in the village. If a goat was missing in the village they knew where to check and who to hold responsible for it. There is a need to compliment the efforts of the federal government by providing for the state police. Any governor who misuses it should be held responsible. During my growing up days, you could not just acquire wealth without doing anything. In the United Kingdom, you see police without a gun because they are the Metropolitan Police. There can also be National State Police Commission that will train personnel recruited into the state police. They will be deployed to the state where you are from and they can also transfer their service to federal police if there is need. Similarly, personnel in the state police can also serve the federal police. That is happening already in the civil service.
- I also left behind economic enablers, that if you were able to take one of them and then privatize or sell off 50%, you will pay off the entire debt. For instance, I built Ibom Power Plant. I completed Ibom Power Plant. People were offering me as much as USD190 million to sell 60 per cent or 70% but I refused. I said if we expand it, it will bring in a lot of revenue to the state. I also built a gas plant in conjunction with a company from the United Kingdom. I brought in a gas processing plant built it in Esit Eket, a 69km gas pipeline and I made sure the state holds significant stake that will buy the gas. By the time they completed the gas, it was going for USD2.8 so that is also another income to the state and then we did 50 kilometres of gas pipeline from Esit Eket all the way to NIPP in Calabar. We are the one supplying NIPP in Calabar.
2 When I came back, I had an accident in 2015, I still said I must go because I was not around when I was invited. I went to the EFCC personally to ensure that I answered to the petition and I answered them. I am the most investigated former governor in Nigeria. Go to anywhere in the world, I don’t have a single house that I could sell, whether in the United Kingdom or Dubai. Forget the contrived negative stories you hear about Godswill Akpabio.