Senator Sandy Onor is one man who hardly hides his passion for the development of his state. In this interview, the senator who represents Cross River Central Senatorial District in the National Assembly pilloried the state governor, Prof Ben Ayade over plans to sell the state industries, alleging insincerity on the part of the government.
How did you feel when you heard from your governor, Prof Ben Ayade, that the super highway project has been discontinued?
I wasn’t surprised. You know when you conceive projects that are way beyond your capacity socio-economically and you give the impression that it’s good to dream big dreams, and that once you make promises, no matter how gigantic and unrealizable they are, all you need to do is move your body according to your soul, or your soul according to your body, (laughs) and you expect that things will happen, then it becomes a matter for laughter because you can’t spiritualize governance. What we have seen is the attempt to spiritualise governance; what I mean is things that are practical which you should plan within the context of government’s budget, anticipated revenue and so on, things you therefore know that for the state you come from and the resources available to it are simply not the kind of projects you can embark upon and you make those fat promises, they will all collapse and that is how a lot of those projects have collapsed-the deep sea port, the superhighway, the Calas Vegas and a lot of other such very tragic dreams. So, it wasn’t surprising to us, we knew this will happen.
And even the spaghetti flyover….nothing seems to be happening there at Odukpani junction.
They are all still-born projects, projects that from their conceptualization,we knew they will end in abysmal fiasco, and that is what is inevitably happening. It has not shocked me at all.
What’s your perception of the person of Professor Ben Ayade and what’s your thinking about his governance style and the government?
Well, Ben Ayade no matter how you look at him, I mean, we must be fair, is a young man coming from where we come from who has done well for himself, has been able to attain some nuggets in life, you know, and has been able to at least present himself at the personal level as a young man with some achievements. You can’t run away from that fact; and even when he comes across to you, he comes across as somebody brilliant but there is a gap between that and experience in governance. I think what we have seen is the lack of experience in governance. Ben wasn’t a part of the political culture in Cross River and he came with this cynicism, this impression that those who were there before him didn’t know what they were doing and that mentality was wrong headed. From the very beginning, he started pursuing a course that was different from what has been laid out, which is not altogether bad, but which went very wrong because like I said before, it was not in itself even well planned. When you come into governance, you look at what others have done, and you pick the very brilliant initiatives that they have put together because those people who were there before you were also worthy of their names and their offices. But when you come with the mentality that they didn’t know what they were doing, you are the kid on the bloc, riding a high horse, more than everyone else, you are bound to make the kind of mistakes that he has made and he has no time to correct anything. In fact, he is making more mistakes because he is not returning from his journey to a supercilious desert, he is still in the desert thinking that he knows everything and nobody knows anything. That’s the reality, which is very pitiable.
So, for example the spaghetti flyover, you think it’s a project that can’t be completed before he leaves office and if he…
(Cuts in) I don’t want to bother myself thinking about whether he will complete or not complete. It is his project. He said he will put it together. He showed us pictures of very winding storey buildings like flyovers (laughs) around Odukpani. So we are awaiting that manifestation. I mean, why do I increase my temperature by imagining whether he will complete, he said he will complete so we are watching to see his completion.
He has been accused of not commissioning any project in six years as governor. Does this worry you as a senior citizen of Cross River State?
Why won’t it worry me? But he keeps giving the impression that he will commission a lot of the projects. So we are watching; I do not want to approach him with the kind of cynicism he approached others. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, he still has a couple of months to his name and his tenure.
Do you have faith in his ability to do those things?
As a historian looking at the history of his administration so far, why should I have such faith? (laughs) Why? Why should I have such faith?
Okay, so if you do not have faith in his ability to complete them, how about the plans to sell off the industries he established?
I honestly do not understand why the governor deliberately forgets. He is in a kind of amnesia I’ve never seen before in the life of any Cross River leader. When the governor set out to establish these industries, he pontificated a whole lot, went into the theoretical bazaar of explaining to us how it is not true that government cannot run industries, spoke of the Chinese model and was so resolute that all of us were wrong, those of us who had seen the failure of government even in Cross River State, with the establishment and running of industries, that we were not correct, we spoke about Princewill and such regimes, how they established, they littered the state with industries and failed colossally. He said he had the magic wand and he was theoretically stable, and the resources will come. He spoke of green money, he spoke of E-money, he spoke of intellectual money, and we were just watching to see how all these monies will take practical shape but nothing has really happened since most of the so called industries have not been completed. Then in the twilight of his administration, he wakes up to say that he wants to privatize these same industries he said and has been touting as the strength of his administration. A lot of the industries we do not know and what their status are, we don’t know. We don’t know how they were incorporated, what is their legal structure, we don’t know. The industries are not completed, they are not functioning but he is in a hurry to privatize them. In fact, he says he added another variable to the privatization law that we have, with the referendum, we don’t know when this referendum is being carried out, we are very sure one of this days, they will announce that all of us have voted in favour of that privatization.
