Udom Emmanuel: Atiku Is Only Candidate with Capacity to Solve Nigeria’s Problems

Confident, unassuming and evidently impressed with himself, the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Udom Emmanuel is quick to discuss his style with pride, which he reckons is atypical of the regular politician.  By weaving the intricacy of the business of governance and its politics, with the commonwealth of the people, coupled with the fear of God, he claims to have held the state together in vision, growth, and development. Yet, as chairman, the PDP presidential campaign council, he reminds Nigerians of the refuge the party’s symbolic umbrella can provide against the sweeping hardships wrought on them through the ruling APC’s broom.  As he discusses the God factor in the Akwa Ibom Project with THISDAY, he takes a deep dive into how Nigerians can come out of the seemingly crushing yoke they currently live under. Excerpts:

It’s almost eight years. Tell us, how has the journey been?

It’s been interesting. There are a lot of things I did not know about the character, people’s personalities – a whole lot about politics in Nigeria, and even the role of followership in leadership. I couldn’t really appreciate it. I’ve learnt a whole lot these whole years. I’m writing a book, and that book, whoever seeks public office, if you read  it, will be well grounded. The most exciting part is that I’ve been given the opportunity to serve my people, a rare privilege from God. The motives of people coming into politics are completely different. I came to serve. I’m happy I’ve been able to serve. I really want to appreciate my people for their support and for standing by me.

Did coming from the private sector make it especially difficult for you?

I wouldn’t say so, you see, human character, the person called man, I think, could be the same. The only difference between someone in the private sector and someone in the public sector is the adherence to laid down rules and policies and what discipline can follow if there’s an infraction and enforcement on those disciplines. Human behavioural patterns will always be the same. So, the individual and the environment could slightly determine man’s behavioural pattern. But I don’t think it’s just because I’m coming from the private sector. But even when you’re assuming public office, there’s a culture shock. You can’t write that off. There’s a culture shock based on where you’re coming from: as the name implies, organised private sector. Then this one, I don’t want to say the opposite, is the public sector. Let me stop there. So, the culture shock will make you feel somehow over there. People are looking at processing systems. Here, people are actually against the processing and systems – two different worlds. 

But did the private sector background give you any advantage?

Certainly, as you can see, our business approach to governance is different.  That’s why when I came, I said, no, I’m not a professional politician. I’m a professional in politics. So, it makes a whole lot of difference. In that case, you see governance as the business of governance. Even when we build roads here, we build those with economic value. It’s different from what all other politicians would do. Let me give you an example. When I came in, I said, look, we have oil today; it may not be there in the next 10 to 20 years. The same palm fruits that the Malaysians took from Akwa Ibom, today, the same Malaysians are exporting palm oil to Nigeria.

I don’t like that kind of paradox. So, I said, can’t we also do something? Let’s also go to some of these places. Let’s also do something. I just observed our environment: the coconut my father planted, even my grandfather planted, is still yielding fruits to date. Almost 99 years after, it is still yielding. It is as tall as anything. You will see the fruits. No manure, nothing spectacular about it. Just leave it there, and then you’ll be harvesting. I said there must be something. I discovered that God made a provision for coconuts. How can we now get these to have economic value? So, I invested money in it. 

Last October, we planted 300,000 seedlings in one day. There’s a country where we went to buy coconut seedlings after we’d booked for 400,000. The whole country knew there was something wrong. How can a state in Nigeria come for 400,000? Did you know, at the end of the day, I did not even buy up to 100,000 pieces of seedlings from that country? They refused to sell. They knew immediately that something was going on somewhere. And before they knew it, my target was to put two million seedlings of coconut anywhere in Akwa Ibom if I could. I don’t really need it to be a government plantation. Let’s assume you plant two million seedlings. Let’s even, for ease of argument, out of two million, 1.5 million survive. What economic value will you derive!

And this will continue for another 60 years; will outlive me and probably outlive my children. And then, the refinery we will set up is to refine crude virgin oil. And crude virgin oil in the international market is more than $6 a litre, and 221 litres make one barrel. Compare that with crude oil.  You know nothing is wasted, when you are talking about coconut, nothing is wasted. It’s a whole lot, and these are things that I don’t need much. Once they start yielding, I leave them for another 60, 70 or 80 years. I’m just giving you an example. So, these are things that a professional will look at. A professional wouldn’t just do a project 100 per cent political.

