2015: Nobody Can Impose Governor On Akwa Ibom – Amb Assam Assam.

17 Feb

Ambassador Assam E. Assam.

Ambassador Assam E. Assam.

Chief Assam Ekanem Assam (SAN) is Nigeria’s Ambassador to Russia and the Republic of Belarus. Before his diplomatic job, he was Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Akwa Ibom State. Assam, now eyeing the governorship seat in 2015, in this interview with BASSEY ANTHONY, speaks on diverse state, national and international issues including the politics of 2015. He insists that nobody, not even the incumbent Governor Godswill Akpabio or President Goodluck Jonathan can impose or install a governor in the state come 2015. Excerpts:

The Nigerian Embassy in Russia, under your administration, last November organised a trade and investment forum in conjunction with the Russian trade and investment community to boost the investment relationship between the two countries. So far, what can you say have been the benefits of that forum to Nigeria in particular?

We are looking forward to the benefits. And it is most likely we are going to have more of such fora. Nigeria has never really had a serious trading relationship with Russia. So, to commence the process of a serious engagement with the Russian trading and investment community both parties have to cultivate it and that is what we are trying to do – to bring both parties to the table and discuss and know each other, not on Facebook or the internet. And we have started seeing a lot of results.

Never in the history of our relationship has there been so much human and investment traffic into the two countries like now and this is as a result of that event.

I know that despite your appointment as Nigeria’s envoy in Russia, you are still much in touch with the unfolding political activities in the country as they have to do with 2015. What is your take on the defection of five Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governors and scores of lawmakers to the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC)? Do you think it could scuttle PDP’s victory at the polls?

Well, I don’t know whether they (defections) will work against the interest of the PDP or not. That is not for me to say because that is in the future. What I know is that the new national chairman of the PDP is working hard to reconcile various diverse groups and he is also trying to encourage those who defected from the party to return.

The APC has criticised the election timetable recently released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), alleging it was deliberately structured to give the PDP an advantage and that the presidential election should not come before others. What is your opinion?

My take on it is that even if INEC had put the House of Assembly election first, the APC will still complain. They will say that the presidential election should have come first. There is nothing you can do about the opposition. The essence of the opposition is to oppose and that is what it is doing; so don’t worry about it. Everybody is going to contest the election. You have a presidential candidate that is going to contest against my presidential candidate. You have to choose yours and I too will choose mine; everything is even. So, my take on the matter is that I do not want to do the job of INEC. I don’t know what informed its decision and I am not ready to criticise on the basis of emotions and sentiments. INEC has the statutory duty of conducting elections and it has said it is going to conduct the presidential election on a particular day, so be it. All of us should go and get ready for it. It is like students wanting the examiner to set exams for them on a preferred day, contrary to the day the examiner wants the exams taken. It does not make sense.

Governor Godswill Akpabio recently led a delegation of PDP bigwigs in the state to the new national chairman of the PDP where he was quoted to have advised the PDP national chairman, Adamu Mu’azu to disregard some Abuja-based politicians from Akwa Ibom State who claimed they could deliver the state to the PDP. Do you too believe we have Abuja and home-based members of the party or factions of that sort?

If you want to know if we still have Abuja front and Akwa Ibom front, it is better you go and ask the governor who truly said there are metropolitan politicians. I don’t know where the governor got his information because I am not in the country. I am in Moscow. I don’t know who is living in Abuja now or who is living at home. But each

time I come into the country, I look for the governor and they tell me he is in Abuja. So, I don’t know who is living more in Abuja than the governor himself. If there are metropolitan politicians, I think the governor is part of that group because he is not living at home; that I can tell you.

Recently, at a well attended thanksgiving service organised by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Governor Akpabio spoke glowingly about the SSG, thereby confirming rumours that he may be his successor in 2015. Do subscribe to the politics of imposition?

But you know my view on this. I have told everybody again and again that nobody will impose a candidate on the people of Akwa Ibom State. We are too republican for that kind of nonsense. Nobody, not the governor, not even the President will impose any candidate on our people. The people of state will choose their candidate when the time comes. That is why we are saying whether you are metropolitan, village or local politician, let the governor give everybody a level-playing field so that we can determine whether, indeed, there are metropolitan or local politicians. Let the governor not campaign for a candidate because he is not contesting the election. But if he wants to contest let him come out and contest because he cannot be pretending that he is giving everybody a level-playing field when he campaigns for a candidate, and according to you, his body language means the endorsement of a particular aspirant. We should, however, not worry because that is how he has always spoke glowingly about people he has kicked out already.

The governorship seat has been zoned to the Eket Senatorial District for the 2015 election; but there is internal wrangling in the district over which constituency should produce the governor (cuts in…)

The governorship seat has not been zoned to the Eket Senatorial District. The governorship seat has simply rotated to that district. Nobody zoned the governorship seat to that district. There is no internal wrangling. You people are creating artificial politics when there is none. The senatorial district exists; the politics of that senatorial district also exists. If you have a senatorial district that also has its own internal politics then if you say the governorship has rotated to Eket, then the Eket senatorial district has a right now to present candidates for the election. It is not only the Eket senatorial district that will determine who the governor will be. The whole state will vote for the governor. So, what internal wrangling do you think exists?

But, I spoke with a prominent politician from Oron federal constituency who said if Oron does not produce the governor in 2015, he would prefer the governorship seat to go back to the Uyo senatorial district instead of Eket or Ikot Abasi in the Eket senatorial district. What is your opinion on this?

