In this interview, Ntufam Ekpo Okon, the deputy governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Cross River State, openly bares it all, taking on the PDP incumbent governor Senator Ben Ayade on his claims on zoning, industrialization and infrastructure as well as the determination for victory for the APC. DAVID ODEY sent the interview.
How would you rate the electorate in northern and central part of the state after campaigning there?
One of the things I want to note is the reaction of the people. The reception clearly shows that the people of Cross River State are yearning for a change. It is so clear in their mood that they are not satisfied with the status quo: The people truly would want to have a change of administration that will bring a refocused government in the state.
What is your take on zoning?
The reality is the fact that this government has failed to deliver governance. And it cannot be all because some persons are looking forward to what they called “our turn,” therefore we would ignore mis-governance and allow a government that has failed in performance, a government that has failed in administration, a government that has not been able to sustain those things it inherited; that it must be given another term. No. I have always said that in Cross River State, zoning had not been institutionalized or written down, but we understand and definitely have a fair understanding of equity. In 1999, I was a key player when we worked towards the election of Mr. Donald Duke. There was no zoning. He campaigned, he worked and presented himself to the people of Cross River State and was elected without zoning.
In 2003 when he was campaigning for a second term, there was no zoning. Nobody said it was the turn of the south and therefore others should not contest. We had candidates from the three senatorial districts contesting. He campaigned on his records and I can remember his slogan at the campaign in 2003 was “one good term deserves another.” He got second term on record of performance. When Senator Liyel Imoke put himself up for the election in 2007, there was no zoning. He contested. There were candidates from the North, Central and even in the South where governor Duke was living, there was a candidate and nobody raised an issue. Cross Riverians knew what to do and worked towards it.
When in 2011 he contested for a second term, there was no zoning. Even when zoning was pronounced in 2015, whether it was pronounced or not, the thoughts of most Cross Riverians were very clear, that the next governor will come from the north. And that happened but unfortunately the beneficiary of this has failed to manage governance. Imagine the campaign now: I cannot understand why somebody can be campaigning for a second term on the basis of zoning and rotation.
Let me tell you something, if we allow the narrative to be the direction of Cross River State, because when you listen to the people talking about zoning particularly my brothers and sisters in the south, “they say he (Ayade) has not done well, but let us manage him; let's tolerate him so that he will leave and hand over power to us”. And I ask the question: This "us" represents what? What is he going to hand over? Is he handing over a state that is alive or a carcass of it? And even when he is doing the hand over; what quality of succession is he going to breed, because birds of the same feather flock together.
When we have such succession and we have another poor performer taking over, the people of the Central will now have to also go with the same argument, please let us tolerate him so that he can hand over to us after his tenure. Then, what we would have established then will be a cycle of mis-governance and tolerance. That will then be an acceptable culture. We say no to such. He has spent energy promising many of my brothers and sisters in the south, that he will hand over to them. He knows that he has promised not less than five or six people in the south to hand over to. Unless he is playing God, then he can determine who he will hand over to. Beyond that, he knows that he does not mean what he is saying.
What I will rather say is this, if we do what is right, knowing that he (Ayade) has not done well and we vote based on that fact, that this government has not done well, If John Owan-Enoh and I become governor and deputy, therefore beneficiary of such position, we all already know that we have put ourselves on the line. If we fail to perform, we will also be voted out in 2023 and that becomes a better culture in Cross River State; that you either do well or you will be voted out. That is what I think is good for the state, not zoning and rotation which takes us nowhere.
We should be looking at whether the state is getting the benefits it ought to get; whether what is being done by the government meets the expectations of the people of Cross River State.
Let's talk about industrialisation of Cross River
I will address a number of issues that this government prides itself on. For instance, industrialization, and I will take on that because I know that they are not doing any industrialization, just one level of gimmick of taking money out of the country.
First, let's go to the general acceptable principle that over the years, it has been proven that government cannot do businesses and we have seen government businesses established previously all going aground and that in some instances, government was able to privatize many of them and they are doing well now. So how would a governor who prides himself as having been a successful businessman, now come and take government into business. How? Under Donald Duke, we were able to privatize erstwhile CALCEMCO, today we have a functional cement factory- UNICEM, now Lafarge Plc. Metropolitan was privatized and today we have the Transcorp Hotel work and it's efficient. When Senator Liyel Imoke came, palm estates in Qua Falls, in Ibiae, in Calaoro were all privatized. Today we have PZ Wilmer with investors all the way from Asia and we can see life back in those estates. That was the direction but unfortunately under this (Ayade's) administration not one simple private investment has come into Cross River State, even those that came some of them have left. You can count them, General Electric that came and put in its investments in billions of naira in CFTZ have left. CBN Enterprenuership Development Center has left. Pepsi and Coke-Cola depots have left, and many others.
Do you now sit back and see a government that has failed to give proper administration, that has failed in the area of security, failed in area of infrastructure, a government that has failed in articulating appropriate policy direction that would attract investment, and you let the state to slide to the wrong direction? Imagine that same government claiming to take itself into what it calls industrialization.
Let's take some of the industries, one after the other. Garment factory is his most celebrated achievement. What is the cost of the garment factory? How much has this government invested in the establishment of the garment factory? What is the operational cost of the factory on a monthly basis and how much does it generate monthly that will make it sustainable? This you must answer if truly, you want to convince some of us that he is working for the interest of the state.
Let's take another one that I hear he calls “Calachika”, I hear that Calachika for which machines have been imported in already, is expected to prepare frozen chickens for export. Please, I want to ask this government to show me where they have established a poultry farm. Where is the farm that will provide the birds for processing and export?
Not one single hatchery exists in Cross River State. As we speak, about 60 per cent of the eggs we eat in Calabar comes from Akwa-Ibom State and yet a government tells us that it is setting up a factory that will process chickens for export. He quickly rushed to import machineries and celebrate that, yet there is no poultry.
Let's turn to the cocoa factory in Ikom. Has this government raised one single additional cocoa seedlings over these years? How much has it developed the existing cocoa farms that will sustain the factory? That is the truth. Let's face it. The government has not done anything. You set up the factory, you don't have the raw materials that will sustain the factory. The truth of the matter, which I have said over and over again is this: the so-called industrialization has become a conduit for taking money out of Nigeria.
Where are the feasibility studies of these industries? They have not done any. It is not transparent at all. The process of procurement of machineries has been so opaque and not transparent at all.
What are your thoughts on the deep seaport project?
I challenge the government to show genuineness in that project. It found a site somewhere in Esighe community in Bakassi, and then, just to show how this government is committed to deceiving Cross Riverians, they went to somewhere in Awi, Akamkpa local government area to prepare a place they call Piles and Pylon factory for Bakassi Deep Seaport. Sheer engineering tells you that proper piling is done “insitu” and it would have been done at the site and even when you are going to prepare a pylon for use, it must be close to the location. That is because of the process and the logistics of conveying same. They are going to be heavy pylons and the logistics of taking that to the site, means that he should have had it very close to the site. But what our government has decided to do is build a shade by the Highway because he is intending to deceive Cross River people to think that some work is going on in Bakassi for the Deep Seaport when indeed, nothing is going on there.