Obong Victor Attah, is the former governor of Akwa Ibom State. He speaks on Senator Godswill Akpabio’s echo of war war in the state in 2019, the gale of defections across party lines, registration of political parties, cabals in government, among other issues.
What is your take on the current state of the nation?
Nigeria is distress and has been for a long time. The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) composed two prayers a long time ago, one is called ‘Prayer for Nigeria in Distress’ and the other one is ‘Prayer against bribery and Corruption in Nigeria’. We have almost gone past the stage where certain actions can have effect on the country. I think we need divine intervention. This distress is caused by politicians, who have lost every kind of morality, integrity and honour. The political parties, if they ever had any ideology or philosophy has lost them, they are just platforms, that is why people are just jumping from one party to the other without thinking of where they are going and a country without a sense of direction, purpose, morality or focus is just going to go to the dogs, and we must not allow that to happen.
Could that be reason for all the change of political allegiance we see going on across the country?
All these defections, which some people think, is in defence of democracy, is actually not. I have looked at the reasons why these things are happening. For instance, you look at the statement made by the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, on why he defected from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He is quoted to have said, and he has not denied it that ‘the Federal Government appointed over 200 persons into juicy offices without allotting any to me or Dogara; everything went to Katsina and Lagos. If not for the love I had for Nigeria, we would have scattered everything.’ Tell me where the moral is in this? Tell me where the protection of the nation and her citizens are in that? I don’t see it. These are all individualistic and selfish reasons; he is saying ‘I am going because I didn’t get what I wanted, so I am going somewhere I believe I can get what I want.’ But let me tell you something, some of these defectors, whether they believe it or not are going to face a bleak and very cold political winter. That is my prediction and I don’t think I will be wrong.
What value, do think Senator Akpabio will add to the APC?
The APC celebrates Akpabio at the national level, but I can tell you that at the state level it is a completely different thing. There is something we say in Akwa Ibom. We say that when you manage to cook a nice pot of soup, you should cover it properly because if you leave it open and allow certain unworthy creatures like cockroaches, millipedes and centipedes to crawl inside, they will turn your nice pot of soup sour. This may just happen to the APC in Akwa Ibom. As an elder statesman and objective observer of what is going on in the state, there was a time I could have said Akwa Ibom State had become at least 80 per cent APC and I would not be wrong. There was a time the whole state was PDP.
Then somebody as prominent as Don Etiebet left the party and went to the All Peoples Party (APP) and became chairman, he later returned to the PDP, because other political parties did not stand any chance and I welcomed him back to the PDP. Then suddenly, Akpabio came and all of those people moved en masse to the APC. Start with Udoedehe, who was his campaign manager in 2007, followed too by Nsime Ekere, the deputy governor, Umana Umana, the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), every prominent person, including Etiebet, who is very close to Akpabio moved en masse to the APC that I could have said without fear of contradiction that Akwa Ibom has become majorly APC. But today, look at the defection from the APC back to the PDP. So I can say the APC have got their pot of soup completely sour by certain things they are doing.
Let me see whether the APC can win Akwa Ibom State with Akpabio. But I can tell you with conviction that if the APC manages to win Akwa Ibom today, it would be in spite of rather than because of Akpabio, because if you leave it to Akpabio, I don’t believe the APC would go very far in Akwa Ibom. That is what I know to be the situation.
Today what we hear is that Akwa Ibom is going to be in similar situation that Warsaw was in the hands of Hitler. Is that what they want in Akwa Ibom? Akwa Ibom people will resist it vehemently. This kind of statement shows we have lost every kind of morality and ideology both in the formation of political parties and pursuit of our various political ambitions.
What is your take on the current state of the National Assembly?
Look at what happened since the emergence of Saraki as Senate President. Look at the issue of the stolen Mace, the confirmation of Ibrahim Magu as chairman of the EFCC. The president sent a name
to the National Assembly for confirmation as substantive chairman of the EFCC, they refused to confirm Magu. Again, the president sent a bill to the National Assembly for the establishment of special courts
to handle corruption cases because the president is very passionate about fighting corruption, but the National Assembly refused to pass it, they just sat back and did nothing. Now the Chief Justice of Nigeria has done it administratively and you can see the convictions coming from those courts. So what kind of National Assembly do we have?
