Barr. Godwill Umoh is a refined politician who has been a lecturer in the university for 30 years. He was appointed as Commissioner in the Akpabio administration and he is currently serving as the Legal Adviser of the Akwa Ibom State Chapter of PDP. In this interview with IFREKE NSEOWO and EKEMINI SIMON, the legal luminary who handled many cases at the last election petition tribunal spoke on several issues. Excerpts:
How do you peruse the economy of the country?
The Federal Government doesn’t have a team that can deliver in this country. As we speak, I can ask you, who is leading the economic team of this government? At least when Jonathan was in charge we could see Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. And for me she did well. You will see her address a Press conference in Nigeria and you will see her address it outside. She will tell the world how we are going; rightly or wrongly. That is why we have Commissioners or Ministers. The idea is that if anything goes wrong, we should hold someone accountable. I regret to say that with the level of recession we are experiencing, I do not see the paradigm that gives us any hope of any quick recovery. Someone jokingly said: when there was corruption things were cheap, when there was corruption we had electricity, when there was corruption we had all these in place, petrol, diesel, kerosene. And why is it that now you are tackling corruption things have gone worse? So he said ‘bring back corruption’. Let me tell you, no matter anyhow you are going to look at it, corruption can’t be the fulcrum of any government. It is an institutional problem. So set up institutions to tackle corruption. It is everywhere. It is a universal problem. Corruption is like knowledge, it is universal. Take for instance, your President will go to America and Europe and say Nigeria is very corrupt; everyone is corrupt including even his ministers. It is just like in the Ibibio adage where you say women are very bad, that includes even your mother. So when you say in Nigeria everyone is corrupt and in the same vein you are now asking the Europeans to come and invest. You are scaring people away because of the theory of corruption and in the same vein asking people to come and invest. How is that possible? Economic wise, I have not seen the paradigm because utterances, especially the ones from the President do not encourage quick recovery of the economy. It is a very difficult situation. I have not seen any hope. Like in Law, we say ‘hope of quick recovery’. I have not seen it yet.
Is there no way we can meander out of the situation?
Like I said there is no way and I am saying it emphatically. The only solution is that in 2019 we should be able to bring back PDP and its leadership.
Is there still no suggestion?
No. For me there is no advice so that the APC government at the Federal level won’t take the benefit of the advice. We wanted the change and we have seen it. Even in the Bible, God said I gave you a good King and you did not like it, now I am giving you a king that will be beating you people with rod. That is exactly what is happening. Let me tell you, in 1985, I was a fresh lawyer, the scenario that is happening today in 2016 is exactly what happened in 1985 i.e. over 30 years ago. Look at the economy. Have you read the story why he (Buhari) was overthrown by Babangida and his group? The same scenario, the same reason: high handedness, inability to listen to advice, poor economic policies. Look, you are talking about economy. You can’t look at the economy without talking about politics of the economy itself. You are saying economy should improve yet you are doing 90% appointment from one ethnic group. And you think the economy will improve as a result of that? APC as a government is not ready to tackle it. And why is it so? The way they were set up, they never had an economic blueprint. The major thing they wanted to tackle was how to take over power and they have succeeded. It is now left for them to start thinking how to put the economy in good shape and that will not happen until after four years.
In Akwa Ibom State, during electioneering, we were told that the thrust of this present administration is industrialization. Do you see the State Government actually following that path?
I have seen it clearly. You remember I was a member of the Akpabio/Udom Transition Committee. The Five Point Agenda of His Excellency are clearly followed and I have all of them. If you see the report of the Transition Committee which I have, we did it in such a way that it completely enveloped the five point agenda. Industrialization was one of them. One may say that the government doesn’t get into doing industrialization rather you put in place the facilities. The former governor, Godswill Obot Akpabio had put the structures at least 75%, good road network, electricity among others. So what His Excellency is doing now is to ride on those aspect. I saw on Facebook when someone posted that Peacock Paint is not working and he brought a picture of a depot somewhere in Uyo. My reaction was that no, that is not a better evidence. I said go to the factory and in the morning I saw what the young man did. He went there and posted a picture of Peacock Paint working. In Law, we call that ‘Doctrine of Better Evidence’. So I think, for me His Excellency is doing well. You know it is just a little above one year. So like someone who has a clear picture as he has done, I think he is on track.
