A former spokesperson for the House of Representatives and All Progressives Congress candidate for Eket Federal Constituency in Akwa Ibom State, Mr Eseme Eyiboh, tells PATRICK ODEY his views on the quality of legislative engagements at the National Assembly
You represented the Eket federal constituency at the House of Representatives between 2007 and 2011, why do you want to return to the Green Chamber?
I was there for one term and my efforts to go for a second term then met with a lot of political issues associated with the party primaries. But while I was there, I had robust legislative engagements that culminated in a series of positive developments for my constituency. Today, everybody is talking about Information and Communications Technology, I built and equipped two ICT centres and brought in experts to train our young people. One of the centres is in Akpautong village in Esit Eket and the other one is at Afai Atai in Eket. I built a library in Ibeno and equipped it, and it’s there till date. The ICT centres were furnished with computer sets and the trainees were receiving allowances. The trainers were also paid allowances to encourage them. But today, the centres have been vandalised. You can imagine the benefits that would have accrued to the people if those centres were still available. So, I want to return to the National Assembly to use my networks and capacity to bring to bear in my federal constituency the possibilities that abound in this federation. For example, the Petroleum Industry Act is the creation of parliament, you need somebody with high-level awareness, capacity and understanding to represent the constituency in this regard and understand the interplay in the implementation of the PIA. The responsibilities of the National Assembly are lawmaking, oversight and appropriation. You need someone who understands the gamut of legislative politics and political character to leverage and bring the benefits to their people. Of all the people contesting, I am the most qualified.
You earlier mentioned that your plan to return to the chamber was hampered by some political issues. What were those issues?
They were issues that have to do with the party. The primary was conducted in Eket, and it was in compliance with the extant Electoral Act then (in 2011). Politicians for who they are went and produced another list and my name was not there. I went to court and I won at the trial court. They went on appeal and a lot of intrigues happened along the line and the matter got to the Supreme Court, in the case of Eyiboh vs Abia. The Supreme Court decided that the political party has the responsibility to choose who becomes a candidate and my political party then was the Peoples Democratic Party, which of course became a behemoth of all kinds of people. That was how I lost the matter. Thank God I didn’t complete the second term because that gave other people the opportunity to be there and people have been able to compare and contrast the entire representation.
Was that experience the reason you dumped the party?
The PDP as at the time I joined was a party that was recruiting future leaders of the country but the founding fathers of the PDP gradually became influenced by the government. These people are silent attackers. The individuals became larger than the party. I saw APC as a party made of people that are very resistant to the atrocities and the negative dispositions of the PDP, so I saw APC as an emergence of a vehicle that will be ready to drive the process of social justice. So far so good I have no regrets.
But there is a crisis confronting the APC in Akwa Ibom State. Isn’t that an issue?
No, what is happening in APC in Akwa Ibom State or any other state is one of the characteristics of a political party before and during party primaries. It has always been like this, no matter the political party. When you have primary, you have post primary issues. For APC in Akwa Ibom State, we are resolving our differences and we will get there. Those who didn’t have the patience to wait for the peace process and conflict resolution went and joined other political parties, but I tell you that APC in Akwa Ibom remains a party to beat in 2023, depending on the quality and calibre of people it parades and the outcome of the resolution.
As someone who has been in the National Assembly before, is there any difference in the quality of lawmaking between then and now?
Like I said before, when I joined the PDP, it was involved in the right recruitment process for leadership but the moment PDP started to promote strong men instead of strong institutions, it began to deteriorate. You know they had the majority in the House, most of the people they brought in were as a result of poor leadership recruitment process and wrong people in right places. So, the institution couldn’t have grown, and today we have former governors turning the senate into a rehabilitation centre. Very soon, we might see them forming the 109 membership of the senate, because you wouldn’t expect regular attendance, constructive engagements and most of the former governors and the people you have in the House of Representatives are products of those same people in the Senate. The quality is declining on account of poor leadership recruitment process and it has reduced legislative engagements.
Many people believe that the poor handling of the economy and insecurity in Nigeria by the APC-led administration will affect its chances of winning the election in 2023. What is your take?
