… Amotekun: I’m Happy South West Has Taken The Lead
Air Commander Otuekong Idongesit Nkanga (Rtd.) is a former military governor of Akwa Ibom State, former commander of the Presidential Air Fleet, former director-general of ex-governor Godswill Akpabio Campaign Organization, director-general (twice) of Gov. Udom Emmanuel Campaign Organization, chairman, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and major stakeholder in Akwa Ibom and Niger Delta Projects.
Nkanga, in this exclusive interview with Crystal Express, speaks on his life at 68, his efforts at PANDEF, the new Akwa Ibom State under Governor Udom Emmanuel and other salient issues. Excepts
You just marked your 68 years birthday. Let start from your humble beginning. How has it been?
At every birthday, I give glory to God. He is the omnipotent and omniscience and we are only but pencils in His hands. He is the creator of the universe. My prayer has always been whatever God wants me to be or do, let Him use me to achieve it. Every time I mark my birthday, I see God’s purpose in my life and am also realizing the purpose to the glory of His name. It wasn’t an easy journey for me. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon. I have gone through a lot of experiences in life and I believe for everything that I could not achieve when I desired is God’s plan for me to continue my abiding faith in Him and to use that experience to achieve whatever assignment he has for me. In spite of the fact that I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, God gave me a very happy life and family and I cannot stop being grateful to Him.
Do you have any regrets that at this age, there are things you hope to but failed to achieve?
I don’t see anything I set out to achieve which I did not. I was born here and I have done what God wants me to do to the best of my ability. He did not make the mountain to become lower, but He gave me the wisdom and courage to surmount challenges. I have nothing to regret and I must say that if I have the opportunity to do a lot of things I have done before, I will probably do them the same way.
At a very youthful age you became the military Governor of Akwa Ibom State and posted remarkable achievements. But your effort to return as civilian governor failed. Will you still try again?
I don’t think so. What happened was that when I came as military governor, I saw the plight of the people and did my best before I was transferred. People said I should have stayed longer and there were questions here and there. But now I don’t think it would be necessary again for me to aspire, because for some time now I have had the opportunity to contribute ideas on how the government is administered. The man in charge at present is doing more because he has other channels open for him and if I am there I would have been probably doing the same thing. In a developed society things are well stream lined and there is nothing like saying this is an action governor or this is an action president. There are programmes and manifestoes of the party and all an elected official does is to implement them. In a true democratic setting there is nothing like an action governor, chairman or even president. However Akwa Ibom has been lucky to have good leaders and I also have been privileged to support and advise the leaders. There is nothing that will make me to go and contest election again in Akwa Ibom, I think I have passed that stage.
You are now an Elder statesman with tentacles spread across Niger Delta region. However are you impressed with the achievements of PANDEF which you are leading now?
I am not satisfied but South-South region has a peculiar terrain. We are the people endowed with the natural wealth that is keeping the country afloat but we are not like some of the major ethnic groups that are homogenous, which are more united by same tradition and language. What PANDEF has done is to provide an umbrella for unity in the South-South. Before now when you talk of South South, it is either Ijaw, Ibibio, Itshekiri Urhobo, Efik and others. But now, we have one voice which is PANDEF. Everybody comes through the platform but that has not killed the spirit behind individual ethnic solidarity. However in the South West, South East and some Northern states, they have achieved certain level of cohesion which we are yet to achieve and that slows us down.
Secondly, God made it that even though the wealth of the nation is domiciled in our land, we cannot achieve cohesion until we start coming together. I am sure that if the oil wells in the Niger Delta region were found among the other bigger ethnic groups in the country, they would have seceded from Nigeria by now. But we will not do that. We will continue to provide the resources needed to move the nation forward even though we are minorities of the South. Again, there is need for synergy between minorities of the South and minorities of the North in order to become majority too. We are working towards the minorities coming together to form majority. We cannot talk about the tripod of the country when there is the fourth group which cannot be ignored and they are ready to come together to become as strong as the first three. Nigeria will be more stable. As Niger Delta and PANDEEF I think we are getting somewhere. The governors and National Assembly members from the South-South must contribute towards the development and unity of the region, because one of the major problems we have within the Niger Delta is that the political leaders are too individualistic. PANDEF is working tirelessly to achieve unity and cohesion among people of the Niger Delta region.
