He is a journalist. He is a politician. He is an administrator. Ntufam Ekpo Okon, a former commissioner of works in Cross River State, a former representative of the state in the board of the NDDC, a former chairman of the PDP in the state, a former deputy governorship candidate of the APC, speaks to TNN on his reasons for returning to the PDP.
He also makes known his assessment of the governor of Cross River in the last six years.
What is it that led you back to the PDP, the party you left and joined APC?
Alright. I left the PDP because there were certain tendencies that I complained about. One, I never subscribed to the idea of automatic ticket to people and again, I didn’t see any reason why the party had to call for nomination and asked people to buy forms, it was after we have paid for forms, we worked hard and we were about to go for primary and then they now brought the story of automatic ticket. It was very, very, very painful.
It was a moment that I felt I was not treated properly and I left and nobody talked to me in a manner that made me also understand. I didn’t see any reason why I had to stay.
There were also some activities at the other end of APC for which they brought a lot of pressure too and asked me if I can come on board let’s work on it. I thought also that we can work on something because one, I must say that after four years of Ben Ayade, I have always been convinced that Ben has mismanaged the mandate that he was given.
Okay, so as it is now if…
(cuts in) so coming back to PDP, I’ve looked at everything. In truth, in all sincerity, if you want to look and assess performance of APC both at the federal level and in my state today, with the Ben Ayade representing the image of APC, I don’t see reason why I should be part of what is going on. I believe that too, PDP has learnt its lessons and it should be possible for us to work together for the rebirth of our state because we’ve lost it and for our country Nigeria, I believe that there is need to change the change. What was the change in 2015, I think Nigerians have a better assessment of Nigeria today.
Okay, we will come back to the issue of Ben Ayade and governance. But let’s still talk about PDP and APC. People have said you are returning to the PDP because you’ve been promised deputy governorship slot….
(cuts in) Let me tell you, I can tell this to everybody, I have made it very clear that aspirations are not the issue. I believe that PDP is having some level of sanity that we can sit down and discuss and I will tell anybody that nobody, I have not discussed any aspiration with anybody, I have not discussed anything, nobody has brought that as an issue, but I can say that for quite a while, a whole lot of people have been talking to me about coming back to PDP and I think I feel valued there; I feel that I am valued there because when Ben came into APC, the way he is running APC is actually a situation where Ben doesn’t know how to share power, he takes it and owns it. Don’t mind a whole lot of leaders in APC who may not openly complain. But my problem with leadership in APC is that you find leaders who privately will complain about situations but in the public you hear a different song.
Are you trying to say that your governor is a power monger?
Well, I didn’t call him a power monger but what I am saying is that he doesn’t know how to share power; he carries it and owns it.
What is it that has really shocked you, or disturbed you, or worried you, or given you headache about the governance style of Ben Ayade?
Well, whether under PDP or APC, anybody who has been part of Cross River from 1999 till today will be in a better position to speak about Cross River today, whether we’ve made progress or we have done a whole lot of retrogression. Anybody that has been living in Cross River and has been an adult should be able to speak about Cross River today. So for me, let me not use my words to give the judgment but I challenge everybody who has been living in Cross River State to do an assessment of Cross River then and today, then we will know whether we have made progress or not.
I made a statement that when you want to see the image of Cross River today, take a walk to the state library, just by the U. J. Esuene stadium, and look at that edifice that represents education and where you have two professors as governor and deputy governor, and then when you see that image that represents Cross River, that’s exactly what Cross River looks like, in my own conclusion.
Was there any time you had to sit down with Ben Ayade to advise him on what he should do or…?
(Cuts in) Can anybody sit down with Ben Ayade to advise him, can anybody? No, let me ask, can anybody? He has the largest number of advisers anybody can ever imagine. Wait let me ask the question, even those he has appointed and he pays salaries to advise him, do they advise him or can he take their advice? Why will I waist my energy?
Is it that he does not listen or is it that he…
(Cuts in) It’s not a case that he does not listen; ask him whether he needs any advice.
So, the way the state is now, would you say you are ashamed to be a citizen of Cross River State?
Well, I will never be ashamed to be a citizen of Cross River State. I’m not, no matter the circumstance because I cannot run away from it; that’s where I come from, but I know too well that I am not excited by what is happening to Cross River State and I know that no person who means well for this state will be happy for Cross River State the way it is today.
