The former transition chairman of Uyo Local Government Area, Barr Mfon Ben speaks exclusively to Midweek Pioneer on the recent defections of some members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the Young Progressives Party (YPP) and others.
Apart from the issue of defection, Ben, an Assembly aspirant in the just-concluded PDP primaries takes time out to explain to succession consciences of the current administration, the Pastor Umo Eno governorship candidacy of the party and other issues. ETEBONG AKPAN and VICTOR ESSANG made the team.
The current administration is gradually winding down and as a former aide to the governor, what is your candid appraisal of his performance vis-a-vis the completion and succession agenda?
I understand to a great extent the position of the governor for the framework of his agenda, which I will say yes, government is still running very functionally and you see the completion agenda still on course. The governor has promised that all his projects will be completed before the termination of his tenure in 2023 and looking at the recent development you will say yes, it is very commendable. When you look at the Oron road expansion project, it is like a miracle happening in a second, if you go to the new ring road and all those new projects going through Eket axis, Onna to Eket, you will find out those areas are key interconnecting areas for development and is still on course to completing those areas. I give it to the governor that,yes, it is what he said he will do. In the last few months, we have seen integrated efforts to achieve those things, and we have seen that Ikot Ekpene road axis has been concluded. At the point it was in the last administration, we knew where it was stopped, so at the place where the storey buildings was blocking the continuation of the road, he has been able to complete that sector of the road.
One good thing about this administration is that it does not allow the previous administrations’ objectives and projects to be abandoned. He continues from where they stopped and he is initiating new ones. He is a governor of the completion agenda, completing what other people did and is also working on completing what he initiated. That is the beautiful part of this government
How does this situate with the succession agenda of the government?
Technically speaking, I like to make a distinction between the completion agenda and succession agenda. There is a need to make a slide distinction, but most people just put the completion agenda in line with the succession agenda. Succession agenda is a consciousness of unifying the people to look at the completion agenda who can fit into the project completed, initiated, and those outstanding like the Ibaka deep seaport. I look at the succession agenda as a response from the people’s point of view to complete, look forward after the completion agenda, what are the things that are outstanding that the state needs to do? What are the new opportunities that they still need? What are those areas we intend a new administration to come in and take advantage of? Those are the areas called succession agenda. You must have a succession plan not for your personal interest but for the interest of the state, which is what Governor Udom Emmanuel is doing today. So it is wrong to personify the succession agenda as people are trying to do. The succession agenda is a collective effort by the people to understand the framework of governance and where the government ought to go in the next administration. So from that point of view, I say that the government is laying a framework for the people to take opportunities and realize that to form a good government is in their hands.
Is this succession consciousness limited to a particular political platform?
That is why I said that it is a consciousness for people to see and understand the development template on the ground, which is sustained by the peaceful ambiance in the state For example,this administration has done things that were seemingly impossible before. Yes, there are areas of condemnation, there are also areas of interest but let us be very frank; the industrialization drive of the governor has been daring against all the odds.
Look at the agro-allied expansion area. Yes, some of the projects have not made the maximum consideration that it was targeted at, but still, they were innovative projects that have come to stay as part of the promises of this administration. The industrialization agenda of the government may not cover everywhere right now but the governor has proven that it is possible. What the governor is striving to do is to awaken the consciousness of our people that this is the way. That whosoever takes over from him must continue in this direction and equally strive to go higher. It is not a particular political party’s issue but a consciousness in the state. Our destiny as a people is in our hands, therefore we must take a deliberate and conscious position on how to beat poverty and stamp our collective identity on the Nigerian project
In your exact words what should be the main focus of development for the incoming administration?
The incoming administration has the benefit of an already established framework that it needs to build upon. For example, Ibom Deep Seaport licenses has been acquired, the framework for its establishment has been determined, and the little indices of Uyenge and Ibaka, the name and those things are little considerations. The effectiveness is starting it, so we need to kill the politics and move into actions in such area.
