Calabar-based lawyer, Barrister Utum Eteng, fields questions from DAVID ODEY on various thorny issues, zeroing in on President Buhari's anti-corruption war and the search for a new chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC)
Buhari has declared for second term. How would you react to that?
I think he merits it. He is exercising his constitutional right to ask for a second term because the constitution guarantees every person elected as either a chief executive of a state or of Nigeria two terms. So, he has declared and he is eminently qualified to ask for a second term because he has done well under very difficult situation. I say difficult because he came in quite unexpectedly because everybody thought the PDP would win and the PDP itself thought it would win. He has done well. We all have our different impressions based on our political alignments. Otherwise, we have to concede to the fact that Mr. President has brought down the tension created by Boko Haram. When Jonathan was president, the Chibok girls were captured. They never made any pungent effort to rescue the girls and yet so much money was given to the national security adviser. Instead of directing such funds to the rescue of people, it was shared among people who have admitted that they collected money from him, not knowing the source. And they are refunding. That is a successful aspect of his war against corruption. Now if a public officer is given money to execute a project, he does it with an element of fear. But that was not so before the president came on board. I know life is harsh because the president inherited a government that was plagued with so many problems. Yes, the economy has picked up. It is a gradual process. If the foreign reserve has hit $47 billion, it is unprecedented in the history of this country. That shows you the level of prudent spending. Now you have a TSA account where so much money is paid into. All the wastages are now covered. Some Nigerians are now protesting because the avenue of getting cheap money has been checkmated. That is why they are giving the president so many names like a dog in order to hang him. We know the man has tried his best within the limits of the hard situation he met on ground which is now easing out gradually. Now people are confessing to corruption and to receiving money which was corruptly appropriated to them. They are making refunds. Do people refund money when they are not caught? When they are not questioned? You refund money when you are caught and questioned. So that is a remarkable achievement. I think the only unfortunate aspect of it is that Buhari is fighting corruption in a democracy, as civilian president. That, to my mind, is an unfortunate situation. It should have been under the military regime so that the Jerry Rawlings method should have been applied in Nigeria. Ghana was almost a collapsed country. A loaf of bread cost more than what we have today. No matter what it is, you can afford a loaf of bread of N300. Yes. Some go for N50, some for N100. In Ghana a loaf of bread was almost going to 1,000 and 1,500 cedis. But we have not got to that stage yet. It was like that until a military man known as Jerry Rawlings came and apprehended those thieves and after their trial they were all tied to the stakes and killed and all their properties were confiscated and forfeited as property of the state. And all those who came after them became more prudent. And because of that, all Ghanaians who were in some West African countries, returned home because normalcy had returned to their country. In my first year in the university, I was taught by Ghanaian professors who all relocated to Nigeria because life was very hard for them in their country. They all went back when normalcy returned. Ghana was tougher than Nigeria of today. I believe people like Buhari, if given opportunity and cooperation, they will do more. So, he deserves a second term in spite of PDP propaganda.
But the Conference of Political Parties (CNPP) say that looking at all parameters, he does not deserve a second term?
I do not know what you expect. Do you expect anything to the contrary from an opposition group? From people who would want to be 'settled'? If they are 'settled' today, you will hear them sing a different song. The president is not prepared to do that. He is not ready to play ball the way ball was played before. That is why you are having a lot of criticisms for non-performance from here and there. He is not the kind of person to use the people's money to play ball. The PDP must be behind CNPP. The PDP, even though it is sinking gradually, is doing everything humanly possible to give the impression that they exist in every nook and cranny of this country when in actual fact it is not correct.
Some are citing Buhari's age and ill health as reason for him not to return for a second term…
Let me tell you, let us be frank to ourselves. The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has not placed age barrier when you are running as the president of this country. It has not. So you cannot read into the constitution what it has not provided. So, these are all matters of opinion spearheaded by PDP elements. How old was Obasanjo when he was president? What about other presidents of the world? On the issue of sickness, all of us seated here are sick. You only realize that you are sick the day it manifests physically. Yes, the president was sick and he went for treatment, which is normal. People are taking advantage. Was Yar'Adua not sick? He was sick and left the shores of Nigeria for a very long time, though unfortunately he did not come back alive. The PDP elements will not look at that. They will only talk about the president who was sick and was treated and came back stronger than before.
On his age, some Nigerians want a younger person in his 40s or 50s to become president…
How old was President Goodluck Jonathan when he became president? He was a younger person. Did he do better than this? We should tell ourselves the truth. He was a young man. But look at the blunder a young man has done. So we should go to pick somebody in his 40s so that we collapse the country? Haba! (Common!). We should try to be guided by proper judgement not sentiment or blackmail. The president is doing well. The only bad thing about President Buhari is that he does not want to share the commonwealth of the people. He is ruling in a pragmatic way but some think he should be rascally and a drunk so that when he is drunk he can sign cheques so that people can go and steal the whole money. That is not proper.
