Nseobong Okon-Ekong dialogues with Mr. Moses Ekpo, Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State on how deputy governors can avoid conflicts with their principal, while ensuring a harmonious working relationship for the benefit of the people
There is notion in some quarters that projects by this administration is concentrated in the homestead of the its principal officers like the governor, commissioners and yourself?
I wouldn’t tell you to come to Abak and see what is happening, rather I will tell you go around the state as much as you can. Look at what is happening. That’s the template that we are having for every part of this state. I’m not saying that the previous administration didn’t do things. They did things. You give credit to (former governor) Godswill Akpabio for what he did. He did a lot, but the intention is that we should be building on that. And that is what this administration is doing. Most of the projects that were initiated at that time are being completed by this competition. My personal view is that the zoning system for the governorship of this state is meant to be able to provide, at the end of the day, a holistic development in every part of the state.
If you have governors or leaders take development to their own areas, by the time they take development to their own areas, you will discover that the entire state would have been developed. If you look at Uyo, anybody who knows it from the beginning, the real Uyo has no semblance of what you knew yesterday. The reason is that we think that the state capital should be the first port of call to anybody. Let development radiate from there to other places and that’s what is happening in this state. I believe that if the tempo continues, if there’s anything to learn from this administration by others who will follow, within a short time, Akwa Ibom would be unique. Even in terms of economic development, there’s a lot of things on ground. By the time everything is unfolded by our completion time, we will have a lot to show.
Some believe that your choice as deputy to Governor Udom Emmanuel was for stability. You were expected to bring your experience in government to bear. Again, considering your age, the thinking was that you will not be driven by ambition into a conflict with the governor. In what ways are you doing this?
This is the most peaceful place you can have in this country, inside government and outside. It’s only good governance that can modulate this kind of a thing. In my little way, I think to provide that stability, there should be peace even within governance. For me, I have a dictionary that defines loyalty and when I interpret it, loyalty has no percentage. If you’re 90 percent loyal to your boss, then it’s not complete, it doesn’t help. It should be 100 percent loyalty. Governor Udom Emmanuel shares opinion. There’s no better way to govern. This state is the most peaceful state, even in government. Once the government is in factions, then the entire state will be in factions. We don’t want to create divide and rule. Governor Emmanuel listens to everyone. He listens to his colleagues in the cabinet and when decisions are taken it’s a wholesome decision.
There’s a move to review the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, will you advocate for a constitutional role for deputy governors?
If it’s a constitution, must everything be written down, to say, ‘the deputy governor must or must not do this and that? Even if they are written down, are they not turning them overboard? For me, if you have a constitutional role for a deputy to say he should do this or that, it becomes a bit selfish. When you take on a job with the governor, it not as if we sat down and said this is what we will divide. It’s a mutual understanding, so I key into what his focus is. If I do, I follow him, if I don’t, I don’t follow him. It’s very clear. What are we going to propose to be included in the new constitution as a role for the deputy governor? It’s very clear, you deputize for him. You are to do those things the principal does when he’s not available.
The role of the deputy governor is so critical, even as a candidate, like what happened in Bayelsa state. It’s a joint ticket. Whatever affects the deputy governor automatically impacts on the governor. And is it true you were chosen by former Governor Akpabio for this role?
All I’m saying here is if the nation considers that it is important to define roles for a deputy governor, will it ever be in conflict with what the governor is doing? I think it’s a mutual understanding between two people.
The former governor didn’t choose me. It’s the party that chose me. If it was the former governor, I would have decamped with him. I’m not opposed to defining the constitutional role but what will this role be in our case? No matter what you inscribe in that constitution, are practicing it here? What we want is the interest of the people. We should be very careful in saying what a deputy governor should do or should not do. The 1999 constitution is not a constitution of the people. Let the people agree on a constitution. The constitutional reports are there. Why are we not looking at them? In those reports, you see semblances of what a peoples constitution should be. In our own case, it was the soldiers that gave us the constitution. Nobody had a say. The right thing to do now is to look at all the reports and get a group of Nigerians to scrutinize it, but not on political party basis.
On security issues, the South-west governors have come up with their own peculiar solution. Do you think the South-south should go in that direction?
We are not following anyone. We are looking at it and studying it. As soon as it is ready it will be made known. For example, why is Akwa Ibom the most peaceful state? It’s because we involve everyone from every strata of the society.
Are Akwa Ibomites peaceful or docile?
We are not docile. In your village, for example, don’t you know who the bad people are? Even the parents know who they are. How do you secure a place? Through information. The ability to give information to enable the management of security is what is affecting this country. These people who carry out these disturbances are not ghosts. They are our people. We know them. We will do what we think will help our people. The day Nigeria starts believing that everyone is related to each other, we will start to have peace.
Do you believe that there’s a Fulani agenda to take over this country?
I don’t know. This agenda, where’s it developed? When you take over, what does that mean? People might say that at this point in time that there’s a lot of killings, that could be true. But what’s the basis of doing that? I’m sure a lot Fulanis and Muslims have a conscience. It’s to appeal to that conscience and the only way to appeal to that conscience is for those people to believe that they are part and parcel of the entire country.
We have reports from villages in Akwa Ibom of attacks by herdsmen. When the women go to the farm and sight these herdsmen, they run back. That’s very true. We are looking at those reports. But what I normally say to this issue is who owns those cows? We should also know.
Cattle rearing is business. It could be that those cows are owned by Akwa Ibomites and they hire Fulanis to keep them. It could be because they have expertise much more than we have.
But why would they arm them with guns?
