Suave, intelligent and people-centric, Albert Bassey Akpan is an economist, financial expert, administrator and politician. He represents Akwa Ibom North-East Senatorial District in the National Assembly, where he sits as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream).
Albert had a blossoming career in the banking sector, where he held several administrative positions, including serving as Vice President of First City Monument Bank (FCMB), before being called upon to serve Akwa Ibom State Government as Commissioner for Finance as well as Chairman of Inter-Ministerial Direct Labour Committee.
Popularly known as OBA, the senator is the leading aspirant for the Governorship of Akwa Ibom State come 2023. In a scintillating live interview relayed by five (5) Radio Stations in Akwa Ibom on Monday, June 6, 2022, OBA gave insights on his mission to serve the State. The interview was vintage OBA as he spoke with such an insightful understanding of governance and what the expectations of Akwa Ibomites are. He exuded calm, frankness and maturity. Excerpts:
Senator, how has it been?
Let me, before we start, express my profound gratitude to my brother, the Chairman of Planet FM for providing this platform and also to other radio stations that have joined this discussion. And, let me also thank God for His grace upon my life and my people that have built their trust and confidence in me.
Getting here is not by my power, not by my might. It’s not that I’m the most intelligent, but it’s by the special grace of God that He chooses me. Having found myself in public service as Commissioner for Finance in Akwa Ibom State, the youngest and longest-serving commissioner, and then having found myself in the National Assembly and now having looked into the future with a lot of hope, I believe it has been God all the way and I thank Him so graciously. No man can share in His glory.
Public service was not in my vision. I’d been a banker all my life after graduation from school and my youth service. I had worked in about five banks before, and by the special grace of God, Governor Godswill Akpabio found me and appointed me as Commissioner for Finance and that’s how the trajectory changed.
I see these platforms as platforms for service and anything short of service I don’t belong here.
Some people say OBA is kind and generous. Who do you say Obong Bassey Albert is?
I am not different from the ordinary man on the street. The difference between you and me is the opportunity that God gave me. I am from a very poor background and I think there’s one experience that changed my focus. When I lost my mother in 1979, I was barely seven (7) years old. The only difference between me and others is that God found me out and gave me an opportunity and I took advantage of the opportunity.
I think it is the expression of my innate desire and passion, and love for my people, I love my people so much. It’s not about being generous; it is about love because if you don’t have, you can’t share. I believe that for anybody who walks into you, God must have sent that person your way. I can imagine that someone wakes in the morning and says, ‘Lord if I meet OBA, let something happen’, and that person meets you and you do not fall short of his expectation, the person will not owe it to you, but to God that answered his prayers.
Even the Bible says that if you have somebody in need of your help, you should give. That has been my guiding principle. I can give everything to make my people happy. The value and worth of my wealth is the magnitude of happiness I leave in the heart of my people. That is the legacy you can leave behind. I see public service as a platform to serve humanity with all your heart and your might.
It is not about how much you have or how much you make in government, but how much you have been able to give back so that when you’re gone, the legacy reigns on and that’s all.
How did your journey as Commissioner of Finance begin?
I can recall vividly and I still owe it to him, His Excellency, Godswill Obot Akpabio. I met him in 2002/2003 when I came to Akwa Ibom; then I was working in First Atlantic Bank. And he had been very close to my elder brother. He was a classmate of my late brother, Nkereuwem Albert.
The first day he walked into my office, he came for a transaction. And he told me: ‘Akpan, God told me I’m going to be governor, do you believe that?’ I said, ‘well I wish you well, Sir’. He said, ‘if I become the governor I will make you my Commissioner of Finance’.
We never had a conversation before then. Maybe, because of the perception and the personality he saw, the inward qualities he found. And lo and behold, when he became the governor, he made me the commissioner. Some people asked, ‘why do you make an Ibibio man a Commissioner for Finance?’ He said he had promised, and I recall vividly how he called his people – Chief Afangideh and others – into his house and now called me. And he said, ‘this office (Finance), it is my slot, I’m giving it to him.’ Ibiono Ibom had produced the speaker, this was Essien Udim’s slot, and he was giving it to me. For this gesture, I remain ever grateful, and that was the platform that brought me into public service.
