Dr Sandy Onor, a former commissioner in Cross River State, is candidate of the PDP for the Cross River Central senatorial district election. Known for his high degree of intellect and jovial nature, Onor, also a former local government chairman, spoke to TNN about his plans as he warms up for the election. VICTORIA KALU transcribed the interview.
What would you say made it possible for you to become the PDP candidate for Cross River Central, considering the kind of people that contested against you?
Very interesting question; but I will just say, a combination of factors. We have been in this game for a long time and we have cultivated genuine relationships, spanning, geo-political formations, seasons and times. So we have a huge network of people who believe in us, an accompanying dosage of goodwill.... I think all of that played to give us the ticket, apart from the fact it is very evident in all modesty, that we will add value. We have the capacity to deliver. We have been tested and proven and the people know.
During the primary election, people felt you were contesting against the governor of Cross Rivers State. Did you see it that way also?
I didn't at all. I was not contesting against the governor at all. I was running for the senate, governor is governor, he was really running for governorship, the two elections didn't mix at all.
Yea, because of this belief that his friend was involved and he was supporting his friend.
I am the governor's friend too. If it was about friendship from the governor, I also see myself as one of the governor's friends. I may not have been a friend at the level that Chris(Agara) was being peddled to be. But I am also his friend. I don't want to look at things from that point.
What are your fears concerning the upcoming election?
I don't have any fears at all, the people are with me, I believe they will vote me, and I believe we will win. So I don't have any fears whatsoever.
Not even the fear of the man that has been on that seat for 16 years?
Not at all. I have respect for Senator Ndoma-Egba as somebody with qualities that we all know. I' m sure if you interact with him, he will also tell you that Dr Sandy Onor also has huge qualities. At my level, I cannot be said to be afraid of any one running the senate, not at all.
Why do they call you caterpillar?
Because of my capacity to energize and electrify and generally, constructively change things for good. It speaks to my capacity to do positive things, remove all obstacles, change dynamics and accelerate the momentum, and so on. They know I can bring real development. That is why I am the original caterpillar.
How did that name come?
Very interesting, honestly. Some of these things are designed by nature and destiny. A young man who read Economics at UNN, is also given to music. He is endowed with skills. So, he said, he was returning from school one day when he saw my posters. And he told himself that he was going to come down and do a song for me. And that is how the original caterpillar song came and with the name “caterpillar”. And it's a beautiful song you will like to listen to. When people hear it, they cannot but dance to it. Since then, it has stuck to me and attempts by people to co-opt the name has not been able to sit properly. So I'm the original caterpillar and I like it like that.
What things do you do that the caterpillar does?
I have already explained that, and I don't think we need to belabour it. I'm a pathfinder of sort, a constructive revolutionary. I change difficult situations and make them look simple. I am hugely pro-people, and service is dear to my heart. So anything that bulldozes for good, just like my motto is, “original caterpillar for the good of all the people...”So anything that constructively changes systems, situations, institutions, orientations for good, you will find me there. So the people for instance know that when I go to the senate, there will be a new rhythm, a new vision that will extend the frontiers of performance in the senate by the good men who have already gone there before me. So this caterpillar is truly original.
When you go to the senate, what do you think you will introduce there that will affect the people for good?
The one thing particularly that I will like to dwell on is our forest and its value. I will like to speak to the issue of our forest and draw the attention of the country to the fact that Cross River
possesses about 70 per cent of what is left of the pristine tropical rain forest, and that money is lying waste there. If we can properly re-engineer the conservation experience and make it such a tourism delight... there is so much money to be made from the forest. And I will like to draw their attention to the challenges of our being a state with an international border and try to see what we can do to provide security for our people who are prone to all kinds of effects and consequences arising from these location that we found ourselves, especially now, for instance, when Cameroon is boiling. And then generally, I will be in the fore front of debates in the house. As things come, I will be able to sponsor bills, catalyze debates and generally do things that will uplift the well-being of our people in Cross River Central and Cross River at large. We need very strong voices in the legislature. In all modesty, the people know that I can be that voice.
Which bill comes to mind immediately, for example, Ikom is considered to have been the economic capital of Cross River State. Are you thinking of any kind of legislature that will take Ikom to a different level?
