Ambassador Assam E. Assam is Nigeria’s former envoy to Russia, a former attorney-general and commissioner for justice in Akwa Ibom State, a senior advocate of Nigeria and renowned legal luminary. Assam is also a former governorship aspirant and community leader. He speaks on some trending issues in the polity and clears the air on some of his earlier position on issues concerning governance in Akwa Ibom State from Arc.Obong Victor Attah’s era till date in this interview with Crystal Express.
You stood out as a critic of Obong Victor Attah’s administration. Why?
l don’t know why people think that way. To me that is not true because l was part of that government. I only drew the governor’s attention to things I saw was going wrong. People who were reasonable saw it too. I told Attah to complete one project so that everybody will see. Even you as a journalist, tell me one project that Attah successfully completed. I told him to take one project and complete, simple. The day the airport was completed by Chief Godswill Akpabio, l brought the plane from Arik Air that made maiden flight to Akwa Ibom Airport. Then I was the general counsel to Arik Air and we flew together- myself, Attah and Ufot Ekaete and others. I told Attah in clear terms that this was what l told him to do earlier but he has seen what his boy (Akpabio) has done and taken the shine off him in a project that was configured, drafted and designed by him. The Akwa Ibom State University is completely Attah’s idea. It was not to be a regular university as we have had enough of regular universities in Nigeria.
Very fantastic idea from Attah but the university was not built and Attah was talking about the university he has built in Mkpat Enin and if you look at the longitude and latitude of the area then there was no university and I complained. He reported me to paramount rulers who summoned me to their meeting and l asked the Mkpat Enin paramount ruler to show me where the university Attah was talking about was located in his local government. l only told Attah that those around him were deceiving him. It was when l raised alarm that people started going to sites to go and check the status of most of these projects. Therefore l was not a controversial person. l always told the truth and people don’t like it. And l usually write to convey my feelings so all l said in Attah’s era was written and nobody has faulted it till today.
As for the people who went to tell Attah that l was not supporting him then, where are they today with Attah? Mr. Frank Okon wanted to contest governorship election and came to my house to ask for support. I told him in clear terms that l will not support him for messing up Attah’s administration. He was the technical adviser and his reports were never the truth. He was spending money. Look at the Uyo Attah designed before he became governor; nobody is going outside the design many years after, but he failed to achieve the plan himself after eight years as governor.
The recent Supreme Court judgment in lmo State generated serious mixed feelings among Nigerians. What is your take as a legal practitioner?
l have not read the judgment and the court, even though has published the judgment, has not stated the full reasons for the judgment. Since I don’t even know the reason behind the judgment, my comments may be premature. Anybody who makes comment on judgment he has not seen reasons for which it was given may be talking prematurely. As a serious minded person l don’t make comments on things l have heard except that l know. The Supreme Court said the result of 338 Polling Units were not included in the result of the last election in lmo State in a circumstances it needed to be added to the result of the election to declare a winner and the question l asked was that if 338 poling units results were excluded from the result of the election, how come that it was added without taking cognizance of the rules set by the Supreme Court over years.
That for you to establish that election held in a particular unit, you have to take result with the evidence of a person who was present at the polling unit. Did 388 witnesses testify for Hope Uzodimma before the tribunal? The fact that there was a result from 388 polling units in the state is not enough. That is my only query on that judgment. The same principle was applied in all cases including the case between Atiku Abubakar and President Muhammadu Buhari. The Supreme Court in the case said to establish that the election held or did not hold, you have to bring evidence from each polling unit and so where is the evidence from the 338 polling units which results were added for Hope Uzodimma?
How would you rate the outcome of Buhari-Atiku case with regards to the controversy over the existence of server as denied by INEC in the 2019 election?
The issues surrounding that judgment is a total disgrace to our system. INEC cannot say that they don’t have a server and INEC cannot bring a result different from the result from the server. INEC, as a responsible organization, ought to take responsibility for whatever action they take. Remember that in 2015, they said the result of the election will be conducted on the basis of the card reader and the court of Appeal in Lagos said no card reader because it was not passed by the legislators. They amended the electoral act to include the card reader but in 2019, they said card reader will not be included because INEC has no server. For God’s sake when will we grow up as a country? It is a very big shame. For us as lawyers our job is to protect the interest of our clients. The ultimate thing is today one may be happy that the judgment is in their favour but tomorrow may be a different ball game. Can you imagine that for all the laws the country has, the most amended law is electoral act; not the law on investment, not the law on education not the law on health, not the law on security but law on election, electoral act.