Again, I never knew I was going to find myself in National Assembly because I kept saying after this (commissionership); I was going back to my financial world, not knowing God had better plans for me.
Let’s talk about your journey to the Senate. Was it something you planned from the beginning or did the opportunity just popped up?
I can recall 2014; that was when the journey started, when the overwhelming clamour for the office of governor started. That was the first time I went to consult my people on the desire to serve them. The day I left Chief Godswill Akpabio’s government, that was when I knew that so much love had been invested in me by the people of Akwa Ibom State. People had invested in me so much and when I looked at all those, I said to myself ‘why shouldn’t I contest, there is no way I can deny them their wish’. I can tell you today that, if my people ask me to leave the Senate, I can leave because once I lose their trust and confidence, I have no moral ground in serving them. I am what I am today by the grace of God and the support and service of the people.
When I came out in 2014, the atmosphere changed, and I could see the passion and love everywhere, which was what encouraged me. But I don’t know if God wanted me to go to the Senate before going for the governorship. That was when my then boss, Chief Akpabio embarked on the 10-Federal Constituency Tour and was trying to market HE Udom Emmanuel. Later, we had a meeting with the then President Goodluck Jonathan at the Presidential Villa, HE Godswill Akpabio and others were there. Muazu was in that meeting. Then later on I think David Mark joined.
An agreement was reached that I should step down my ambition for Eket Senatorial District and that in 2023 when it comes to Uyo Senatorial District and will be zoned to Itu/Ibiono Federal Constituency, I should contest. I recall what Akpabio used to say then. He used to say, ‘no matter how beautiful an umbrella is, if it comes out during the sun people won’t buy it. But if it comes out during the rain, no matter how rickety it is people will rush for it.
Yes, you are a good material but wait let Eket have it. When it comes back to Uyo, it will come to Itu/ Ibiono Ibom Federal Constituency. He is alive.
So Sir, what you mean is that there were negotiations that after Udom Emmanuel, you will go as the governor?
Have I not mentioned names to you? I’ve mentioned names and these are well-known Nigerians. They are alive. Ahmed Muazu was the chairman of PDP at that time. President Goodluck Jonathan is alive. These are human beings. Would I come and lie to you that there was no agreement? There was an agreement! They can all attest to it. But this was an agreement made by men. Man is subject to change his mind. Even in 2019, there was an agreement. Am I distorting facts? No, I am not. So I cannot sit down here to tell you a lie. As I said, man can always change his mind but man’s position can never change the plan and the will of God for his people. That’s what is important. So I’m running to occupy the office of governor. So I know the worth of using it to serve the people.
Let us go back to National Assembly. How would you describe your journey – your services in the Senate so far?
Well, I was sent to the national assembly by my people. And like I always say anywhere I find myself, I always want to leave that assessment – assessment of my effectiveness; assessment of my impact and the assessment of my performances – to the court of public opinion. They sent me there. So they should be the judge, I cannot be the judge in my case.
But to the best of my knowledge and judgment and by the special grace of God, I think I have done my best. I pray, that those who will take over from me will come back to tell the story. I am a major voice in the National Assembly. I have contributed immensely and creditably to the growth of my country.
Let’s talk about your contributions on the floor of the Senate?
The duty of a parliamentarian is not to award contracts, so I have three major functions as enshrined in the Constitution of Nigeria: (1) is to make laws and use those laws for the good governance of our country; (2) to oversight the implementation of the laws we make by the executive, and; (3) is to bring to the attention of the National Assembly and national stage the plights and concerns of our people. If you weigh my performances in these three areas, I think I have done my best to cover my duties. And I have won several awards, not awards that you can buy, but based on recognition of the impact of my contributions.