You have given the State Government benefit of the doubt owing to being just one year in office, why not extend same to the Federal Government?
No, because I haven’t seen the paradigm. What are the indices? There must be something on ground: Policies, pronouncement, those are the indices you will use to know that it will work. These are the foundations. What foundation has the Federal Government laid? If you go to Abuja all the roads with blockades are there. One full year the Federal Government could not commission one project. Even a road network in the whole country is poor. And the only one they attempted to commission was the railway that we all know how it all started right from Yar’dua. He only ended up commissioning what some other person has done.
In Akwa Ibom State you can see what the governor has done and there is hope. All we need is to see how those expectations will come to be.
Many are of the opinion that since the numerous ground-breaking of the governor is yet to come to materialization, they are politicized especially since those ground breakings were done during the rerun scare. What is your take?
Like you said ground breaking, it is like a foundation. Look at the coconut factory, foundation has been laid, plantation is put in place. You don’t start a factory without putting the necessary things in place. He wants to set up a coconut factory, he has acquired land and planted coconut. What other evidence do you want? You talk about the paint industry, he has done the necessary things and the factory is producing. He has set up a management team, a board that we have never had in the past five years. I did a case for someone against Peacock Paint which I won, the man came two weeks ago to my office. He was the General Manager of the place. I got a judgment in his favour at the Federal High Court. He told me; lawyer, that my case I need to get my claims. I asked why? He said Peacock has come back. I did his case, he was dismissed, he was the General Manager of Peacock. Someone just came and removed him from office so he went to court and won and nothing was paid to him. So he left and slept but suddenly because Peacock Paint has returned, he came here and asked me to take steps to recover the judgment sum which I am doing as I am speaking with you.
As a member of the PDP State Exco, how would you evaluate the composition of the State Exco?
I think I have been in the party for a very long time and I can tell you for the first time presently we have the best crop of politicians in the State Exco. I told my party Chairman last time we had a meeting with His Excellency, I said, my Chairman, you should thank God that you are having the best crop. At least we have three or four commissioners in that Exco. We have at least two former Chairmen of the NBA in the exco of a party, I don’t know what else one will expect. I think to be very modest, it is quite a good team.
What is your relationship with the Governor?
You may have the records, I started doing cases for PDP since 2003. I can mention a lot of them: I defended Iniobong Eshiet in Etinan, Obong Udo Ekpo, I think that was Mkpat Enin, Usenobong Akpabio in Uruan and many others. The one that gave me most headache was Udobong Udo Ekpo because of the peculiar nature of the case. In 2007, I defended His Excellency the former Governor who is now the Senator, we did the matter here in Uyo and then he went to the Court of Appeal which he won. I represented Senator Aloysius Etok who was then in PDP and he won. At the Court of Appeal after Inibehe Okorie saw my brief of argument I think he withdrew and left. At the same time I was also doing the matter for HE the Governor. That was why he appointed me his Commissioner in 2008. In 2011, I was a serving Commissioner that was why I didn’t go there. But immediately after the tenure, I handled the case of Senator Aloysius Etok, at that point he had gone at the appeal. In 2015, I did about 15 cases and that is unprecedented. All of them PDP, including HE the governor. I think that was one of the bases of me being recommended to serve as the State Legal Adviser to the Party. As for the relationship, it’s extremely very good. If you have the record, the first time HE went on consultation, I think it was a private consultation. I was in his team that took him to Ikono. So our relationship is very good.
There have been insinuations that with the appointment of Obong Nsima Ekere as MD of NDDC, he may likely become the flag bearer of APC Gubernatorial election, thus the PDP may be grounded, what’s your take?
