The Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Charles Udoh, in this interview, speaks on several issues including claims by the management of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) of attempting to book appointments with the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Mr Udom Emmanuel, through phone short messaging:
There has been a section of the media that reported that there were attempts by the management of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) especially the Managing Director, Nsima Ekere, to have access to the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, and the Director in the NDDC, Anietie Usen, in a recent interview, said that Mr Ekere tried corresponding with the Governor via text messages. How true is this?
That is laughable because, for someone as high as the Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Obong Nsima Ekere, who was once the Deputy Governor of the State, to insinuate that he is having difficulties accessing the Governor, is not true. We all know how the Governor embraces and gives direct access to senior citizens of the state in public functions and every situation. It is improper for anybody to insinuate that the NDDC boss wanted to visit the Governor by text message. Even in my small office, I receive nothing less than 100 text messages a day. Unless you do nothing else than to seat and read text messages, there are chances that some of those messages will fall off the radar. What I expected of the NDDC was, if they seriously wanted to have an appointment with the Governor, to write a formal letter with acknowledgement sheet. If they presented that to the public that they wrote the Governor and he did not grant them audience, then it’s legal. But when you wake up and send him text messages and he doesn’t read, that is totally illogical.
Governor Udom Emmanuel has clearly stated in one of his five-point agenda – political and economic inclusion, and has demonstrated it. Ask this same NDDC boss, where was he when the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, visited Akwa Ibom State with other APC chieftains? Has he ever attended any government function before; even when invited? His claim that he tried reaching the Governor through text message does not hold water. It is just an escapist ploy to distract people from the course of governance.
There seems to be personality clash between NDDC and Akwa Ibom State Governor. Sometimes projects that are supposed to be shared to be developed are being politicised. What is really happening?
Any serious-minded state or country has her developmental plan which includes roads network. For anybody to want to infiltrate the state to want to build road, you need to align with the government to be sure that your roads lead to the major economic nerves of the state otherwise, you will disrupt the economic plan of the state. It is like saying that you want to build a house in Abuja, you must seek approval to know where to build, so that you won’t build a business office in a residential area. We are not saying they should not come and execute projects, but talk to us to show you where we need those things. There are too many abandoned roads in the state. Even the ones completed, few rains wash them out.We are not at loggerheads with NDDC. We are entitled to NDDC projects because we are a major oil producer in Nigeria. All we are saying is do it right. Don’t come and give us one generator and be proud to say that you have done something for us. That is nothing. I can buy that generator on my own. Don’t come and disrupt our developmental plan. We are not building roads for fun but to link major nerve centres. For example, in Ikot Abasi Local Government Area, which is to host industrial city and the jetty project of the government, government’s plan is for a dual carriage way to that area. Recently, we had NDDC going on the media to say that they wanted to construct a road there and Governor is not allowing them. What kind of road are they trying to construct there? A single carriage way? Whereas the government wants a dual carriage way to evacuate traffic and enhance free flow of economic activities in that area. That is where dialogue comes in. So that if you want to construct a bush track, we can easily show you where would be appropriate. Don’t build a bush track where we need an expressway. This issue is not only in Akwa Ibom, other states in the Niger Delta region are also complaining of the same issue.
Argument has gone from the logical up to the point of superstition that the name of the stadium brings bad luck to Nigeria; that the matches should henceforth be taken from Uyo to some other venues so that Nigeria will be able to win. A stadium is something that should be managed because a lot of money was sunk into it. What has the government done in this aspect?
Let me say in the first instant, that those propagating the superstition about jinx surrounding that stadium are being short-sighted. The same stadium that we lost to South Africa was where we defeated Algeria. Akwa United plays on the same pitch and wins. If the players failed to do their home work and lost the match, they should not look for scapegoats. I’ve heard people say that part of the reasons is that the stadium is about 45 minutes drive from the hotel whereas the farthest local government headquarters in this state from Uyo Local Government Area is not up to 45 minutes drive.
In terms of facilities, the stadium is the best in Nigeria. We spend a lot of money and attention to maintain those facilities because we take pride in the quality of what we do. Record shows that Super Eagles have won several matches on the same pitch. The reality is that we have one of the best maintained stadiums in Nigeria, and our people are the most hospitable.
The Governor said that he would not borrow funds to connect Local Government elections whereas other states are conducting LG elections. Is it only money that is delaying the state from conducting elections or is there anything that the state government is afraid of?
