I Came Back To Akwa Ibom State Because Of The Prevalent Peace – James Iniama
Mr James Iniama, an estate valuer, politician and businessman contested the 2007 gubernatorial election in the state on the platform of the defunct Action Congress AC against Chief Godswill Akpabio who was the standard bearer of the PDP. He believed he won the election on ground but the umpire INEC declared otherwise. That conviction prompted him to approach the election petition tribunal to claim his mandate but the outcome was still the same. He left the state in 2008 probably because of insecurity to return sometime in 2018 after being convinced by the relative peace in the state.
In this interview with deputy weekend editor, CHARLES ETIMETTE, head political desk, ETEBONG AKPAN and correspondent, VICTOR ESSANG , the Ikot Ayan Itam born politician talks on several issues ranging from the 2007 political adventure that nearly rattled the ethnic balance in the state including the forth coming 2023 election, zoning and micro zoning as it affects the 2023 political permutations in the state.
You used to be in the news before and after the 2007 general elections, after that nobody has heard of James Iniama again until recently, what really happened and why are you resurfacing?
Thank you for coming to talk with me and welcome to my very humble abode. The Bible says as you have spoken into my ears so shall I do, so now you have spoken into the ears of God and so He will do. I want to assume that you know me, because you would have started by asking of my name and the rest of things about me. But for avoidance of doubt, my name is James Iniama. I come from one of those big but neglected villages in Akwa Ibom State call Ikot Ayan Itam in Itu Local Government Area. I am an estate surveyor and valuer. I have practice estate surveying and valuation for more than 40 years. I am married and happy too. We have been blessed with very wonderful children. My friends like to call me Christian business man which is what I am because besides estate surveying and valuation, I do other businesses.
Let me now come straight to your question. Yes, I think I was heard in Uyo even before it became a state capital, because I lived in this town from 1985 before Akwa Ibom State was created. I didn’t live here as a servant but as a consultant to the Cross River State ministry of local government providing services to Uyo Local Government as it then was, so I have been here, was heard and known. I was part of those that celebrated the creation of Akwa Ibom State. I have also been involved in politics all those years even as a student and my days in Calabar, particularly the 1983 governorship election. We were very involved, known and heard.
Coming back to Uyo, I was particularly involved with the politics of Uyo local government and some of the local governmentsof the time, but I concentrated on my business as estate surveying and valuation consultant with investment in the oil and gas sector and the ICT sector and I really enjoyed living in this city of Uyo which God has blessed for us as a state capital. But I think from about the year 2004 it began to be obvious that I will be more involved in politics of Akwa Ibom State as it is, and then we continued by 2007, I began to have the real conviction that I had to aspire to serve the people of Akwa Ibom State; my own people as the governor of this state. So that is how you perhaps came to know me when I dared to become the governor.
You asked to know what happened after that. What happened after that was the majority of those who worked with me told me that it was my party that won that election. I contested on the platform of Action Congress, but you see INEC declared otherwise. And following that declaration, you may recall that we had approached the election petition tribunal sitting in Uyo to say the result was not announced as they ought to be. And of course the election petition tribunal gave her findings that we did not win and we were not convinced by the findings of the tribunal, so we approached the Court of Appeal. But you are all witnesses to what became of Akwa Ibom state from the year 2007. This state was not safe for everybody. It began to experience a level of violence that had never been known, women became endangered at every turn of the street of this state. It became a risk for women and children to go to the market because chances were that they could be attacked. We began to hear stories of assassination, stories of women that were raped and kidnapped and all of that. By the year 2008 when the court of appeal affirmed that PDP indeed won that election, it didn’t make sense for me to stay in Akwa Ibom again. So I thought the wisest thing to do was to vacate the state, and from Calabar after the session of the court of appeal, I had to leave in the interest of peace, so that my supporters will not take up arms and say look we have been unfairly treated in this contest. I had to leave at least for the interest of Akwa Ibom because it was worth more than my aspiration as the governor of Akwa Ibom State. So that answers the first part of your question and the second part is what I am looking for now. Yes, I am looking for my state, I come from this state, this is my state and I am an Ibibio man, I come from here, my mother and father come from Ikot Ayan Itam. They say north or south, east or west, home is the best, so I had to come home and also it is a known fact that you cannot have a better place to stay than your home. That is why I had to come back.
