Senator Godswill Obot Akpabio is the immediate past governor of Akwa Ibom State and a lawyer. The former Senate minority leader spoke with select journalists on some national issues
Bad leadership and corruption have been a cancer stunting the growth of this country, how can we get it right ahead of 2019 elections?
It depends on what you mean by bad leadership because the followers determine the leadership. In my state, Akwa Ibom, for instance, in 2006/2007 the people slept on the road and shouted let “Gods’ will be done,” and they wanted me to be the governor of Akwa Ibom State because they felt they could trust me and they knew their lives would change, and so I had the opportunity to be the governor for eight years of two consecutive terms. I don’t know the circumstances of other states and I haven’t had the privilege of running the affairs of Nigeria. Therefore, when we talk about leadership I would think that the society gets the kind of leadership it deserves. My people got me in 2007 to 2015 and we brought about what we called ‘uncommon transformation;’ we showed that it was possible, so you can talk about leadership in that perspective. Leadership depends on love. When you have love in your heart for your people, definitely you’ll go to any extent to make sure that they are happy.
How will the 2019 general elections be and what type of leaders do we need?
I would be biased in that answer because I have just moved, I did not decamp, I moved from the Peoples Party Democratic to the All Progressives Congress (APC) administration because I saw a systematic attempt to bring down the government of the country by certain elements in the APC and I felt that as a nationalist, there was need for us to stem the tide, hence, I moved from my former party, the PDP, to join the APC in order to sterilize the government and to stabilize the federal government. The reason was very simple, that there is need for us to have a country before the elections in 2019. I would be biased because I would want to see APC going forward. I would like to see all the policies of this administration implemented. I would like to see equitable distribution of resources come 2019. I would like to see more participation of the South-South people in the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari; I would like to see the unity of the South-South people of Nigeria with our Northern brothers and our South-East and South-West brothers too. I will like to see the bonding of Nigeria through the next election and above all I will like to see President Buhari return for a second term in office because of the fact that the whole country has shown him love and the votes come from all and sundry; that’s what I’ll like to see in 2019.
Cross carpeting is another issue, why did you defect to the ruling party?
I did not defect, I moved to the All Progressive Congress (APC) in the national interest. If you look at what is happening at the national level, I was surprised that the original people who founded the APC, were also the same people determined to ruin that party, to bring down the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, just because election is approaching they could go and contest under another political platform. I felt there is need for us to have a country before we talk about elections.
People have always said statesmen think about the next generation while politicians continue to think of next election. I saw a trend where a lot of us are now becoming politicians thinking only of the next election without thinking of the next generation. I have a nine-year-old son, if his generation will inherit Nigeria, if we bring Nigeria down and the country crashes even before the 2019 elections, what will I give to my child? I moved in the national interest to stabilize the polity and in order to also support the current administration of President Buhari to succeed and stabilize it. I think to a large extent my intention was achieved and so it was referred to as ‘uncommon defection’ because it was one defection that stopped a lot of defections, now people can only defect on Facebook, they can’t have confidence to face the public again.
Some people will ask them and say ‘so you are not a statesman because Godswill Akpabio said he is a statesman and he’s thinking of the next generation, he’s not thinking of the next election.’ It’s true indeed, I was not thinking whether I will win election in 2019 when I was moving, because at that time my state was totally PDP, when I moved, people were shocked, but today less than two months after, the entire Akwa Ibom State, at least 98 per cent has turned APC.
What are your chances of winning?
How can you ask me if I will win election when my people are all APC? This is a lesson to a lot of people that if you are a leader, wherever you hear footsteps behind you, look behind you to know whether your people are following you or they are running away from you. When people are following you, you’ll hear footsteps, if they are running away from you, you’ll also hear footsteps, in my own I give glory to God that God directed my people well. Their footsteps are behind my back and they are following me to victory in 2019.
Do you foresee war as some people assume in 2019 election?