The 16 point Agenda tabled before Mr. President by PANDEF is part of the strategy to help develop the Niger Delta. What is your take on the non-implementation of your agenda by the President?
It is sad that it has not been realized because those in power believe they can do things with impunity and get away with it. When we offered the 16 point agenda, it was in the interest of this country. The young men in the creeks at that time were blowing oil pipelines which forced Nigeria into recession in 2016 as oil production dropped from about 2 million barrels of crude oil per day to about 600/700 thousand barrels per day. It was when the Federal Government needed dialogue to settle the matter and there was nobody to talk with that accelerated the birth of PANDEF. We came together and put out the 16 point agenda. If you look at the agenda, you found out that it is not all about money; some of what we have there will not cost any money but just political goodwill. As the president assured then that it will be a working document, we thought we were on the same page in order to achieve lasting peace in the Niger Delta. It is easy to talk about development but there can’t be development in the absence of peace and there can’t be peace if there is no justice. Do justice to the people and they will guarantee you peace; and when you have peace, there will be development. I am just hoping that someday, someone will realize that we brought the 16 point agenda in the interest of the country. Out of the 16 point agenda, only one has been taken up and out of the one, only half is being implemented; that is the Maritime University of Okerenkoko. But even at that it was not without intimidation and harassment of the people of Baramatu. The second half of that is the upgrading of Maritime Academy, Oron which they are yet to consider. All others have been silenced using bureaucratic bottle necks. The Vice President Osinbajo went round and made noise about the relocation of international oil companies (IOCs) but nothing is heard about it again. It makes things difficult for us because if such a situation reoccurs, which we pray it doesn’t, the people will not believe in us elders as they will accuse us of not achieving the initial agenda for peace. It will make it a bit difficult for us. In the past we have had our people who have paid the supreme sacrifice such as Adaka Boro, Saro Wiwa and Odi Community which was leveled in anger by soldiers. We decided that there must be new ways of ensuring peace which is why we opted for dialogue. We hope the Federal Government will see the need for dialogue as we canvassed since November 1st 2016. From dialogue then we went into monologue when they were the only one speaking and now there is no logue again as nobody is talking.
Students under the National Association of Nigerian Students paid you a solidarity visit recently over the issue. What do you make of that?
The students came here with even their colleagues from other parts of the country because they have seen the injustice being meted out to us in the Niger Delta, and because of their foresight, they came for partnership with PANDEF to correct the problem. At least it is a well known fact that the revenue of the country is lifted from here. I thank those students who came because they are interested in the future of this country and won’t want the future of this country jeopardized. They assured us that they will carry out advocacy and we hope that those saddled with the powers to implement it will work with us to ensure that the issue is settled as fast as we can do so.
Regional parts of the country starting with the South West are beginning to put together security outfits to protect themselves from the invading herdsmen and other criminals. What are the plans of South-South?
The South South and Middle Belt Forum have before now even agreed that we cannot sit down and be slaughtered like goats. The people who are doing the slaughtering are not condemned by the Federal Government but only their acts. The world leaders labeled Boko Haram as the second most deadly terrorist group in the world but the Nigerian government is quiet about that and they are here asking farmers and herdsmen to live together. Today the terrorist group has gone from Boko Haram to Islamic State of West African, expanding across the continent and you think people should fold their hands. We are happy that it is the South West that kick started the security outfit. When they turned the Middle Belt to a killing field and extending it to Edo and Delta, we warned that it is a national crises, because when they finish with the Middle Belt and South South, they will extend it to South West. I am happy that the South West has taken the decision. Others are at different stages and will soon manifest as to secure yourself is your fundamental right anywhere in the world. Nobody can stop anybody from doing that. What the South-West did was to effectively co-ordinate the existing vigilante groups before people take to self help in securing themselves. The central security system cannot do it all alone. There is nothing to suggest that we must have on unitary system of security in the country with the present circumstances and it is the unitary system of government against federalism that is killing the country today. It is the unitary system that led to the killing of Aguiyi Ironsi the first military Head of State of Nigeria. The North thought they will lord over them and it snowballed into his death. Today they are enjoying the unitary system of government because power is domiciled with them. This is not the federalism that our people fought and died for. Security should be the basic right every government should offer her citizens and if they can’t guarantee that, there is no need having such government in place.