Moreso, I believe you want to know having come back, what I’m doing in politics, is that part of the question?
I would rather ask, now that you are thinking of coming back, do you consider the state safe now?
I am not thinking, I am back, you see, I told you I am a Christian, you know the Bible sayswe will boast in the Lord our God. I boast in the Lord, I am a man who has been a Christian since 1990, not Christian because my name is James Iniama, not Christian because I went to church yesterday, but it is because I believe the Lord Jesus Christ as my saviour and redeemer. I yield my life to be led by the spirit of God in the things I do.
I came back to this state since 2018, but I didn’t appear in the public. I came back and stay in the hotel just to be convinced that I needed to be here and when I was convinced that I needed to be here, I then have to think of renovating this house which I built in 1996, and come back to it. Having come back to it, what is life offering me and what is God expecting that I should. Do it is to come back and serve. That is the first purpose of man; service. So I am back to serve. I am an estate surveyor and valuer, I have a firm that has been registered since 1996 and we have been practicing in this country and beyond, so I had to come back and continue my professional practice, I had to come back and continue with the work of the church that I have been involved with for so many years of my life.
The other part of it is that I was a PDP person from 1999 before I went to contest election in 2007 on the platform of Action Congress. And the one way I know you will most effectively serve your people is on the platform of politics. So I have returned, I am back fully to my party,the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). I am fully engaged in the political activities of the state including the Maintain Peace Movement, so that is why I am here.
You said that you dared to come back to contest, what exactly do you mean by that?
I said I dared because after 2007, it began to look like anybody who dared or ventured or even dreamt to contest for the office of the governor of this state in 2007, 2011 was set for destruction. You were either going to have your wife or daughter kidnapped or you will be kidnapped yourself or shot. So manner of things happened, that is why I said I dared and it looks as if it has become a taboo and offensive to desire to contest for an election against any person at a time who were thinking it was their exclusive preserve to hold on to the governorship of the state.
Between now and then, do you think there has been any change that warrant you to think of coming back to contest?
If I did not experience the change, there is absolutely nothing that would have brought me back to Akwa Ibom State. I give credit to Governor Udom Emmanuel for that. There is a story I need to tell you. You remember that in 2008, I don’t know if you were in this town. Akwa Ibom government and its agents sent thugs to my property and office at 43 Aka Road, Every office furniture was looted from that property from the ground floor to the last floor. The chairs, table and everything were carted away and that was politically motivated. I approached the court for fundamental human rights violation. The High Court of Uyo gave ruling in my favour but guess what happened? Rather than Akwa Ibom State government talking to me with a view to getting the matter settled, the commissioner of justice was authorised to proceed on appeal at the Court of Appeal in Calabar. When the matter went to the court of appeal, again the court found out that government was wrong to have sent thugs to raid a private property. That matter stayed in the court of appeal after the ruling was given and I then said fine I would need to enforce the decision of the appeal court. And when I did, Akwa Ibom government at that time authorisedthat matter should go to Supreme Court against a senior citizen of the state. But Governor Udom Emmanuel on assumption of office ordered that that matter be resolved out of court. So if you weigh the two seasons that I have presented before you, It is very evident that we have been ushered into a season of peace. If I did not find that there was sustainable peace, I won’t have dared to come back home . You know people like me can testify that today we are experiencing peace like we never imagine we will have again. I lived in this state since 1985, don’t forget and what peace we enjoy. What I tell people is that at this stage with the peace we enjoy and have we need to make it our lifestyle individually, we need to teach peace at home, teach peace at our altars, teach peace in our schools, teach peace in our marriages. We must shun every form of violence, everything that would discourage peaceful coexistence of men and women in the state. So I am convinced.
You talk more like a preacher. There is this school of thought that says in the midst of this peace people are dying of hunger, that during the period of violence at least people had what to eat?
Have you compared the economies of the two seasons we are talking about? What was the economy of Nigeria like. In those years where you say people had what to eat, what is the economy of Nigeria like today? The second thing you have to consider is, this food we want to eat, where are we eating from. Are we eating from a legitimate source or from the common wealth of a people then it means you expect the managers of the common wealth to suspend the duties for which they were elected to discharge and then feed us howbeit, frivolously. You see when we talk, we should also look for justification. We should talk like leaders which we are. When you say I talk like a preacher, we are Christians and the Bible says we were redeemed to be kings and priests, so if you are redeemed to be king and priest, your priestly duty is to minister the counsel of God. We have to ask ourselves questions and not to be critical. Did the Bible calls us anywhere to be critics?