The Oil and Gas Free Zone has been established in Ikot Abasiand the one of Oron I think has been approved and the one at Mbo, I think is also on line for approval. When all these have been technically put in place, we are going to see a vibrant economy develop from there, so the next administration will be a key interest in supporting these growths. That is the most important thing, who can bring about understanding the factors of this new development and ensuring they come to fruition. Just like the Ibom Deep Seaport would have to come to fruition for us to benefit from that area. Who has that capacity is the important thing for the citizens to decide. The governor has done his own best; the votes come from the people, so there is a need to understand the government project and the way it is ending
Still, talking of succession programme, a lot of people feel that it is only the PDP that will understand the economic template of the state, but right now the PDP in the state seems to be in a kind of self doubt with defections everywhere, do you think with what is happening the PDP has the capacity to win the next general election in the state?
I keep saying this severally that everybody in the state is PDP. When you say the people and the next general election, let us start from APC, who is in APC today that didn’t come from PDP? And with the current situation, people don’t seem to understand what is going on. More of APC people are coming back to PDP. Bishop Sam Akpan and a large group of APC are coming back to PDP. More people are returning to PDP than those leaving. Those you see defecting from PDP, who are they? They still remain PDP which is the truth about politics because I don’t see a party today that has brought in these people and then because of some differences they move out. The question will be why are they going out? Most of them are going out to seek a platform to contest the election. It is the platform to contest the election that is driving people out. It is not conflict because there is no conflict in the party.
New parties like YPP and NNPP have come to share the turf with PDP apart from the APC that has been around for some time now, do you think they will have any impact on the 2023 Akwa Ibom governorship race?
I agree that, yes, the emerging political parties like YPP, NNPP and the faction of APC that is still remaining in some areas, will cause some distortion within the arrangements in PDP and we may not have the entire election as we normally used to be sure, and so we need to work harder, but the impact of these emerging political parties will not be as much as that. Maybe, it will be one or two percent of the general election. The impact will not be great, PDP is still going to have substantially the benefits of the general election, winning most of the seats in the state house, all the seats in the Federal House and Senate. So we still give that to PDP, it has that strength to win that much, I give that to PDP, and so if you look at the defections, what are the areas?what is the population and what are the interests? They are just following people for particular offices, so if those people fail in those offices, they will all come back to the PDP. They are only going to seek a platform to contest, so when they don’t succeed in those elections they will come back. The few that will succeed may at the end still come back to PDP after winning the election
Your party PDP nominated Pastor Umo Eno as its gubernatorial candidate for 2023, but it seems all is not easysince the day he won the nomination, do you think his candidacy is the right thing for the PDP in Akwa Ibom State?
We must understand party positions. The electoral act generally created a situation where Ad-hoc delegates voted from the Presidency to all the party seats, and that gave the benefit of streamlining candidates of the party in the hands of the delegates. So Umo Eno is a beneficiary of the delegates election. We should accept him as the candidate of the party because that is the law we are working on today. He won the party’s primaries based on the position of the current electoral act and it is incumbent on any party person to accept the candidacy of Umo Eno as the PDP candidate and work towards ensuring that the party wins the election. There is a difference between being a party person and being emotional. If the party does not win elections, the programmes, projects of the party and things we know about the party will not be there to be implemented, so it is only until the party wins election you can implement the policy and project of the administration. If a new party comes in today, it will have its own agenda, programmes, and ideology that we don’t even know where is going to come from. It might be worse than what we are even thinking is not even good today. So I believe very well that what we see, we need to improve upon, there is an opportunity to improve upon what we have in PDP today and I believe very well within the PDP system they have also understood the need to integrate new ideas, involve new mechanisms and also have contact with the people. I don’t think PDP is a failure in Akwa Ibom State. It is a party that is expanding but it needs to understand the new mechanisms, new involvement, and new consideration to stay to win the elections
So in your words, he fits perfectly into the succession agenda of the PDP?
Yes! The candidacy of Pastor Umo Eno for the PDP and the state is well situated because, first of all, whether you like it or not we have been blessed with good leadership as a people since the return of democracy in 1999. Good leadership has not been only because of the personality of the individuals but because there is a structure of leadership and consciousness between the elder statesmen that guide and direct leadership
Most of the political parties are running to Oron Federal Constituency to pick their deputies, what is Oron Federal Constituency really bringing to the table on the PDP or in the political equation of the state?