Nigeria is at a crossroads now and do you think that restructuring will address the numerous problems such as the IPOB demand and independence of each region?
My take on this is that out of mischief or ignorance, some people have started branding restructuring as if it is an evil word. It is only a fool that will be doing something and it is not working for him and yet continues in the same way. Even at personal level if you are doing something and it is not working, you will amend it and when you do that, you are restructuring I don’t see why it should sound like an evil word to anybody. I have said before that if Nigeria does not restructure in a control manner, the country will restructure itself and that is part of what we are seeing. I am of the opinion that Nigeria should exist as a country while we work towards nationhood. We must accommodate each other. It is when some people don’t accommodate other people that talk about separation starts. But to me separation should not be in the Agenda. Let us enjoy the Nigeria that our founding fathers worked for and which subsequent generations also toiled for. Let us accommodate each other and restructure so that everybody contributes to the growth of this country. The country is vast and only restructuring will help us achieve our great potentials. Nigeria has all the indices of power and greatness; it is just for us to galvanize what we have and create a better country which all will be proud off. Those who kick against restructuring may be the greatest beneficiary if only they will take time to learn the advantages that comes with it. Nigeria would have been greater than this but our problem is that we are living a kind of life in which just one person thinks for the over 200 million people and we are looking helpless. But we should be like a salad bowl which has individual ingredients but when put together becomes a good meal. Nigeria has gone beyond the level where just one man will be thinking for it. It may have been good in the military era but not good at all for democracy. Military intervention had its advantages in building infrastructure and achieving unity, that is why you see the National Youth Service Corps, unity schools and others. But the military could not have given us democracy. In democracy you are now to choose who leads you and have your self-dignity. It will be sad for one to live as a second class citizen in his country because problem will come. Lean freedom is better than fat slavery.
You said if Nigeria failed to restructure, the country will on its own restructure itself. With the setting up of “Amotekun”, a regional police, by the South-West, can we say the restructuring has started?
You can judge for yourself because after this, some other issues will creep up which will come down to restructuring. In the 2014 National conference a lot was achieved. We had from that conference 600 recommendations and most of what we talked about are there, but they have been all sidelined. Decisions at the conference were taken by consensus and every part of the country was represented and all walks of life represented. So if Nigerians at that level came together and said this is what they want, who is that one that will say No, and that we should all take directives from him because he is wiser than the 492 that participated in the conference? These are the issues I am talking about. When they finish running around, they will eventually accept the idea of State Police. Those with serious democracy have it. Go to America and you will see federal police, state police, local council police and even the universities have police; so what is the big deal? What are we afraid of? Some Nigerians are slow to embrace modern and new ways of doing things. Before the arrival of GSM, there were so many excuses to limit telephone services in the country only to NITEL. The media was worst. People kicked against the establishment of private radio and televisions with excuses that they will take over the country. But today have they taken over anything? Look at the print media, it used to be only Daily Times and West African Pilot but with liberalization are we not better off now? Therefore human nature sometimes doesn’t like change and those who see opportunity to exploit it will also take advantage. I believe in time, if they don’t do the restructuring now, the country will restructure itself and I pray that Nigeria will not restructure itself in an uncontrolled manner that we won’t know how it will end.
Twenty years after its creation, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) appears to have derailed from the ideals which informed its establishment. With the recent forensic audit ordered by the Mr. President, what is your take on NDDC?
