He contested for governorship seat two times but didn’t succeed. He then followed up and contested for a senatorial seat (twice) but also lost out on each occasion. Though he has lost out from winning any elective position since the advent of PDP in 1999, Obong Bassey Inuaeyen remains a respected politician and elderstatesman. He was said to have frolicked with opposition elements in 2015 and even after the elections which saw the emergence of Governor Emmanuel. In this interview with newsmen, he declares his political stand. He says he has an unalloyed support for the sitting governor while also mobilizing support for him to win a second term in 2019. He also bares his mind on the anti-corruption fight of Buhari led administration, the appointments of Akwa Ibom sons into political positions in the FG, his new group Ibom Patriots amongst other sundry issues. THEMAIL brings excerpts from the interesting session….
Even after Udom’s victory in 2015, the general perception was still that you were in the APC. In fact, at your mother’s burial, even the Governor made a statement that you belong to no political party but a lot must have changed now. What is the true position of things? Where do you belong?
That is where I choose to be slightly different because I try to separate politics from friendship. If you are my friend, you are my friend. At the same time, I will hold my own political opinion while you hold yours and that doesn’t stop me from relating with you. I am a very strong minded person and it takes some process for one to change my mind because I cannot be swayed easily after taking a decision. I was still maintaining my friendship with my friends even though some of them are in the opposition party. In fact, that was demonstrated during my mother’s burial because you saw everybody present there. That is the kind of thing I really want in Akwa Ibom. Let us live together as brothers and not tie everything to politics. I know there was a time during Obong Attah’s regime when I disagreed on something and people thought I was in opposition. The same also happened during Akpabio’s time. People must understand me. Nsima Ekere, Umana Okon Umana and Ini Okorie amongst others are all my friends and they all know that I am a PDP man and of course they will try to talk me into the APC and the decision lies with me whether to succumb to them or not. The APC tried luring me over but I maintained that I am a PDP man but that I’ll give it a thought and it got to a point where I had to tell everybody that after my mother’s burial I was going to take a political decision to quench the doubts and put the speculations to rest. It will take a wicked heart not to support Governor Udom Emmanuel after the things he did for me during my mother’s burial. He gave me total support and brought government’s presence to my mother’s burial. He promoted me. So the only thing I can offer him now is my unalloyed support and loyalty. I even discussed at length with him telling him that I am the only one that can traverse all the camps because I still maintain my relationship with friends and I receive all of them with open arms because as a leader you cannot lead part and leave the other. Let us look at how politics is played in other climes. Even in the United States you have Democrats and Republicans as Senators who are friends but that does not affect their party positions. I am a PDP man and I have never decamped since I joined the party in 1998. I have never carried any other party’s membership card so I’m an all-weather PDP man and I want people to understand that as a leader, many people look up to you so you will not say I can’t talk to you because of party differences. I know of a person in my area that came to my house to talk to me asking for my support for a particular candidate. He said that the person has so much to offer. I told him my brother, I am supporting Udom Emmanuel and I told him to come and join in the support rather than try to convince me about some other person and his parting words were “okay sir I will remain where I am, if I’m able to convince you, I hope to see you in my camp, if you are able to convince me I will come over to your camp”. I want us to civilize politics and separate politics from friendship. That is why we had problems in years past because we kept on fighting each other but right now there is a government in place in Akwa Ibom and we must allow people to enjoy this same government rather than start politics because it will not allow the Governor to concentrate on governance. If you start throwing political tantrums it will distract the governor because he is a human being, so he should be allowed to focus and run the government. At the end of the day he will look at his scorecard so that he will know the areas to touch. Those who feel that they haven’t had government’s presence in their area ought to use the appropriate platform to talk to them rather than go to pages of newspapers to make controversial political statements.
It’s about two years since your friend and brother, Deacon Udom Emmanuel became governor. As someone who followed his electioneering campaigns and even wore all the campaign uniforms at that time and also listened to his campaign promises, what is your assessment of him so far?