Don’t forget Nsima Ekere might be there (in NDDC) for just one year especially his tenure having being usurped by usurpers. I do not see him remaining there for even up to two years. The so called impact people say he is going to make might not really be there. He is going to finish his tenure and he will go back. I do not know if his party will decide to give him the ticket. But we will even prefer that so that we give him a running battle. But for me, I am not threatened at all. Let me tell you, I was one of those who asked Nsima Ekere if he will want to be the governor he shouldn’t take up the position of the Deputy Governor that time. So he made a mistake and I won’t be surprised if he makes another mistake because he thinks he has been made the MD of NDDC that is the biggest catapult for him to be given the mandate. But if the party makes the mistake of giving him the mandate, that certainly will be another failure. The second aspect which I could say with all sincerity of purpose is that my former Governor Attah and Don Etiebet I’m told are in his camp. We have it on record that whoever those two have lifted their hands normally fail election. So, I am told those two are solidly behind him and are going to dump Umana for him good enough. I can tell you that I come from Ikono Local Government and I am sure he won’t come there. He will go to somewhere else certainly he won’t come to Ikono where some of us are very strategically located.
Presently your party the PDP at the National level is currently in legal battles. What really is the problem?
There is no problem, that is the beauty of politics. Let me tell you, PDP is the most beautiful bride. And I tell you in the next one month, these are going to be resolved, for the mere fact that PDP has decided to zone the Presidency. That initially time, mistakes were made. How could you get the National Chairman from the North and the Presidential Candidate from the North also. It was a very wrong calculation. Now the generality of party men have come to term with the reality that if we zone President to the North, the National Chairmanship of the Party should come from the South. And now in the South there is rearrangement, we come to the South and say look, it should go to South West. I think it is a very good arrangement. If we are able to sail through with that kind of arrangement there is certainly every likelihood and I can tell you with all amount of authority that PDP will win back the Presidency in 2019.
If is often said when a house is not in order, it is bound to fail. Do you think with all these problems, you will have enough time to work towards 2019?
Obviously there is enough time, what we should have really considered is: do we have a credible candidate? And the answer is yes. The moment we are able to produce a credible candidate for the Presidency I can tell you what you have seen is just a storm in the tea cup. For me is not even a problem. It strengthens the party more. We were in Port Harcourt. It is very clear by the Nigerian constitution, the only person that can authorize the movement of Military Officers like what we saw in Port Harcourt was the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. And for a Major General to command the troop in the Stadium, the Presidency must have had a Command figure. So it is very clear that the APC is threatened. That is why they don’t want us to have our convention. But we are going to have, we will produce a candidate that would beat any of them. I just pray Buhari comes for a second term.
Are you comfortable with the decision of the BOT to sack Wike and move the convention to Abuja?
That is what Sheriff wanted. For me PDP is not about Wike. It is just a structure assisting the party. If we all agree that for peace to reign, it should be taken to Abuja no problem. I am sure even Wike woud agree to that because he has made so much sacrifices for the party. So, if it is a question of venue, look if I was Wike I would say let it move from Port Harcourt because I am sure he has spent so much to get two conventions in one location within three or four months.
There have been reports that some groups have dragged the State Governor to court over constitution of Local Government Transition Committee. As a legal practitioner, devoid of party sentiments, do you see the governor’s gesture as worthy to be reckoned with in accordance with the law?
