Following the current events unfolding in the political sphere of Cross River State, Member Representing Ogoja State Constituency and the Leader of the Cross River State House of Assembly, Hon. Peter Odey has said that he is prepared to face opposition in the house. He said debates help to strengthen Nigeria’s democracy. Odey, who spoke with CHIEMEKA ADINDU advised the governor to always consult with party stakeholders before taking decisions to avoid further crisis.
It is no more news that the state governor has parted ways with the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. What is your take on this development?
Well, for people who hold high political office to decide to make that kind of movement, you know, it’s not something you just wake up one day and you decide that I want to move to party A, I want to move to party B; it’s a decision which was long processed and you then know what is good to the interest of the state, to the interest of the populace and even in the interest of the party. So he made that move knowing very well that Cross River state presently need a lot of support from the central and having been in politics since 1999, and from then we have always been playing our politics from the center. In 2015 when the governor came on board, there was a change, you know, the APC took stage at the center so it becomes difficult to drive some of his laudable programmes without getting support from the center. And then also, I’m not the kind of politician that will tell you that everything was good and fine in PDP before he left. Yes, there were some disagreements between the governor and some stakeholders especially some members of the National Assembly and that went on for some time and it is difficult trying to fight internally and fight externally. Maybe the best thing to do was to connect to the center, socket to the center to his own world and build a new friendship with the center. So personally, I commend his move and I believe it is the right thing that he did.
In what ways do you think this is going to affect the politics of Cross River State?
Like I said, being from the opposition, it’s not everything you can get from the center. Obviously, if you go to the center you meet some ministers from the other party with the president to convince them that you need X, Y, Z in the state and if you are on the same platform, it makes it easier to a large extent. So it is different when you are going to see somebody from a different political party for favour, it may not come when it is expected.
Coming to the House of Assembly, it’s obvious that the entire lawmakers did not defect to the APC with him. So how do you think this is going to affect policy making and implementation of programmes in the house?
I don’t see anything wrong with that. All the politics is local and we will not force anybody to move from the PDP to the APC. And those of my colleagues that have decided to stay with the PDP, they’re still my colleagues. Even when we were in one party, there were times we disagreed. I give you an example, like during the time to confirm the chief judge of Cross River state, the honourable chief judge; it was as if the house was divided, even then the entire 25 members were members of the same political party, it does not mean that members cannot have their own views. Like yesterday, we had a debate and even members who are in APC were still disagreeing with certain aspects of the resolution that was passed while those in PDP were on the other side, so it is good for democracy. It is good that you have a different voice, it’s not the same like it used to be, no doubt, but I don’t see any big difference from what it was before.
So what has changed since the house resumed plenary from how it used to be before now? How has the tempo been?
No, no, no no, everything has been okay apart from the normal friendly chats that we exchange and all of that, everything is still the same. Everything is still the same in the house, so that is what it is for now.
Now let’s be specific, with your present position as the leader of the house and very soon, a minority leader will emerge. How prepared are you to manage opposition in the house?
Like I said, there has always been opposition, so it’s not the name opposition leader that shows there’s opposition. You might have an opposition leader who agrees with you at some time; it doesn’t always mean that you will disagree. But, I welcome it, I welcome it and as long as it’s good for Cross River state, as long as it’s going to put the state better than it is, I welcome it. I like debate; I will welcome a very healthy debate. My own is that debates should not be on party lines, debates should be on how best this can serve the people of Cross River state, so not necessarily on party lines. So I basically welcome the debate.
So in what specific areas will this move by the governor benefit Cross Riverians?
I said that before, there are lots of areas. The governor has set up a lot of industries across the state. These industries, some of them are 80 per cent completed some of them, 90 per cent completed. So we hope and we believe that if we get the required support needed from the center, we will get this working sooner than we expect. So that, I believe, is one of the advantages that we stand to gain. I give you an example; I sponsored the bill for Cross River Polytechnic, Ogoja and we
needed to get funding. It’s one thing to pass the bill, it’s another thing for the governor to assent to it but you need funds to start it. These funds come from the center so it gives us a good opportunity to help us in this aspect so that the state can move better.
