Obong Ide Owodiong-Idemeko, a former Governorship aspirant under the platform of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Akwa Ibom State and the International coordinator 1001 + Voices for People’s Empowerment, speaks on the prospects of the new Government in Akwa Ibom, among other trending issues.
On Monday, May 29, 2023, a new administration takes over at the states and federal levels. What is your take on the elections that ushered in the administration and the future of Nigeria?
For me, I have always said that our democracy is a journey and not a destination. A journey consists of several transitions which means we have to strive to get better by confronting the various challenges facing Democracy.
Even countries that are much ahead of us in democratic practice still have challenges. The last election in the United States of America is a clear example of such challenges, so it takes a collective will to defend the democratic process.
On the issues of the last election in Nigeria, processes and procedures were put in place for the electoral body, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to follow but unfortunately, when everybody was looking up to them to deliver, they willingly aborted their own prearranged processes.
When you do that you set in motion a situation where the incoming Government will from the beginning suffer a crisis of legitimacy. That is what we are seeing presently. Cases are in court trying to validate or invalidate the electoral process. Thus, it is clear that the incoming government will be contending with the issues of legitimacy and that is where I think the major challenges will be. How stability will be created will depend a lot on the outcome of the court cases.
There is a belief in some quarters that the PDP and Labour Party contesting Tinubu’s victory should discontinue for the sake of the country’s stability. What is your take?
No, I don’t support such calls, we should exhaust the legal process. It will help our jurisprudence and strengthen our democracy. The court process is part of our democratic process and should not be jettisoned. We have to see how robust our judicial process is. Recall that there are three arms of government and the judiciary should be allowed to do their job.
You contested the last primaries of the PDP with Pastor Umo Eno and others, though not satisfied with the process you opted to support his candidature by collapsing your structures, why?
I wanted to remain a loyal party man, I went through a process and no matter how flawed the process was in throwing up the candidate of the party, I am obliged to support the candidate of the party.
The new Governor will assume leadership on Monday, May 29, 2023. I am aware you had a very rich manifesto for the state during your campaign. Have you had the opportunity to rub minds with the incoming Governor and made some contributions?
Yes at the early stages of the campaign when I decided to collapse my structure for him, I sent him a copy of my blueprint for the state and it is left for him to see whether it keys into what he has as his agenda. It is there for him to inculcate into what he has, the choice is entirely his, I have done my own without any hindrance.
Do you think the administration of Governor Pastor Umo Eno will lift the state higher from the present level?
Pastor Umo Eno came from the hospitality industry which is service and customer oriented. Therefore I expect to see a leadership and government that will be service and customer-oriented; customers this time means the people of our dear state, Akwa Ibom. They put him there and expect him to provide the services of good governance to the people. He is expected to be responsive to the needs of his people. I expect that this government should be more responsive and connect very well with the people. I have known him for years and also as someone very meticulous in running his businesses. I expect him to bring that virtue to bear in administering the state.
The outgone Governor of Benue and Abia States who lost their Senatorial elections said they won’t contest it in court to avoid distracting the new government, what is your take on those challenging the election of Pastor Umo Eno at the Tribunal?
As I said earlier, the legal process is part of our democracy and those who seek redress in court are free to do so, it is their right. However, my advice to the new Governor is to ensure that he has a strong team working for him, to interpret and deliver his agenda to the people of Akwa Ibom State.
When you have a strong team, you don’t have to micro-manage and put yourself into every situation, with that pressure and distractions will be greatly reduced and you remain firmly in control.
Mr Udom Emmanuel by Monday exited the office. Looking back at his eight years of administration, what is your opinion?