What is the reason?
The reason is that it concerns politicians, who are seeking elective offices. The law has been twisted, twisted and twisted all these years without direction to suit their ambitions.
Is it healthy for democracy?
Very unhealthy because democracy is designed to bring dividends not controversies.
Even though the Supreme Court has affirmed the election of Gov. Udom Emmanuel, as one of the lead counsels, what is your take on the case brought by Ekere?
If you were in court, you would have heard when Mr. Ekere testified in court and said with his own mouth that he didn’t win the election. You would have heard him say he didn’t want to stand again on the statement he wrote earlier before the tribunal. The same petition he took to court at the end of the day, he said he was no longer standing by the same petition and stood by what he didn’t take to court to decide in his favour. The law said one must be consistent in stating his case and proving it, that is our jurisprudence.
Nsima went to court and all their pleadings were that they won in 26 local government areas and massively in two- Essien Udim and Etim Ekpo. One other witness during cross examination said there was no election in Etim Ekpo, so how could he have won? I asked the witness if he was a party to the petition, he said yes but he was not aware of what was written there, that whoever wrote it was a liar. He said they never won the election.
The question now is: if your witness comes to court and said the case you filed is not true, how do you want the court to decide the matter? So how do you ever see Mr. Nsima Ekere getting judgment on the case he brought to court after saying the case he brought to court was not true? Which judge will give him judgment? Nsima Ekere came to court and said openly that he did not stand by anything he filed in the same court and still tendered volumes of documents that there was no election. Where did he get his initial result from which gave him victory in 26 local government areas of the state? He was simply contradicting himself.
Please take a swipe at the social media and hate speech bills before the National Assembly. Are they in the best interest of the country now?
The only problem we have is that people in government are always nervous when certain statements are made. If you are a chairman of a government and your sister is a prostitute, if we exchange words and I told you that your sister is a prostitute, you will be angry and want to hurt me. Buttress does it erase the fact that your sister is a prostitute? So the victim of hate speech is the person who is going to interpret hate speech.
The complainant in hate speech must be a person in government not outside and what he is scared of is that what a person is saying might draw the ire, anger or reaction of the public. So we must be careful to ensure that whatever that we want to enact by way of hate speech law does not offend the provisions of the constitution. As it is very well known there are other laws in existence over the years on issues bothering on statement made against public officers such as that of sedition, law of libel, slander others in such likes.
Our society is not without extant laws. It is because they want to increase punishment; they want to generate controversies that they now want to act. If this hate speech law was in place at a time Buhari was not president and made all those speeches against Jonathan will he be happy that those statements will be construed to be hate speeches? Those in the National Assembly today too will someday leave there and may be in a position for one reason or the other to make statements against those in government.
A former representative and a political leader from Eket Senatorial District, Chief Ndueso Essien, said the governors the South South lack direction for not joining their South-West counterparts in setting up regional security outfits to protect the region.
I don’t know of the kind of leader that will say that the governors of the South-South region lacks direction because they have not copied their colleagues in the South-West. The South West people are Yorubas and are members of the Omo Oduduwa. They have an integrated tribal body and they speak with one voice on political issues. They may differ on political parties and persuasions but they are one group with obas as kings. So if any political leader in the state has the temerity to call the governors of the South South as lacking in direction, he is a person lacking in understanding.
You have in the South- South, various tribal groups with various problems of their own. In a zone with militancy problem, how do you set up a central vigilante security outfit for the zone? It is not possible in the South-South zone because each of the state has a unique problem and terrain. How would you even start it? If a vigilante group has to be set up in the region, it has to be state by state, and perhaps it could be co-ordinated at the top. You cannot set it up here as a zonal arrangement. There is nothing to support the fact that there should be a security outfit in this zone in the method the South-West has done.