Take, for example, you can see the menace of erosion all over. You’ll be shocked if I tell you how much we’ve spent on erosion control. The whole of the new ring road we did, the 10 lanes you heard about, part of it, was flooded. I took an underground drainage there over six kilometres from that place to enter a stream. There is also another place where previous administrations dug like a big gully, so, when water settled in, they used a tanker to pump it and even with that, the whole of the environment, when it rained, the thing could get up to the neck level. Today, that’s history. If it rains now, in the next two minutes, you’ll not see a drop of water in that area.

Even the church next to that place organised a thanksgiving after I fixed that place. There was a place that was even more challenging. I approached the World Bank that I needed support and provided our counterpart funding; the World Bank supported us. That one is over eight kilometres, spanning three local government areas. We took the whole thing out. If it rains and you go to that place, you’ll be surprised. Completely different. These are things only a professional in politics would do, because you’re sinking money for generations yet unborn, trying to improve the quality of life of the people. But even the people themselves might not even understand it now. Hitherto when it rained here in Uyo city, everywhere would be flooded, but now in two minutes, no water is seen anywhere. Nobody is saying anything.  The entire airport road, you can’t believe what I inherited. 

There was no single side drain, not to mention drainage channels, not even one. And there’s a lot of development coming up in that area. What do you think that area will be like in the next 10 years? I said no, I couldn’t leave office with this. So I’m not only doing the side drains, we’re doing a proper drainage channel to link up with the one that will be in a 10-lane ring road, so that  they can take that away into 6.4km and go and discharge into the stream. This is a passion for development, lots of people, and it’s completely different. So these are all different.

You see, we have the best new roads in this whole country. Nobody can beat it. And these are not done by roadside contractors, of course. You can see from Uyo to the Atlantic Ocean, where you have the… terminal by Julius Berger and CECC. These are two big construction companies here. I have another big company that did the one ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo inaugurated, where Julius Berger is stopping, from Uyo taking from… to the East-West road with a highway lighting system that when  you drive on at night, it is as if you’re in the daytime with two cable bridges. So you just do these things, no noise, but you can see the economic value because we need the movement of goods and services for the people and with ease. These are what are called dividends of democracy. 

What is involved is the more emphasis on certain infrastructure and the rest. You know we have soft, we have hard infrastructure, but you know all these things. So it is a whole lot. I mean, there’s a whole lot that we are doing that is different. For example, I don’t know yet if even one nation in the whole Gulf of Guinea is doing the kind of terminal building we are doing. Because we want to attract people, we want to attract businesses. And look at the whole of, let me say, Central up to West Africa today, not even one MRO. The only MRO you have in Ethiopia is for Ethiopian Airlines. It is not even enough for their fleet. Then the other one is in South Africa (which is) nothing compared to our own. A subnational with an MRO that can service two Boeing 747-800 series aircraft fleet at the same time. Our CRJ 900 can service eight of those CRJ 900 at the same time; here in Uyo and today, you can see a lot of these aviation development companies are all over us. In fact, I even got an offer that am I ready to sell. I said no. 

So as of today, Airbus is telling us that up to six checks of their fleet will be done at that MRO. It is the biggest and the best you can find here. All the aircraft manufacturing companies that have done inspections there left extremely impressed. We just want to open and do something that will make economic sense. Since we have an airline, we must take advantage of what we have, and with the kind of terminal we are also building, we want to create a lot of economic value for our people. All regional flights of Ibom Air will be taking off from that terminal building. And also, if you’re a businessman coming from a regional trip, then you’re in Akwa Ibom, and you are waiting to connect domestic routes, then you are in the best place. 

We are trying to make sure that as you’re waiting, you can enter a business lounge, do anything you want to do as a businessman, still connect with your office, and do your work without losing anything. So at the business lounge, you can take a shower, have whatever you want to have and then probably pay for the services, and then off you go so you don’t actually feel like it’s out of the office. You’ll be connected to the world. It will be a top-notch business solution centre, ICT and everything we are doing there. We’re also building with a whole lot because we discover a whole lot of construction in Nigeria. There are also provisions for persons living with disabilities (PWDs), resulting in easy access to the aircraft. 