What do you think has gone wrong in the economy?
Now, let me ask you, have you ever lived in northern Nigeria, today you cannot drive between Kaduna and Abuja again and does that tells you a story. I used to teach in Kaduna Polytechnic when Abuja was being constructed, from Suleja, we drove day and night often but today you can’t. The other day we heard that passenger train was bombed, doesn’t that tell you something. You have listened to the governor of Kastina State laments of banditry, doesn’t that tell you something, it should. Today government is thinking of increasing the pump price of PMS, shouldn’t it tell you something. We are not living yet in an economy that is self-sufficient. Our prayers and desire is that we will work together with government so that we will build an economy that will be self-sufficient. Does that answer that question; you cannot prosper in the mist of insecurity. You can’t go to farm, Benue State used to be the food basket of the nation. You can no longer farm, Nassarawa State next door to the capital territory is no longer safe, the other day we read that the bandits hid themselves behind the military barracks in Plateau State and attacked a community from there . Plateau State used to be a beautiful place, Jos in particular. Besides that, you are also going to look at the global economy, we have challenging times now even in the years to come.
Do you believe in fairness and equity as propagated by your party?
Absolutely, I believe in justice, fairness, I believe in equity and I believe in truth. Here is the philosophy of my life, I hate everything God hates. The Bible says the Lord loves righteousness and hates wickedness. Anything you do contrary to justice, equity, truth, I believe fall within that scripture that you are working in wickedness.
–What is your popularity rating in the state?
-Am I the one to tell you my popularity rating, you should be the one to tell me.
Why I asked that question is that in 2007 your party PDP, though you later left for AC, zoned the governor seat to Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District, you left PDP and we don’t know the reason to contest against Godswill Akpabio, don’t you think you were a kind of circumventing everything about political morality on the issue of zoning as at that time?
I didn’t leave PDP to contest election. That wasn’t my primary motive. You will recall that from about 2004, we had some disagreement at the Aso Rock between our president and our vice president and somehow, some of us were friends to the vice president and we are still his friends. Natural things for those of us who believe in being steadfast in relationship, we have to stand with our friend the vice president as he then was. Then ultimately we realized that he didn’t have any chance if he remains in PDP, so we had to look for some other vehicle through which his political agenda could be driven. That is how we first registered Advance Congress Democrat (ACD) and the national chairman was Chief Alex Anielo of blessed memory. We set up that party across the country. That was a political party which a merger was negotiated with AD at the time before Action Congress, I didn’t go to Action Congress just because I had an aspiration, it was on a process.
To talk of circumventing, if I’m a Cameroonian and you are a Nigerian, certainly, I won’t be bound by the constitution of your country. PDP zoned, Action Congress did not zone
That was why the issue of political morality came in considering the fact that you are from Uyo Senatorial District like Obong Attah who was rounding off his tenure then as the governor of the state?
PDP zoned! I wasn’t in PDP, if I were in PDP, I would have been bound by the decisions of the party leadership. For instance if my party say no, we do not support direct primaries and they give the reason that it is too expensive. They termed it will be inadequate and all of that, and if you ask me I will tell you I am a very loyal party person, I am sitting here and waiting for the decision and directives of the party leaders. Then I was singing the Lord’s song in a strange land, that is what it was, so there was no circumvention. The zoning we have today, perhaps that is what you want to address, in PDP was that it will rotate. Obong Attah from Uyo Senatorial District served us meritoriously, his tenure ended 29th May 2007 and on 29th May 2007 Governor Godswill Akpabio came on stage, and by the decision of the party, from Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District, had to move to Eket Senatorial District which is how we have Governor Udom Emmanuel and by that rotation and the zoning, it returns to Uyo Senatorial District for 2023. When you come to Uyo Senatorial District, you say what is our political composition, you know we have three federal constituencies, and when you look at these three federal constituencies, how involved have we been in the political leadership of the state. We had Obong Attah as governor, we had Obong Akpan Isemin of blessed memory as governor of three federal constituencies of Uyo, Etinan, Itu and Itu is missing in the calculation. Itu haven’t had an involvement, Itu never had a governor. All that has been happening is that we have been aspiring. You see we talk of equity, justice, fairness and talk of truth. A mother gave birth to three children , it will be unfair to feed two and the other one starves. So we are saying to our brothers in Uyo Senatorial District, we are part of you, we share the same inheritance, we come from the same stock, it is only fair that we will rotate in Uyo Senatorial District, whether you want to call it zoning or micro zoning, that is just the question of semantic or you want to call it whatever. We come from the same stock. Our brothers from Etinan Federal Constituency had a shot on this, they had Obong Akpan Isemin. Uyo Federal Constituency have had a shot at the governorship, you had Obong Victor Attah, please allow Itu to also have a shot at the governorship. It is only fair and reasonable for the political history, for our harmonious coexistence, for the love, peace to continue among us. You see the Bible say we will need to seek peace and to pursue it. And in this instance, the only way we can seek peace is to say look let us make peace in the direction of Itu, we make an appeal to the political leadership in Akwa Ibom State, we make an appeal to the leader of our party in the person of our dear governor, he is the man of peace. Sir we are three children from Uyo Senatorial District. Two have been unduly fed and one is remaining which is Itu.