If they arm them what is the overall government and security agencies doing? Are herdsmen supposed to be armed? If they are not supposed to be armed what is the law saying about it? if there’s a law at all, has it been enforced? Has the Federal Government enforced the laws? If they did, these people won’t be carrying arms. Or are we saying it’s part of the Fulani agenda that’s why the federal Government is saying nothing? Fine a Fulani man is President. Doesn’t he have collaborators including southerners?
He must have collaborators for it to work. Nigeria has a very complicated situation which every well-meaning person should see how to address. Take the herdsmen thing for example, if the law doesn’t provide for them to be armed, why are they being armed? If they solve that matter, then the issue of herdsmen can be dealt with easily. Whoever hires them you are not expected to arm them. If you arm them, it’s against the law. If this law is enforced, then people will know you can’t arm them and of course they can’t frighten people in their farms. Who should help those helpless people? The government using the law. Will it be fair to say that the government in power is encouraging the Fulani agenda? If they are encouraging the agenda, who makes up the government?
At the end of the day, you hold the Federal Government responsible. It’s the Federal Government law that should be effective in these states. Everyone should obey the law. That’s why I say our problem in Nigeria is so complicated. And nobody should say I’m not part of it. If the present government at the centre is being run by the All Progressives Congress (APC), do we have only Fulanis in the APC? Of course, we have all Nigerians. So, everyone including my people here are part and parcel of it. Anybody who will want to do things that will be against his own people then that person is not well. For me, the issue that is at hand is the issue of leadership.
In what area would you say the Udom Emmanuel administration has made the highest positive impact in the last five years?
Education and infrastructure. Education is top on our agenda, food sufficiency is on our agenda and we are delivering food to the people. Sometimes people don’t know that we can be self-sufficient for up to 80 percent of what we eat in this state. We are producing rice. The issue of people smuggling rice into Akwa Ibom is caused by greed, the craze for money, because there’s no scarcity of our local rice in our markets. As a matter of fact, it’s cheaper than the one they bring in. So we are self-sufficient in food.
In Uyo, alone our green-house supplies us with the tomatoes we need. We have conserved a little bit of our energy going to bring these things from the north. In the area of food sufficiency, we can stand up to be counted.
In infrastructure, schools, medical field, all our hospitals were gone. It is this administration that brought them back. All the general hospitals are back to optimum capacity. The Etinan General Hospital is a paperless hospital. All the general hospitals in the state are interconnected. All you need to do is give your name and information and in two minutes what the doctor says will be given to you there. It’s a development and there’s electricity to back it.
We are aiming for ‘light for all’ in this state by 2021. We are hoping and working to be able to also distribute the power we generate here, because that’s the problem, if you generate the power and by this same law it doesn’t allow you to distribute what you have, you put it into the system, the system is unable to distribute so it can’t serve the people. Some communities here have light up to between 20 and 22 hours everyday and we are progressing. If the law allows, we will give light to our people minimum of 18 hours each day. But we are impeded by law.
Are you concerned that the NBS rates Akwa Ibom as the state with the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the country?
It’s not correct. I don’t know where they got that statistics from. Anybody can sit down in his house and give statistics. Are they really in the field? There’s not less than between 15 and 20 health centers in each local government here and so they are the people to say how many HIV/AIDS cases were reported. Don’t forget, if you don’t report where will the statistics come from? So, it’s not correct. It’s like the statistics that a certain percentage of Akwa Ibom children are out of school. Why are they out of school? There’s free education here and on top of that, each teacher in the school is given an allowance per child in every school, on top of their salaries to manage, and each child knows he/she is not paying any fee.
Akwa Ibom is the chair of Federal Government intervention in oil production, how is this position being used to revolutionise oil palm production in the state?
The oil palm estates we used to have in the state became dilapidated. We had estates in the palm belt area. They are being revitalized with these loans and support from the Central Bank, as at this point in time. We have not forgotten that this is the money spinner.
What kind of relationship are you going to work out with the farmers, are they still going to be government-owned estates?
The Ministry of Agriculture is to make sure it provides a good liaison between them and the Central Bank. They should be part of the Anchor Borrowers Scheme. It’s not going to be possible for each private farmer, to get borrowers scheme. They get into this cooperative working for the government. The government is not going to manage these estates. Once we get these estates working again, the people should be able to manage it themselves and benefit from this input that the Central Bank is making.
What are you going to retire into in 2023? Assuming you don’t have any ambition in politics
In 2023, my ambition is to be able to continue living in this state and making it better than I found it. I will continue to make my little contribution. I’m a journalist. If I retire into publishing, I will be comfortable. I have never been a business man in my life.
Where do you stand concerning the controversy over retirement benefits for governors and their deputies?
Will I not be adjudicating over my case? It’s all about good governance. What is good for the people is the most important thing. If the people come out and say this is not right and it’s universally accepted, a good government should be able to listen to what they are saying.
What’s your take on the social media bill?
Nigeria believes in laws, but do we enforce these laws? What is that bill expected to achieve? Is it not left for us the practitioners to impose what we think would make our profession sane? Which law in this country has been enforced? If we enforce laws things will be orderly, but no law is enforced. Is there no provision for people who circumvent laws? A reasonable law is able to regulate what you’re saying. Why do you want to put it into a law? Life itself is self-regulatory. You cannot say no to people who believe it’s an agenda to witch-hunt people who are not in their party because they are right. Because even when you know that somebody has committed an offense instead of taking them to court, you want to do some other thing. The whole thing boils down to leadership. Has the leadership fared well? The problem is not to review the constitution. that you didn’t make.