I always think very little about what goes on in NDDC because even when it was established, the actors merely put it together to assuage the feelings of the people of Niger Delta region. I am not sure they were sincere about addressing the problems of Niger Delta when they created NDDC. They put up the commission but the major working force is outside the Niger Delta. That is why those of us in PANDEF said we supported the forensic audit to the extent of the funds allocated to it and how it was disbursed. We want to see the beneficiaries and I know you will soon see those who have nothing to do with Niger Delta, who have come, picked the job and the money, abandoned the projects and ran away and we suffer the brunt. Somebody told me we have created the Ministry of Niger Delta, as if it is not like any other ministry. They talk about the creation of NDDC and I thank God we have other regional development commissions coming up because I have not seen how the one we have has helped the region. The important thing now is restructuring so that everybody will develop at their own pace. There is no point for all these development commissions which people are scrambling for. As far as I am concerned I am in support of forensic audit. We want to know the beneficiaries of the NDDC contracts so that those that executed them we will thank and appreciate and then ask those that abandoned theirs the reason for doing so. Unfortunately people who established NDDC saw it as doing favour for the region and open the Commission to hawks who plough the place and get funds to execute elections in the country. The place is a cash cow for everybody who is in power at all levels in the country. I will even prefer the scrapping of NDDC for the restructuring of the country to achieve the dreams of our founding fathers.
Akwa Ibom State contributes heavily from it resources to the national purse yet there is no federal presence in the state and all federal roads linking her to her sister states are in deplorable condition. What is your take?
We have to ask the Nigerian government the reason. The shame should go to the Nigerian government. Let me give you one example. Sometime ago, people from the European Union called me from Calabar around 3pm that they wanted to come and see me in Uyo and gave me appointment by 6pm same evening. But it took them six hours to arrive Uyo around 9pm in a journey that should at most take 45 minutes. I had to meet them next morning and, as diplomatic as they were, they confessed that it would have been easier to fly from Calabar to Abuja or Lagos and fly from there to Uyo to see me. They told me of the herculean challenges they meet on that Itu – Odukpani – Calabar Road. However, as embarrassing as it was, I apologized to them. It is good they saw it so that when we talk about it, they won’t say we are just been emotional or exaggerating. That is the only road linking the two oil producing states. If they had done the East- West Road which ought to go through Oron to Calabar that issue would not been there. The Itu – Odukpani – Calabar Road was built several years ago with heavy duty vehicles plying it daily. In some parts of the country, roads are being expanded from 2 lanes to 10 lanes. That is the injustice we are talking about. It has affected several areas in the region. The shame of that road rests solely on Nigerians who are daily meting out injustices to their fellow country people.
There was a major issue which trended recently online and in the local media alleging you said a cultist will not be allowed to govern the state? We want to know if the comment came from you?
I saw the news item but what was wrong is that I did not talk to anybody on that directly. But I share the views of whoever said it to the extent that even the Federal Government said they will not hand over to looters. I shared that view but I did not make that statement. My advice is don’t just label a man with huge shoulders a cultist without adequate proof. If you prove that the person is a cultist, even if he is my brother, I will not support him. Before we brought Akwa Ibom State to this level, the Christian community was a major stake holder and we can’t have the Christian community and at same time associating with cultists, kidnappers and armed robbers. Nobody who has sane mind will hand over power to a cultist and the person handing over would not have done the right thing. Governor Udom Emmanuel does not know who will take over from him but he knows those who will not take over from him. Right now there is a law in the land against cultism, so if somebody is a cultist, it means he may soon be in jail and can’t take over government from jail.
Four years plus, are you impressed with the achievements of Governor Emmanuel who you have worked for as director-general of his campaign twice?