So, these are things that got into play. And you see the kind of apron that PW is constructing for us. We are trying to do these as part of our contribution. These are things that you don’t find at any subnational in Africa. And that’s why I contested the presidency. If I can create this at the sub-national level, where I don’t control policies, if you give me an opportunity where I control policies and then allow me to take this to a larger scale, we can actually do something and turn around the economy. Unfortunately, that did not work out. 

What is your signature project?

My signature project is about the people. It’s the people. That’s my signature project – the moral rebate. Anybody will tell you here that I’ve been able to take the youth back to God in Akwa Ibom State. And it’s the greatest thing, and things money cannot buy are things considered the most. I don’t consider projects that money can buy. No, not at all. As creative as they are, these are not my signature projects. My signature project is the people; the youth are taken back to God and the peace we’ve achieved in this land. Because before I came in as a governor, there was a security breach everywhere. You know the story. They would enter churches, shoot a general, kidnap a whole retired general, and kill people inside the church on a Sunday. 

People were not holding evening programmes again in different churches. And you know this is a 100 percent Christian state. So I mean, these are things that used to happen. If you withdraw money from the bank, they would even block a bullion van in the middle of the road. So insecurity was something else. So the peace that came through the Almighty God has brought blessings and calmness. So all you need to do is for God to open your eyes. And also, once a passion is right, nothing is impossible. How could a state with a terrible situation in the exchange rate (we are still bringing in new aircraft at the exchange rate of almost N900 to the dollar) do this? 

Where is the money coming from? How can a state have an airline? How does a state have an airline? Where did we get the capital? Where did the capital come from? We went to an air show in Dubai. They were not signing nationals. In fact, in the whole of West Africa, they did not sign a single national on the contract. But they signed us as a subnational with the 108020300 series, that is the latest technology in aircraft manufacturing. They will start delivering from next year. No cash. Not about cash. But about money. What about money?  You can create money, but you cannot create cash. I can’t print cash. I’m not CBN. I’m not the federal government, but I know how I can create money with my head.  I create money and get what I want for the people. 

On human capital development, what have you done to take things to the next level? 

That is so huge. In fact, I won’t be able to count them all because we have different segments. The ministry of labour is aggressive on that. As I’m talking to you, there’s not a minute that you won’t find the ministry of labour working on different segments of development, training people in different areas. Even right now, we had to get the ministry of trade and investment involved. There’s what we call Ibom 3000 youths programme too. We needed to train people. You just discovered that it gets to a time when people don’t know the difference between what kind of cable can go into a panel or not. So, we train people in many areas. And also, my wife has a project that caters for women’s empowerment, including appropriate support for the girl-child. Even in sports today, we are supplying Nigeria with a lot of champions in youth sports. 

The current 400m commonwealth came from a public school in Akwa Ibom through our youth sports programme, and then we picked the person. And today, America picked the person I didn’t even know. It’s a complete package, and we are looking at that, and we’re not relenting. And I’m going to continue with that training until I leave office. And right now, I’m going on the full automation of the civil service processes, HR programmes and so on to get these people running. But the greatest one that will interest you most; when we were much younger, we used to hear about technical colleges, etc. You know, those are the people that train the technicians. We used to call the mechanics. But those were technicians that trained these people. 

Plumbers and so on, But that’s all gone. That’s why you see these days an average Nigerian will build a very beautiful house, but probably because the gate of the pipe does not match the pressure point. It starts the problem. So today, we are trying to solve that problem. We’ll build what we call the Dakkada Skills Acquisition Centre. What is interesting about that school is after year one, you can start earning money.  What are we trying to do? Everything joinery or what local people call carpentry, like all the desks we use in public schools and so on, they will produce there. 

While you’re training people in year one, those in years two and three are making something reasonable and decent enough. As they are making these things, the government will be ordering for the school. As they are learning, they are making money. That’s the whole idea. If we’re doing a whole building, we need plumbers; take students from there to go and do it. They will learn on the job, and they will also earn something. There’s the piggery and poultry section where the youth are receiving training. When I came in some years ago, when we started concentrating on agriculture, I said 80 per cent of food eaten at Government House must be produced here in Akwa Ibom. That’s where the challenge came. They now said, ‘Ah, your excellency, what will we do with flour?’ A lot of things in the Government House will have a lot to do with flour. 

