Former deputy governor of Akwa Ibom State, Patrick Ekpotu, shares his thoughts with PATRICK ODEY on the Niger Delta Development Commission, the 2023 elections and other issues
You are a Chemical/Petroleum Engineer by training, what motivated you to join politics?
Politics in reality is an act of selfless service to the people. Although I studied Engineering, activism has been part of my background, from secondary school to the University, where I held various positions in student unionism at local and national levels. So, it was not surprising that I also had to play politics in addition to Engineering. Again, Engineering is only one aspect of the profession that people are identified with, but in reality, I also hold a Masters in Building Innovation and Change.
You were deputy governor to Godswill Akpabio, but you did not complete the two terms with him. Was there any disagreement?
Of course, that is really far behind me and I wouldn’t attribute it to disagreement, even though disagreement is part of politics. But not having to serve two terms is also part of politics itself. It was the prerogative of the governor to decide who he can most effectively, probably work with. Remember that at the onset, I was not the deputy on account of governor-elect or governor himself. It was after he emerged as a candidate that the political party, the Peoples Democratic Party at the national level, following the controversies that surrounded his emergence that the party at the national level set up a committee. The President-elect and his deputy moved to Akwa Ibom, met with the then sitting governor, Obong Victor Attah, and they were concerned about who should be Akpabio’s running mate, that would make the election winnable, probably with somebody on the ground, somebody loved by the people, and somebody who is popular. A number of names were thrown up and immediately my name was mentioned, agreement was reached, that was how, I emerged as the running mate to Governor Godswill Akpabio.
Akpabio administration was known for its uncommon transformation. What was uncommon about it?
It was uncommon because a great deal of, not just innovations but projects were undertaken. Life-touching projects and also mega projects like the stadium were undertaken. So, people were generally happy with the government and within that period I was there, insecurity was on the decline. I remember it was the first time that kidnapping was made a capital offence, and anybody caught was to face the penalty. We were able to check militancy that had become part and parcel of the region’s political movement since the advent of democracy. In Akwa Ibom State, we were able to checkmate this, and to a very large extent, many people were saying it is the safest state. So, it is part of the legacies. This did not just come easily; it came as a result of the capacity to think outside the box and to take bold actions different from the traditional approach to security.
What have you being doing since you left office?
I have been engaging in my engineering practice. I also do a lot of reading, during this period. I enrolled for my Master’s programme in Building Innovations and Change. I also concentrate on thinking on how best we can proffer solutions to what is affecting the nation today. So, quite a number of books have been put together, one had already been formally launched about 11 years ago. I also have two more in the making. On the whole, as I practise engineering, I also immersed myself in the problems of Nigeria and trying to proffer solutions to them.
You authored a book ‘Lifting the Perils’ in which you proffered far-reaching recommendations on how best to tackle not only the Niger Delta issues but some of the challenges facing Nigeria. Have those recommendations been implemented?
To a very large extent, I will say yes, an aspect of it was implemented. The aspect that was implemented was the Amnesty Programme. The late President, Musa Yar’Adua, took interest in it when the book was in the making because these views were expressed in a seminar we all attended, and he took interest in it and requested that he would carefully look into it. So, he went ahead an d implemented it. Unfortunately, by the time he passed on, the programme had derailed. So, outside of him, I do not see any government that has made efforts to implement the recommendations, and that is why, in my opinion, we will continue to see insecurity escalating and completely getting out of hand as we’re seeing already.
The traditional mechanism of crime paltering is no longer psychologically effective to make any impression on the citizens, and to a very large extent, the number of persons that are involved in committing these crimes on a daily basis outnumbers the security agencies that we have in Nigeria, and the number of security personnel in the country.
How has the Amnesty Programme derailed?
It has derailed to the extent that the programme was only seen as being focused only on the development of those involved in acting the whole thing, i.e. the militants, talking about their training abroad, providing them with alternative means of livelihood and all of that, but the programme itself was supposed to be much more deeper. It (programme) was supposed to involve character moulding, because these are the things that grow and get transmitted each day from generations to generations. In a society, every crime is like the mother; it gives birth to children, and every child that it gives birth to, also reproduces the same. Within a short period, it becomes a generation to generation thing. It gets transmitted from generation to generation.
If you take a statistics of a particular crime pattern, and maybe you end up that each 500,000 people are identified as getting involved in that crime. In a week or two, that number will not remain 500,000 because those that are participating in it also have people to discuss with. So, they keep transmitting to those that are with them. If the crime at that time is peculiar within a certain age bracket, say 25 years, if you allow it, it will continue, and within two or three years, you will discover that underage children from 16,17 years will begin to get involved. That is how crime is transmitted. It regenerates itself until it becomes uncontrollable. The Amnesty Programme aimed at making sure that such things did not happen. Unfortunately, it got centered on training and all of that.
A lot of people are clamouring for restructuring as the only viable option to peace and stability of this country. What is your take on this?
I don’t believe that the solution of this country is rested on restructuring. But then, it depends on what level of restructuring one is talking about. For instance, if government decides to implement the structural approach to resolve the insecurity in the country, it may require to make laws that will probably make the last tier of government and enable the villages, communities to receive some allocations every month so that they can implement in detail what that programme will require. Once that kind of amendment is made or introduced, of course, I will look at that as restructuring. But if it is the kind of restructuring you are talking about, I am absolutely not in support of it, where some people express that it is better to have Nigeria partitioned into several countries and probably, as people also said confederation, groups remaining on its own, just like we have in the First Republic. While I may not totally oppose these ideas, I will say that the nation as it is right now, requires a serious surgical operation and it should be done with such precision when normalcy had returned and everywhere is calm, and Nigerians can really make a distinction between what they want and what they expect.