The whole country is impressed by the achievements of Governor Udom Emmanuel and we have heard comments made by Vice President Osinbajo about him. Even the President must have the same impression about him and that could be the reason he calls him to come sometimes when it has to do with economic matters. So to that extent, Governor Udom has done very well. We should thank God that we have someone like him at the time he came. Upon coming into government, there was recession which he navigated very well. He came from a background that recognises his potentials which made things easier for us. I am aware of the months when funds were not there for salaries, he will go out and solicit for loan to pay and since they know him, they usually oblige him while he gives back once funds were available. His background, connections and goodwill have attracted over 15 industries to the state and still counting. Nobody will invest in a place that he cannot guarantee his return on investment. He has build investors’ confidence, provided security and serene environment including power. For investors, there is a guaranteed source of energy, communications and security. Akwa Ibom is now investor’s paradise courtesy of Udom Emmanuel. What you have seen so far industry-wise is as a result of hard work and those who are here will encourage others to bring their investments here. The discussions now with investors are much easier. The physical infrastructure is there for all to see. He has put on more enduring projects. I want to believe that with the completion agenda, he will be able to tidy up every end, so that whatever project he is unable to finish will be difficult for whoever comes after him to abandon it.
He is also futuristic in a lot of things he does. Look at what he is doing at that airport road which he is expanding because where the airport goes, the whole city follows. Could you believe that Port Harcourt Airport was 35km away from town, today it is inside the town. Everywhere in the world an airport comes, people follow. That is why I advised him to start working on the right of way before people build all over the places which will cost so much money in compensation before demolishing of property can take place in future for right of way.
The Federal Government has already approved that and that is futuristic. That is why when some people talk from position of ignorance on that road, I just laugh. Even in the United Kingdom, to access Heathrow Airport in time for your flight, you will leave your base hours ahead to avoid traffic and we are talking about traffic on between 5- 10 lanes over there. So everywhere the airport goes, development springs up fast. Kaduna and Port Harcourt airports are like that among several other examples.
Akwa Ibom is the first state in Nigerian to own a commercial airline and there are fears if many airlines, both those managed by federal government and other top Nigerians, collapsed in the past. Can Ibom Air stand the test of time?
I want you to know that government has no business in running the airlines. Ibom Air is designed to be operated as a private concern. Government is a major shareholder but there is a management in charge of the day to day operations. There is no government interference in Ibom Air at all. I am the chairman of Ibom Air but I cannot afford to go late for boarding or they will leave me behind. I will travel tomorrow with the flight and as I am speaking with you, I have paid and purchased my ticket and the business must grow. The Nigerian Airways then was such that when the President wanted to travel with the Presidential Jet, the Nigerian Airways will bring two additional aircraft from its fleet and park there at the Presidential Wing, abandoning her commercial routes and customers. Most times even the President ended up not using their services and no serious minded traveler will like to associate with such an airline because they were not reliable. You don’t see such things in British Airways or Ethiopian Airlines. It is our way of doing things that killed the Nigerian Airways. If we have allowed it to be managed as it was supposed to with the several laws and regulations guiding the aviation industry, it would have been a big success. In the aviation industry with many regulations to protect human lives, safety and security, off course, time is of essence to the travelers. The biggest advantage Ibom Air has now is departing on schedule. If they keep to that without unnecessary meddling from government, the airline will remain on top and achieve more successes. Again one of the problems which kill businesses fast is when people in authority employ 50 people in a place that needs only 10 persons because directors and others needed a slot to bring in somebody they know and the place becomes dead on arrival. I believe the way Ibom Air is structured, it will survive and continue to do well. We must continue to restrain government from interfering in its activities. We must see it as a company that must continue to make profit. What aviation is to Ethiopia is what oil is to Nigeria. There is no reason why we cannot make money through aviation too especially when the discourse is now centered on Nigeria without oil wealth.
As 2023 approaches and having served as director-general three times for two different governments, will you avail yourself to serve again in such a position?
No, I will not. If it is a manual I have written it and others can copy now. I will have to rest, spend more time with my family and attend to my health. I am available now for advice only and holding such position again is not necessary.
As a stakeholder, 2023 is Uyo Senatorial District’s turn for governorship. How ready are they to produce the governor after Udom Emmanuel?
Yes, I am a stakeholder and we have been praying over it. I have been talking to a few people and have been advising them. I don’t know who will take over from Governor Udom Emmanuel but my advice to them is that if they start fighting, if they don’t concede and see to it that only one person, no matter the number the number that is interested, will be the governor, then we have derailed.