Then I said, if that is the case, let’s also go into the world market to scout for an investor. That’s why we brought in one of the largest flour manufacturing companies in the world. Today, the finest flour in Nigeria, the most automated flour-making process in Nigeria is in Akwa Ibom, Kings Flour Mill. How I wish I was able to count all our projects from health sector to education, all the sub-sectors. I said I wasn’t elected as a senior prefect of a class. I was elected as a governor. So, we provide governance. These are acts of governance that people should know. We   don’t do  white elephants. You hardly will see things here that are just done based on  self-aggrandisement.

Why are you not inaugurating these projects? 

For example, right now, I’ve done more than 4,860-something projects in primary and secondary schools. You can cross-check. I’ve never gone to inaugurate one. The internal roads, I have done many. I stand in one place—inaugurate 28 internal roads in one day. You can cross-check. There are certain areas we enter. I promised them that I’d do 30 internal roads, and I’ve done all; there are some I promised them 13, 15, and I’ve done all. I’ll just stand in one place, inaugurate. The whole idea is not about the noise I make. The whole idea is about the value to the people, and whether it’s impactful on the people or not. Mind you, no matter what you do, people won’t praise you. They didn’t praise Jesus Christ when he was on earth. A lot of people didn’t even know he’s the saviour of the earth. You can’t reinvent those things, things you don’t have control over. Just do your best. 

Tell us why you decided to set up an airline at a time it didn’t seem to be a very good idea, even though you have made a success of it?

It’s always been an extremely brilliant idea. I came in with a buzzword of industrialisation. You can’t industrialise any country or state or national or subnational anywhere if you don’t open up the gateways. The ease of doing business starts with opening the gateways, and here thank God, we are blessed. We have the longest shoreline in this country. We are the only sub-national in this country with the full business case and the hardline business case approved for a deep seaport and a natural drop of 17 meters. All I need is just a paper from the federal government, and then we will have a deep seaport here. I don’t need money, but unfortunately, I can’t get a paper, which you know why. Okay, then we look at three gateways. Even with that, I didn’t give up. There are various ways of achieving results. 

But as of today, what we now do is to walk back. We now have an anchor tenant who will work with the NNPC, which we call the Ibom Solution Hub. So immediately, I changed the name, and the people are now going to service that. So now we have a tripartite agreement between the solutions hub, the NNPC as a group and the Akwa Ibom state government. The state government is only keeping – maintaining only – 20 per cent. And that will serve us as an industrial economy, and then we also have a seaport.

Everything has been signed, including the MoU. The anchor tenant is there. And they’re bringing a lot of money even to NNPC to get that done. What matters most is once we get that done, at least 5,000 Nigerians will be employed directly. Imagine how long it takes. How many days do you think is the working capital cycle of manufacturing concerns? But it takes an average of 53 days to bring goods between Lagos and Kano. Not to talk of Maiduguri, but when we automate our system, you know, modern-day seaport, everything is automated. You can track your goods. You clear it off the coast even before the thing gets there.

All you need to do is drop the goods off and get them on your truck. So all those bottlenecks won’t be there. It’s like the same thing. Go and check the way we run our airports and other airports. You see a whole lot of difference. Since I became Akwa Ibom’s governor, we’ve not had a power outage for one second. I didn’t say one minute. 

So coming back to your question, we’re looking at the three gateways that are actually from the ease of doing business and industrialisation. Industrialisation policy starts from you creating those gateways. That’s why I told you that we have the best road network today, that is why we have Ibom Air, that’s why we have one of the best airports and the seaport we’re developing.

Aside from helping to open up Akwa Ibom, is the airline generating revenue, and is it sustainable?

Number one, it is sustainable, very sustainable. How are others sustaining it? If individuals (Virgin Atlantic is owned by one man) run airlines, why can’t a subnational sustain an airline? Everything is about business discipline. So it’s very sustainable. If you were to run it like any other government business, we couldn’t have gotten the services we are getting. And we have graduated: a lot of people talk about customer satisfaction. We don’t talk about customer satisfaction again in Ibom Air. We talk about customer enthusiasm. Somebody said, ‘Oh, once you leave, what will happen to the airline?’ I said nothing would happen. Because first of all, we started with shared values.

Tamper with the culture of that place, and almost everybody will leave the same second, and nobody will want to take that risk. So we have a culture that permeates through, and once we start the regional flight, people will test the service, and they will know. So these are the things we looked at, ease of doing business. You can come into Akwa Ibom in the morning, finish your business and then leave in the evening. And that goes with what we are doing, and God is helping us. Once you have peace, you can expect that business will thrive. So you have peace. People can come in and do business in a peaceful environment. Come back to Akwa Ibom in the next five years, you’ll know the economic system we would have created.