Eket elders recently rose from their meeting chaired by Dr. Asindi and Prof. Desmond Wilson to say that government has not done much for them. As one of the elders, do you support their assertions?
Let me tell you in clear terms that by the time former governor Akpabio left office, he had built the road from Uyo to Ikot Ekpene, he had transformed Ikot Ekpene to a modern city with every street tarred. He built a major road from Uyo to Abak and from Abak to Ikot Ekpene. He built a road from Abak to Etim Ekpo and to Ika. He built a bridge across Abak River, built three flyovers in Uyo all leading to Ikot Ekpene. Nothing was built in Ini, Ikono, Oruk Anam and Ukanafun.
He built the big Four Points by Sheraton Hotels in Ikot Ekpene, a new prison in Ikot Ekpene and on the 1st of January, 2018 before the commencement of election, he went to his people and said if Gov. Emmanuel did not complete all the projects in Ikot Ekpene, he should not be supported. That means even to Godswill who has done so for his people, he still feels he has not done enough. But they were the greatest beneficiaries of all the monies that were spent in Akwa Ibom State in his eight years as governor.
So if Eket people tell Udom Emmanuel as governor that he has to develop Eket, they are not saying so because nothing has been done but they are saying it because they want more for their communities. Gov. Emmanuel is working everywhere including roads in Ikot Ekpene and the people are not sure that when he leaves office, there will be someone to work in their communities. They want their son to do more for them, that’s all. It is not that he was not doing anything. The governor is doing a lot in Eket and the people are shouting for more
Are you not worried that all the industries attracted by the incumbent administration are all sited in Eket Senatorial District alone?
Let me tell you something about Eket Senatorial District. If anybody wants to make money from citing industries and wanted it closet to source of raw materials or to import raw materials, he has to site it in Eket Senatorial District. The people who cited their factories here didn’t do so because government invested in their business. No, all these factories are private investments. If you want to site a factory to produce ethanol, it has to be close to the source of gas; if you want to site aluminum it is there; if you want to site iron and steel it is there, if want to do anything you can easily export it is there. That is the Apapa of this state.
Why do you think people don’t site industries in Ikeja but in Apapa even though Ikeja is the capital of Lagos State? When you have industries in mind, you go to the sources of power, import and export. The place is well positioned that is why factories are trooping in there not for political reasons. Unfortunately in this state, anything you do is for political reasons. Very soon they will say the factories belong to the governor.
Do you see the directive by the president for forensic audit of NDDC changing the fortunes of the interventionist agency?
I don’t see that directive achieving anything. If you audit NDDC, I mean ordinary auditing what you will find is one black hole where all the funds that have been voted have been thrown into because the people who have stolen the money have invested nothing, not even setting up ordinary restaurant to employ anybody. so the monies have been thrown into one deep black hole and it is lost. The essence of the forensic audit may be to send people to prison but if it is to recover money, there is no money to recover. The people have stolen and squandered the money and it is gone. NDDC was not well organized when it was changed from Oil Mineral Producing Area Development Commission (OMPADEC). Moments after the change, the place became a farm, where people struggled to be chairman and managing director. People struggle and spend huge sums of money to go to NDDC board and management; they are all going there to farm. There contracts are awarded, no documentation and yet the people who do the jobs never get paid. There are so much debts in NDDC. So many people who did contracts at NDDC with bank loans are improvised. Some have lost their mortgages because they are not paid for jobs done. Dishonest people are in offices in NDDC not people with conscience.
NDDC needs people in the mould of Obong Victor Attah, he will clean up the place. The man is as straight as a ruler to everybody. After eight years as governor there is no wealth traced to him outside one simple house in Shelter Afrique Estate. He still practices architecture till dates to enable him survive. If they want to really clean up the NDDC, they should go to a man like that and give him money and make it clear that it is for the development of Niger Delta and see the result in few years. Just give him the resources to work with because he won’t come begging for money. Attah will pick his aides and put Niger Delta on the pedestal nobody will believe.
You can then appoint a vibrant young man as the managing director and the chairman will be giving directives. You don’t have to bring people who are looking for money to chair NDDC or bring in people because of political considerations. The board of NDDC can even be made up of former governors and there are many of them. Akwa Ibom State alone has many young people who can make you proud if they are posted to NDDC as managing director. I mean people who are materially satisfied and itching to write their names in gold not people who are looking for a platform to get money for elections. The president should stop appointing people looking for elections as managing director of NDDC.