So what is the current state of things with this Polytechnic in Ogoja?
It’s been passed into law, the governor has assented to it; which is good. Now for the polytechnic to kick off, you need NUC, so we are at NUC now, so NUC needs to give approval for the polytechnic to start otherwise you will not get accreditation. So when NUC gives that then you will now need funding to start building the physical structure. We don’t mind starting from a temporary structure until those funding comes and even if you have the funding today, you cannot just put the structure tomorrow. To build takes time. As soon as we get the approval from NUC, the polytechnic will take off.
A few months ago, the governor assented to the bill you sponsored seeking to change the name of the state owned institution from Cross River University of Technology, CRUTECH to University of Cross River, UNICROSS. We are yet to see it working. It’s still bearing CRUTECH and even the sign post has still not changed. Why?
Well, I will not go and change the signpost for CRUTECH, it’s not my job to do that. The bill was passed, UNICROSS has officially been changed, I have seen some of their documents that have been changed, again, the last time I spoke with them, they have written to NUC to get approval to offer courses like law, medicine and all of that. So the VC is a hardworking person and I know he has made several trips to Abuja in order to ensure that that happens. I hope to meet with him this week to find out how that has gone. But as a lawmaker, my job is to make laws, we can lobby for it to be signed into law but the other part of it is not in your hand, okay. So you can only do the ones that you can do. I cannot as a lawmaker run to NUC; they will not even recognize me so the people that have authority to that will do that. The reason why we did that was to give Cross Riverians an option, like I have been here; I see people from my constituency, one even scored 289, and they could not admit him to study medicine. So if we have a state university, and we get the cut off point at 250, we’re not saying we would reduce the standard for studying there, but at least give them the opportunity of studying what they want to study. It’s frustrating that it’s taking this long but we do hope that we see it before the end of this term.
Going back to politics, if you have the opportunity to advise the governor today, what will you tell him to ensure that the crisis leading to his fall out with the PDP, party stakeholders and members of the national assembly will not be the case again now that he is with the APC?
It’s simple, it’s very simpe. Like in the APC right now, I think we have only one member at the national assembly because most of the problems came from there, so it’s easy to manage. And you also have stakeholders who were in the party before he joined, we have very senior party members before he joined and some of the things of which they had complained before which has to do with, maybe, consultation, maybe for them to control certain aspect, like in their area and domain. So I think the party should be given to the people to manage. Everybody should have a stake in the party. I believe by so doing, by discussing with the people, we will reduce rancour. And then another issue is; this is the truth of the matter; most of the people in the National Assembly who had done two terms, three terms, four terms, some even five terms; they still want to go back there, but we don’t have the situation in APC right now so you have the opportunity of looking for people of integrity, people that have what it takes to serve in that level and put them up for service and I think by so doing, it’s going to reduce. There is no political party that is rancour free but your ability to manage the rancour, ability to sit down on a table when there are disagreements and shake hands after the meeting is very important. If we can do that constantly, I think it would be better for all of us.
APC seems to be having two secretariats in the state now. Do you foresee any internal disagreement in choosing which one becomes the substantive secretariat of the party?
Not at all, the problem is not going to be the building, no. The people in the party are more important than the physical building, so I don’t see that as a problem.
Okay, do you also think it was proper for the governor to have converted the former PDP secretariat to that of the APC?
I don’t know the exact story of what happened there so I might not be in a better place to give that explanation. So maybe, if you have the opportunity to talk with His Excellency, the governor, they’ll be in a better position to answer that question. But in my understanding, buildings don’t win elections, so it is only fair, absolutely fair, that if issues are resolved amicably things will move better, there must be a reason why that happened.