Of course, you have heard about the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), which I championed, along with some of my colleagues. You know the committee I chair. You know about the issue that we resolved about the long cost contention agreement between Chevron and NNPC, where I saved this country over $ 6 billion. We ensured the revision of the shareholding structure where Nigeria only owned 25 per cent. When we brokered the deal, Nigeria’s percentage rose 60 per cent while Chevron got 40 per cent. It’s a cost contention that had been in existence for over 13 years.
Again, I thank my people for sending me to the National Assembly because it has changed my mentality about the Nigerian question. Because once you get there, they will tell you that the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable, no matter the party lines. So, I believe that history in itself will be kind to me as one of the most effective and impactful representatives in the National Assembly. And what do I say? To God alone be all the glory!
Looking back, are there striking moments in your time in public life service?
I have had several. One was when I was Commissioner of Finance when Akwa Ibom people looked forward to meeting with me. It was a time when at 10 am you would find Commissioners seated in their offices. Things were working perfectly well. I looked forward to my “Visitors Days” because that’s when I set aside, two days – Tuesday and Thursday – for the people to come visit, to lay their complaints.
So, when you’d come into the Ministry of Finance, you’d see people lined up from downstairs to upstairs and I will come out and attend to all of them one by one. And it became a norm. So that’s one experience. And you were able to solve problems because the governor can’t reach out to everyone. But as PAs or SAs or Commissioners, or local government chairman, you are representing the Governor in that capacity because it is a delegated capacity. So I believe that the government was reaching out and solving problems. And the reports we’re getting back to the governor. And it was also happening across other ministries.
Those were very lovable moments that I always reflect on. And I can tell you, as the governor, I will still be doing the same thing again. Because you must be in constant touch with your people, physically, so they can feel you, they can touch you, can listen to you and they can see the love you have for them. And they go back satisfied, whether you meet 50 per cent of their expectations or not, they go back fulfilled. And they look forward to the next visit.
At the National Assembly, I have never seen myself as the Senator representing Uyo Senatorial District alone, rather I see myself as a reflection of an Akwa Ibom spirit in the National Assembly. So people come to me, and I take up battles across the divide. Once you can speak Ibibio; you can speak Oro; you can speak Annang; you can speak Ekid, you can speak Obolo, we take up your matter.
The things that God has used us to achieve in the National Assembly…I tell you something. Celestine was unjustly sacked by the NPF for 21 years. He lost everything. He is not from my Senatorial District, but Ikot Ekpene District. By the special grace of God, through my intervention, God did it and he was restored and promoted and he is now at Zone 6 Police Command.
Michael, from Mkpat Enin, was also unjustly victimized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was a director who may be promoted to a permanent secretary very soon. But by the grace of God, through our intervention, he’s back to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and he is not from my Senatorial District but Eket Senatorial District. And I must give it to my colleagues at the Senate for always listening and always wanting to help, and that is why we see ourselves as the People’s Parliament.
You have heard of the five sacked police officers case too? We are going to take that up when we resume, maybe in the upper week. I’m sure they will also be restored. They are Akwa Ibomites. So, I don’t restrict myself to issues of my senatorial district but I see myself as Akwa Ibom Senator.
This Electoral Act 2022 seems to cede so much power to Governors. Was that the original intention or was it an oversight by members of the National Assembly?
It is the responsibility of the National Assembly to make laws, not Governors. It is the National Assembly, State Assemblies and Local Government Legislature that make laws for the good governance of the nation. Yes, there is this clamouring for the absolute power structure for the President at the centre, Governors at the states and chairmen at local government councils. And the real essence of amending the electoral act, which is not the first time, is to bring the law up to steam in line with current realities, based on infractions experienced in previous elections. The last electoral act was amended in 2010. In 2015, we attempted to do it but politics set in and the President refused to assent to it, saying it was too close to the election year. But the law says you must give INEC about one year to implement and amend based on the projected timeline of its programme.
