Gov Emmanuel Has Right To Be Involved In Who succeeds Him


…Senate Rerun: It Will Be Unwise For Akpabio To Quit As Minister

Ascending to leadership podium for Rt. Hon. Elder Sam Ikon, is simply an opportunity to offer service and contribute to the growth of humanity. This deep philosophical bent has guided him throughout his forays into politics, particularly for the offices he has occupied.

As a two-term (2007-2015) member of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, representing Etinan State Constituency, during which he served as the 9th Speaker – 2011-2015; and went on to the House of Representatives, as a member representing Etinan/Nsit Ibom/Nsit Ubium Federal Constituency, Elder Ikon kept an enviable service record, spanning quality representation, offering of dividends of democracy to his constituency and redefining of legislative – executive cooperation for the uncommon transformation of Akwa Ibom State and beyond.

He had an enchanting record in the Assembly, serving as Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation and Finance, Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Rural Development and Public Utility and also served as a member of other House Committees including; Rules, Ethics and Privileges; Public Accounts, Industry Commerce and Tourism; Information, Youth and Sports; Niger Delta Development Commission and Petroleum Committee.

Ikon, a native of Mbioto II, in Etinan Local Government Area, Akwa Ibom North East Senatorial District, is a promoter of Akwa Ibom project and will readily offer himself for any higher call for service. In an exclusive interview on Saturday, November 16, 2019 with Crystal Express, the soft spoken gentleman was quick to affirm: Yes, I will be interested in the contest for 2023 Governorship race in Akwa Ibom State. Power belongs to God and if it pleases Him, my party – PDP and the people to anoint me, I will accept.” He spoke on a wide range of issues. Excerpt:

Let us meet you, sir

I am Rt. Hon. Sam Ikon. I started my primary school with Holy Child International School, Ikot Ekpene, then went to Federal Government College with a year one stint at Lutheran High School, Ikot Ekpene. I proceeded to the University of Calabar where I had my first degree in economics and also bagged an MBA and MSC International Relations from the University of Uyo and Nasarawa State University respectively. I am currently doing my PhD. I am equally doing some strategic courses at Stanford University in the United States among others.

I have done several courses and attended over 100 conferences across the globe in the course of my duties especially as chairman inter-parliamentary relations of the House of Representatives. I have travelled round the world in the course of my duties in the parliament. I had interface with not less than 50 parliaments. Before getting into politics, I have been a business man, a petroleum marketer and equally have a paint manufacturing company. I joined politics in 2004 when I was appointed as a member of Akwa Ibom State Civil Service Commission. In 2006, I left to contest primaries of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the office of the member Etinan State Constituency which I won. In 2007 through the magnanimity of my people, I was elected into the Akwa Ibom House of Assembly to represent them. In the House of Assembly, I started out as Chairman, House Committee on Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Six months later, I became chairman, House Committee on Appropriation and Finance for the remaining three and half years. I was returned again to the State Assembly in 2011 by my people and my colleagues unanimously chose me to represent them as the Speaker of the House of Assembly.

I went further to become the chairman of the Speakers’ Conferences involving all speakers of the states in Nigeria in 2014. In 2015, my people again elected me to represent Etinan Federal Constituency and my tour of duty ended in 2019. Currently, I am in private practice and also a parliamentary advocate. I am consulted on parliamentary issues. I also run a non-governmental organization- Global Access to Life Reservoir Initiative. We are primarily concerned about issues of human trafficking and trying to help tackle the challenges. Before leaving the National Assembly I sponsored the Traffic in Persons’ Bill (TIPPO Bill). It is my hope that my colleagues will continue with that amendment to ensure that the malaise will be tackled. This is what my NGO is doing to help sanitize the system.

Your tenure as the Speaker of the state Assembly witnessed some turbulence but how did you navigate through successfully?