I think I have answered this question so many times. Governor Udom Emmanuel has done exceedingly well given our situation. The country has been in recession since 2015, so the governor came into power during this recession and thank God that he gave us Governor Udom Emmanuel otherwise today this state would be regretting the choice they would have made back then. Many states of the federation today are having all forms of difficulties including our state but because we have a prudent manager in power who is leading us and he has successfully maneuvered our financial problems to a point now that we are able to put our heads above the water. Salaries are being paid, his industrialization policy is being pursued, and infrastructural development is also being pursued as well as political inclusion. So far he is doing excellently well given all our financial constraints. I cannot remember a particular president or governor that has fulfilled 100% of his electioneering promises because a promise is based on the information you have at that time and certain things must happen so that these promises be kept but it is important that we see that you are trying to keep those promises. There is something that we seem to underplay here in Akwa Ibom. Before, it used to cost us so much to stay in Akwa Ibom because sometimes you need a battalion of army or police detachments to move around with one person but today it is a thing of the past because in terms of security the Governor has freed us. We are now free to walk around and that is why you can see foreign investors coming to the state due to the proper security that is guaranteed in the state and it is worth noting that security is the first thing an investor puts into consideration before starting his investment. I am finding it difficult to see any loophole in the Udom Emmanuel administration so far. There is political stability so far and the industrialization policy is taking care of the unemployment problem that is bewildering the entire nation and not only Akwa Ibom. I was addressing some issues with some people the other day and they were saying that bad government has created unemployment and I said that is not totally true because one needs to know the cause of a problem before one begins to solve it. I also pointed out that technological advancement has caused unemployment globally so it is not necessarily about bad government. Take for example, in some banks in Europe, financial transaction is aided by machines and these are jobs that could have been done by people and this technological advancement has come to Nigeria as well. There is a suggestion I will love to make to our leaders. I will really love them to encourage our young ones to look at the downstream side of technology because there are new jobs there and they need to be retrained because the job that they were trained earlier are no longer in existence so they need to look at where the job exists and retrain them to start things that will turn their lives around. I hear some people talk about farming and to be a farmer you must be trained and that is what this government is also pursuing because it will create employment. To answer your question and you can quote me anytime anywhere that Governor Udom Emmanuel after two years has done extremely well and we need to encourage him to do more.
Let’s not project into 2019 which is only a heartbeat away. The governor is qualified for a second term and in most cases people get second opportunities because of what they did in their first term. Do you think the chances of the Governor will be bigger than it was in 2015 due to what he has achieved so far?
As a matter of sincerity he will be more accepted in 2019 than he was in 2015 because he is doing so well. I have said to you before that Akwa Ibom people have a reason to thank God for bringing Governor Udom Emmanuel to power because if it was left for a politician we would have been squandering our money on frivolities. Governor Emmanuel has laid a foundation for proper industrialization to take off and I am sure I’m speaking the minds of Akwa Ibom people and I will also encourage the people to support the governor because he is doing well though it may not be too obvious to some people.
President Buhari hinged his campaign on fight against corruption and insurgency? How will you rate him in terms of delivering on his campaign promises?
As far as I’m concerned, the war against corruption is being fought haphazardly because he may not have sat down to think of how to fight corruption. At first, if we strengthen our institutions, we will be using the same institution to fight corruption. Sometimes when I hear them mention astronomic amount of money stolen by one person without a single conviction so far I get so disappointed in them despite all the media hype and I’m not comfortable with that. In civilized societies today, if a politician makes promises, there will be questions asked on how he or she will fulfill these promises. But here in Nigeria someone will wake up one day and promise to wipe away poverty without an adequate plan to achieve it and this happens because we are still politically gullible and the politicians take advantage of that and make empty promises. I have often quoted President Bill Clinton who once said that “you do not know Washington until you get to Washington”. He was expressing his frustrations after becoming U.S President and discovered he couldn’t fulfill all his electoral promises. I believe Governor Udom Emmanuel is in a pole position to know what the people expect of him in the coming years in terms of serving us further. I maintain that he stands a very good chance of getting re-elected come 2019. I heard Senator Ita Enang say that Udom Emmanuel will be the easiest candidate to beat come 2019 and I wondered where he got his facts from. If you go to many places, people are singing praises of Governor Udom Emmanuel. I take my local government for example, there is no way the Governor will not receive 100% votes in INI Local Government and it will be difficult for the opposition to beat him in INI and I can see the same for other local governments in the state. So how will you beat Udom and where will you get the voters to vote against him if I may ask. I agree that the template of 2015 may not work in 2019 but on the scale of things today, Governor Udom Emmanuel will win the elections come 2019. I also have an advice for those people who claim to have been with the Governor from the beginning and do not want others to come near him to desist from their actions and allow people get close to the Governor because one of his cardinal promises was political inclusion and if those who left the fold return, he should take them back wholeheartedly. Right now the Governor needs everybody to rally around him because he is a righteous one.