It is at that point such far-reaching restructuring can be undertaken and you will find that by the time Nigerians have been elevated to a level quite above where they historically are now, you will see that the same Nigerians will tell you at that level of elevation that there is no need for balkanisation of this country. At this level where we are unable to overcome our human situations, individuals are now living by sentiments, by ethnicity, by religion and all manner of primordial considerations. So, at this stage, if you want to carry out such restructuring, you may end up having an impossible conclusion in the sense that everybody is thinking alike, the very region you will want to create maybe as a region; don’t be surprised that you may end up having three different groups clamouring to be on their own and at the end, the process will become absolute rubbish.
You said Nigeria requires surgical operation can you expatiate on this?
The surgical operation is that you cannot even talk about restructuring a country at a stage where it is now, with absolute insecurity, economic situations being at the extremes and all of that. So, these problems have to be put aside first of all.
The NDDC was established to speed up development in the Niger Delta region for over 22 years of existence. Do you think the agency has lived up to expectations?
Every agency in Nigeria performs based on what the government in power wants. I do not see any particular agency in Nigeria that is so autonomous. Actions are driven by the vision of government in power. There was a time the NDDC attempted to realise its mandate and another certain government came into being and the whole thing became a contract awarding body with none of the projects completed and it became a conduit pipe where money is being channelled and frittered away. So, the NDDC has reduced itself to that level, and the way it is today, we are seeing the NDDC that is operating outside the laws that established it and it is even difficult to place it. When you are operating outside the laws that guide you, then you are completely on your own and nobody can rate what you are doing.
Are you suggesting that the NDDC should be scrapped?
No, I would rather suggest it should be made to become effective and to be able to fulfill its mandates. It should be strengthened by whatever laws. If there are lacunas or black spots in the aspects of the laws establishing the NNDC, which makes ministers or managing directors to exploit and do otherwise, then those ones should be blocked and then the NDDC and every other agency in Nigeria must ensure that they live strictly according to their mandates.
Your political party lost to the APC in 2015 presidential elections. As a chieftain of the PDP, are you satisfied with the steps taken by the party to reclaim that mandate in 2023?
That is why we are talking first of all about having a house in one bit. That is why we are talking about reconciliation; that is why I am appealing to Governor Nyesom Wike and his team to give peace a chance and resolve this matter as quickly as possible. Now, the PDP would have learnt lessons after the 2015 elections and I can tell you that elections were lost in some polling units, at some polling unit level, some at ward coalition level, some at the local government coalition level. I can tell you that having taken notice of all these things, the PDP has built serious machinery that will make all these kind of losses impossible. The will of Nigerians must speak and be heard. If no other government has taken the issues of security and economy seriously, Atiku Abubakar is going to do it and the machinery has been put in place and Nigerians will be happy
Let’s come back to Akwa Ibom State. How do you assess the performance of the PDP-led administration in the state?
Though my attention and focus for some time now is at the national level where I am involved in Atiku Abubakar Campaign Organisation, but I know that the PDP government in Akwa Ibom State may not have acted differently from what one would expect. It is actually difficult to have everyone satisfied in politics. So, in my perspective, many people or few people may say that they are not satisfied with what the government is doing. To me, efforts have been made to raise the state from a certain level to a new level but that level may probably not be as many would have expected, but efforts in that direction have been made and is still being made. Don’t forget that many things come to play in the effectiveness of an administration and I will say that all of those ingredients that are needed to make an effective administration, Governor Udom (Emmanuel) has them and I believe the impact he has made so far will be because he has been able to attune himself to all those necessities. I will not say I am not satisfied with the performance of the PDP at the state level but much is still needed to be done and I believe the government is focused in getting those done.
Which areas do you think that the governor needs to touch before leaving office?
There are few areas, especially the area that has to do with the welfare of the people, the area that touches on the lives of the people because it is at that level that you will hear people complain that we have seen these projects, we have seen Ibom Airline and a few other things he has done. But generally, the economy of the state is not in the hands of the state government, the economy of the state is affected by the economy of the country. So, the hardship inflicted on Nigerians by the APC government will transmit down to families. Akwa Ibom is one of those, and when we hear people complain about hunger, complain about hard realities of life and all of that, it is not what has been created by the state government.
What is your take on the choice of Umo Eno as the PDP governorship candidate of Akwa Ibom State?
Definitely I am a PDP member and so far we do not have two candidates, a candidate has been thrown up. Before, you could pitch your tent anywhere, you could support any aspirant, but the moment the primary is conducted lawfully, legally and a candidate is thrown up, that candidate becomes the property of the political party. As a core PDP member, I am not interested in defecting to any political party; I have never nursed such ambition. I remain a core PDP man. So, Umo Eno, having been thrown up as the candidate of the PDP in Akwa Ibom State, he has 100 per cent of my support because I cannot in good humour and good cheer leave the candidate of my political party to support a candidate of another party. You know elections are won on the ground, not in the air and Akwa Ibom State is a traditional PDP state with every structure that is already in place.