In what specific ways are Cross Riverians not happy?
(Cuts in) Let’s take any issue, whether in terms of infrastructure, even in his so called industrialization. Ben said he has done a whole lot of industrialization and that’s what he wants to brag about, but let’s come down to the details. When you have industries, you have products, so what are the products? Where are they? Almost seven years into his administration, where are the products of his industries, where are they being marketed? How many people are employed in his industries? So you will now know whether there is an investment in that area. So as far as I’m concerned, Ben also knows too well that government would never have gone into direct investment in industries, if government had created proper environment that will attract investors. This government lost focus and as a business man, he knows that government doesn’t run industries. He cannot run business, government doesn’t run businesses. As a business man, he should know and therefore all he needed to do as a governor is to create the appropriate environment that will attract investors. Is it in terms of infrastructure that will support industries, he hasn’t. Is it in terms of security that will give investors the confidence to invest in this environment, there is none, that’s the issue. He hasn’t done anything, let’s face the reality. I want to challenge him, let him come on each sector, let him say which sector that he has made a difference in terms of making progress from what we had in 2015 when he take over. There is none and rather, we have had retrogressions.
Are you saying that he has destroyed or he has ruined Cross River?
Let me tell you one thing, just take a sample or views of Cross Riverians on the street, then you will know. I don’t want it to look like someone who is going to be tagged as a political opponent that is speaking, I want you to just take a walk, take a vox pop, then you will know exactly the feelings and the mood of Cross Riverians.
But are you saying he has ruined the state, are you saying he has destroyed the state, are you saying…?
(Cuts in) What I may tell you clearly is that he has taken Cross River State backwards in every aspect of life, whether the civil service, it’s completely destroyed, in terms of infrastructure, he hasn’t been able to maintain what he inherited and he has not added value. Let’s pick. He said he wanted to do deep seaport, let’s ask, where are we on this seaport, how much has been spent on this seaport? He wanted to do superhighway, where are we on superhighway, how much has been spent on superhighway? He said he was going to dualise the road from Tinapa junction to Odukpani, how many years on only 11 kilometers of road? Let’s then come clear on how much has been spent on that road so far and how much have been achieved. So let’s come, let’s look at which aspect of infrastructure has Ben added value, and we keep asking which aspect of our infrastructure has Ben added value, let’s be real, he hasn’t.
The Industrial City, I am pointing out one to you.
Which of the industries is working, mention one. The garment factory, he uses government money to pay the workers. I mean they are not making headway. Let’s face reality. You call it an industry so that industry should be working and generating revenue. Is it working? Which other one, which one is working?
There is a cocoa factory in Ikom.
We’ve heard these stories of cocoa factory. Easily, you build a warehouse and bring in some equipment and then you don’t get it to work. It’s not even in its best of form, let me tell you something about the rice factory in Ogoja.
The so called construction of a rice factory in Ogoja, is a waste. First, according to his own projection, the volume of rice that is being planted in the area cannot even supply adequately to that factory. So, it didn’t need that kind of size. In any case what if he built smaller sizes of factories, one in Ogoja, maybe one in Obubra which is a high production area, maybe one around Adim in Biase which also produce a lot of rice, that again will mean that the rice farmers in those areas can utilize those factories for milling, but come to think of it, how many farmers will bother themselves to carry their rice from Abi or from Adim to go to Ogoja to go and mill and you have built a very so called big capacity rice factory there, the truth of the matter is that Ben does not even get feasibility study for businesses that he takes up, what kind of business man is that? Dangote will never do that, he will get a proper study and feasibility of projects that he is setting up. So what we are saying here?
You’ve talked about all the things that are not working, so are you suggesting that the government is a scam?
What? Those who think it’s a scam may have their reasons to really feel convinced and it might be difficult to fault them because at the end of the day, we ask questions, you set up a structure, a factory that you know ab initio that will not work, then are you not scamming?
Now that you are back to the PDP, what is your expectation from the party the way it is now?
(Cuts in) Let me tell you something, the name of a party is not the issue, it’s the content of the party. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve experienced what I have found in, or what has become of APC today and I’ve also looked at what has become of PDP today and I am very convinced that Cross River needs a rebirth and the content that we have in PDP today will be in a better position to redirect Cross River in the next election and give us some hope of a new direction, a rebirth. So that’s why I feel comfortable to join forces here, work with this team and see how we can give a future to our people.