Only recently, we woke up to be greeted with the news of a socio political group called Ibom Patriots and you are the Chancellor. I will love you to tell us why the group was formed, the members and what it intends to achieve.
You know it gets to a point in one’s life you now have to look what you can do for your country and not what your country can do for you in the words of J.F Kennedy. We have been in the political scene for a long time and by the way, this is not the first time I have done a similar thing with my friends. In 1999 after the elections, I called all the elected members of the House of Assembly from all the parties including the Local Government Chairmen. I took them to my village, received them in my house and tried to preach to them why we must all work together for the development of the state. But you know in every situation there will be some political misfits who disagreed with what I said to them so they refused to follow me but that actually accorded me a good relationship with the House of Assembly because they appreciated my efforts. We didn’t follow through with that because if we did, 2007 would have been less expensive because we would have been able to put ourselves together to reason along the same line. In 2003 I recall when Obong Attah was going for second term it was rumored everywhere that the presidency at that time did not need him and didn’t want him re-elected but the people of Akwa Ibom loved Obong Attah because of his steadfastness in fighting the onshore/offshore oil dichotomy. Some of his friends also decided to set up the Frontline Movement to gather support for Obong Attah and we hosted and organized one of the best fund raising in this country in Uyo even though the then Governor Attah wanted it hosted in Abuja. If you can recall during that event, a plate of food was sold for a hundred thousand naira and it was paid for. Ibom Hall was designed to accommodate about 700 people. In fact, on that day we had up to a thousand people and some were even standing and they paid their hundred thousand naira to come in. We did that and Obong Attah was successful in the election. Again, this time we looked at it that the present government has not been given enough time to run their affairs because they have been forced into politicking due to some political pressure so we decided to come together and change our attitudes towards politics and try to look at how we must see the seat of government as our collective dignity which we must do everything to defend it. We must love that office irrespective of who is there and this is why we have all come together to call ourselves the Patriots because we are from Akwa Ibom State. If you look at the dictionary meaning of the word patriots, a patriot is a person who loves, supports and defends his or her country and also protects the interest of the same country with passion and devotion. What we are trying to do in Ibom Patriots is to get people to love, support and also defend the interest of our state and today, Governor Udom Emmanuel happens to be the one in government and he will be the first beneficiary of our efforts. We are not limiting it to his tenure. We call him our principal and that he should be given a chance because he is doing well and should be encouraged rather than being attacked and distracted which has been the order of the day politically almost everywhere in Nigeria. Let’s for once be patriotic and promote the good things the Governor has done rather than drag him to the mud. As a state, we also have to promote the things that will unite us as a people. In Ibom Patriots, we do recognize our diversity but we won’t emphasize much on that but rather we emphasize on the things that unites us.
Who is qualified to be a member?
Membership is open for every positive thinking Akwa Ibom person. For today, we are supporting Governor Udom Emmanuel and you must also join in that support if you are to be a member. We are bent on supporting every leader in Akwa Ibom State but the support can be withdrawn if such a leader is not performing well. As a matter of fact, I can say the Patriots is fashioned along the same line as the Frontline Movement in the sense that ours is to support the government in power so as to promote and support them to do well so that the next person that will succeed the Governor will readily know that he has the support from patriotic people and he will not get himself complicated into so many things and lessen the burden while reducing the cost of politicking. We believe that before 2019 Ibom Patriots will become a movement in this state because we will work hard and move into all the nooks and crannies in the state to mobilize support for the Governor.
Some political watchers are of the opinion that you formed the Ibom Patriots in a quest to become the governor’s campaign Director General in 2019. What can you say about that?