If we want to be honest with ourselves, you see Akwa Ibom State is a consideration of several interests, but people seems to understand Akwa Ibom State from only a point of Oron, Ibibio, and Annang, but people don’t seem to understand that, for example, the Uruan are very different ethnic nationality from the Ibibios. An Uruan man does not agree that he is an Ibibio man, Uruan man will say he is an Uruan person but he speaks near Ibibios so he is considered an Ibibio person. The Oron in that regard has put themselves from an identity making them look as if they are disadvantaged in every way and so it is an inclusion principle in trying to include them in the scheme of the bargain and so you need to go there to come out with a relationship to promote that bargaining, interest and integration of votes.
Currently, the deputy is from Annang extraction and the current governor is from the core Ibibio also from Onna, the Awa Ibibio race for example. And the next administration is from the Uyo Senatorial District which comprises most of the ethnic nationalities of the core Ibibios, so from that point of view, having had a deputy from Annang on one side in the current administration, the deputy is coming from Oron, to balance the equation within the state consideration. There is a push there, although some few parties have also gone to Annang to bring out a candidate, for example, the NNPP. Now back to your question- what will be the impact of Oron as a deputy governor.I will say it is a strong impact because Oron has strong following, but now when all the parties are going to Oron to bring a candidate, they are going to divide the votes to the different parties and then leave other areas with an interest to display.
Zoning of offices is argued to be on senatorial district bases and not on the tribal arrangement, how do you equate this with this mad rush to Oron as an ethnic group for the deputy governorship seat?
It depends on whether you define Oron as an ethnic group or federal constituency. Politics is about interest and interest is about where you can count on your formula and placement of political offices as between each of the candidate of the political parties. Even at the national level, you see how the Vices of the presidential candidates are going through for reasons. For example for Asiwaju, a Muslim-Muslim ticket, he just wants somebody from the North to get votes there and that is his interest. For Peter Obi a Christian, he has gone for an educated northerner also and for Atiku he has come to the South-South to get a candidate, so you are looking at the traditional relationships at the national level and that traditional relationship is also underplaying at the state level
The resident electoral commissioner in the state, Mike Igini,is bowing out in a couple of hours, from your own juxtaposition do you think there is any hope for a free and fair election in the state in 2023?
The new electoral act has put out a mechanism to allow for a free relationship between voting and transmission of results. That is the first point that your votes will count. The next point is, what is the access to the voting arena? This is very important and when that is also put in place, there is no restriction of the person from going to vote, that’s why there may be a new technique that is evolving that we saw in Ekiti or Osun election,where there was an attempt to restrict people in certain areas from voting because you know that was a stronghold of your opponent. So you try to restrict people from going to vote there. A new mechanism may come in which we should also be able to understand between now and the election. We can overcome those strategies because election is all about strategy.
So what is the real problem between our context of politics in Akwa Ibom State?
Let us look at, for example, one thing people don’t want to understand in PDP today. When Attah was the governor, he left and there was no major defection or pull-out in any group, so even when Godswill Akpabio emerged as the candidate of the party there was no backlash, everybody remained and formed a government together, now Godswill came in and in the midst of his administration certain things happened and people had to leave
All these movements gave rise to agitations and resistance to the government. It was not a defection that was actually engaged to strengthen democracy, but defection for personal interest. They were resisting an individual and formed a platform for resistance.
The second round of defection was championed by UmanaUmana and Nsima Ekere in 2015 and 2019 respectively. The defections at these times were to really form a new government and it was beyond resistance now, but the strength was not there because the population was still moving from PDP and it was not enough. Even when Nsima Ekere , a former deputy governor in PDP moved and went to APC, he had conflict with the system on ground already and so the conflicting system on ground allowed PDP to still win the election. Currently now that APC still has problem on the ground, the same factor that made PDP to win is still there because they are still in conflict with themselves. There is no stable alternative to PDP that is not endangered by the crisis of identity of an individual. Today PDP still maintain its own structure, so those leaving are not leaving PDP structure, they are leaving as a resistant movement, a platform to just engage in contesting the election. So PDP remains the party to beat in any election. So Igini or no Igini ,PDP will still win elections in Akwa Ibom because there is no better alternative to it. Other political parties revolve around a personality which actually means it cant endure adversity.