What would you say about the forthcoming elective convention of APC?
Elective convention is the best thing to happen to APC. APC before now has been a skeleton hanging on the frame of President Buhari and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Those people came together, sank all their differences and came up with APC. Now as I speak, I see APC as a living corpse. It must be brought back to life because there is no cohesion in the party. There are crises in almost all the chapters of APC. Individuals versus individuals, individuals versus party. It should not be so in a ruling party. It is not the work of the president to do that. It is the work of a pro-active, charismatic and pragmatic party leader to put enough synergy on ground to bring the party together. There is no form of cohesion in the party, let nobody pretend. Chief John Oyegun has tried his best but his best is not good enough. Let him quit so that a pragmatic person can take over and bring about peace in the party. Party leaders at the national level should sit down and try to X-ray the problems in the party in the states and find solutions to them so that the party can win its elections. When I was in PDP, I was a member of the National Standing Committee on Planning, Research and Development. Part of our work was to look at the crises in the states and proffer solutions. If Mr B is wrong, you blame him in our own report. And I can tell you some of the things the party is implementing today came from our research. They take time to do research. They have a director of research in the PDP. I don't know what is happening to APC. The crisis is escalating and some persons are either celebrating that it has ended. It is the beginning of the crisis. You don't treat a man with such ignominy and you expect him to keep his mouth shut. Are you feeding me? You are not feeding me. What I believe is the truth, I will say it. Some persons in APC should repent and embrace God and ask for God's forgiveness. You can't do the PDP impunity which Jerry Gana admitted was responsible for their failure. I saw a text message sent to my phone. The text message was signed by Etim John as the state chairman of the party inviting members for a dinner with the minister. And look at the agenda. It is that what the minister set out to do, by thinking he can impose Etim John, so that party's decisions can be taken at his own instance? To hell. I said it unequivocally, to hell. I pity those who depend on politics as their main source of livelihood. If you have a fallback position, there is some nonsense you will not take. Some elements within the National executive of the party are giving impetus to these illegalities all around as if that is what governance is all about. And they are thinking that they want to win an election. Senators want to become governors and they think people will succumb. We are approaching that stage. You have your vote. And you have those you can influence to exercise their votes.
As a stalwart of the APC in the state, you are maintaining hardline positions on certain issues and personalities in the party. Don't you think it could earn you suspension?
Thank you very much for that question. You are the second person to have asked me that question but I want to let you know that if you are a firm believer of the Bible, it tells us that the truth sets a man free. Truth is what sets a man free. In the eyes of honest men, the truth sets a man free. In the eyes of evil men, they talk about what they are contemplating. I know there are so many evil men in this world masquerading as righteous people. For me, you know me very well. But you know I have a booming legal practice. I have never signed a government voucher. I have never won a contract from government. You know me very well. I am not blowing my trumpet. I have six houses. All my children are all grown up. They are all graduates. I drive any car of my choice. So if you ask me not to be a member of a political party, even though you cannot do it with ease, I lose nothing, because I call myself a hot cake. Even if I am not a member of any political party, it does not stop me from expressing positive, honest view about issues affecting my immediate environment. Even if I am suspended, I have to be given fair hearing because our constitution says so. If am not satisfied I will challenge it. But it has not got to that. But I tell the truth and the truth will set us free. I don't believe in hitting people from behind and backbiting. When you do things straight, you have saved yourself from encumbrances and inconveniences. You can't do a thing in a zigzag manner and expect people to buy into it. It can never work. Things don't work that way.
What is the position of the Atam Congress on the political situation in the state?
I would like to answer this question with some reservations. I have enough materials in my house and in my office to support whatever position I take as an individual. I have no capacity to speak for the group but I have capacity to speak for myself and pungently convince people and tell people the truth. At the fullness of time, we shall speak our mind. We went to the trenches to urge the argument that all zones should be equitably represented in the governance of this state. You know what has happened. Let me not be the first person to express his opinion on that but I can assure you that at the fullness of time, we shall tell Cross Riverians what the truth should be and is. Nobody can be blackmailed to leaving what is right to embrace what is wrong. We are coming to that. Cross River will be told at the fullness of time. I remember, my memory has not failed me, Donald Duke from the south spent eight years. Liyel Imoke from the central just yesterday, spent eight years. Governor Ayade from the north is still in his first four-year term. If he wants to seek a re-nomination by his party, it's okay. If that is the case, arguments will be advanced at the appropriate time