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‘Cross River State Has Never Been This Bad’
Nseobong Okon-Ekong dialogues with a former All Progressives Congress governorship aspirant in Cross River State, Mr. Emmanuel Robson who coordinated a political support group called Business Professionals for Buhari
Your governorship campaign did not seem to gain much traction, the prevailing opinion is that you were not a serious contender?
I ran for the nomination of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Cross River State. I started my campaign around July and effectively we ended the campaign in September, 2018 when our party nominated Senator John Owan Enoh as the governorship nominee for the APC. Throughout the period of July to September, I was effectively campaigning throughout Cross River State and also joining various meetings of the aspirants both in Calabar and in Abuja as was organised by the national exco of our party. After the nomination had been completed, we shifted our focus to supporting the candidate of our party. My political support group in Cross River State is called the Fresh Mandate Group. It is the biggest political support group on the APC platform in Cross River State. We campaigned extensively, and we mobilized all our more than 450000 members across the state to come out and vote massively for President Muhammadu Buhari. The margin of 120000 votes which the President got this year was more than 29000 he got four years ago. The Mani Robson for Governor Campaign in Cross River State was very huge. When we started campaigning for the governorship nominee and the President, we also did that with various campaign activities.
I am from Odukpani Local Government Area. I am an Efik man from Creek Town.
You are one of those who agrees that the activities of former Minister Usani Uguru Usani was a distraction that disrupted the APC governorship campaign in Cross River State
Let me throw some light into because it has been a sore point in our party. The governorship primary in the state is a duty that is solely the preserve of the national exco of the party. It sent a committee which came to Cross River State and conducted the primary. Senator John Owan Enoh became the successful candidate. While that was happening, Pastor Usani Uguru Usani was also organizing his own primary on the side. If you look through the record of the events, you will see that he used some members of the public, I assume they were members of the party to conduct his own primary, in which he emerged as the winner. But the primary that threw up Senator John Owna Enoh as the governorship nominee was conducted by the national exco of the party as stipulated by the party constitution and was also recognised by INEC in the election proper for the position of governor in the state.
Do you think that if you had combined forces with former Minster Edem Duke, the party’s governorship ticket could have been won by an Efik candidate?
I don’t think that was an issue for the party when we were all running for the office of the governor on the platform of the APC. We don’t believe that rotation is actually the solution to bringing about capable and qualified people to run the affairs of the state. We believe that the so-called rotation encourages mediocrity. As a party in Cross River State, the APC had made it known that we were going to throw up the opportunity to every man who wanted to run for governor of the state. That is how my brothers stood up and vied for the nomination; and I did as well. We believe that the best candidate should have the nomination and we felt that on our own we were equally qualified. It never occurred to us at any point that one person or the other should step down while the other person should run. We all went into the contest and the best candidate was chosen by members of the party. It never was an issue for any person to step down for the other during the process of the primary. There was no such conversation at all.
Are you satisfied with the state that Cross River State is right now?
Cross River State has never seen it this bad in the history of its existence. The state has seen what I call the failure of governance. The level of decadence is beyond comprehension. If you drive around the state capital, you will see the decay of various infrastructure; the roads, the public buildings are all in a state of disrepair. Cross River State needs redemption. There is high level of criminality now-armed robbery, kidnapping, ritual murders. Between eight and 12 years ago, especially during the administration of former Governor Donald Duke. Cross River State used to be the go-to-destination for tourists in Nigeria and from outside the country, but now the streets of the state capital is an eyesore and the high level of insecurity has forced many tourists not to come to the state. Tourism used to be the third source of income generation for the state, but now it doesn’t even feature in the top 20 income generating sources of the state. Cross River State is in a very bad shape now. That is why I left my private business and decided that I wanted to contest for the office of governor of the state. I wanted to bring in my private sector experience to bear in the running of the state, as it happened members of our party decided otherwise and chose my fellow party man and we eventually threw our support behind him. We hoped that the election will go our way. I am very happy that the state exco of the party in Cross River State and even our nominee are in court currently challenging the last election, which was a charade. Our hope is that at the end of the process, he will be able to reclaim his mandate, as the duly elected governor of Cross River State.