Sam: Let me give you some tit bits. I am currently doing a book on my service years and may not say much for now. What the public saw was a coordination of several factors. Let me start by thanking those who served with me at the Sixth Assembly. They are amazing and I owe them a lot for their cooperation and perseverance. There were issues that would have spilled to the public space which were managed. There were some internal rumblings and we were able to resolve them. In that Assembly I didn’t see myself as a leader but as first among equals and that really helped to douse the tensions we had then. Again, I have clear cut rules of engagement and hardly dabbled into things that didn’t directly concern me. The issues we had in the house then were being sponsored from outside; my members were not directly involved. But no matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t get my members to do any untoward thing. I remember the daily headlines in the newspapers such as “Speaker to be removed today” and so on. But I just laughed over them because there was nothing on ground to suggest that.

We equally passed so many people-oriented laws and one that is dear to me is the widows’ rights. This is one law I hope and wished that they will be given adequate publicity. You are aware of what women in the rural communities are going through in the hands of their husbands’ families who pushed them out and take over everything once the man dies. And when such happens, where lies the future of the children? That ended with the enactment of the widow’s rights and which equally addresses some ill practices that are meted out to women and widows. Things like a widow forced to wash her husband’s body and the water given to her to drink or having to shave her hair are all abolished by law. However the level of awareness is very low and most women don’t even know that they are protected against such acts which are unfortunate and they continue to suffer from this unfortunate scenario. Women are still abused and pushed out of the home once the husband dies. It is a known fact that once a widow is sent from her husband’s house, the future of the children becomes bleak and they become a problem to the society. That is why that law was dear to my heart and I pray that awareness can be made in that regard. Some of the victims attribute their inability to seek legal redress on the issue over lack of money forgetting that the Federation of Women Lawyers are there to help them on issues like that. The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) also has some arrangements to pursue such matters at no cost and it is important that these are made known to the women, especially those in the rural communities.

I also remember that the House stood on their feet during the period of security challenges when they woke up one morning and asked the commissioner of police to leave the state for falling in his responsibilities. Therefore, when people described us as rubber stamp I always asked if they didn’t see what we did and how a new Commissioner of Police, Solomon Arase, was brought in and the state suddenly became secured and he later went on to become the Inspector General of Police.

We enacted a lot of laws that were pro-people; we enacted the 20 per cent recurrent and 80 per cent capital ratio in our budget and pushed for it throughout our tenure which ensured the massive development of the era. The Fifth Assembly worked for the people and I christened it the People’s Assembly and we allowed issues affecting the people to take the front burner.

The Pension Act for ex-governors and deputy governors passed by the Assembly under your leadership brought serious public outcry and criticism. What is your take on this?

It was a totally misunderstood law and that was why in order to respond to the feelings of the people, we revised it. We passed a law believing that we will save the state a lot of funds but it was twisted and taken out of context and when we realized that people didn’t want to show understanding then we reverted to the existing law. That is how a reasonable Assembly should operate once you discover that the people are not happy with what you have done you react towards their direction. That was why we repealed the law we made and reverted to what existed before. It is not that what we did was wrong because I stand by what we did but we just had to follow the people’s feelings.

The issue at stake was that a former governor can claim a bill of N1billion as medical bill because there is no limit to what he can access because the law made it a must to treat him when he is sick while the state has no option than to pay the bill. If a former deputy governor comes up with a bill of say N500m for medicals, the former law did not even ask that receipts and invoices be attached. But the amended law which we tried to pass said there must be an assessment by medical practitioners to assert that the claims were true and the medical bills thoroughly assessed by a medical board. Rather, the people didn’t look at that but were only interested in the limit that we put. We didn’t intend to waste the state’s money but to place caps so there can be no abuse. We tried to put in place some safety measures to ensure that our monies were not fretted away. But the people misunderstood it, leading to what we still have today.

As it stands now, is the state disadvantaged as there is no ceiling on the expenditure?

Of course. If a former governor decides to abuse it, there is nothing you can do about it. God forbid a situation a former governor or deputy has medical issues that runs up to N500 million or even a billion, the state must pay since there is no ceiling.