I think he did well as Governor. There may be one or two things some people may not be happy with but nobody is perfect. He delivered because he left the state better than he met it. When he came there was no DAKAADA Tower, there was no Ibom Air, there was no International Airport Terminal, MRO, there was no Ikot Oku Ikono flyover, the Four Points by Sheraton was not completed, there was no bridge in Ofi Uda. The Uyo- Etinan-Ndonuyo Road linking the East-West Road was not there, Etinan-Eket Road and several industries we have today were not there. Just name them – the giant Ibom worship centre was not there among many legacy projects; he has done well. He has left a giant footprint in the sands of time. Even if he has his flaws, such cannot overshadow his great strides.
The trending issue in the state is the recent mapping of the state’s internal boundaries which led some youths into destroying the state’s multi-million dollar coconut farm. What is your advice in this regard?
Well for me, the youths have to realize that we have lived together for a very long time as one united people. Akwa Ibom is the most homogenous state in the country. I don’t belong to the group of people that segregate between the Ibibios, Annangs, Ekids, Obolos, Oros and so on. We are the same people of our historical migrations, cultures, the food we eat and the fact that we understand ourselves. We are very homogenous. In Yoruba land, there are the Aworis, the Egbas, the Ijebus, the Badagrys and so on and they are all Yorubas. Why we find ourselves in such antagonistic situations is what I don’t understand. We are one people. Therefore if youths do not agree with the internal delineation of our boundaries and decided to destroy the coconut plantation, how does that address the problem? We have a coconut refinery we are striving to grow to create alternative revenue outside oil which will engage some of them in the future and they went to destroy it, does it make sense?
If you have grievances, you engage the government in dialogue and demand explanations. The government has acted based on historical facts, sociological or ecological facts or earlier decisions made way back to hundred of years before our present generation. Why don’t we explore dialogue rather than destroying public property? I don’t support such acts or the crisis bedevilling some communities. I don’t support the idea of the Ijaw nation threatening Akwa Ibom State. The Ibeno, Eastern Obolo and Mbo people are all Akwa Ibomites. We should stop playing politics with what dialogue can resolve. We are a homogenous people. Things like fighting over pieces of land should not be part of us, it is indeed crazy for young people to embark on the destruction of multi-million dollar coconut plantations.
The outgone administration of Udom Emmanuel prides on security and peace as its topmost legacy, do you agree with them?
Well, the statistics show that we witnessed it but it may have been a fragile peace. The new administration must work harder to sustain the peace with a robust framework for securing the people and providing a platform for people to vent their grievances when necessary.
Your party PDP which has absolute control of the state in the past years lost a Senatorial District, two Federal and two State Constituencies in the last election. Is that a sign of a crack in your ranks? Is your party still a religion here as members do claim?
Every good democracy should have a robust opposition, what happened was a wake-up call on the party on the need to do a lot more to keep followers lined up behind us. It is an opportunity for the party to rejig and work harder.
President Mohammadu Buhari has rounded up his tenure. What is your take on his performance in security and economy?
Buhari failed woefully. He has set the country many years backwards. It is very unfortunate.
What is your take on the recently introduced CBN cashless policy?
It is the way to go for a better Nigeria, all that is needed is a solid framework which will enable the system to be more functional and effective. It will help stop the financing of kidnapping and payment of ransom, terrorism and armed robbery. It will help drive security, track money laundering, human trafficking and all those issues that work against the nation’s interest. In economic terms, it will boost the economy and help stabilize our currency. The idea of stashing away currency at home rather than in the banks will stop.
You have been an advocate for the removal of subsidies on petroleum, most Nigerian workers are still not comfortable with the idea. Do you still support it?
When you have a tumour, you will need a surgical operation to get rid of it. it is a difficult process but there will be healing. Now with the coming of the Dangote’s Refinery, the situation will be gradually ameliorated. If we take away the subsidy and refine our oil here, it will take away the landing cost which forms part of what the Government was subsidizing.
In the short term, there will be a spike once the subsidy is removed but in the long term, the prices of fuel will stabilize for the benefit of all. The pains will come but it will be beneficial to the country at large. There is so much corruption in the subsidy payments. Remember that when GSM came, it was not affordable for all but today it is not only affordable but available for all.