There is no law. If you see section 7 of the constitution, it has made it very clear, It says “ the state shall ensure a system of democratically elected Local Government’. There is no punishment for doing otherwise. In one of the papers I presented, I laid in 1999 when they were proposing amendment of the Constitution I presented the lead paper in the House of Assembly. In fact, I was one of those who was supposed to represent Akwa Ibom in the National Assembly. In one of my write ups I made a proposal and said the present constitution is not strong enough to prevent a State Government for doing a caretaker committee. That there is nothing in the 1999 constitution that says a State cannot do a Transition or Caretaker Committee. I said so. What the Constitution ought to have done should have been to the effect that no State shall do a Caretaker Committee. Rather this one is saying that the State shall ensure a democratically elected Local Government without more. It didn’t say if a State does, it can’t be recognized. And you know we have some Latin expression. What the constitution didn’t intend should not be included. So if the Constitution of Nigeria had intended not to allow for a Caretaker Committee, it should have said so in that section 7 and section 8 of the 1999 constitution. It has not said so. A case went to the Supreme Court. The case of Eze. I think the Governor of Abia State dissolved a democratically elected government and set up a Caretaker Committee. The people went to court. Unfortunately what they went to court was really not for declaratory action. What they wanted from the court was for that declaration to be declared unlawful and for them to be paid their allowances as if they were still there. But unfortunately that was not the issue. And the court obviously did not make any pronouncement as to the legality or otherwise of a Caretaker Committee being set up. So, a closer look into what we call the golden rule of interpretation or the other rule of interpretation, the 1999 constitution does not prevent a State from establishing a Caretaker Committee. If we had proposed an amendment, that would have been better. This is what I did. It reads: “Section 7 of the 1999 constitution makes provision for a democratically elected Local Government Councils in the State. Note: the language of the Constitution is not very strong and direct to compel State Governments to ensure democratically elected Local Governments structures. In fact the provisions appear to be advisory and not mandatory. In suggestion, I stated thus “the constitution should be more serious and emphatic in ensuring periodic elections are conducted in the Local Government Councils and perhaps a penalty where a State fails or refuses to conduct Local Government elections. To further strengthen this position, the constitution should outlaw the establishment of Local Government Caretaker Committee in the Local Government. Thus, a system of Caretaker/ LG Transition Committee in the Local Government is hereby prohibited under the constitution.”
So the long and short of it is that the present section 7 of the constitution is not compelling. I will like to be part of that case because someone told me it is in court. But I don’t know why they choose to go to Abak High Court. I haven’t seen anything but I just hope even my argument is not said to be subjudiced since the matter is pending in court. But since you asked my opinion, that is my humble opinion. So what His Excellency did is not contrary to the law.
You were in news recently on the negative aspect about politics in Ikono. What’s your reaction to that?
It is a pity that some people will just decide to write one sided story. I think news reportage demands balance but my side of the story was not gotten. The truth about that story is that I am the resource person for Ikono Local Government. In this Inter-ministerial, in one of the meetings, I had said that His Excellency Deacon Udom Emmanuel is trying to appreciate voters; those who voted for him during the elections. And that if the governor wants to give any voters appreciation, the only people that should benefit should be the PDP people. So a few people who were in the APC and whose names mentioned there that voted APC were not very comfortable with my stance, so they engineered that write up. It is a small grievance and for me it is not a big deal. But there is something they talked about sex and I have told anybody look, go to the Faculty of Law and ask about Barr. Godwill Umoh. I am the oldest serving lecturer there. I and the Vice Chancellor are the oldest lecturers there. On September 1, the faculty clocked 30 years and on that same date I clocked 30 years as a lecturer in that faculty. Out of the 30 years, 20 I have served as Head of Department and on many occasions as the Acting Dean of that Faculty. For the 30 years I have not had one query. I say it proudly. If you go to court in Akwa Ibom, out of every 10 lawyers, 8 will be my student. I say it with enormous pride, I have never taken one Naira from students. And I say it proudly, I have never asked a girl out in my faculty. I married and my wife died, since then life has been a different thing. But when you are talking about sex and marks some people think I am the most stingy that I don’t give marks but I give those who deserve. For 30 years I lectured in that faculty and I have not gotten one query. When I finished serving as a Commissioner and went back to teach, the then Vice Chancellor Prof Comfort Ekpo called me more than three times pleading with me to come and continue as the Head of Department. The office I left was kept for me with everything and I went back. I challenge them, ask anybody, any lawyer, at least out of 10 lawyers in Uyo here, 8 passed through me because I teach year one and final year. So no matter what, you will pass through me as you are coming, and as you are leaving you will pass through me again. So, whoever wrote that thing is completely most uninformed.