Notwithstanding your 20 per cent recurrent and 80 per cent capital expenditure ratio approved for the state and the funds received during the era, there were still many abandoned projects at that time. Why?

You must understand that there were lots of issues outside infrastructure like security which was a major issue. As you can recollect, it really deteriorated. For me, my family didn’t live with me, they only came to stay with me when I became the Speaker. The reason was that I could now provide them with extra security. The issue then was that I and Hon. Jack Udota moved and seconded the Anti-kidnapping Bill and the kidnappers came after our families. They will send me text messages telling me the school our children attended. I provided them with police security; they told me that though I provided my family police protection that they were going to open fire on them. I had to quickly move my family out of the state and bore the cost, as the state didn’t know what I was going through. I had to shuttle between here and Lagos at my own cost because of the job I did for the state. The rule of procedure is that once the Speaker make the third call for the move of a motion and the people declined, that bill remains permanently dead for a lifetime. Hon. Ignatius Edet called the first and second time for motion and there was no response but Hon. Jack Udota quickly stood up and moved the motion and there was no seconder which would have killed the motion and behold I moved in to second the bill. Next they kidnapped Udota’s wife and then the speaker’s father and my wife escaped by the whiskers. In fact they met my wife in her shop but she was so casually dressed and was out to meet some customers and they approached her and demanded to know who parked the car in front of the shop. She smartly told them that the owner stepped out. While they hanged around a bit, she asked them who should she say were looking for the shop owner? They ignored her and jumped into their Volvo and drove off. Three days later, they returned and held the sales girls at gun point and at that moment, I had to fly her out of the country. And when she came back and I had to relocate my family completely out of the state.

Why I am saying this is because there were other issues than infrastructure at the time, which were also exerting pressures on the funds of the state. For me, I may not know the figures to balance what came and what was spent, but I am happy with what was on ground for people to see. If you drive through Uyo, you will be happy you are in your state with dual carriage ways, flyovers, stadium and many other facilities. I think the funds were judiciously used. I am an advocate for financial autonomy for the state House of Assembly because you may want to do the oversight functions and you don’t have the funds and you cannot go to the ministry you want to visit to ask for funds to come and do your oversight functions. So once there is financial autonomy, the House will stand on its own. I used to feel very embarrassed to carry a file to go and seek approval from the governor that is another arm of government. It shouldn’t be so. The Senate President or Speaker, House of Representatives never go to the President of Nigeria for approvals. So that is why during my tenure as Speaker of the Nigeria State Assembly, Speakers passed on amendment which grants financial autonomy to the State Houses of Assembly. But the then President Goodluck Jonathan refused to accent to it.

In my time, we took the issues of this autonomy to the six geo-political zones and got their support. The only area we had issues was on the local government autonomy. We agreed that if the House has financial autonomy and with its lawmaking powers they will also push for councils to have autonomy.

There were many constituency projects executed across the state by legislators. Were these also part of your lawmaking responsibility?

Let us get it straight. All a legislator does is to nominate project for execution. There is something we call the constituency project and intervention. At the national assembly, we call it zonal intervention. What you do is to identify all the critical needs in your constituency that is usually captioned in the budget and tell people who advocate for the cancellation of zonal intervention to stop because that is the only sure way the constituency sees the impact of government.

For instance in the National Assembly, you can be there for four years and no one thing is budgeted in your constituency. They can do budget for four years without one getting even road grading. So the zonal intervention comes to the rescue. Good enough, the Federal Government has made it difficult to abuse. Some of the projects I put in the 2019 budget such as the free medical services for our people is already on in Nsit Ubium. The Federal Ministry of Special Duties and Office of the Accountant-General will also be there. They will look at the scope and quality to be sure that it is in line with what was budgeted for. So this is what people should be advocating for not cancellation because once cancelled, constituencies can stay for 12 years without government presence at the federal level. The state is better because the government can easily site projects across the local government areas. The federal budget is not even enough for three states so how much more 360 federal constituencies. So the misconception should be corrected. What should be done is advocating and strengthening of monitoring so that whoever the job is awarded to, does it to the last details. I did 10 different skills acquisition programmes when I was in the National Assembly and I didn’t know any of the contractors that executed the projects.

