From Magnus Eze, Abuja
Akwa Ibom State Deputy Governor, Moses Ekpo is highly experienced in government; he returned from Cross River as pioneer commissioner for Information when Akwa Ibom was created 30 years ago. He speaks on his relationship with Governor Udom Emmanuel, agitation for restructuring, opposition politics and disaster preparedness in the state among other issues.
Akwa Ibom is one of the states predicted to be prone to flooding this year; as chairman of the Emergency Management committee in the state, what has the state done to mitigate any eventualities?
We are aware of this and that informed the first ever conference which the government organised with the theme on preparedness for flood and other disasters. Of course being a costal state, we expect that the flood could be devastating; it’s been so in a number of years. But that conference was convened to get the entire community within the state prepared for the eventualities that usually come with flood incidents. We had NEMA co-sponsoring the conference; we had Exxon Mobil. It was a big conference and people came out of it knowing much more that they could do without having too many casualties; hoping that if flood comes, everybody will be in readiness to tackle it. And I think from the comments made about it; this was the very first conference that any state government would organise in that regard.
Talking about the flood situation in Uyo; it is diminishing now because the flood-control facilities which had been put in place by government are costing us billions of naira; this will check the flood, take away water from it and direct it where the water ought to go. With what has been done, we believe that the flood situation if it comes this year would not be as devastating as it had been in a number of years. Apart from that, the government is always ready to make sure that it goes to the aid of citizens whose homes are flooded. We’ve spent quite a lot of money trying to provide relief to flood victims. There is a lot of cooperation between NEMA and us in preparedness for this sort of thing.
What’s the secret of the smooth relationship between you and the governor unlike what obtained in some other states?
I have the policy of respect for the authority; so if you take the governor as the authority, you will understand the relationship, because it’s the governor who invited me to work with him as his deputy. In other words, I have to be totally loyal; and loyalty is not in percentages. It must be total and can only be total if you are able to work with whoever you are serving to achieve his aim. My relationship with my governor is most cordial; very cordial and I couldn’t see it less because it will not even enable me do my job if I did not key into what he thinks would be in the best interest of the people of the state.
If you want to work with someone, you must be loyal; the entire thing revolves on loyalty. If you are not loyal, you can’t achieve anything even for yourself. So, I would advise others, who would be in my kind of position, if you accept a job, accept it because you’ve been invited to do a job and be part and parcel of the aspiration of whoever invited you; make sure that his aspiration comes through. For me, there is no two ways about who you serve; the governor was kind enough to invite me to serve as his deputy. What’s the role of a deputy; deputy is not the principal. So, for as long as you regard yourself that you have a role to play to supplement, support, then of course loyalty comes in.
How has it been in the last two years?
First and foremost, Udom Emmanuel is the best person to work with; he gives you the free hand that you need; he listens to your own contribution, I don’t want to say advice, if you are able to prove your mettle that you can also be independent in your own suggestions, then you’ll find the governor the best person to work with. This has translated into what we have achieved in the state; the industrial strides that we are trying to make, providing jobs for the people through various means. It has translated to industries springing up; we don’t talk about these things so much. We thought that the era of government earmarking projects is over; we are ‘eye-marking’ projects. We want people to see what are happening in Akwa Ibom.
For instance, when people complain about power supply; for us in Uyo, it’s now a thing of the past because the government has built a transmission station which actually is the job of the electricity company or the Federal Government through the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing. But we built it to relieve the power problem in Uyo. Today, Uyo and its environs have probably about 20hours of uninterrupted power supply and that has also helped other areas close to Uyo to have some relief as power that was to come to Uyo has been distributed to the hinterlands.
On industries; the first ever syringe factory in this part of the world would be coming to Akwa Ibom by the end of this year. Nigeria imports close to six million syringes every year and this factory is coming at a time that we think we can have this supply locally met from Akwa Ibom. We also have the prepaid meter factory coming up; the fertilizer blending factory too. By September, we will be blending fertilizer for agricultural use. All these would be actualised latest by early next year to address the promise the governor made to provide employment for the teeming youths of Akwa Ibom.
Your state had been in the vanguard for resource control in the past; where would it stand on the issue of restructuring?
I don’t really know whether it’s restructuring; whether we are operating as a federation or a unitary government. But Nigeria is so large. What does restructuring mean; to my mind, it means giving opportunity to every section to develop and they can only develop if they have the constitutional backing. They will be responsible for this and that; then as a federation this is what you will contribute to the centre. We’ve been in the forefront of state creation in this country and our fore-bearers recognised that if an opportunity is given to each section of this country to develop what it has and bring it to the centre, it will be a quicker way of developing.
So, for us, it’s not strange that we want each section of this country to develop at its own pace. I think for us that’s restructuring. I say this with a lot of experience. For the 30 months of civil war in this country, I was behind the bars and why was the war fought? It was because of injustice.
How far did the crisis in the PDP affect your state chapter of the party?
It didn’t. If there was any PDP in this country while the crisis lasted, it was in Akwa Ibom. Our state is synonymous with PDP and PDP is synonymous with the state because when you talk about party and development, there is no other party. Talk about roads, education; infrastructure, anything, it has been the PDP government that Akwa Ibom knows. For us, Akwa Ibom is PDP and PDP is Akwa Ibom; all the developments that you can conceive about had been brought about by the PDP; from the era of Victor Attah to the era of Godswill Akpabio easily described as the uncommon performer who provided almost all the infrastructure that we are building on. We are quite sure that the party will come out much stronger from the crisis and we are providing the base from Akwa Ibom.
Are you saying that opposition has no base in the state?
What’s the meaning of opposition? Opposition is making sure that there’s a possibility that the place can develop with both sides with reasonable criticisms. Of course, our policy as a state government is political inclusion. We want everybody to be part of the process; after the election let everybody join hands to build the state. So, what are you opposing; that they shouldn’t build roads, they shouldn’t improve the hospitals, which we are doing at a very massive scale; that the health facilities should not be improved or that there should be no industries. What are they coming to oppose; I don’t think that when we talk about opposition it must be a stone wall.
Why is the state running caretaker system in the local government when there is growing clamour for local government autonomy?
I am sure that you also know that there will be an election into the local government councils in November this year; there are preparations for that. The caretaker thing was to help tidy up; a stop gap measure. There was no money when we came in, so, putting money right away to hold election wasn’t possible. We are aware that local government autonomy is good for the country; it’s good for our state but we had to take our time; doing the first thing first when it comes to money. That is why we held unto this system for this little period.
But as I said, we are holding election in November and we are encouraging everybody who is interested to come out and be part of the process.
Are you saying that Akwa Ibom would vote for local government autonomy in the on-going constitutional amendment?
That’s not really on the card now, but as the conversation goes on, we would want to look at the pros and cons and see what would benefit the state and not just what will benefit anybody. I can’t categorically say at this point in time whether we will vote yes or no, but it’s still being considered.