Is it a National Assembly that is in the interest of the country? Is it an assembly that is interested in fighting corruption? Look at the issues surrounding budget padding and controversies over constituency projects, look at the delays in passing the budget.
You will see a situation where the executive promises the citizens ‘this is the manner in which I would develop Nigeria,’ but the National Assembly would say, ‘you will not do that, you would rather give this job or that to my village.’ Where in the world is it the job of the federal government to drill boreholes in remote villages?
So who is to blame?
Of course it is the fault of the federal government. If they had listened to us and restructured the country, we would not be talking about such things. Again look at a serious thing like the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) budget, perhaps, because they could not have their way with changing the election sequence, and, I must ask do we need a different sequence whenever we have election?
However, in a true federalism the federal government has no business with state elections. The states conduct their own elections. The federal government should be concerned with only the Presidential and National Assembly elections. Because we have this unfortunate thing we call a federal arrangement, we have situations like this. Because of this situation we have, they are now prepared to cripple the INEC and prevent them from conducting credible elections.
What is your take on the cabal said to be running the presidency?
We accuse the presidency of cabal, but there is a more vicious and more destructive cabal in the National Assembly than there is in the presidency. We forget that the role of the opposition is not to prevent government from functioning but to see to it that government functions properly in the interest of everybody in the country.
Nigeria today has about 90 political parties. How would this deepen democracy in the country?
When former military President, General Ibrahim Babangida asked for position papers on the formation of political parties, I remembered clearly that Professor Ben Nwabueze and I insisted that political parties should not be formed yet, that when people get to the National Assembly, opinions will be formed and groups will begin to emerge. Right now, there are as many political parties as there are candidates. If these parties will see that it is nonsensical to have as many as 90 political parties in a country as small as Nigeria, maybe they would begin to form groups and at the end we would have two or may be maximum of three strong political parties anyone of which would win election at anytime provided they put forward the best candidate as adjudged by Nigerians. Look at some of the parties and the people leading them, there are some of them that if you beg me to join them I will refuse because of the calibre of people leading them.
What is your take on restructuring?I
The accusation now is that President Buhari is not ready to restructure the country, but believe me the problem is more from the National Assembly. We suggested a thing as simple as state police and resource control, they dismissed it. But at some point when the northern senators were meeting, the senate president said and I quote him, ‘I have no doubt in my mind that we as leaders need to do a lot more work, we need to carry out analysis and research to be able to pick the substance from the sentiments. I say this because during the last constitution review exercise, there were items that were rejected, like devolution of powers, but upon reflection we realised that it was actually not inimical to the interest of the people. On the economic front, whatever will bring about growth and development is what must be done, economic diversification is not just a buzzword, it is the real life of a transition that must be made if we are to deliver dividends of democracy to our people.’ If the senate president knows this, then why wouldn’t the National Assembly consider how to make the necessary laws to restructure the country, rather than just shouting you cannot do devolution of power without us. What I expect is that since the National Assembly knows the importance of restructuring, they should call upon the president to convoke a conference or assembly that will write a new constitution for the country.
The president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) said in August 2013 that ordinary amendments to the constitution may not reflect the wishes and aspirations of the people, or repair the fundamental flaws in it, that there is need for a people-oriented constitution which would be subjected to a national referendum and will be self enforcing. That is what we need and I expect that it is the National Assembly that will work in the interest of the people of this country. I expect them to see the need for restructuring and work towards it. They can call on the president to convoke such an assembly and if the president refuses, it is an impeachable offence. If we don’t restructure, this country is going to die because there is limited opportunity in the oil industry and the resources cannot develop this country. Look at the evil consequences of the crude oil not belonging to particularly anybody; that is why you see a situation where the country still flares 76 percent of its gas that is enough to generate 3,000 megawatts of electricity.
* Culled from The Sun