From the election result, the populace don’t seem to agree that it was a sham, isn’t the true situation that the APC wasn’t able to get its act together?
As you have rightly observed, we had some internal issues. We were divided as a party. There were two persons laying claim to the mandate of the party governorship nominee. Many people who would have come together to vote for APC as a party were confused on the day of the election. The INEC contributed to the confusion because barely 24 hours to the presidential and national assembly elections, the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Cross River State hosted a press conference and announced that the APC had no candidate for any position. The confusion snowballed from that time to the governorship election. As a matter of fact, our candidate, Senator John Owan Enoh did not have his name published on the INEC website until about 1pm on the day of the election. It was on that same day that the REC went on the phone to actually call our candidate. All these confusion meant that our party people who were energized to go to the poll felt that they couldn’t vote if they didn’t have a proper nominee established on that day. The party was divided between those who would have loved to vote for Senator John Owan Enoh and the other people who were promoting the candidacy of Pastor Usani Uguru Usani. There was essentially voter suppression. The incumbent party in the state used that as a propaganda instrument in causing more confusion. They sent out a lot of press releases, printed a number of leaflets and went into the neighbourhood in the state announcing that the APC had no candidate. Our people essentially stayed at home. Let’s even take a step back, for a party that did not have an established candidate until 1pm on the day of the election, so the party faithful did not really know if they were even participating in the election. That contributed to low turnout of our members during the governorship election.
If the situation was different and we went into the election on a level playing field against the opponent, the incumbent party in the state, we would have won that election squarely because the indigenes of Cross River State have realized that the last four years of the administration of the current governor was a disaster and nobody wanted that to happen again. Whatever vote had been allocated to our governorship aspirant is an under-representation of what would have been the true state if all our members had come out to vote.
Should you really blame the PDP for your predicament? Whatever happened was self-inflicted by the APC.
Politics is a game of enlightened self-interest, I clearly understand that we essentially gave the PDP the weapon which was used against us. Some of these issues are not unheard of in politics. It just very sad that it happened in our state. A similar situation also happened in Rivers State and Zamfara. Democracy in Nigeria is still evolving. These are teething issues that will always throw itself up. As the political process evolves and people learn their lesson, this will become a thing of the past, five or 10 years down the line. It is hoped that in the next four years, when we will be going into elections again as a party in the state, this internal democratic issues would have been completely sorted out; so that we can have a unified house.
Have you been in governance at any level?
No. As a matter of fact I have essentially been a private sector person. I have worked for various financial institutions in Nigeria. I decided about nine years ago to step into private sector business. I set up a financial services consulting company. Eventually, we grew to the point of acquiring a major stake in a micro-finance bank for which I am the chairman. I have also been involved in property development. I also own a security consulting company which is based in Abuja. I am very active in the area of Corporate Social Responsibility. I have the Mani Robson Foundation which is located in Calabar. This foundation has been heavily involved in providing financial support to Cross Riverians in the area of maternal health care, widow support and educational scholarship. Recently we donated books and other educational materials to Hope Waddell Training Institution in Calabar. During my campaign, we provided scholarship to students in Calabar, Odukpani and Bakassi towards their secondary school examination. We have been involved in a lot of financial empowerment to the people of Cross River State. This is the first time that I have ventured into politics.
Don’t you think you should have started at the level of a legislator to acquaint with the processes of politicking?
As an individual, I always like taking charge and having executive powers to make decisions and to make things happen. I wanted to change the narrative of poverty and despondency in Cross River State. I felt that the platform that will allow me do such would be to have executive power as the governor of the state. With such, one is able to set the vision, get the right people recruited in driving that vision and also setting the agenda for the next four to eight years for a re-birth. Our campaign was appropriately themed, the Re-birth Mission for Cross River State. I wanted to bring in my private sector experience as a governor to completely change the bad situation we see in the state today.
Why do you think people who succeed a previous office holder in Nigeria completely deconstruct what the predecessor did? Why don’t we have people who continue with the success story of the previous occupant of the office?