There will be no war in Nigeria in 2019, people should not think of election of war. Election should not be of war. I appreciate that question because recently I made a quote which I love to make I said “Warsaw saw war” because the political leader in the PDP in Akwa Ibom had said that the current administration should recruit people and prepare for war; that 2019 would be war and that only the fittest would survive and so the youths and some elders of the APC met me in my country home. They asked me that, ‘with people calling for war do you think that there is going to be war in 2019?’ And I told them No. And that my belief is that those people who are calling for war have never seen war and that in those days even when the worst enemies of mankind Hitler went to Poland whose capital is Warsaw and went there to go and wage war on the people , he thought it was going to be a cheap thing but it wasn’t, at the end he was so shocked with the resistance and the resilience of the people that when his minister of Information was asked how was the fight in Poland, he used the phrase of the capital of Poland being Warsaw to say he can only say ‘Warsaw saw war’. People have misinterpreted what I said otherwise I’m saying those who are calling for war themselves will see war if that’s what they want.
The reality is that there’s going to be no war in 2019. I believe strongly that we are going to have very peaceful elections.
Nigeria is facing daunting challenges, some people are of the opinion that our constitution is the problem, what’s your view?
It is a problem. It is a problem because there are many things in the Nigerian constitution today that really need not to be on the exclusive list, so many things ought to be on the concurrent list. Powers should be devolved in the state. Recently you heard of a governor who said he was resigning as the Chief Security Officer of his state, the reason he said so was probably because he was helpless, he was just a commander without troops because we have Federal Police, even the Civil Defence is federal, Air Force, Army, Navy are all federal even Federal Road Safety Corps. Everything that has to do with security is federal and so the state actually has nothing to assist the governor to be able to protect the people. Unless the various commanders, commissioners of police, DSS and others that are sent into the state are obedient and subservient to the civil authority, the governor would not be able to have a say in the security of his state.
This is one area the constitution should help us. We should devolve more power to the states or we should take a lot of things from the exclusive list because a lot of things are there. There are states that can do railway such as Lagos State for instance, they should be allowed to do railway. Railway should not be left solely in the hand of the federal government. You can’t even build a port unless it is done by the Nigerian Ports Authority.
Even in terms of power that we are talking about, licenses are given to generating companies, the Gencos and of course, they gave licenses to Discos, Distribution companies, but the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) is still controlling the evacuation of the power, so when the Gencos produce the power you cannot even evacuate it, it must be evacuated by a federal government agency called Transmission company of Nigeria to go down to the next sub- station.
There are almost 600 federal parastatals with at least 600 executive secretaries and directors General who are on the same levels with ministers, so by the time you finish the result is that 75 per cent of the country’s revenue goes to recurrent expenses while what we have left for capital expenses is not up to 20 per cent. It is only the APC administration that we can even think of almost 30 per cent going into capital expenses. You cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand. A lot of people are expecting infrastructure but where the bulk of what we do on yearly basis has to do with recurrent expenses such as allowances, emolument, travelling expenses and all sorts of things, there is nothing left for infrastructure. That we do not spend up to 30 per cent of our annual budget on capital projects, shows that we are paying lip service to development.
We should unbundle the federal government, we should try to reduce the number of parastatals, reduce the number of directors general, and reduce the number of executive secretaries.
There are some ministries which have up to 11 parastatals, a ministry like justice has at least seven parastatals and that means seven directors general who must be protected and that’s the reason we hardly have police when we have emergencies because we have more policemen deployed towards protecting VIPs and parastatals than the number protecting the citizens.
Many states are endowed with natural resources but these resources are just wasting because they are under the control of the federal government which most times does not have time to think of them. When the crude oil is no longer relevant these resources are there in the ground and if we are able to take mineral resources out of the exclusive list and put it in the concurrent list and devolve more powers to the state, we’ll have a better country.
Where are we missing it and what are the institutions that we need to be strengthened?
First we need to strengthen our democratic institutions. I think we are working on that so that every vote can count. Second is that we must develop political parties with ideologies in order to stop cross carpeting. Today people just see political parties as platforms to contest elections; they are not based on ideologies.
If you go to a place like America you can say that yes if you are a Democrat automatically you’ll stand for something such as, better health care, and more masses oriented. On the other hand, if you are a Republican, you’ll stand for strict laws on trading and capitalism and all that, but here in Nigerian we do not build political parties based on ideologies. In the past these things were there.