You need to compare apple with apple, not with mango. Other states conducting elections, have they paid their workers’ salaries up to date? Do they run free education system? Do they pay WAEC fees for their indigenes? Do they also run free medical service for indigenes? If you can align that and answer the questions, you can now say that Akwa Ibom is not doing what it is supposed to do. We are dreaming of taking Akwa Ibom State from the public service orientation to a private sector-driven economy. To do that, you have to create infrastructure. There are major things that attract investors. We would not have been able to attract investors if we didn’t create the enabling environments by building economic roads. Over 700km of roads have been created in just two years. They are not built for the sake of building roads, but are economic roads connecting the major nerve centres of the state.
Take for instance the agric revolution. People are saying the price of food stuffs are virtually on the rise. How do you slash the price of food stuffs, it is not by price control. Nigeria once had price control. We are saying that to bring down the price of food items, let’s apply basic economic laws of demand and supply. The only way to apply that is to encourage people to go back to the farm to plant things that are edible instead of flowers and economic trees.
Another one is the 2nd Runway at the Ibom International Airport. If we are dreaming of making the state an industrial/tourist hub, we must create accessibility. We are surrounded by other states of the country. All the roads linking the states are in states of disrepair. Without authentic routes, economic activities would crumble. With the Airport in place, we are taking drastic steps to ensure that there is continuous flow of traffic to and from the state. All these put in place, you will realise that they cost a lot of money. What would we rather have with the local government elections? The Governor had clearly stated that it would not make any sense economically for the state to borrow with 23% interest rate just to run an election. What is the essence of the election? Isn’t it to have a leader? After the election, the council will need to be funded. So government decided to focus on developmental initiatives and put place transitional councils and stakeholders of those localities nominated people to lead.
In conducting elections, you need to buy computers, employ people, print materials, mobilise people, provide vehicles and security in the 31 local government areas of the state, and that amounts to a huge cost. Governor Udom Emmanuel has consistently said that he is not running a government of applause and praises but for sustainable development – people-oriented governance. He is focusing on things that will touch the lives of people. The government never said it would never hold elections. All it said was that it wasn’t right time and the right resources were not available. It had to work towards providing enabling environments to make it work.
Talking about security, the state was acclaimed to have the lowest crime profile, do you attribute this to activities of police, to the government or the nature of the people?
A typical Akwa Ibom man is peaceful, accommodating, friendly, and very kind-hearted in nature. A typical Akwa Ibom man is a man who, when you visit house, would give you his last piece of bread. However, culture mix has diluted that to some extent. Adding to government efforts in investing in security to provide enabling environments, that has helped to return us to our original being and the original state of mind of the Akwa Ibom people. We have the lowest crime index. Crimes have reduced drastically. That is part of government’s effort and commitment to provide security. Don’t forget that no investor would leave wherever he’s coming from to invest his money in an unsecured environment.
You recently talked about the ‘low hanging fruit’, have you been able to bring them to the grassroots?
There are some things that we have set aside to do but because of several factors, we had to focus on the ones that are easily achievable. For instance the Toothpick and Pencil Factory, if we had waited to manufacture everything, probably it would not have come to the light of the day. We are talking about people-oriented governance and sustainable development. Governance structure of Governor Emmanuel is centered on the people. Each of the five-point agenda is centered on the people. Everything that the government is doing, from payment of salaries, free healthcare, infrastructure, power, security and education, are centered on the people because if you don’t have people, you can’t actualise your dream.
Is Governor Udom Emmanuel contesting in the 2019 election?
That is not debatable. It is practically impossible to start and finish an industrialisation plan in four years. The only safe thing for Akwa Ibom to do is to give His Excellency the mandate to run 2019 and give him the voting power till 2023. In two years, we have functioning industries to show. In two years, we have the biggest syringe factory in Africa. You imagine where Akwa Ibom State would be in the next six years when given the mandate to run for second term.
The dream is to move Akwa Ibom from being dependent on government. In developed countries, governments depend on private sectors to fuel the economy, but in Akwa Ibom State, the government fuels the economy. We want to move from that direction so that the young ones will not graduate and start thinking of government ministries. By the grace of God, Mr Udom Emmanuel remains Governor till 2023.
On what political platform?
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). His Excellency has consistently and without mincing words, said that whatever is happening to PDP at the national level does not affect his commitment to the party. He said he is PDP, Akwa Ibom is PDP and PDP is Akwa Ibom. Whatever happens, PDP remains. There are two individuals that are in court not PDP. Our Governor is 100% committed to the cause of PDP.