I do tell the people coming to consult me to do so with open mind and also talk to others to co-operate and work with them for the benefit of Uyo Senatorial District. I have advised them on this line but if they engage in fighting, perhaps the preferred candidate wanted by Uyo people may lose to an opportunist who may not be the one whom the Uyo Senatorial District wants to be the next governor of the state.
There are the speculations that the governor is already interested in a person who will talk over from him and he is already campaigning?
The governor has made it clear that he has no preferred candidate. I have repeated earlier that the governor does not know who will take over from him to the best of my knowledge. He might know the persons that will not take over from him but not the person that will be the next governor of Akwa Ibom State.
With Governor Emmanuel’s posture as a true Christian and his partnership with the Christian community, what do you expect from his successor?
He will need a successor in his mould who will continue to uphold good governance in the state. Somebody that will have the wisdom to continue with the projects he has initiated and unable to complete after his eight years. Akwa Ibom will be better off for it.
At 68 years, what is your advice to Akwa Ibom people you once governed as a military governor? Secondly, what is your message to Niger Delta people who you are leading today through PANDEF?
For the people of Akwa Ibom State I will tell them not to forget that people worked hard for the state to be created. As far back as 1928, Akwa Ibom fore fathers brought state creation consciousness into the lexicon of the Nigeria polity even though it got to us over 60 years after. Again we should not forget those who fought for us to have what we have today. Let our people also maintain the state for the next generation by working hard to improve on what we have today and that is the expectation of the next generation. There is need to accommodate each other and more need for sacrifices. Akwa Ibom State now lives in the consciousness of Nigerians as a state named after God and nothing can change that. God will continue to bless and have mercy for Akwa Ibom state. For the people of Niger Delta, there is nothing we can’t achieve once there is unity and purpose. There is also now a great umbrella to speak with one voice which is PANDEF. We must not just complain about marginalization but be ready to sacrifice for the emancipation of Niger Delta. Even if the struggle costs us physical death, it is better than to leave our children with psychological death. That is my candid advice to our people of Niger Delta.
Your party PDP just won the rerun in Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District in the Senate, House of Representatives and State Assembly. Is it a further indication that the party is a religion in Akwa Ibom?
The only party that has ruled the state since 1999 is PDP. You can’t just come in here and pick their structures except you do some very odd things like they did in Bayelsa State. It is just like we are 99 per cent a Christian state and you bring Buddhists to come and you think people will easily follow or join them. While congratulating the PDP, I wish to remind the opponents that it is now time for governance and that they should support the programme of PDP for the people to ensure its success. The welfare of the people should be paramount now. In the South West when ‘Amotekun’ was brought in everybody collapsed whatever interests and embraced it in all ramifications. Akwa Ibom people must learn to play politics like sportsmen and support the party in power to provide services to the people. The roads, hospitals and other facilities constructed are not for the PDP members but for everybody. I am also advising our people in the ruling party at the national level to look around and tell us what the party they have been playing has given their state. And if nothing and they continue to play the party, then their heads must be examined. Let them go and see the roads leading into their state and tell their bosses in Abuja what we are suffering. It is sad that some of them sit in the same meeting where super highways are approved for other states and say nothing. They are there and see the setting up of the Department of Petroleum Resources headquarters in Abuja instead of where the oil is produced and they kept mute. If the people you are working with see no need to assist your people, you better leave the place, otherwise there is something wrong with your head.
Are there plans for the South South region to sponsor a candidate in 2023 for the office of the President?
The main agenda which we have gone round the country canvassing is that Nigerian should be restructured. So what is more important to us is somebody that will come and restructure Nigeria. We are working in synergy Middle Belt leaders on this project. We have resolved that there will be no election without restructuring of Nigeria. If ever we are to support election or any candidate, there must be a clear-cut agreement and understanding that there will be restructuring of the country for us to participate, otherwise no restructuring, no election for us. Again if we are to support any candidate for future elections at all, it will be the person with the greatest assurance and sincerity that there must be restructuring after the polls.