But are you aware that Obong Akpan Isemin, did not emerge on the platform of PDP or in the fourth Republic? Secondly, Akpan Isemin did not stay up to two years, so on grounds of political equity don’t you think Etinan Federal Constituency is equally politically impoverished?
In which state was Akpan Isemin a governor, Akwa Ibom State, that is the issue, from which senatorial district, Uyo. Unfortunately that administration was truncated but he was governor of Akwa Ibom State and we make the appeal to you, we invite you our brothers from Uruan. So you see it make sense for Akwa Ibom State to come together and say let us take this to Itu.
Akwa Ibom is the only state that can boast of palpable peace. We will not do anything that will upset this peace. Yesterday night I went out and I came back to this house about I am or so and people were freely walking the street of this town, isn’t that amazing? We can’t find that in the neighbouring states.
When I was a young man we lived in Calabar, we used to drive from Calabar to Port Harcourt then known as Garden City. That city is no longer garden. So if we have the kind of peace that we have today, gentlemen we need to be jealous of it, we need to preserve it with everything available to us. Let’s give the governorship of 2023 to Itu Federal Constituency; I am sure you agree with me.
If someone from Etinan comes out to advance that they need to go and complete the tenure of Obong Akpan Isemin,considering the fact that Obong Akpan Isemin never completed even one term, how will your people react to this ?
Under which constitution are you going to evoke the outstanding tenure because you will calculate in days and weeks, months and hours so you will now go to constitutional provisions that allows you to now go and unearth somebody from Etinan Federal Constituency for the sake of completion and say okay you will come and complete X numbers of days, Y number of months, Z number of hours and A number of minutes.
Are you aware that zoning is not constitutional?
Have you read the PDP constitution? It is the constitution of our party that says. You are bound by the constitution of your union.
Are you aware that there are other people in your area contesting on the PDP platform, do you have a way of making sure you resolve the matter?
I know the aspirants for the governorship seat on the platform of PDP. But listen to this, Governor Udom Emmanuel has stood on many fora in this country and told us, let us pray together that God will give us a successor after His heart. I am somebody who believe as David did, enquiring from the Lord on issues. And you want to say to me okay let’s sit we are one, let’smake a decision and because he is tall he is fat, he is bad headed, let’s prefer him, whereas in the mind of God, there is David.
Do you believe that person in God’s heart must be you?
Otherwise I won’t be here, can you listen to me, I left the scene in 2008, if I did not have a very strong conviction, I am not here for show. I am here to fulfil the counsel of the Lord of host.
You are making an appeal to your party and party they say is supreme what if the party decides to pay deaf ears to your appeal, what will be your position?
What will I do, I remain a party member. Have you ever heard in any family, where for instance God forbid, it used to happened in our villages, your father says he is divorcing your mother, as a result of that you also say papa I also divorce you, you are no more my father, I have not known it before, PDP is my father, if PDP makes the decision, I am a loyal party member, I will abide by the decision of the party, what I will say is what is in for us. But I know PDP will not. I am confident in the judgment my governor will make, his judgment will be led by God, I have confidence he is just, he is truthful, he is God-fearing and he will make a decision that is fair and just