Former Attorney General/Commissioner for Justice in Cross River State and gubernatorial hopeful, EyoEkpo, spoke with some journalists about what he called “falling standard of governance in Cross River” and the imperatives of salvagingthe State from its present abyss of despair. ANIEKAN ANIEKAN was there and reports.
As a major stakeholder in the PDP in the State, what is your impression of the quality of governance in Cross River in view of the perception that the state has not fared well in recent years?
Really, it is a question of paradise lost and paradise that has to be regained. Cross River State is a State that has a plan, well-designed, well-mapped out. That plan was aimed at developing the State. It became a place people desired to go to for both pleasure and business. It is no longer so.
And it has not been so definitely in the last three years. And that is a function of the mis-governance of the state. If politics is what it really should be, political parties should be worried about incumbents who are not delivering wholesale to the programmes of the party and to the programmes of the state. And so, as a member of the PDP I am worried about what is going on.
I am even more worried about the fact that despite all the admonitions and advice, our government has not listened. They have continued to plunge us further into the abyss of despair. Whether at the party level or at the government level or at the popular level with the ordinary people of the state, there is a deep cause for concern.
How does the party hope to address these issues as we are in the run-up to the next general elections?
In order to try and recover the mandate that was given to the PDP by the people of Cross River state, and in order to try and restore to our people a sense of belonging, a sense of progress, real genuine progress, the knowledge and certainty that we are actually having a state that is good, in order to restore that belief, that conviction of the people in the quality of the governance they once had, I believe I must step up and run.
As a known PDP stalwart, what are you going to do differently if elected governor of the state in 2019, which the present PDP governor is not doing?
There are basically four pillars on which one stands when it comes to the governance of the state. Number one is the strong desire to restore the connection between the people and the government. And that connection was established in various ways. First, as a government itself, we are badly administered.
Once upon a time in this state every Wednesday, a commissioner will come out of the executive council meeting and address journalists about what has been deliberated upon on the day’s discussions, policies and programmes, their progress and execution. We came out and we addressed the press and explained what had been discussed at Exco.
Exco meetings were not just for contract awards or bonanzas. They were places where the policies of the state were enunciated and discussed. Their execution was discussed and issues were raised and discussed and agreed upon. We came out and explained to the people. That is no longer the case.
In order for you to have a viable executive council, you need the civil service that supports the political appointees. Now go to any office, including the office of the governor, nothing is being done. Memoranda are sent to the governor, he doesn’t treat them.
There is no feedback from the governor about what his aides tell him so they are no longer bothered about telling him anything anymore because he remembers everything he does by himself. So, the civil service is now moribund.
The local government system has totally gone. For three years running, no elections. All the revenue in the local government now reports in Calabar and then doesn’t go anywhere else. Nobody knows how it is spent because there are no budgets for local governments any longer. That is one aspect. That has to be recovered.
Are you saying the governor is not working with the people considering the fact that he prioritizes their interests particularly in the prompt payment of workers’ salaries?
No power can be exercised without collective decision-making. As a governor, I can’t possibly know what somebody in Yala, or Bekwara or in Bakassi wants except feedback comes to me. Then I can take a decision.
Nobody is an island unto himself. Nobody is a repository of all knowledge and all abilities. You must work with people. And then the great paradox is that the governor is not working with people. I am fully aware of the myriad advice that has been given to him by various people, various interests.
He has not treated one. The only advice that he has been given which he has treated is, make sure you pay salaries monthly. But paying salaries is not an achievement. Today it is touted as an achievement. Governors in the past, from Donald Duke onwards, were paying salaries regularly and they did not make a fetish of it.
They did not make any noise about it. I cannot possibly come to work and then paying me becomes an achievement. It is simple compensation for my labour. So, it’s no big deal. That is the only thing he has done correctly. But I am aware also that quite a number of people at the local government level and outstations outside Calabar are not paid regularly.
Which specific sectors of the state’s economy do you think has not fared very well in recent time?
Health, human services, education–the superstructure that supports physical infrastructure.You cannot even say that you are inviting investors to Cross River. They cannot even come when we don’t have labour to work with. Go to any of our health centres anywhere in the state, they are ill-equipped–no staff, medical doctors less than 40 in the state. No incentives.
People are leaving in droves to go and work for the federal government and then when they come back, they work on contract for the state because we are so resource-poor in the state. Our education system is still living on past glory. Very soon it will collapse. Attention is not being paid to it. This is the 21st Century.
