Aniete Ukpe is the Chief Press Secretary/Senior Special Assistant on Media to Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State. In this interview with select journalists in Lagos, he opened up on various issues including the 2015 senatorial ambition of the governor and the various developmental projects. According to him Akpabio’s Senatorial ambition is the project of the people from Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District based on ground breaking records of the governor who runs a budget of 80 percent capital expenditure and 20 percent recurrent. He itermised Akpabio’s achievement as encompassing, 20 bridges and over 330 road, stressing that the All Progressive Congress(APC) is not better than the siren of a passing ambulance in Akwa Ibom State.Excerpts:
There is an allegation that Governor Akpabio has endorsed the present Secretary to the State Government, Mr Udom Emmanuel, to succeed him. What is your reaction to this?
The people who are saying that are begging the question. Governor Akpabio has said repeatedly that it is the turn of Eket Senatorial District to produce the next governor. His position is based on justice, equity and fair play – attributes that endear him to the people and mark him out as a statesman. Eket Senatorial District is the only district that has never produced a governor in the 26 years of Akwa Ibom State. In line with the principle of zoning and extant agreements, it is, therefore, fit and proper for Eket Senatorial District to have a sense of belonging by laying claim to the governorship position. That has been the governor’s just position.
Secondly, considering his antecedents and contributions to the banking industry, the SSG, Mr Emmanuel Udom, is eminently qualified to be the next governor of Akwa Ibom State. He is from Eket senatorial District. He shone like a thousand stars in the banking industry and rose to the top echelon of the industry by deploying the Akwa Ibom attributes of integrity, honesty and diligence. He is doing an excellent job as the Secretary to the State Government. He commands great respect throughout the length and breadth of the state.
Having said that, the fact remains that Governor Akpabio is imbued with a democratic spirit and would not impose someone on Akwa Ibom State that the people do not want. He is too much of a democrat. He wants the all Akwa Ibom people to be involved in the exercise of choosing their next governor and ensuring that the legacies he is leaving behind are in safe hands.
Those talking “imposition” are afraid of something else, that they cannot afford to say publicly. What are they afraid of? Is it that the Governor is so extremely popular that if he winks at or smiles at any aspirant, the people will immediately gravitate towards that person and the fight would be over for them. So they would want him blindfolded and gagged so that the people would not know what he thinks. But that is not possible. In every democracy all citizens have the right to endorse anyone – even media institutions, in spite of their strict code of impartial reporting, the media at times endorse candidates.
When Governor Akpabio visited the new PDP chairman, Alhaji Adamu Muazu, he said the chairman should disregard metropolitan politicians in Abuja, who cannot win elections in their wards. Who are the metropolitan politicians?
It was a general statement. What the Governor is saying is that if you want to contest in Akwa Ibom, you should connect with the people in Akwa Ibom – not Abuja. Politics is about selling yourself to the electorate – not selling yourself to Abuja. I am using Abuja here as a generic term. Home is where you should prove your mettle, not Abuja. The political battleground is in Akwa Ibom, and you cannot win in Akwa Ibom by telling stories and making propaganda in Abuja. You cannot plant a farm in Abuja and harvest in Akwa Ibom. So if you want to reap in Akwa Ibom, come and plant here in Akwa Ibom. It is as straight cut as that.
Some stakeholders are saying that nobody can impose a governor on Akwa Ibom people, how is the governor going to allow a level playing field for the emergence of the next governor?
That the Governor will not allow a level playing field is a fallacy. Anyone who knows the Governor can attest that he plays by the rules. PDP has its rules pertaining to the conduct of primaries and the Governor will definitely observe the rules in Akwa Ibom. Like I said earlier, their fear is that the Governor has a surfeit of goodwill in the politics of Akwa Ibom State.
They forget that the governor is a citizen of Nigeria and based on his human and constitutional rights, he can relate with whoever he wants to relate with and endorse anyone he may want to. Just like they can also relate with or endorse whomever they want. But they want to reserve the right for them to endorse whoever they please and deny the Governor the right to endorse anyone. Right now the Governor has not endorsed anyone, but their blood pressure is already going haywire. Endorsing someone does not break the law or uneven a level playing field. Even in the American presidential election, popular presidents endorse candidates. It is only unpopular presidents who could not endorse anyone, because their support would be counterproductive.
There is a moral side to this discourse. If a saint were to contest an election against a tout, I am certain that you would consider it a moral obligation to society to endorse the saint. That is why they are coming up with abstract concepts like “level-playing field” and “imposition.” They are afraid of how the people love and revere the Governor. Endorsement is not imposition so if anyone endorses anyone he does no wrong. Even the media, like the New York Times, among others, endorsed Obama in 2012. Foreign personalities like President Hugo Chavez of Venezuala and the British Labour Party leadership candidate MP Diane Abott endorsed Obama openly. So what is wrong with endorsement if it comes to that? US President Andrew Jackson endorsed Martin Van Burren and the heavens did not fall.
Some governorship aspirants are claiming that they have better programs for education compared to what Governor Akpabio is providing; one aspirant alleged that presently you have 2000 students to one teacher, what is your view on this?
In Akwa Ibom State there is definitely no school where you can have 2000 students to one teacher. How many students do we even have in each school that we will have 2000 to one teacher? If you believe this asinine hyperbole it would mean that you multiply this number by six classes in primary school and you end up with 12,000 students in a primary school and about 16,000 in a secondary school? This is an egregious and ridiculous falsehood. One is quite shocked at the extent some people go to purvey falsehood for selfish advantage. The free and compulsory education has led to school enrolment being tripled. Consequently a lot has been invested in the training and recruitment of teachers and in the building\rehabilitation of school buildings. The success of the educational policy of this administration has received global plaudits. It is disingenuous to seek to derogate it for selfish political reasons.