I have never given a thought about that but if such an opportunity comes I will think seriously about it because when you are leading a group of people you have to be careful about certain things but I did explain that Governor Udom Emmanuel is like a brother to me so I will take any request from him seriously but I do know that there are many capable Akwa Ibomites out there who can be Director General and are more politically experienced than I am and can handle that job. I have also heard people say the Bassey Inuaeyen was not with us now he is using Ibom Patriots to come and take over power which is not true. Like I said I did it in 1999 and 2003 so what power did I get when I did it back then and so why will this one be different if I may ask. I am only being who I am because I will continue doing my best for this state so it is not about any benefit because no one in Ibom Patriots will ever lobby for appointments in the state. All we want to do is to ensure that Akwa Ibom people do not throw away this opportunity that God has brought to us and we want people to see the good things in Governor Udom Emmanuel rather than the bad things being propagated by his political opponents. I am not stopping someone else from contesting in 2019 but we in Ibom Patriots have already taken an irreversible decision to support Governor Udom Emmanuel come 2019. Our membership is limited for now in order to reassess and put certain structures in place before we throw it wide open because if you bring in people now of course they will come with different opinions and perceptions. We are going to open our offices in all the Senatorial Districts and set up committees headed by seasoned politicians whom we consider to be honest, truthful, patriotic and are ready to sacrifice for this state not minding if they are benefiting from government or not. We have people of integrity because we know too well that in 2019 Akwa Ibom people will be looking up to authentic leaders from all nooks and crannies. We want people who can woo their people for the Governor. As a matter of fact we are going national and what I mean is that we are going to voice out on anything that affects Akwa Ibom nationally and globally. We want people to look at Ibom Patriots beyond politics but as those who protect the interest of Akwa Ibom State.
Discussing national politics now, what is your assessment of the APC led Federal Government in terms of their fight against corruption?
Like I said earlier, there are many in this country today who believe that the Government is doing well in the fight against corruption but I have to explain here for everyone to understand that every government in power is a party government. People who help government into power do not do it because of patriotism but for their interest. Nigerians don’t believe that the President has done well in the fight against corruption. He has done well in the area of security, I mean Boko Haram but there are other key areas which they have not touched at all such as power. The government needs to do more but I don’t believe they have done enough and I don’t also believe that the fight against corruption is holistic.
So you agree with Senator Shehu Sani who said that the President uses Insecticide and deodorants in fighting corruption depending on who is involved?
Yes I do because all the people so far indicted seems to be those who were in the previous administration and those that decamped to the APC are seen as sacred cows except for the Senate President which you know has now ended and it is difficult to know if he did anything wrong. It might also be that he did not meet certain expectations of the “cabal”. It was confirmed by the President’s wife that there is a cabal that is controlling the government so the president needs to break away from the cabal but unfortunately for us he has not been physically fit enough to lead us and we pray for God to give him the strength to fight corruption to a logical conclusion because we are trying to contain corruption today maybe the next government will now come and start the real fight against corruption. There is one good thing out of all this. The present government is looking into the activities of the previous government so when the next government comes they will do the same and this will boost accountability.
In another trending issue at the center, there have been arguments for restructuring which means different things to different people. What does it mean to you?
I am happy because this issue is very subjective because it means different things to different people. Some people see it as a physical demarcation of Nigeria while some see it as more of a call for the devolution of power but I am seeing it as a call for devolution of powers. When we start agitating for restructuring we must consider its implication and how long it will take to achieve it. Restructuring can never be a two year thing. It is going to be a long drawn thing so we need to sit back and think about the components of what we are looking for. For example, I have heard calls for the return to regional government but I don’t see many states accepting that. And if we still insist on regions, where will the headquarters be and what will be the economic system of these regions and what will happen to the center so things like this should be taken into consideration.
What are your last words?
I will conclude by saying that the Governor should be supported come 2019 though I am not dissuading people from contesting after all I contested twice and lost so it is risky for someone to unseat Udom with the overwhelming support that he is enjoying but let’s do it with some decorum and also on the other side I will not fail to say in terms of appointments the Federal Government has done well for us and I solicit our children up there to use their position to advance our interests rather than politics. So that is my advice to them.
Thank you very much sir for your time with us
The pleasure is all mine.