My interest was the programmes. In one of the hospitals, I attached in my constituency, the job is going on and I don’t know the contractor. The most important is advocating for monitoring to ensure quality job.

As a beneficiary of Senator Godswill Akpabio’s political magnanimity and core loyalist then, people thought you would have joined him to APC when he moved to the party. Why didn’t you?

I do get those questions especially from people outside the state who knew our working relationship. They are often taken aback when they talk to me and I tell them that I am PDP. I felt this is an opportunity for me to explain the situation. First, my former governor left without talking to some of us. I was in The Gambia on official assignment when I heard the news of his defection. I was in the Banjul when I saw his picture meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari in London.

I was still in Banjul when I heard he was defecting and the day I was billed to return to Nigeria was the day he was officially received into APC. I couldn’t just have moved without understanding the rationale behind all these and to tell you the truth, Akwa Ibom is a PDP state. Even if I was around and consulted it is obvious I would speak the truth to power because if I fail to do so then I am not worthy of the responsibility. I am one person that speaks truth to power and that is why I am not part and parcel of power structure and remain in the minority. So many people were created by politics but I came into politics with my money. I am a private businessman. I built a small business and after politics I am going back to the terrain I know well and not afraid of not being recruited by government. That was why in 2011 when most people were rallying around a certain candidate in Akwa Ibom State, I told people in clear terms that it was the turn of Eket Senatorial District and stood my grounds.

I was humiliated for not supporting what others were rooting for because for me, I feel you should speak truth to power. If I were around, I would have been able to tell our former governor that would be a wrong lane to go and I will not be able to join him. He wants to go and play politics at the federal level and that has worked out for him now as a Minister. But for Akwa Ibom, the State remains PDP territory. Again, I wouldn’t have joined Akpabio because the incumbent governor is doing very well. Moreover, Governor Udom Emmanuel is also my brother; you can trek from my village to his and he has not done anything wrong to me to desert him. In fact it could have been a funny situation because this is someone who is dualising a road from Uyo to my village, a job I could not attract even as a speaker and he came and is doing it for me in my constituency. He renovated and completely turned around a hospital; the Etinan General Hospital which I did everything to get the attention of government as a speaker and nobody listened to me. What would have been my reason to walk away? Personally, I would have joined the bandwagon in 2011/2012 when I ignored money and stood my grounds that power should shift to Eket Senatorial District. So the scenarios couldn’t have encouraged me to move with him because back home what will I tell my people that I am walking away from someone doing our roads, our hospitals and who is giving us a befitting bridge-the best in West Africa?

So we must put conscience into politics. However, that doesn’t stop me from appreciating the former governor; it doesn’t stop my personal relationship with him. That is where I differ from other people; I wouldn’t demonize the former governor to be in the good books of the incumbent. There is nothing stopping you from having a personal relationship with persons in other parties. Politics is about interest; people change parties at times and still return to their former party. I don’t have any issues with the former governor and can see him when I want. That does not make me love my governor any less or betray the governor. We must understand that people going to other parties and should not make them our enemies. I don’t even understand why people take these things so serious. It is like when I was contesting with my brother, Onofiok Luke; while people were fighting, we visited each other and shared lunch time while they were busy writing rubbish on social media. People should be able to draw the line and know that you don’t take these things so much to heart. Relationships are important, cherish them. No party will be greater, we know how APC evolved and even PDP may change tomorrow too. We must work as brothers to attract the best for our people and must not lose gain what we lost during the tenure of the last Managing Director of Nigeria Delta Development Commission (NDDC) because of politics.

