Cross River state Central Senatorial District aspirant, Chris Agara spoke with some journalists in Calabar about a wide range of issues bordering on democracy, Governor Ben Ayade's three years in the saddle, why he wants to run for the senate under PDP platform, among other issues. DAVID ODEY was there for TNN
What is your assessment of Nigerian democracy after 19 years?
My impression about democracy is that democracy should grow in Nigeria. Democracy for me, effectively, is just 19 years. Nineteen years could be considered a long time. Nineteen years could also be considered a teething time for somebody to grow and grow maturely. A 19-year old cannot be so mature. I believe that Nigerian democracy has moved from where it started to a certain level. Granted that some people might not be satisfied with the way our democracy has progressed, but I think that it has taken a step forward, even though I know that a lot could have been done, considering the fact we are learning a lot from those who are already established. We all know how democracy in other countries work and I believe we should have learnt faster and done things a lot better than the way they are being done now.
There is so much violence associated with Nigerian politics. How can it be prevented as we approach the 2019 general elections?
Violence happens because, as I had said in the past, most politicians are greedy. A lot of them are responsible for the violence we witness during elections. People don't believe they should go into contest fairly so that the people will make their choice of who they want. As a result of that they start cutting corners. They want to impose themselves or impose people. It is imposition and greed and refusal to allow the normal process to take place that is responsible for the violence we see in our politics. If for instance you say let us go into the field and elect who we want and there is transparency and people go to make their choices the way they should, there won't be need for any violence. But because we want to perpetuate ourselves in office or we want to impose people that are not popular, or people that are not popular want to impose themselves on others, that is why we are seeing all the violence.
How do you foresee 2019 general elections?
I believe the spirit of 2015 will probably prevail. A situation where those who lose will lose gallantly and those who win should exhibit a degree of magnanimity. I pray that should be the case in 2019. It is only when people lose and refuse to accept the fact that they have lost that 2019 will be shaken.
How has Ayade fared in three years?
The governor has fared exceedingly very well. I want you to look at the indices of what is obtainable in the state. You need to look at some parameters, you need to look at his projects. Check. Development is influenced by the resources available to the states. They grow and develop on the basis of what they have. And if you check, Nigeria has been so reliant on allocation from the federation account. And if you check the case of Cross River, we are almost second to the last in terms of federal allocation. And if you check our internally generated revenue, it is low, considering the fact that even the governor has abolished some taxes. Some categories of people have been exempted from paying taxes because of their low income. And so, that has also caused the state to have very lean resources. If you check the state's social responsibility to the people, the governor has embraced so many. In the country today, he is one of the governors who have the highest appointees across the board, across the state. It is not just appointment, he is paying them. It is a state that takes care of its social responsibility to its people. In terms of its economic intervention for the people, he is industrializing the state. I will give you an instance, say agriculture, where I try to anchor some of his programmes for him. Take the rice value chain. We have the rice seedling multiplication factory called the Rice City where a special specie of rice will be produced. This specie of rice will be given to farmers to plant so that we will have that specie. Whatever is going to be harvested they will be taken to the rice mill that is being constructed. And the rice mill is a world class facility. By the time it is finished, the rice that will be milled there will be vitaminized rice. Rice is merely carbohydrate if you eat it the way it is. But when you add vitamin, it becomes richer with more nutrients. So, he has been able to develop that full value chain of rice, from the seedlings which is required to plant, to planting itself by the farmers and to the milling. Prior to this time, some of you are aware that 80% of the rice that was milled in Abakaliki came from Cross River. It was tagged Abakaliki rice. It was never tagged Cross River Rice. But today, rice that we farmed and harvested will now be milled and tagged Cross River Rice. There are lots of advantages that are associated with the value chain in addition to the fact that the Rice City will produce the same seedlings that will be supplied to other states. And then you also look at other agricultural value chains that I am also anchoring. I want to speak on issues that I am very conversant with. Cocoa before now, our cocoa bean was usually sent to the West, especially Ondo, and mixed with Ondo cocoa and exported as Ondo cocoa. Meanwhile, the cocoa that comes from Ikom, Etung and Boki is one of the finest species. It is almost organic in nature. We will increase the value chain of cocoa we produce. Processing it will add value to it. So, we are building a cocoa processing factory in Ikom that has full value chain. It will earn foreign exchange for the country and our cocoa will be found in the world market. We have to take advantage of world cocoa value chain which is $137b by adding value to our cocoa before we export it.
While other states such as Ebonyi are commissioning projects, Cross River is not. Why is it so?
There are some projects that I know will soon be commissioned. I can tell you that some of the major projects that I am involved in, like the cocoa factory in Ikom, will be commissioned between now and the next two or three months. Even the Rice mill in Ogoja will also be commissioned soon.
Why did you go into politics and why do you want to run for Senate?
I am a private sector person. It gets to a time in your life when you want to leave the private sector and see what you can do in the public sector. As a private man I am an employer of labour. Right now I have close to 300 workers in my employment. I do a lot of social work. As a matter of principle I don't like to disclose them. You are aware of some of my activities. I have a lot of scholarship programmes. I like to share with the needy. Another reason why I went into politics is that I have been in the oil and gas business for close to thirty something years. If I were a civil servant I should be retiring. But I just noticed that there are too many professional politicians. If politics is not handled by people who have demonstrated capacity and ability in some form or some way of life, then we will keep leaving it for people who believe power must reside with them. Such people feel they don't owe the people anything. They will think of how they will secure themselves. And maybe eight years will not be enough to secure themselves. And what happens if he doesn't make it? The world is evolving. In the whole world private sector people are getting involved in politics to see how they can turn things around. I am going to the senate to bring development to the people of my senatorial zone. My focus will be on agriculture. I will assist farmers to access huge funds which they do not know exist.
Are you worried about the state of insecurity in the country?
Security should be everybody's business. When you shoot your gun, you won't know who the bullet will hit. Security is a major concern. I just hope and pray that those in charge of security will get it right. Yes, there are concerns about security in 2019. Similar concerns were expressed heavily in 2015 and Nigeria overcame it. We are a very prayerful country. I do believe strongly that one person's ambition won't destroy the country. We are a survivalist country. We have a way of wriggling out of any tight situation.
PDP witnessed defections after the 2015 elections in the Central Senatorial District. Are you going to welcome back those who want to return?
PDP will welcome those who want to return. The party is a very big umbrella. It is like a father. However, those returning should respect the people they left behind to keep the party going. They should not undermine those they return to meet in the party. Even new people that were not part of PDP are welcomed. In Cross River, there was no other party except PDP. Every member of other parties was one time or the other a member of PDP. So if they are coming back, they are coming back to their old fold.
Recently, you brokered peace among 25 communities in Boki and other parts of the Central Senatorial zone. Are you going to do more when you get to the senate?
That will be my cardinal assignment in the senate. I need to go to the National Assembly to get that instrumentality of power to intervene in communal clashes in my constituency and other parts of the state. You can't lead people who are not united.
You are going to the senate to represent your people. What change are we going to see there?
Just like I see life and my business, I will go there with eagle eye of looking at things that will be good for the country, good for my state, and above all and more importantly, that are good for my people. There is quite a lot one can contribute to make the senate deliberations better than the way they are. I am not going there as an ignorant person. I know what I want and I will go strictly for it and by the grace of God, I will get it.