When you spoke with the politician from Oron federal constituency, did you expect him to say somebody from Eket must become governor? Where did they do that plebiscite? When did the Oron people meet to mandate that man you spoke to, whoever he is, to declare that rather than Oron people voting for anybody from the Eket senatorial district they should vote for somebody from Uyo? Where did they meet to say that? Did the man tell you he held the mandate of Oron people to say that? You see, the Eket senatorial district is going to produce the next governor. There are people within the district who have taken native oaths with some people outside the district. They will support those people whether you like it or not. The question is not whether the man in Oron is saying the same as the man in Eket or Ikot Abasi, the issue is, it depends on the political interest. What interest do you have? Do you think that an Eket, Ikot Abasi man whose sister is married to a governorship aspirant in Uyo will not support that aspirant? No, he will. I know the so-called prominent people from the various constituencies in Eket Senatorial District, including my own who are supporting the governorship aspirants from Uyo, But do those people speak for the senatorial district? That is the question. So when they say instead of Oron it should be Uyo, I mean that does not make sense.

What is your economic blueprint for Akwa Ibom State if elected as governor in 2015?

When I launch my campaign I will publish my manifesto to show the approach of the government I will lead in the areas of industry, agriculture, education, health and all that. So, taking one bit of it at this moment will not make much impact because as against what obtains now, I am not likely to come to government with the anger Governor Akpabio came with.

I am likely to come very well prepared and more organised with a proper programme for implementation so that if I build a road that road will achieve a particular purpose – not for the purpose of self-aggrandisement. My programme will be well explained in the manifesto. But I want to say that the trade and investment forum in Moscow is not a one-stop shop. It is a well planned thing. We are undertaking another one in June this year. I may not be there but it is all planned out that every year we must have an investment forum until we are able to actualise a marginal response to the entreaties of Nigeria to Russian investments. So, it is not going to be a thing that will be done one time and it is finished. We are doing it regularly in Moscow.

There is this impression that since you relocated to Russia as an ambassador, you have lost touch with your people and that you don’t relate with the grassroots. Won’t this affect your governorship ambition?

Well, I don’t know what losing touch means. That was the thought and essence of recommending me for ambassadorial appointment by the governor – that I should go there so that I could lose touch with the grassroots. But, unfortunately for him, I have not lost touch with the grassroots. I am rather closer to the grassroots. This insinuation frightens the people who thought I would lose touch. You are talking to me now in Nigeria, not in Moscow. I am here. And I do come home once in a while when it is necessary for the purpose of my job. And when I come to Nigeria I have the opportunity of visiting my home and I do meet with politicians. I am in touch with them. And when I can’t meet with them I ask them to come to Moscow and they come and listen to me and I talk to them. So, I am in touch. I read literally all the 85 newspapers published in Akwa Ibom State and I know what is happening. I do also contribute my thoughts on the state and nation issues. I recently granted an interview which was quite well read according to the sources I have spoken to. So I am in touch with the grassroots. I am a politician who is interested in contesting the

governorship election. So, I won’t tell you everything I do.

There is also the belief in many quarters that you are not youth-friendly and that the youths will not be accommodated in your administration if you become governor. How true is this?

Well, it depends on what youth-friendliness means. I have looked at the dictionary and I have not seen a phrase called ‘youth-friendly.’ So, I don’t know what they mean by it. But I have met some of the people who made the statement and they said what they mean is that I do not patronise secret cults and that I am not a member of the secret cults. Well, at my age I don’t need to be a member of a secret cult and I would not be a member of a secret cult and I will not patronise cultism.

Whoever is making that allegation is doing me a favour. But, if it is been friendly with young people, I can say I am very friendly with young people. I married at when I was 24 years old, and I had my first daughter when I was 25 years old. So, when I was 50 my daughter was already 25. And, I have been growing up with them. I am not like some people who married at 40 and they have a 10-year old first child at 50. I have grown up with my children and their friends. Anybody who knows me knows that my house is always filled up with young people at any particular time because of my children. So, if being ‘youth-friendly’ means cultism, they may be right because I don’t patronise cultism and I will never patronise it.

But if they mean being friendly with young people, then I can say I am very friendly with young people. The accusation that I am not youth-friendly came from my governor. He said the reason he couldn’t support me is because I am not youth-friendly. The question I will like to ask my governor is: Is he youth-friendly? How can the governor be youth-friendly and the youths are not employed? How can the governor be youth-friendly when literally 10 per cent of our youths are involved in crime, abducting people; armed robbery and all sorts of crime and then the governor is youth-friendly. And these children are there involved in all these crimes? How is he ensuring that these children are re-integrated into the society? So, I am not happy that anybody can make that kind of statement. If you have to make a comment about me, it is better you make a comment that sounds reasonable and intelligent.

What is your vision for a new Akwa Ibom State?

I don’t know whether there will be a new Akwa Ibom State or an old one. But I know that I have a document from which I intend to publish my views on how I would like to leave the state when I complete my tenure. Perhaps, that will be my vision. I don’t like all these catch-phrases like ‘Vision for a new Akwa Ibom.’ What is wrong with the old one? It is just a matter of telling stories to allow the system remain the same. But there are three issues that bother me. We have no health programme in Akwa Ibom State. We have no educational programme in the state, and we have no youth employment scheme. These are the things that bother me and these are the things I want to face. How do I ensure that children who have gone to school and have no employment are employed? And they must have quality education and

quality health. Our children are dying on the streets. Our women are delivering children on the vestries of churches because of lack of confidence in our medical sector. Our people are going to native doctors because there is no healthcare in the state. Not even the uncommon healthcare can solve the problem. We don’t have uncommon healthcare; uncommon education we don’t have.

But, what of the free and compulsory education programme of the Governor Akpabio’s administration?

When you have a teacher to 2,000 students? I don’t know how free and compulsory that type of education is.

What footprints do you want to leave behind as a politician?

I don’t have footprints for now.  I am still outside. When I step into the office of governor I would know the footprints I will leave behind.

-Daily Newswatch

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