Are you saying that it is not wise for Akpabio to resign and contest the senatorial rerun?

That is personal to him and his party. To me my position is simple, I know the ability of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs in terms of his ability to turn around things at the ministry. I feel we should use the energy properly; there are a lot that can be accomplished synergizing with the state. I know the minister wants the best for the state and the governor wants the best for the state. So Elders should look at creating the synergy. We must position our people to benefit from so many things going on in the Niger Delta and Nigeria. What is due to Akwa Ibom people should be given to the people of Akwa Ibom. The oil taken from the soil and waters of the state is neither PDP nor APC but Akwa Ibom Oil. When it comes to disbursing the largesse, those sentiments should not be allowed to come in. Every indigene of Akwa Ibom is entitled to have them. I think that we have come to a point where these agencies of government must synergies with the state government to help the people as what the state has alone cannot take care of our problems. By the time you pay salaries and other commitments you will be looking for the money. I was Chairman, Finance and Appropriation Committee and speaker and have worked closely with the state finances and disbursement. The truth is that when the billions you hear goes into specifics, you see it dissolved. Again government must respond to situations as they come and there are usually expenditures that just crop up. I am speaking from experiences.

So building synergy among Akwa Ibom people in government irrespective of party affiliation will help the people. In my time in the National Assembly, I made several interventions from equipping a primary health centre to reconstructing damaged connecting roads. I also brought skill acquisition centres and trained our youths in 10 different skills. One of them that was dear to me is the movie industry in which our people are yet to fully take advantage of. Movie industry is vast and acting is just one out of about 10 aspects of the movie industry. There are editing, directing, makeover, and others. I brought Laucent Immasuen and other top movie people here to train over 200 people while about 100 people were certificated. I had equally planned to raise funds to sponsor about two movies with these youths so that they have those ones to their credit. So I don’t see the wisdom in the senator contesting these election having seen how the former election went.

Representation is your primary responsibility as a lawmaker but your constituency demands more from you. What will one do to cope with their needs?

As a matter of fact there is need to engage the stakeholders. Representation has been totally taken out of context. It is not the duty of the legislator to buy cars and keke for people, but sadly the pressure of the society is moving them into all these. Their jobs are just to make laws and attract government attention to the plight of the people. In the first place, where do they even have the money to buy those things, because you are just paid your salary and allowances? The stakeholders can do well to explain to the larger constituents who may complain about their representatives? We have cases of people earning, say N10 but monthly have requests of N100, how can they meet up? That is why you see people who left the assembly barley one year, now struggling to survive. There is no special allocation for those goodwill so one must balance his acts to keep afloat otherwise he may not be able to pay even his children’s school fees. However there is need for constituents to show understanding and the explanation must come from stakeholders, if a legislator tries to explain, people will say that you are making excuses not to give. Stakeholders are better placed to take such messages to the people.

You did well as member representing Etinan State Constituency and speaker, Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, and further consolidated at the House of Representatives. However, when people thought your second term in the House of Representatives is a done deal, you opted out. Why?

Well let me put the records straight using this opportunity; I was the speaker before 2015 and sought to go to the National Assembly. In the wisdom of the party and by the virtue of my office they thought it won’t be proper to have a contest. So Rt. Hon. Anietie Etuk who was in the forefront was prevailed to stand down his ambition and he graciously did that. Therefore when in 2019 I was the front runner and incumbent, I was prevailed upon to allow the then incumbent speaker to take my seat, I felt someone had done it for me in 2015 and that I should also do it for someone. That was why I opted out of that race and went ahead to campaign for the candidate of our great party, which also explains why we have very cordial relationship. People were shocked to see me campaigning for my successor and that shows I play politics differently. I felt what I did was the proper thing to do; someone stepped down for me and I have to do for another. I did it happily and I must commend my successor who has so far accorded me my due respect. People should learn from this kind of relationship because it is the best for the people. When he came into the office, he was given forms to alter things I already programmed for the constituency and he called me and told me that he won’t touch any of the projects. One of them is the ongoing free surgery in my Federal Constituency. I choose the free medical to save lives because I know there are people who have little or nothing to get the least medical treatment for their ailment. I have in my time taken the scope of the free medicals beyond the budget of the federal by including personal funds to enable the exercise reach more people. I also included the provision of laptops for our students, knowing the importance in today’s education.

