Senator Sandy Onor, the first aspirant to declare his ambition to contest for the governorship seat of Cross River State before PDP, met with journalists at the NUJ press centre last week where he unveiled his agenda for the state and also answered questions on his relationship with the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike.
TNN recorded the question and answer session.
There’s no record that you have visited this press centre for any press conference since you got to the senate. So how are you going to turn that around when you become governor, to be hold periodic conferences with journalists and brief us how your work is going, as you said?
I may not have been interacting with journalists in the state as much as I’ve been interacting with those in the National Assembly, but I’ve been interacting with the press. I’ve spoken to AIT, Channels, NTA, Arise TV et al. I’ve engaged the print media and I’ve been speaking with the press. Maybe I haven’t gone to the press as formally as I have now and I’m here right now my brother. I understand democracy, beauty and strength of the press and I’m a democrat. So I cannot treat the press with disdain.
Looking at the state today, there is a very huge debt; there are lean resources in terms of allocation coming to the state. Will you please throw more light on how you intend to execute the laudable projects you listed down here in your blueprint?
I’ll be very open and transparent and I’ll like for us to cut our coat accordingly to our cloth, and not size. What I see today is a situation where we speak in huge terms beyond our resources. Our budget is blown out of proportion and our capacity is hyped for nothing. It is important to tell our people the truth. There are three kinds of states- the very big ones, the medium and the small ones. I think Cross River today belongs to the small category. Smallness is not bad; stay where God kept you but work so hard that Cross River will be such a beautiful place that those who have the capacity for creating bigness will come to your state. That was the vision before now. We know we don’t have money; we can’t begin to put together a budget that is bigger than that of Lagos, Rivers or that of Kano. That is out of context of reality. Get together, see what your resource base is, plan within that context. The issues of security, Cross River is geographically located in such a way that it is easy to give us security and have our people sleep well. The issues of hygiene for our state, basic education, basic healthcare facilities, release the local governments to work so that the bulk of our rural population can flourish. Show less greed and be more service propelled. If you do this, it doesn’t take much money. It is difficult, but let your people understand where you are. Plan with them, carry them along, show them respect and don’t say things you cannot do. Simple, and Cross Riverians will begin to follow, things will begin to get good again and people will begin to invest in Cross River again, and the big things we even see with our small size will begin to happen, that is how I want to run government in an honest, God-fearing manner, with our people as the prime object; you do these and it will be nice. That’s my purpose, my essence, our prayer, trusting God and with grace and our people behind us, we’ll make Cross Riverians happy again.
One of the most striking things in your press conference texts this morning was the local government autonomy. You said you were going to restore it back to local governments. Looking at the funds coming to Cross River State, the lean resources and all of that, we know that most governors depend solely on local government finances to execute projects. You’ve been a local government chairman before, how do you intend to release all these funds that have accrued to the local government if you become the governor of Cross River state?
The situation we have now with the local government is that they are treated with absolute disdain and the local government chairmen are not taken into account when planning is being done and given the impression that the money they have is not their own. That’s the impression I want to take away. Yes, the state may be in a position where you need to cooperate with the local government system for you to organically and totally survive. But you must approach them with dignity. There must be a buy-in, because you cannot completely confiscate with their resources and they begin to look like beggars. You will rather partner with them even if you’re going to depend on some of their resources, leave them with enough resources to be the local government that the constitution expects them to be. That is why I’m saying we will cooperate and partner with the local government system and allow them meaning, allow them resources to operate, because the bulk of our people depend on the local government system to survive. When I was chairman of Etung Local government, God knows, whenever we received allocation, there’s momentum in Ikom market. Immediately you go to the market, you will hear that the local government has received allocation. But now, you won’t know if local governments have received allocation or not. Now, it is the state that receives allocation and the local governments are just there, the officers don’t function anymore, the local government don’t do projects anymore. Even when they pretend that the local governments are doing projects, they will midwife all of those projects from the centre in such a way that nothing comes out of it that is reasonable. I will ensure that we reverse that trend, on my honour. And we will create an economy at the rural areas where young people will begin to learn the rudiments of democracy. You’re a councillor in the local government system, you should have resources enough to practice what it means to be a councillor. You’re a chairman, you should likewise have resources to leave a legacy. I was a chairman in Etung, I left a legacy in projects and proper administration. We must get back to that. We will grow from there to the state and national, that’s the complete package.
This isn’t a signed document, but it is a departure from the past where we are just doing things without any concrete document to back it up. Should we then hold this paper and if it pleases God to make you governor, to come to you one day and say Oga, this is what you told us, is it working the way it is working?
You can take the paper to the bank.
The fear of so many Cross Riverians and some critical stakeholders are that you are being sponsored from outside, and that if they finally allow somebody from the central zone to emerge as governor come 2023 it will cause some disaffection, disunity and discontent in the state. What is your impression about this?
I will like you to give me your ears please. I’ve heard all those kinds of stories, that I am being sponsored from outside, that I have a friend called Nyesom Wike, let me help you by mentioning his name; and that when I become governor, he’s the one sponsoring and funding me and when I become governor, I’m answerable to him and all that. Let me take it in two parts. Has there been anybody from Cross River State who has become governor without support from people outside? No. Then why is my own so different?
