Eyo Nsa Ekpo is the coordinator of the Cross River State Progressives Forum. It was the group that led last week’s protest in Calabar against the government of Prof Ben Ayade, over the alleged plot by the government to grab a property belonging to the Navy.
Ekpo spoke with TNN on this and other issues.
You led a protest the other day concerning the issue of the land tussle between the Navy and Cross River State Government. Why did you have to do that?
Ayade is one person who does not listen to any other person except you make a loud noise. We decided to go on a protest and of course doing so, we had to call the press to be part of it. We discovered that this has been the characteristics of Ayade’s government, grabbing people’s land without adherence to due process. The law is clear that if, of course, by virtue of the Land Use Act 1977, all land is vested in the governor, but then the Act also provides the processes by which the governor can take such lands, and only for overriding public purposes.
The first thing to do is to publish a notice of revocation of right of occupancy, so that those who still have properties on that land can come in and apply for compensation. This is what this government has not done and I can assure you that this government has not published one single notice of revocation of right of occupancy since its inception in 2015, but they have been collecting people’s lands.
The Hope Waddel land that he has built his private property, the so called Calas Vegas land, so many other places.
But why are you saying so called?
Well, it is so called because up till today, we don’t know what he is doing with that place. What is he building in that place? What have you seen there? No adherence to due process whatsoever and we are aware that the Navy wants to bring War College to Calabar. It is not only good for the economy of the state, you understand, Navy has been a partner in progress for a long time. I’m even made to understand that without the Navy, Calabar wouldn’t have been liberated during the civil war, because of the fact that Calabar has one road in and one road out, so it was the Navy that took the town from the Rivers so the Army could come in through the land. So we have had this long association with the Nigeria Navy. The hospital they provided is not just for the staff of the Nigeria Navy, the hospital is for everybody. I am registered there with my family. This is one thing this government has not been able to provide.
All you hear are high sounding projects that are only on paper. That is why we had to go to the street so that he can leave the land for the Navy to do what they want to do. Navy has been on this land since 1969. How many years ago? That was before the coming into force of the Land Act in 1978 and by nature of section 49, the state government has no powers to revoke their right of occupancy and of course I know that he did not even contact his attorney general. Of course the attorney general would have advised him accordingly, but he did not, I’m very sure, I can vouch for that. So we have to make noise so that he can listen, that’s why we were on the street.
But the government has said that the land is to be acquired in the interest of the public?
For which project? That is what you would have asked. And where did he publish the notice of revocation of right of occupancy? Where did he publish it? In which newspaper, did he even send a letter to the ministry of lands? Which project is he going to site in that place? As we talk now, the national museum in Calabar, the old residency museum is closed off. It’s only Ayade that knows what he wants to do with that land. The chief judge’s residence which is also adjacent to the museum is closed off by Ayade. The deputy governor’s quarters which is also part of the same area that he closed off, what is he doing with all those places? These are the questions Cross Riverines should ask. So in the public interest, in which public interest, for which project? Which one has he started that he has even completed in five years? That’s the question you should ask.
But I’m aware that the industrial park, a lot of things are going on there?
You should take a look for yourself, you take a look for yourself, me and you know the meaning of industry park, if you are talking about industrial park, you open up the park, provide the infrastructure and you have to get partners who are coming in to build their industries. The way it’s situated is a joke, real joke. There is a tailoring workshop which he calls garment factory. I know he went and built one structure there which he said is called Calipharm. Till today it has not produced one single aspirin. So what is there, what is happening there? And first and foremost, the question should also be asked, how was the land acquired? In whose names are those companies registered? These are the questions that must be asked now, this is the time to ask those questions, does it belong to Cross River State or do they still belong to private individuals?
Do you have any reason to suspect that they do not belong to the government?
That is the question I should ask to you press to go ask them, go and find out for yourself.
No, before you raised this, there must have been reasonable suspicion?
(Cuts in)The way the land itself was acquired is questionable. Where was the publication of notice of right of occupancy? Has compensation been paid to the owners of the land? These are questions you should also raise and ask them, let them answer these questions. For four years going to five years, Cross River State has not had a budget.
How do you mean?
What I mean is that there is no budget either in hard copy or in soft copy, that me and you can look through and peruse, and say oh, this year, so and so amount of money was budgeted, and this is the amount received, this is the amount expended, all you hear is budget of limpotic meristemasis, budget of kinetic crystallisation, budget, budget of quabalistic densification, meaningless terms.
Is it that you are having problems with those names or there is no budget at all?
(Cuts in), I am having problem with everything. The problem is that the names are meaningless and there is no budget in existence. Cross River State is being ruled, the finances of Cross River State is in somebody’s pocket. It is public funds my brother and there are extant rules and laws regarding the expenditure of public funds.
So what’s your prescription for the way forward for governance of Cross River State from all the things you are saying?
From now onward, we will ask questions and we expect answers from this government, from now henceforth, we will ask questions on things that have passed and what is happening in the future. That is the way forward. Cross Riverians are beginning to get up and ask questions, it is never too late.
Are you suggesting that your group wants to hold the governor accountable for the resources of the state even when the governor has said many times that he runs the state with his personal finances?
(Cuts in) So you believed that? You believed that that is possible? If he is running the state from his own private finances, Cross Riverians are entitled to know how much of his money he is sinking into the state. We are also entitled to know how much is coming to the state from the federation account and from the IGR. It is our right to know and it is our right to know how much he is expending. If he is lending Cross River State money from his private purse, we are entitled to know the processes and procedures that have led to him giving the state a loan. We are entitled to know.
Let’s talk about the issue of the chief judge, the confirmation of the chief judge, how do you feel about what is going on?
Sad. They play politics with everything. The judiciary is not a place where we should play politics because judiciary that you know is the last hope of the common man. We shouldn’t play politics with it and first, the judiciary has a tradition; the tradition is the tradition of seniority, it is by seniority that one person succeeds another. It has been established over time. He has never asked a question of where a judge comes from. If a judge was good enough to work as a judge in Cross River State from inception, what makes the person now not qualified? Because she was not born in Cross River State but she was good enough to work in Cross River State, offer her services throughout her life in Cross River State; now it is time to become the chief judge which is her due and her time and you raise a question of where she comes from. It is wrong. Of course she is a Cross Riverian. She is married to a Cross Riverian, has lived throughout her life as a Cross Riverian. All her children are Cross Riverians. So there is no question. The only question here is that she is a Southern Cross Riverian, and they want to install a northerner as chief judge against all the extant rules and tradition of the judiciary. It’s really sad and very unfortunate.