And, we realised that certain provisions of the Electoral Act, if amended, would enhance the credibility, fairness and transparency of our electoral process. The way section 84 (8)of the Electoral Act is in 2022 as amended, it is the same thing as section 87(7) in 2010, the position has not changed. But who changed the interpretation? When you make a law, your responsibility ends there; it is now the responsibility of the judiciary to interpret the law for anybody who has any contention. I understand a lot of people have gone to court. Of course, you heard about the recent Federal High Court, Kano ruling, which was a declaratory ruling. Maybe the party must have gone to court to interpret this section, not for anything. It is clear that if section 87(7) of 2010 as amended had allowed the parties to use statutory and ad-hoc delegates, maybe that same is ensured in 84(8) of 2022; nothing has changed. I can’t do the work of the judiciary; some have approached the judiciary for interpretation to be sure we have done nothing wrong.
We have done no wrong in carrying out our responsibility by strengthening the Constitution but we have done our best. My colleagues and I have accepted the critics of our people either positive or negative, but history will be kind and fair to the ninth National Assembly for the achievements collectively.
What necessitated your pulling out from the PDP gubernatorial primaries?
Well, the issue of ad-hoc delegates is a subject for court interpretation, right now. And once a matter is in court, it becomes subjudice to talk about it. But in my letter of backing out – I didn’t back down, I only backed out of the primary – I stated very clearly that once the party is ready to obey the court order and then conduct a free-and-fair primary, I’ll be a part of it. I have been in this party for a very long time. I have served this party; I have been loyal and committed to this party. But like I said earlier, I think it will be flagrant disobedience to the values and ethics of life for the party to begin to take its members for granted. ‘There cannot be you without me’, says a slogan. There cannot be any party without the people. And once the people get disenfranchised, get disillusioned, it’s more dangerous for the party. I know that at some point in this country, there was only a PDP. And now out of PDP some left and formed APC, APGA, etc. Just as we used to hear about the Catholics; from the Catholics came Anglicans; from there others came also. The Apostles’ Creed is also used in the Anglican but it’s a Catholic Creed. So, once a people are disenfranchised, once a people feel that injustice prevails in a party, then the foundation of that party is shaken.
So, when it comes to the issue of ad-hoc delegates, I tell my people that OBA will be on the ballot, whether PDP or not, it’s about the people. But I’m still in PDP, and I’ll be on the ballot and I will win the Akwa Ibom governorship come 2023. The governorship is not about me, it’s not about OBA; it’s about the people of Akwa Ibom who believe that I can better serve them as their governor in 2023.
Something you said there struck me. You said the party can’t continue to take the people for granted. Do you feel taken for granted by the PDP?
Of course, I’m referring to PDP. I think I have been one of the highest contributors to the victory of PDP in the last eight to twelve years, in this state. I also believe that where the people keep silent in the face of injustice, it’s quite unfortunate.
You see, I will not sit down here and say I’m campaigning based on zoning because nobody has come out for this election that has my credentials; that has my exposure and experience and has contributed to both the state and the nation like me. I stand to be corrected. But show your evidence; show your antecedents let us know you, let us see your background, and let us check your background because you are in public service, so you must be open to public criticisms. And you must accept them in good faith. My credentials are open for all to see. My contributions are open for all to see. My antecedents are open for all to see. That is why you keep hearing, ‘OBA be our governor’. That’s why when you asked me why I want to be governor; I said my people want me as their governor. But it doesn’t mean that men will not rise against it. But no matter the antics of men, you can never stop the prevalence of the will of God. At the end of the day, God will win. If it pleases God that I’m the next governor, God will bring it about. It’s not about me because I have no strength of my own.
You have been in public service serving the people as commissioner and senator. Must you be a governor?
I am happy you talked about the people. The people want me to be their governor. The people believe I will offer them better services. They believe I have antecedents that can convince them that leaving their destinies in the hands of God through me will generate more value. The people also believe that I have no boundaries, I know no local government and that I will unify this state. They have confidence in me. The story of OBA in Ika is the same spirit in Etinan; it is the same spirit in Oro nation. So being governor is not a do-or-die for me. So this governorship thing has gone beyond me. It’s about the destiny of the people. So if you ask me why I must be governor, I will say because the people want me as their governor.