When you’re talking about revenue, revenue is not necessarily equal to profit because that’s where people also get confused. Business profit is not equal to revenue. Accounting profit is not equal to revenue. Revenue here, I want to equate what you call revenue with value, and value here as a total chain. And why not analyse that chain and then come out with the value and see whether that value is not more than any profit you think about any airline. So all you need, because of that value chain, is an airline that can give you accounting break even points. Accounting break even points, which in that case, there’s an element of what we call normal profits. Look at the way we started: we started with CRJ 900. It wouldn’t have been difficult for us to start with the Boeing 737, but with CRJ 900, we sustained it, and now we are graduating to airbuses. Business plan, and we operate by the book.

Did you say something about discipline?

Discipline starts with you. Yes, the anchor shareholder, which is the government. I have never for one day recommended a cleaner to be taken at Ibom Air. If you come and tell me you are a pilot and you like to work with us, the best I can do is to send you to management. If they find you worthy, fine. But I would never tell management to employ this person. I will not do that because that will kill the business overnight. Let them set their standards, have their own culture and train their people. And you know Airbus also offered us 40 slots. Twenty pilots, 20 engineers. And we told them to come and take the test, Akwa Ibom people, wherever you are, come and write the test and go. 

Does that mean you send people on training?

They are in training. This is part of capacity development, the same thing with our hospitals. My policy is that if you have an emergency anywhere in Akwa Ibom, it shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes to get help from a well-equipped modern general hospital. It’s maximum, and we’ve achieved that. We have 13 modern general hospitals that can go for a teaching hospital if you enter some theatres with cameras and everything. We have 23 theatres today in general hospitals. If you check the ICU set-up at the Ibom Specialist, it can compare to ICUs found anywhere in the world. We also have ambulances across the state. They are well-equipped, brand-new ambulances.

What does it take to be  governor of Akwa Ibom? 

We just talked about the business of governance. So, you look at people with capacity, with character, not just charisma. To be a good governor of Akwa Ibom state, you need both character and charisma, and very few people have character. A lot of people have charisma, and it is so temporary, it is just a trend. It goes off. It doesn’t have depth. Then number two, if you cannot run a trade, you cannot run a multinational. You have to be running businesses, employing people and know what to do. So, you know how to take business decisions that can result in dividends. Outside that, you also need a man that would sustain the peace, not a man that will come and disrupt the peace. 

I just quoted proverbs 11: 11 for you. It says the blessing of the upright will make the city calm, so you must look for that. And actually, the choice of Emmanuel is not mine. It is God’s choice. It is not Udom Emmanuel’s choice. I can’t claim what I don’t have. It is 100 per cent God’s choice. But  check that man capacity wise, exposure, intelligence, love for the people, passion for doing things right, consistency in doing the right thing.

As chairman of the presidential campaign council, how challenging is this, looking at all the things going on in your party?

What is going on in my party? Negative or positive, whatever you see from the outside is different from what is inside. Anywhere on planet earth, whatever you see from the outside is different from what is inside, and there are challenges everywhere, and you see, if nothing prompts you out of your bed, you are not a man, because God created the world that something must prompt you out of bed. Challenges are inevitable because even God himself was challenged at creation.  So, God himself could be challenged, how much more men. So, if you’re a man, you run away from challenges, you don’t deserve to be a man. And also, if you’re a man, you run away from issues in that area, you don’t deserve to be a man. Issues are to be there, but you try to resolve them. So, what are those things going on in my party? 

Do you have a faction?

Did they tell you they are a faction? 

They call themselves G-5.

Good. But they are in PDP. 

But they are unhappy with you, and they are creating problems for you.

But they are not unhappy with me as Udom Emmanuel. Did they tell you they were unhappy with the party? Four of them are candidates of the party. They hold tickets of the party. They’re members of the party; you are getting it wrong. Even spoons and plates hit themselves and create a lot of noise; that doesn’t mean they’ve broken. It doesn’t mean they’ve broken. I think that is the situation here. For the fact that people are unhappy, it is inevitable, definitely inevitable, with a large party like PDP. It is the largest party in the whole of Africa.  Certainly, we all make mistakes. I must also confess as a party, we’ve made mistakes, and as individuals, we’ve made mistakes. But these mistakes, I can assure you, will not break us. We are trying to come back, review them, then reappraise, and see how we can move forward. And I can assure you we’ll do that. 