When Clement Ebri became governor, for all of you who know, it was common knowledge that Tom Ikimi helped him become governor. Donald Duke became a member of the economic intelligence unit with Professor Sam Aloko; it’s common knowledge that it added to his contacts and exposure and men like Dangote were behind him. Ben Ayade and the story of Tompolo is all over the place. Liyel Imoke did not become governor because he was a superman. He had supports from everywhere; even the fact that he’s resigning from the Obasenjo government, he had to approach people from elsewhere to help him. People say all politics is local, but please let me add a rider to that, tell them that Professor Sandy Onor says yes, but all politics is also universal.
You want to be councillor, ordinary councillor, most of the time, you are made councillor by people from other places as well as a chairman, recommendation comes from other places. You want to be senator, you must have contacts across this country. You want to be governor, ah you must have friends across the states and at the national. You want to be become president, you must have international links and contacts. Those who are speaking about me and my relationship with Wike are intellectually lazy. It is a given. Even all those who are contesting with me now all have friends from outside who are giving them support and showcasing them. Why is my relationship with Wike such a big deal? It is because he’s the one who has put his life, resources, time and energy maximally to the survival of the PDP and I’m very proud of my relationship with Wike.
Now let me say this, if Governor Wike were supporting just anybody, they won’t say anything but he’s supporting the Original Caterpillar.
On my own as an individual, I’ve got vibes and momentum in the established force of the politics of our state. I have, by the grace of God, made a name. I come from a little place called Nsofang in the middle of the tropical rain forest. As I speak with you now, I’m just trying to make sure the road to my village is motorable because we’ve never had a road. It is the grace of God that has taken me thus far. But on my own, I’ve done well for myself.
I was the best graduating student of history in 1987. By 1988, at age 22, I returned to the university to teach as graduate assistant. Then it was the policy of the university that all best graduating students should go back and teach. I started my masters in 1988 but by dint of my exceptional brilliance and performance, I was advised to do a PhD. So, I have no master’s degree. I have a BA (Hon), PhD, and I got my PhD just as I was turning 27. Was Nyesom Wike there? No! I returned to the University in 2016. I’m a professor of history. Is it Wike that made me? I was a chairman of Etung local government, that was where Nyesom and I met. I became chairman of local government service commission; I became commissioner for agriculture and later commissioner for environment. In 2005 as chairman local government service commission, the former governor, Donal Duke considered me fit and proper to be one of the few Cross Riverians, led by Wayas, to be sent to the political reforms conference and I performed very well in that conference. I went to the senate in 2019; within three months in the senat,e I was declared orator of the 9th senate. Was it Nyesom Wike that crowned me orator?
So, on my own, I have the qualities and these men know. You people should investigate. You’re journalists. Most of the people who are against my ambition to be governor think that they can’t turn and twist me and make me a pun. But they didn’t know that I will listen to everybody. One of the hallmarks of a good intellectual is the ability to listen, because you will know that, the more you know that you know only little.
One of the things governors do after elections is to, for instance, do their local government tour across the state, listen to the people and their needs. Don’t stay in Calabar and pontificate on a high horse as if the people don’t know anything, I will consult and I will talk to the press all the time at intervals. And I don’t mind ugly questions, I have the capacity to deal with beautiful and ugly questions. So I am good and fine. The issue of being sponsored from outside, like I said, is a perspective that is intellectually lazy at best.
On the second part, I have made the point that we’ve never had a tradition of zoning in Cross River. If you have facts to contradict that fact, please I challenge you all to bring them up, and we will deal with them here. There are no such facts. Those who are giving the impression that if the central takes it, there will be crisis are those who are imagining that other sections of the state can be intimidated. Nobody can be intimidated. It is politics we are playing and not political anthropology. Nobody made the south the first born of Cross River politics. It’s a new round we are going into, compete for it. Let the eagle perch, let the kite also perch, he who says the other should not perch, let his wings break.
Someone had told us that in 2015, you had a short departure from the PDP to Labour party and within that time, in the course of bringing the Ayade government into limelight, they had negotiations and they said PDP caucus zoned the governorship to the north. From 1999, we all know there was no zoning but in 2015, by whatsoever desire, we had Donald Duke from the South, Liyel Imoke from the Central and there was clamour from the north. In 2015, the caucus of the PDP sat with a proviso like they said (because I don’t have the document), and they zoned it to the north. So, I want you to address that issue, whether or not there was zoning to the north and with a proviso, for power to return back to the south in 2023.
Assuming but not conceding that there was that kind of arrangement; let me take your mind back. 1999, as you admitted, there was no zoning. South and north contested and south won. In 2007, central and north contested and central won. The south took, the central took through a struggle. It was only one senatorial zone that had not taken. So what happened in 2015 was a cessation and not zoning. Power was ceded to the north, not zoning. If there were zoning, why was it that in 2019 when Ben Ayade had just done four years, somebody from the South (Eyo Ekpo), and somebody from the Central (John Owan Enoh) ran the elections? Why? So where was the zoning? So I have described it ably as a mere cessation, inevitably, understandingly, no more, no less. You know that in this state, there are a set of persons that have held the state by the jugular, who has made it their own property; so they must give us leaders. They are the ones who are bringing all this kind of false theories so that again, they can produce the next governor. It won’t work, by the grace of God.
In the event that, you become the candidate of PDP and your fellow contestants or aspirants try to go to other parties to vote against you, what will you do? Secondly, the governor, Ben Ayade’s administration has lots of projects that majority of Cross Riverians are not sure will come to fruition, if you come into power, will you continue those projects?
When we get to that bridge, we will cross it.