So, what do you have to offer Akwa Ibom people?
What do I have for Akwa Ibom? I’ve been a Commissioner of Finance, I’ve lived with my people and I know their plights and have attempted to solve them in my little capacity. What I am offering Akwa Ibom is a home-grown solution to a home-grown problem, because peculiarities differ from state to state.
When we talk about the Five Strategic Pillars, it cuts across because we attempt to solve holistically in a one-stop manner the issues of Akwa Ibom. We have captured the contributions of His Excellency, Obong Victor Attah; His Excellency, Governor Godswill Akpabio and His Excellency, Governor Udom Emmanuel. We are bringing a government that will look for the impact of government contributions on the lives of the people not minding who takes the glory. We are bringing a government that believes that the pulse of the people is more profound. If I can put food on the tables of Akwa Ibomites, I would have attained the much I want to attain. I have lived with my people and I know their plights, and I intend to develop homemade solutions. I have the solution to the problems of Akwa Ibom State. If Akwa Ibom people entrust me with their destiny, I won’t take them for granted.
In terms of education, security, and economy, the Five Strategic Pillars in our blueprint is clear on implementation. I may not let all of it out of the bag but as an economist, I know that we have to prepare the Akwa Ibom economy for a post-oil era. I have been a commissioner for Finance and Budget in this state and I have run the IGR. I know what it means to budget for education, agriculture, and infrastructure. In a period of this nature, it is government expenditure that can solve our problem. On the fiscal side, it is government expenditure and taxation that you can use. Nobody said we should not borrow, but what are we borrowing for? Nobody can undermine my capacity because I know what I can deliver for Akwa Ibom.
In the last seven years, I have managed the oil and gas industry in Nigeria. I have a name in the oil and gas industry and I have sat with all the MDs of oil and gas companies in their head offices across the world. So I know what it takes to drive the post-oil economy. There are projections that in the next 25 – 30 years, the oil will diminish. The world is moving towards cleaner energy so most of the foreign direct investments are shifting. Over time, you must plan, that is why we have come up that we must try to divest from oil. We must use the revenue from oil as an anchor to support and aid this divestment. That is why we have come up with the Five Strategic Pillars as part of our economic agenda. It is not government business to build industries but it is government business to create the enabling environment for the investors to come in and build the industries. Within a short time, I can get gas to the doorsteps of the Akwa Ibom people because the world has moved from pipeline method to virtual gas system.
Under our Five Pillars, we have Economic Prosperity and Infrastructural Renaissance. We believe that we can partner with the Agricultural Bank or Bank of Industries and float a fund. We need to move from raw material to a producing hub. You can imagine the quantity of fish that the Igbo take from Ishiet Market and Oron. They come with trailers and take them away. If we process, we can package for the hub. If we float like 50 billion naira in funds, the government will contribute and the Bank of Industries will contribute. Our people will access these funds at a very minimal rate and will make them useful to themselves.
Of course, you know that you must also create good road infrastructure. When I was the chairman of the Inter-ministerial Direct Labour Project, during farming seasons we used to grade rural roads to aid in the evacuation of agricultural produce.
Then, of course, we believe that under Security and Tourism we can derive a lot if we have peace. I want to use technology to checkmate insecurity in Akwa Ibom. Everything I am telling you, I have the solution. I can deploy them as we speak.
In Agriculture and Rural Development, you know that 80 per cent of our people are in the rural communities and are farmers. We can do a lot in this regard. I can tell you something. Senator Haliru is my friend. He’s one of the biggest rice farmers in the country. He’s from Kebbi, the rice belt of Nigeria. He said ‘l will partner with you to develop your state’. These things are not cast in stone. It just takes the love and your passion for your people.