Are you making progress? 

Why not? If you’re a man, and you’re not making progress, then you are not worth being a man; that means you’ve retired. As long as you have not retired, you must make progress, so there is progress everywhere. I can attest to it. There is progress. I don’t like talking about people and individuals, and I don’t mention the name of any other political party. I don’t mention the name of an individual in anything I do. I talk about issues. I don’t even discuss another political party. That’s my principle. Because if I talk about another political party, I’m advertising that party. As far as I’m concerned, there is only one party and others: PDP and others. Others do not have a name, so I will not also talk about individuals. Because on what basis? Because by now, you start talking about individuals, you now start judging. And the principle of my life is ‘thou shall not judge’. 

So, I don’t judge. To avoid judging, I don’t talk about individuals. But talking about the challenges I have as the chairman of the campaign council, of course, those are the challenges we must solve after winning our election. And let me also say something. Unfortunately, people make mistakes. If there’s any way to acknowledge noise, most is where there is power because where there is power, there’s always noise. If you pass through a transformer that carries power, you hear the transformer making some noise. If an aeroplane starts an engine, you will run away. The combustion that will come with a naked flame, you will run away, that’s it. Anywhere you can find power, there must be noise. And you need to know: that power, what are you firing it to?

The same power that is giving issues is what is giving light. The same transformer you need to make that noise to bring light. The same aeroplane you will start will make some noise; that’s power, and it’s what will even power the plane to fly. It’s the use of power that’s the problem. I was interviewed, and many people did not understand what I referred to in that interview. I said, look, as the chairman of the campaign council, I have a responsibility, a huge one. As Nigerians, you all also have responsibilities, a huge one. Then the final result is God. But it’s my duty to campaign. It’s the responsibility of Nigerians to vote. It’s for God to give victory. So, I can never claim to be God when I’m not. I don’t give victory. So don’t tell me; you promised us victory as if you are God, don’t also tell me you promised us; my vote alone can’t do something. That is why I’m campaigning because I need the votes of at least 58 million Nigerians to come into the coffers of the PDP. So that’s why I’m campaigning. So that power of persuasion is what is required of me. The real action of civic rights is with Nigerians. 

As a party with structure, going into the 2023 election, you are obviously looking at the permutations and thinking, okay, this is where we need to do some work. Tell us, what are the polls saying?

I say I’m not looking at any permutation. I’m going into this with optimism, because if I’m going with permutations, it means I shouldn’t be the chairman of the campaign council. I’m going with optimism. I would not have accepted to be the chairman if I was not optimistic that I’m going to win. So, we are in the race to win. So, there’s no permutation in this case at all. We are trying to take the right step. That’s why you are asking about a few issues in the party, and I said, of course, we are making progress. We’ll resolve all issues. You can’t let anybody go –  in an election—every vote matters. Every single person is important in politics, not to talk of when you’re talking about very big men. Small men like us will go and prostrate ourselves before them: please, oh, big men, don’t let us down. I’m into this game to win. I don’t think anybody will get to this point and be doing permutations. What kind of permutation?

What will you say to those who say Udom Emmanuel abandoned the struggle for Southern presidency?

I should have pulled down the party because it did not work? No, come on.  You could have said so probably if I didn’t put myself forward. I spent money. I put myself forward. Also, I took the risk of going round the whole of Nigeria. I don’t know whether people understand what is involved. You know what it means to go round the whole of Nigeria canvassing for delegates, and at the end of the day, you expect that I went  that deep, thinking that I wasn’t going to win? Otherwise, I wouldn’t have gone to that extent. Why did I leave all, everything I denied myself of, going around the whole country pleading with people to see reasons why they should vote for me and at the end of the day, they didn’t vote for me? It does not mean that I’m not fit to be the president. 