So did you not vote?
Vote where, where is the referendum being done? (laughs) It’s a circle show, a very poor circle show, almost malevolent, terrible drama of unimaginable proportions, (laughs). It’s actually sad, very sad for Cross River, honestly. But we think this will not stand, and all those who are here to come buy cheap industries from Cross River should watch it because they will be buying bad trouble.
You are saying it will not stand?
It won’t stand.
How will it not stand?
Because the processes are wrong; the basis for all of these doesn’t appear to have any strong legality to it. The governor knows so, the governor should know so, he prides himself as a lawyer; he should know so, he should know so.
When you say there are question marks on the legality of those processes, I guess why he wants to do a referendum is to say I have got the endorsement of Cross River people for me to sell these industries.
That is what he wants to do.
To give it a popular appeal but the process is ill conceived ab initio because there is no referendum anywhere and there is no basis for it, that is not what the law says. He himself knows he is standing on a very weak moral, economic and political foundation in his bid to sell these industries. That is why he is looking for new methods and ways of expanding the process in order to acquire legitimacy which does not exist at all. He says government can run these industries na, we are waiting for him to complete them and run them for us to see. He has not even completed them he is saying that he wants to sell what he has not completed. It’s unfortunate, to say the least.
Would you say Cross River has been unlucky with Ben Ayade as governor?
(Breaths down) The facts are there for everyone to see. I think it is important for us to allow him the benefit of the few months remaining and then we can conclusively speak to that, because if you speak now the governor will tell you that he has not concluded his tenure and he still has the magic wand, he sees better than you, he knows better than you; in fact he knows better than anybody that has run Cross River State before now. So let’s allow him exhaust himself before we begin to interrogate his administration and see whether Cross Riverians were lucky or completely unlucky to have him as governor.
Maybe his confidence is also coming from the fact that he is the first person to be a senator, the first person to be a professor as governor of Cross River State.
I don’t want to speak about that because those are not qualifications for being governor. The constitution does not say you have to be a professor to be governor you have to be senator to be governor so those are, if you ask me, mere colloquialisms. They are neither here nor there. That is not what the qualifications for governor is.
The roof, the ceiling of governor’s office leaks; you hardly find electricity supply especially when the governor is not there. Quite a lot of things go wrong. What would you want to say about this?
I’ve not been to that office for like forever, so I don’t know how it looks like now. But seriously, a colleague of mine who visited the governor’s office recently told me that it was a disgrace. I’m not in a position to confirm, I’ve not been going there, I have no need to be there. But if what the distinguished senator said is anything to go by, from a recent visit to our state, then you know the sad tale continues to reverberate everywhere, and like I said before, it is very unfortunate.
Would you say it’s a wrong time to be a Cross Riverian?
Possibly, yes. But the future is strong and the future is great and we must keep hopes alive because our state is a beautiful place and we cannot allow one dark patch to make us become despondent or to make us despair. We trust God and we know our people, they have resilience, they have hospitality and they have the fear of God. Tomorrow shall be greater than today.
How will PDP take over government in 2023 when the incumbent governor is APC. At the federal level, it’s APC and the governor keeps saying look, he’s in charge and the way we know the game of politics being played….?
The governor is in charge of APC, he is not in charge of PDP. He’s not in charge of Cross River State politically.
Yeah, but that’s the government in power…
(Cuts in) it can be the government in power.
At the state and federal level.
There is so much evidence in Nigeria that shows that people who hold power at the state level, at the national level lose elections. Too many people have been defeating incumbent governors, not to talk of this one that will no longer be an incumbent. So what are you talking about? And this is a state that is hugely PDP and from what you have seen, like I said before the foot soldiers never moved with their food on the table exponent s who went with the governor and of course the contradictions in APC right now has released a lot of people even back to the PDP to strengthen it and more are coming. So, we are very optimistic that we will trounce the APC in 2023 and when the governor speaks about the incumbency and his socketing to the centre, and all that, we have recorded more successes since he left. So, what’s all that myth about; the myth has been exploded, the government at the centre is not ready to engage in such impositions. INEC is not in his pocket, he will be deluding himself to think that these things are in his pocket to manipulate. All those stories about having to write elections in government house, those are in the dark ages of Nigerian electoral process. INEC has moved beyond that and it will be demonstrated even in the Ogoja election. INEC has moved beyond that, with accreditation using the zee path alone, where will you be rigging from? People should work hard and as it is in Cross River now, one man one vote. Of course we will trash APC, that’s the reality.
In other words, you will disgrace Ayade?
Not disgrace him, not disgrace him at all, why? We will put him in perspective.