Under Education, Health and Social Services, which form a sectoral pillar of our agenda, I can tell you that my wife and I have trained over 481 Akwa Ibomites at the university. And over 300 have so far graduated, 21 of them came out with First Class degrees. The records are there. They are not my brothers; they are not from my village, but they are Akwa Ibomites. And we have expanded over N181 million on this matter. It’s my resources and savings because of the love I have for them. I know what education can do for a child. So when I tell Akwa Ibom people that I will pay a bursary, I know what N50, 000 means to a student or what paying school fees mean to a parent. I know what it has cost me. And I know the impact it has had on society. I believe strongly that these children I am training today might even be in a position to help my children tomorrow. I also know there comes a time in this state they will say, ‘this is OBA’s son or daughter. The father at some point in his lifetime fought for the cause of his people’. And that’s my happiness; that’s my joy. It’s not about where you come from. It’s about your ability and capacity to add value to the Akwa Ibom project.
We also talk about Administrative Reforms. I have been in this state. I know what it means to take care of civil servants. There is currently a clamour for gratuity, there’s a clamour for pension. OBA is the solution provider.
Will you pay teachers’ gratuities?
Is it not their entitlement? The Bible says a labourer deserves his wages. I will pay entitlements, I will pay imprests because this is the only way we can achieve a vibrant civil service.
Where would you get the money to pay, because that seems to be much of a problem?
It is about planning; planning! Must you pay in one month? Must you pay in two months? You can demonstrate your capacity and sincerity to achieve an aim. You can spread it over time. After all, it’s not only during Mr Udom Emmanuel‘s time that we have had this accumulated gratuity. Government is a continuum. You must come and leave the building blocks and when you are gone somebody else continues. I believe that there is no basis for paying only the recent ones, how about the accumulated ones? Anyway, I won’t let the cat out of the bag but if Akwa Ibomites entrust me with their destinies, I will not take them for granted.
The PDP has conducted its primaries, where does that leave your governorship aspiration?
I can assure you that OBA will be on the ballot. And the people will have the opportunity to express their thoughts, their feelings, their passion, and their love. For now, I’m still in PDP. Let my people not be worried. They will have an opportunity to vote for me. And, by the special help of God, I will win.
Be it in PDP or not?
I will win convincingly. OBA will be the next governor of Akwa Ibom. OBA is the next governor of Akwa Ibom.
What is your relationship with Governor Udom Emmanuel?
My relationship with the governor is perfect. We are working together. I still respect him as my governor. And I tell you something. His Excellency is human; he is bound to have his preferences. But he is just one of over seven million Akwa Ibom people. You might have your preference but God always have the final say. The fact that we disagree on perspectives does not mean we are not brothers. He’s from my tribe. He’s still very dear to me. He’s a man I owe so much respect to. And I stepped down for him in 2014 because of the love I have for him. I believe, to the best of his capacity, he has done well according to the grace of God in his life. However, I believe I will do better as a governor. As it is said, the latter reign is always greater than the former reign.
Let’s talk about security. Recently, in Ondo State, lives were lost in a church massacre. In Akwa Ibom, how will security be under your regime?
Well, let me pay my heartfelt condolences to the great people of Ondo State for that massacre. I pray to God to give the families of the affected the forbearance and fortitude to bear the great losses.
Security is a very cardinal programme on my agenda. And like I said, we have to look at different ways of doing things. Nobody has sat down to say ‘how do we deploy technology to check this insecurity?’ If you go to America now, for instance, everybody has a unit number which is what they call social security number. That is of vital importance.
But when you come to Nigeria, the driver’s licence is in a different database, the International passport is in a different database, and NIN is in a different database and also BVN. It’s ridiculous. It’s just recently that we have insisted in the National Assembly that we should have a one-stop…Let it be a national identity card. If you want any information on data go there and lift it, for ease of management and ease of identification. One of the fundamental problems we have is our inability to have a unique code. It’s only just recently that the government insisted through ICC that you must link your NIN to your phone lines. This is the right step in the right direction. Everybody uses a phone for conversation, so it’s for ease of tracking in terms of security.
On our part, we have developed a security device for security. And at the right time, during campaigns, these are some of the things we will explain to the Akwa Ibom people.