It doesn’t mean I’m not qualified. It means the final decision is with the Almighty. So this also has to do with your guiding principles of life; what you believe, what guides you. It can be totally different. To me, everything that happens, I believe it happens if the Almighty wants it to happen that way because he has the power to turn the hearts of men, all of them, to vote for me. So if he didn’t do that, he probably has his own reason. I can’t question Him, but let me do what I’m supposed to do as a man. What I needed to do as a man was to go round Nigeria, tell Nigerians to vote for me and then collect the form and fill because we needed to do something. So in the Holy Bible, When Elijah visited that woman after drinking the water, Elijah did not ask the woman for food. The woman wouldn’t have given him food. The woman wouldn’t have given him food after giving him water. 

He asked the woman, ‘Don’t you have food?’ The woman said, ‘I only have a little to eat and die.’ He said, ‘Go and bring it’. So, certain things are supernatural. You must pass into certain things, from the natural to the supernatural. In this case, you must pass from the natural into the supernatural. There are certain things that the supernatural will just drop for you, and those are the eras of manna and squirrel in the desert. I had to go round, and the same God protected me, he allowed me to go round  campaigning, and he knew from the beginning that I wasn’t going to win, and then he allowed me to go through it. If he had told me from the beginning, don’t go, I wouldn’t have gone. But I went; he kept quiet.  I didn’t win. I don’t know why. But it was about his own reason. I don’t know what people call betrayer. If I was a coward or so, then I refused to contest, I refused to come out, then there would be an issue, but this time, I came out. I offered myself that ‘this is our turn’. But I think the main problem we’re having is because the committee that’s supposed to have zoned this thing to the South did not zone it. If they had zoned it, all these things wouldn’t have been there. 

What do you consider the odds against you going into this election?

The only thing you’ll consider odd when you’re going into an election is the probability, because if there are no odds, in that case, you’re going with precision. There is nobody going into an election like this— of a multiparty system with precision. You’ll go with probability. That is what people call odd, am I correct? But I have a very high probability in this case, but you know one thing about probability, even if the non-occurrence is only one per cent, that one per cent can make a whole lot of difference, am I correct? So, it means you are not God.

APC has been in power for almost eight years and has taken the country backwards, and so this should naturally be an easy run for your party. Looking at your chances, you should be very optimistic, but ironically, APC is still competitive?

I started by saying I’m very, very optimistic. But I don’t think the issue is about any party. The issue is about Nigerians because you see, Nigeria is a peculiar country, and we are a peculiar people too: suffering and smiling like Fela said. You don’t need anybody to tell you this: if you’re feeling the heat of the sun outside and it is left for you to come under an umbrella and basically, you refuse, then what do you want God to do for you? Even God himself said I stand at the door and knock. If you hear me and open, I will enter, so God has given you the willpower to get out of the storm and come under the umbrella. PDP provides an umbrella, and if you refuse to come under the umbrella, nobody can force you. So the issue is not about the party. 

The issue is about Nigerians who have the power to say, ‘Hey, I am tired. You guys took over power when the exchange rate was N186. Today, it is almost N900. You guys took over power when a bag of rice was N6,000. Today, it is N42,000. You guys took over power when corruption wasn’t even anything to go by. But today, it is on a very large scale— when fuel was this and today it is this. Our economy’s growth rate was almost double-digit, and today we are on a minus. Every single index in this country is on a negative trend. There is no Nigerian, beginning from the least to the highest level that is not feeling the pain. You don’t feel the pain because you have food to eat? What about those who stopped you by the way every time? 

They say you don’t have a good heart. If you have the heart of the people, by the time you see some people on the main road, you go back home and won’t be able to sleep. So, everybody is feeling it. So it is left for people to just rise and say, ‘Hey, let us go back to what we knew worked well’. And this is not even the case of the children of Israel who wanted to go back to Egypt and be faced with hard labour. In this case, there was no hard labour. It was actually a paradise you ran away (from). All you need to do is go back to paradise, and paradise is with those who have the capacity. I’m not boasting, but among those contesting today, there is no candidate with the same capacity, knowledge and understanding of the problems and what to do for Nigeria like Atiku. There is none, not even one. I’m not being biased at all; I’m giving you a very objective opinion. There is none. So that is why you see me following him because I love my country. I love my people. I want this country to get better, and even in terms of the assemblage of good people with genuine intentions, give it to Atiku: he can put a square peg in a square hole and get the result.

How would you like to be remembered?

As the man that brought peace to Akwa Ibom, the man who focused on things money could not buy. Money can’t buy morals. Money can’t buy character. Money can’t buy peace.

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