I think that every new administration comes in with its own vision of what they think is right and also its vision of how to drive the economic and the political activities of the state. Many a time that vision of the economy and politics is not usually aligned with what the previous administration had done. I am one of those people who believe that continuity in government is very essential for growth and development. But we don’t see that in Nigeria. Each new administration that comes into power has a different vision of how it wants to actualize growth and development.
We are talking about a PDP governed state and successive administrations have been produced by that same party
I totally, but remember that the party is made up of individuals who have different orientation about how governance should be implemented. For instance, Donald Duke had a very wonderful eight years of governance in all areas. If you wanted to measure him according to the indices of social and economic development in the state, Governor Donald Duke had a very good showing. One would argue that that was his own definition of how governance should be implemented. When Imoke came in, he had his own vision and ideas of how he wanted to govern the state and how he wanted to bring about growth and development in Cross River State. It is left for individuals, like you and I and any other person that is weighing the two administration on a scale to determine if Governor Duke’s own ideas were better than that of Imoke or if Imoke’s were better than that of Governor Duke. If you were to take a graph and draw a line from where Duke started to where Governor Ayade is now, that graph will not be pointing upwards. It will be a straight line that is pointing downwards. That tells you that almost 12 years after Governor Duke left office, Cross River State has not been better off than it was during Donald Duke’s era. That might be very instructive for individuals to judge if Governors Imoke and Ayade’s own parameters to measure governance is better than Governor Duke. This is a judgment call that is left to every individual that is appraising different governors who have been in power since 1999.
Are these governors not supposed to be implementing the vision and policies of their parties? Should they have a personal agenda?
The party is the platform that sponsors candidates for various positions. In the first and second republic, the party used to publish its agenda. It was a doctrine that guided activities of those who became victorious on that party’s platform. Like the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in the late 70s and the early 80s, they had a party philosophy that guided the activities of all its governors which led to such social programmes like Free Education in Western Nigeria, even dating back to the 50s and the 60s, the doctrine of the party used to be the overriding guiding force for the government. In recent times, nobody really talks anymore about the manifesto of the party. The individuals who have been privileged to get elected into the party offices, essentially have been driving what they feel is the manifesto of their own government. It has been more or less an individualistic thing. This is not good at all. In the United States of America and other advanced democracy, each party stands for something. They have a dogma of governance and they stick to it. Over time, it evolves, making allowance to changing times. That is how political activities and governance should proceed anywhere in the world; the philosophy, the manifesto, the doctrine of the party should be the guiding principle to governance. Anyone who gets elected on that party’s platform should be the one driving that philosophy and that manifesto because the citizenry who are being governed will be able to take up that manifesto at each point during the tenure of the party in power and refer to it and ask questions and hold that party accountable. Individuals come and go, as far as politics is concerned, but political parties tend to stay for a longer period of time and it is their manifesto that the citizens can hold them accountable to. During the next election cycle, the citizenry can vote out the political party that don’t live up to such manifesto and bring the other party which they believe can offer better governance. In today’s Nigeria, we have a situation in which only political parties can sponsor candidates to offices. That is why we don’t have independent candidates. Political parties are responsible to the people with respect to their manifesto and what they are set to do in changing the polity. They should be preeminent in the overall scheme of things in driving developmental processes and governance in the society. It is my believe that with time, we will see an evolution in which political parties will be in charge of things as it used to be in the first and second republics.
Are you in support of firmer leadership in the political parties, apportioning stiff discipline? We find that some individuals resist when the party tries to whip them into line
I believe that the party is supreme. The party should be the final decision maker, regarding any issue whatsoever; issues of governance, issues of selection of candidates, the party should be fully in charge. When we have a situation where individual ambition seem to conflict with the party position, the party as the platform on which individuals seek to contest for offices should be able to whip them into line to implement what the party position is. We have a lot of things to learn. Remember that this country, since independence, has been ruled more by military governments than democratic governments. In many ways, we are used to autocratic ways of doing things. Democracy is a system of governance based on continuous negotiation. With time, I believe that proper institutions of governance would be established-the judiciary, the parties, the executive-are strengthened and you have many of these cases going through legal processes, you will see that the foundation of democracy will be thoroughly established and the party will assume its place as the supreme mechanism for which governance is implemented in the country.