We ought to by now review the syllabus. The last review was 14 years ago. This is the 21st century and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is the way to go.
If we do not at primary school level begin to motivate boys and girls to focus more on science and science education and less on humanities and arts, as important as they are, we will have a future that is doubtful.
It is not just to say you are paying teachers. No. What kind of teacher education are we giving? What kind of teachers are we generating for our school system? What is the focus of our school system? What kind of students do we want our school system to produce?
There is a lot of support out there but we are not getting it for our state. We need to upgrade our education system. A state that regards itself as a preferred destination for investment, for business, for pleasure, must be able to develop people that are ready, willing and able to service that group of people that are coming into the state. A state that says it wants to industrialize doesn’t have engineers.
I worked with General Electric. When we were looking for people from Cross River State to work in the facility we are doing here, it was a difficult thing to find Cross Riverians. Why is that the case? We have them but they are all so engaged that we hardly found any. If we are looking to the future, we must try and address that.
Besides education and manpower, which other sectors of the state’s economy has fared badly and how will you go about fixing it?
Infrastructure. Business, pleasure can never be carried on peacefully, capably, competently, properly if we do not have the infrastructure in the state. We don’t have, whether it is federal, whether it is state. Our governor says he is close to the president. I wish he would use that closeness to ensure that one or two of our federal roads are properly done. We have not seen the benefit of that closeness yet.
We have the state infrastructure programme, the RAMP—rural access and mobility programme– that was designed to connect the agrarian communities, the rural areas in our local government areas, to the main artery, the Calabar-Ogoja road. What happened? Since this governor came I am aware that he has received lots of memoranda on RAMP.
From Donald Duke with zero per-cent through LiyelImoke, we had attained 70 percent. Just that little bit that is left to complete it, his tenure ignored it and yet you say you are industrializing. The goods you are going to produce from the industries, on which road are they going to be evacuated? Is it through the phantom deep seaport? Until the deep seaport comes, you must use our roads.
In the power sector, the state government is currently building a 21MW power plant along Parliamentary road in Calabar, will this not help improve the state’s infrastructure?
To supply who? Instead of focusing and solving that problem, our governor is building one moribund white elephant power project in Parliamentary Village called the 21mw power plant. We have a federal government owned 560mw power plant. Basically, its capacity is barely utilized.
One out of the four machines in that power plant is enough to supply electricity to the entire Cross River. The concern of government should be the transmission and distribution of energy and not generation.
I have been in power generation business, with NERC, BPE, the board of NEPA and others for 17 years. He is not perceptive enough to ask me how we go about this power generation business.
They are only interested in awarding contracts so that money can leave our coffers. You don’t need to spend so much money. He should ensure that the people are enumerated and metered. If our people are enumerated and metred, then we will know where the need is and then address that need.
We have an electricity infrastructure that covers our state. Instead of finding a way to expand the distribution network of that distribution company within the state, because the central and the governor’s northern part of the state depend on Enugu disco for electricity, can you imagine that Enugu disco will allow power to come to Cross River state when it has not served its customers in the South Eastern states with enough power? Of course, it will not.
Besides these, what are the various indices you feel buttresses the fact that Cross River State is now in despair and needs to be redressed through your ambition?
Number one is law and order. Cross River State is on the verge of being classified as a lawless state. There is a complete breakdown of respect for human life and property. It is becoming a norm that communities are fighting each other internally and we are fighting our neighbours externally.
There is no concern in identifying the causes of these clashes or understanding how they came about. Of course, how can it not be so? We have no local government so who will report to you in Calabar? Nobody.
The money meant for local governments stays in Calabar. It doesn’t get to local governments. It shows that there is no connection between the local governments and the centre in Calabar.
Law and order is vital. Communal clashes, cult killings on our streets in Calabar, in Ogoja, in Obudu every day. It is not rocket science to maintain law and order. It has been done before in this state.
Parts of Bakassi and Akpabuyo have been taken over by militants and bunkerers. Why? Why are we not collaborating with the federal government to provide security on our waterways?
Sports. Once upon a time, we were known as a hotbed for a certain kind of sport. It’s all gone. Our parks, our streets, our cleanliness, our recreation. Our museum locked up by the governor for what purpose?
A place that people from across the world come and see, and you lock it up? You will kill the livelihood of the people. How will they not take to crime?
The people of this state in the demographics between the ages of 18 and 25 are almost 50 percent of the population of this state. They are the future of this state and the focus must be on them or we will lose them to other states. These constitute the kernel of my vision for Cross River state.