How would you rate Governor Emmanuel’s strides so far?

For me, Governor Udom Emmanuel came when he was destined to come. Remember that from the onset of this administration, the country was in dire financial stress and managing the situation needed someone who had the ability to access funds without stress. Governor Emmanuel managed our economy in such a way that people never felt the challenges of that time. Perhaps if he was not on the saddle, people would have come to terms with what happened at the time.

He navigated the tide because he is an expert in financial management. Governor Emmanuel has done well and there are lots of programmes to his credit. I was part of the last administration and the focus was to take the state to the next level and it worked out. Though that also attracted some jealousy and came with its own challenges because at a time people tried to thwart the 13 percent derivation and we rallied round to stop the moves. The publicity of that era brought so much challenges but today it seems that the governor is doing so much with less publicity. A lot is going on in terms of industrialization and it has never been this good. Our expectations might be very high but let’s remember that a journey of a thousand kilometers starts with the initial steps. The former government did very well and the present is doing very, very well. Governor Emmanuel has brought industrialization capacity development and infrastructure.

As an insider, was Governor Emmanuel difficult to market in 2015 when he joined the race?

I don’t think so. Our former governor, Chief Godswill Akpabio is a leader any day. Many big names we have in the state today are his products. His prowess cannot be wished away. The truth however is that the leader moved without consulting. If he had consulted, some of us that speak truth to powers would have advised him that it won’t work. Before his departure to APC, the opposition party rating in the state was just about 10 per cent but his movement took the party’s strength to about 25 per cent, so there was no way Governor Emmanuel wouldn’t have made it because PDP was in a comfortable majority.

Moreover, there were lots of things on ground from industrialization to infrastructure and capacity development, many things to testify the performance of the incumbent governor. However that doesn’t take away the fact that the former governor is an awesome person and someone we respect and love for his services to the state and his personal charisma. He is always fun to be with; I will never disrespect him because he is in another party.

2023 politics is already in the air with more than three years to go. Is it normal?

It is very normal. Like I said the drum beat of 2015 started in 2011 when someone was already being addressed as His Excellency while we had an incumbent governor. My only advice is that when you start today, you burn out early. My position is simple, everybody has the right. It is coming to Uyo Senatorial District which has great people and they should be allowed to contest. However, I must say that the incumbent must also wish to preserve his legacy and has the right to seek someone that will sustain it and even improve on the tempo and that right will not be taken away. So the incumbent will have a hand in who succeeds him. However, the stakeholders and people who speak the truth to power must tell the governor if his choice is good or not rather than play along and allow the leader to make mistakes could lead to more problems. Every leader who knows his onions listens to the people.

Do you have plans to contest the governorship in 2023?

I learnt one lesson in life when I got to the House of Representatives and didn’t find fulfillment initially. I was quick to tell the governor that I would not want to return to the House. However then things began to show up and I got involved in the global parliamentary space and I thought that if I had another four years, one would have been able to carve a very strong niche for Nigeria and the people, especially my constituents. I went back and told the governor that I have changed my mind. But he told me before the stakeholders that he had accepted someone else. So having smarted from that experience I will be the last person to say that I will not want the office of the governor. I am competent and well qualified with adequate experience in politics and government having being a speaker and having led the speakers in the country. For me I wish those who are denying well. In the race everybody has the right to contest. The most important thing is to have a governor who will sustain and improve on the legacies of previous administrations and someone with the capacity to unite the state and carry every sector of the state along. We must elect that governor that will have the capacity to manage all shades of peoples.

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