I have talked to you about the fact that we are a border-line community, and Ikom, Etung, and Boki are all border communities. They need to be particularly protected by federal government's presence, by infrastructural development to uplift the lives of the people there. And to protect them from negative influences that may permeate the area from Cameroon which is boiling now. I have also talked to you about conservations, all those areas fall within the conservation territory. And I believe that government must be very proactive in re-engineering the entire focus of conservation. And it requires state-federal government collaboration, so that our forest can begin through conservation and sustainability, to generate money for the people so that it can be protected effortlessly by the communities that inhabit the area. If you go across the world like Rio for instance, there is a patch of forest right in the middle of Rio that has been properly designed, such that if you get into Rio, one of the tourists' attraction is that forest area within Rio. So if people can be attracted to go to such places and make so much money there, why can we not? We can boost our security architecture around the state. We can make our state more or less an oasis of Rio development through tourism, and we can get that collaboration to happen between
the federal government and the state, because both will benefit , and resources will emanate from that joint endeavour, and with proper legislation directed properly, you can engender these forms of development.
There is this belief that APC dominates the central district, how do you intend to wriggle out and come out successfully?
Is a belief by those who have a lean understanding of the way our politics is. PDP has always been the dominant party. It is true that APC has some big wigs in the central, and big game players, but that is how we also have mighty game players on the PDP side in the central. From the statistics on the ground, and from the way things are standing, the PDP has not been shaken enough to give way in the central. And we have not seen development from the APC that would have swayed the people to move from where they are standing now outside. Substantially speaking, ward for ward, local government by local government, the PDP is still the strongest party in the central, with due respect to all those who are in the APC now, it is.
Even when people believe that the governor is not working enough?
That is their belief, I don't know where they got that from. Ayade is working, and it will show itself in the election when he wins.
Let's get back to your agenda for the people of Cross river central. What do you have in mind for the youths?
That is a very good question because we are going to focus more on youth development and empowerment. And the way we intend to do it is to listen to them, do a history of youths' participation in politics and youths agitation, see what they have gotten so far, and see what we can do to evolve a strategy where youths can be more meaningfully engaged. And whatever it is that comes by way of empowerment is something that grows out of a consensus opinion, and something that is a function of a study that puts us in position as to determine exactly what is best for the youths. I give you an example: there is this situation where, sometimes, cars are bought for a certain category of youths. You buy a car for a young man, and before long, it becomes a burden. The car goes flat, he is looking for somebody to fix it for him, there is no petrol, he is looking for somebody to buy petrol. So the weapon of empowerment becomes an instrument of under-development for that young person. You have to evaluate and see the category of youths that will need a car, the category of youths that may need a bike. If you are into farming for instance, and you have your farm deep into the forest, and you are given a bike, it will be of use. But if you are doing nothing, and a bike is thrust upon you, what will you do with it? Maybe the best is to sell it somewhere. If you are working or you are doing business, and you need a car, a car can be given to you. But if you just idling around because you participated in politics, they just drop a car on you, instead of, for instance, giving you scholarship to go to school, or money to do a properly reasoned out business or something, it will go to no effect. So, we will not play to a gallery, we will like to do a needs assessment, individual, and collective and see where to locate our youths in such a way that whatever empowerment we bring about will be such that will generate sustainability overtime.
After four years, what will you want to be remembered for?
For proper representation, in and out of the red chambers; for consultations, people want to be consulted; for humility, I want to be able to be available to my people, not to develop wings immediately and fly away from their reach after electing me senator. I believe that when people give you a mandate, there are both physical and spiritual properties attached to the mandate. They are giving you their essence so that their lot can be better. So if you take it seriously go out there and perform, then, you would be guaranteed blessings from them and from God. If you go there and become over taken by the apparatus of power and you do not perform, it will not just be God that will deal with you, even the people themselves will deal with you, because you will be so lowly at the end of the day. So, I will be remembered for attending to people, I will be remembered for humility, I will be remembered for proactiveness. I like to be proactive, I will be a servant leader, I will be remembered for robust debates in the senate, I will be remembered for attracting dividends of democracy to the people of the central, I will remembered for elevating leadership, and adding value to our people.
A lot of people know you as a former commissioner, a former chairman, lecturer, and an associate professor. What is it that they don't know about you?
Maybe one of the things they don't know about me is that God is number one in my life. I fear God, and I live for the attempt all time, to respond to the yearnings and aspirations of our people.
Yea, maybe that is what they don't know. God is number one in my life, and the good of the people is uppermost in all that I do. So whenever I have an opportunity, I will do my best to make the people happy, because their happiness is my happiness. Once people are happy, I'm very excited, that's my life, and that's the truth.
What will you not do when you get there?
I will not look down on my people when I'm in the senate. I won't take advantage of them in any way. I will not enter into any bills that will not make my people proud. I will not rest on my oars when my people are suffering. I will not abandon them in any way. I won't be untrue to them. I will stand up for them when I need to, all the time, as long as I have their mandate. I will not do things they will not expect me to do. I will be as true as I present myself to them, all the time.