You sought to be Akwa Ibom governor in 2015 but failed to the political dynamics of that time. Why?
It was not political dynamics; it was the antics of one human being.
Just returning from Russia then as ambassador, people saw you as one with greater chance of becoming governor of Akwa Ibom. what actually happened?
I didn’t mind not being governor at all, but what was important was that the process was not transparent. Only one person can be governor and we were 25 aspirants. If the process was transparent, anybody who failed will be glad and I would have laughed and told the delegates who collected money that they collected and voted against me. But when you were forced out of the stadium, the police shepherded you out after you have paid hard earned N15million to contest the election on the platform of the party, you could not but hate the party and hate the people who did that to you as a human being. But the Lord’s Prayer came in handy, which is: forgive those who trespass against us.
So I have forgiven Godswill Akpabio and also forgiven the party. Udom Emmanuel did nothing against me, he wanted to contest election just like I wanted to do. I am sure he wasn’t happy the way it went, he came and talked to everyone of us. He asked for our support since he had emerged the candidate of the party, some of us did support him, some didn’t. All that boils down to the business of forgiving those who trespass against us. I knew Udom will be governor and I told him several times that he can be governor without that man.
But the man brought him and made him governor above the 25 of you contesting then.
Yes. He could still have been governor because God, from the beginning, ordained him to be the governor. How did Moses become a prime minster of Egypt? God ordained him because He knew a time will come when He will need him. God ordained Gov. Emmanuel from birth and provided a source through which he will become governor same with Moses in the Bible. A special basket was prepared and he was put inside and left to fate in a flowing river, the rest is in the Bible.
The fact is that he went back to Egypt, did what God ordained him to do and fulfilled his destiny. The first time that Udom Emmanuel met Akpabio I brought him as attorney general then during an investment summit and put the three of them who are bankers together in a committee-Udom Emmanuel Amba Afang, and Bartholomew Ebong. They sat together and structured things for that government.
If that was the process through which he was to become the governor only God knew then. Akpabio started dealing with him and found him to be somebody to be trusted and brought him to be secretary to the government of the state. If somebody was to be governor on the basis of propaganda, it was Umana Okon Umana but he was not destined to be governor at that time for it was Udom’s destiny. So only one person will be governor and it was Udom’s time.
It was said that you were sent to Russia as ambassador to take you off the scene from contesting that election. How true?
That was all master-minded by certain people in government who wanted to be governor at that time but ended up not being governors. The two of them were removed while I was in Russia. They should have left me alone. I was enjoying my job as the attorney-general and was to be there for just two years, that was my understanding with Akpabio. I told him once I clean up the issues of criminalities, kidnapping, armed robbery and stabilize his government, I will quit and return back to my legal practice. He was not in the country when I was nominated as ambassador and he pretended not to know about it.
You have shown tremendous support to the governor. Would it be because you are from the same area?
No. I won’t support my brother because he is the governor. Two of my blood brothers have wanted to contest elections and I advised one not to contest because I don’t want him to be a chairman of a local government area. In fact I told the two of them to steer clear of council but if they insist on going for elections they should go to the State House of Assembly because the chairman of local government council carries huge amount or responsibilities and repercussion every kobo you take there that is meant for health centers and hospitals, the children that died, the pregnant women that never survived, accident victims that never get proper medical treatment among other similar issues or accidents on roads you ought to have graded in your communities, the repercussion comes 100% on you.
Show, me one local government chairman you know after office that is doing well. Some thought it was the biggest thing in the world but I advised my brothers to steer clear of that office. Udom, brought sanity and peace to Akwa Ibom State. The security situation has improved tremendously. He stabilized security issues in Etim Ekpo and Ukanafun and the society is at peace and everybody is happy now.
For anyone to grow that degree of violence in the state again will take many years. We needed a person who was not committed to the people causing the atrocities by oaths. I am supporting him for various reasons. He is bringing in investors without committing government funds. He created an Airline and handed it over to private managers who are running it and paying back to the coffers of government among many good deeds.