We should also emphasize on agriculture. For instance a political party could base its ideology on agriculture or what we may call Green Revolution, and everybody knows that if you belong to such a political party or you become a governor under that political party your state will definitely be a state that would do a lot in the area of agriculture. There could also be some other political parties that would come up and said we are labour friendly and then because we are labour friendly once we win the election, automatically they are going to look at wages of workers and will be people oriented and everything you do will definitely be to promote the masses.
But right now all political parties have no ideologies. The political parties need to insist on their manifestoes being implemented by those who win election.
Most people who win elections have no idea of the content of the manifestos of their political parties. There are little or no checks and balances when it comes to the issue of implementing the manifestoes of political parties. That is the first thing we need to do.
We need to improve on our security because a secured nation is a nation that will develop. Our boarders are very porous. I can tell you that I don’t think Nigeria even have boarders. We are almost there a country without boarders because you can move from Kastina State into Chad and move from Borno into Cameroon and move from Cross River into Cameroon without let or hindrance.
We must improve on our boarder control. We must improve on our security. We must improve on our population checks so that if you are a Nigerian we’ll know that you are a Nigerian, when we see a foreigner we should recognise one. This lack of control at the boarders is something that must be rooted out because there is too much free movement in a way that those who come in and go out of Nigeria are not checked. Criminality has been imported and of course terrorism is almost an imported item into Nigeria because we are not born-terrorists. Customs should look after goods and the boarders but immigration should look after people.
The current administration is strengthening the institution to fight corruption by strengthening the EFCC and ensuring that civil service is well taken care of and people are trained and retrained. Those days if a civil servant wrote a letter, he/she would not miss a comma or a dot but that is not the situation today. A lot of people have infiltrated the system that when an administrative officer writes a letter it will take you over two hours before you can finish corrections, type and re-type everything.
There are lots of things that we must strengthen in Nigeria. The things that we got right in the past we should re-emphasize them in the present. In terms of foreign policies Nigeria should look inwards. It is important to get it right here first before you think of the outsiders.
How can we overcome the challenges of insecurity?
We shall have total security in this country; it’s just a question of strategy. How did other countries get it right? You can’t have a perfect system but you can reduce insecurity to the barest minimum. I believe that with the right quality of people working with the President we shall succeed.
What is your advice to the youths as 2019 approaches?
The youths should shun cultism. One of the problems causing insecurity in Nigeria is nothing but drug addiction and cultism. Youths in Nigeria should shun cultism and drugs because the use of Tramadol, cocaine is dangerous not only to the society, but to them as individuals.
I want youths to realize that we should have one Nigeria and make sure we do not have religious sentiments. We should deemphasize the issue of religion in politics. Religion should not come into politics. Bishops and Arch-Bishops should not bring religion into politics. Religion should preach about salvation and taking us to heaven not telling us whom to vote for and whom next to vote for.
Religious leaders should not throw themselves into the arena of politics. Let us make sure that we love one another irrespective of our tribe or religion. Let us deemphasize ethnicity but let’s go for the best hands, if we know those who can do it better let’s give it to them. Love should remain the key word for the youths. Nigerians should live together in love irrespective of ethnic or religious differences. We should stand for unity in diversity. We should not put too much tribalism and ethnicity into politics. We should all love our country as well as see ourselves as one Nigeria. Nigeria has shown that there can be unity in diversity having stayed together for 58 years; some countries would have broken up.
How will you assess President Buhari-led administration?
I believe the present administration could have done well if all practitioners were very sincere particularly from the National Assembly; they’ve not had a very good relationship with the executives. If the relationship was not frosty, I believe so many things would have been done expeditiously because a lot of things have been delayed in the National Assembly, certain bills that would have made a difference have been delayed but I do know things will get better.
I think the present administration has done well in the area of security. President Buhari-led administration has been able to ensure that Boko Haram is not holding any territory or any local government and most of the communities are actually even free of insurgency and now they are resorting to Gorilla tactics here and there.
By the nature of what we are facing now, if you trace it you will know that it is as a result of collapse of many countries in the Middle East such as Libya that led to a lot of arms entering into wrong hands, some of them you can buy on the streets in Chad and other places. To a large extent the government has done well and the government has been able to imbue confidence in Nigerians.