That is a perception issue, but I will tell you about the issue of the economy and the issue of security, for example, we have the national government and sub-national government. On weekends, you won’t see any of them in Abuja; many of them have gone back to their states because of one reason or the other. The economy of the sub-nationals is very important. Once the states are doing what they are supposed to do and the local governments are doing what they are supposed to do, you would see the stimulation of growth and prosperity. For example, we used to have Directorates of Food Growth and Rural Infrastructure. The roads to local farms where our farmers can go and cut their palm fruits are no longer there. The farm implements are not there. You see a state government ordering tractors; they don’t put emphasis on ecological agriculture and it affects the issue of food production. You cannot talk about sustainability when the production is not right. We have arable land in Ini, Eket, Uruan, etc., why don’t you, during the rainy season, empower farmers with the cassava stem. You begin to create a cooperative society even among yourselves and create a hub, then the government can turn round and develop a commodity house and crash the prices of those things in the market. With that, nobody will influence the price. It’s not for a commissioner of Agriculture to go and buy cassava flakes (garri) and be selling it in front of the state secretariat, saying it’s an intervention programme. That is penny wise and pound foolish!
Many people believe that the Muslim-Muslim ticket may ruin the chances of the APC in the 2023 election, what is your take on this?
My happiness with the 2023 elections, like I saw in Osun State, is the issue of voting. Everybody will vote and votes will definitely count, so we should rather submit ourselves to the democratic processes.
On the clamour for restructuring, many people believe that without restructuring, there will be no peace and stability, what is your take on that?
That is why I want to go to the House of Representatives. It is the House of Nigerian people. 2023 is going to be a referendum in terms of our democracy. It’s not going to be a normal election but a referendum for the people of Eket to decide the kind of representation they want. They should be able to determine what their future should be like and what the future holds for them. If they vote incompetent, inexperienced persons who lack the wherewithal of leadership, it’s going to be garbage in garbage out. Restructuring is a generic word; it is the engagement of people at the legislature that will give meaning and context to restructuring. When it comes to the parliament for discussion, the gamut of all the contributions will form a direction of where to go as a nation. So, if you have your best representing you, it will be one of the best in terms of contribution, and politics is a game of interest. People will go where their interest is protected.
The Niger Delta Development Commission was established to speed up development in the Niger Delta region, do you think it has lived up to its expectation 20 years after its creation?
NDDC is a behemoth of monstrous dimension to the extent that it was expected to be an interventionist agency. But it has turned out to be a buffet table that serves the interest of a few. Look at the last forensic audit and the revelations. Thank God for the former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, for his foresight in bringing the forensic audit to bear. The forensic audit was first and foremost a psychological matter; the commission was a cesspool of corruption. So many directors came and they were eating from it. Now, it has been narrowed down to sole proprietorship where an individual is the alpha and the omega and is not answerable to anybody.
Are you worried that the forensic audit recommendations have not been made public?
No, forensic (audit) is process driven. That audit took place and we are aware that the report has been handed over to Mr President (Major General Muhammadu Buhari) but he cannot start prosecution because we are under the rule of law. It has to go to the Attorney General of the Federation who will constitute a legal team to seek legal opinions and finally send it to the President who will approve, maybe through the Federal Executive Council, and once it’s approved, we see action. It is not an overnight thing.
You described the NDDC as a cesspool of corruption, do you agree with those who suggest that it should be scrapped?
No, it shouldn’t be scrapped. You cannot throw a child with a water bath. The problem in this country is the poor leadership recruitment process; we get wrong people into the right places. NDDC is also a victim. But in a few cases we have good people in the right places. For example, when we had Mr Dan Abia as the MD of the NDDC, there were no reports of corruption. Their operations were so transparent and he saw himself as the chairman to serve the people.
How would you assess the PDP administration in Akwa Ibom State?
Well, the PDP doesn’t know where it was going until when it was on the floor as they are now. The party is on the ground because it took Nigerians’ feelings for granted. What happened in 2015 is going to happen in Akwa Ibom State in 2023. The election will be on the basis of one man one vote. There will be no issue of hijacking incident form or the ballot box by God’s grace. In Akwa Ibom State, it is the people not the party that will be considered. You have a lot of people in APGA voting PDP or APC vice versa. No bad candidate will rise on the crest of a political party to win election in Akwa Ibom. It’s the credibility and pedigree of the candidate that will inform performance in the election. Political party is relevant as a vehicle during party primaries and in general elections, but it is human beings that will represent the people and not the political party, so the people must take responsibility for making sure they assess candidates not on the basis of party platform but the pedigree and capacity of the candidate. The National Assembly is different from state House of Assembly. In a state House of Assembly, you see the number of executive bills sent to the house is more than the private bills because the state House of Assembly is partially controlled by the state government. It’s different in the National Assembly because the representative is the brand of his constituency. I was three months old in the House of Representatives when I was made the spokesperson. I maintained the pedigree and high ethical standard throughout. If you come to my constituency you will see the things I attracted to the area.