How prepared is Governor Akpabio to actualize his senatorial ambition come 2015? I saw some of his bill boards while coming to Uyo.
Governor Akpabio is not the one putting up the billboards. He knows nothing about them. He is not the one who wants to go to the Senate, it is the people of Ikot Ekpene Senatorial district who have said that it is a desideratum for him to go to the Senate. They want him to render service at a different level, because he has been very faithful in the discharge of his duties as a governor. When you have a treasure, you show it around. The people believe that for him to have performed so creditably well as a governor, it will be of great benefit to them if he represented them at the Senate. The senatorial agenda is the agenda of the people of the district and they are the ones doing everything. The people put up the billboards you saw. The governor does not want to be distracted from performing his duties as governor, and he wants to end his tenure in a crescendo.
Has he formally declared his intention to run for the Senate come 2015?
He does not need to, brother. Like I said, it is the people of the senatorial district who offered him the position. A declaration is a notification of intent. When the intent is the demand and desire of the people, who you ought to make the declaration to, then the narrative has to change. A formal declaration would be done at some point to fulfil all righteousness, but right now it is a mass movement in action. A mass movement by the people of the Senatorial District to send someone there who would give them the best possible representation and Governor Akpabio is pleasantly surprised and overwhelmed by the level of support he enjoys from his people and their kind sentiments.
For the continuity of the good performance of Governor Akpabio, how do you think the emergence of APC will affect the success of PDP in the gubernatorial election?
APC is not politically on ground in Akwa Ibom state. In the last election, how many local government areas did ACN win? Two out of 31, and they won the two by very narrow margins through the intimidation and harassment of voters sympathetic to PDP. APC is like a passing ambulance – we only hear the sirens in the press. They may never have a foothold in Akwa Ibom because Akwa Ibom has a sophisticated political class.
What further dividends of democracy should the people of Akwa Ibom expect from Governor Akpabio before he hands over in 2015?
What the governor has done in Akwa Ibom state is phenomenal and awesome. If we were to follow the normal trend of governance, it would have taken over 50 years to achieve what we have achieved in just over six years with Governor Akpabio. The roads that he has constructed are guaranteed for over 15 years. We are talking about over 330 roads, over 20 bridges and four flyovers. Someone, in consideration of the quality of the roads, described them as runways. All his projects are of world class standard, architectural masterpieces. Is it the airport that you want to talk about? It has one of the longest runways in the country. The airport has broken aviation records. Is it the pipe-jacking system, the first of its kind in Africa? Is it the free and compulsory education programme?
That was what Obafemi Awolowo did in the west when some people in east and north said that it was not working. But now history has proven that it worked. It is working here because you don’t see kids anymore in the streets hawking. With this programme, children of the poor now have access to quality education. That programme is a phenomenal success. Experts like Professor Wole Soyinka have commended it. The international stadium programme will be completed this year and it is the best in West Africa. There are so many programmes. The Tropicana Entertainment Centre, a one-stop, five-star hospitality edifice will also be completed this year. If you talk about all the projects of Governor Akpabio, you will certainly be indicted of forgetting some, you can never be accused of exaggeration – they are simply too many of them. There are too many for you to talk about all of them in one day.
What is the party doing to ensure that it presents a credible candidate that will sustain the legacy of Governor Akpabio?
The choice is that of the good people of Akwa Ibom state. The party certainly will serve as a springboard for the wish of the people to be expressed. Akwa Ibom people are intelligent people. It is not possible to fool the people. If it were possible to fool the people, perhaps, ACN would have succeed in 2011 when they mounted the most bizarre propaganda the world had ever known in peace time. Despite all the dizzying ACN propaganda in 2011, the people still voted for Governor Akpabio and PDP won by an “earth slide.” In 2007 the people knew which side their bread was buttered, and in race with almost 60 aspirants with one such aspirant sponsored by the then incumbent governor, they voted for Governor Akpabio. Akwa Ibom people have seen the light of good governance in Governor Akpabio and they would not go back into darkness.
What is the governor doing to checkmate the security challenges in the state?
A lot is being done to checkmate security challenges in the state. Policemen are well equipped with state-of-the-art communication gadgets. The police’s “Quick Response Squad’s” (QIS) patrol vehicles, (QIS is an outfit set up by the present administration), dot the landscape of Akwa Ibom to respond to distress calls on time. There is also the military/police patrol squad known as “Operation Thunder” which also has squad and patrol vehicles all over the state. We also have armed boats to man our waterways and check piracy. The communication equipment of all these units are world class and linked to ensure proper coordination and operational unity. That has put an end to security challenges in Akwa Ibom State.
Considering the many projects of the Governor, is he not going to leave behind a high debt profile?
Everything the governor is doing is accommodated in the budget. He budgets 80% for capital expenditure, 20% for recurrent. The state deliberately budgets to focus on development and infrastructure. He is completing his projects because he is passionate about development. He has said repeated that he does not intend to leave abandoned projects behind, because he has had to complete so many abandoned projects left behind by preceding administrations. He laments that he would have done more for the state, if preceding administrations did not leave so many abandoned projects which he felt bound to complete.
What is the position of Governor Akpabio concerning 2015 presidential election?
His is completely, totally and irrevocably in support His Excellency President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s re-election. This he considers a desideratum. He is driven in this by the same virtues of uncompromising loyalty, fairness, justice and equity which mark him out as a virtuous man and a patriot of distinction.