Saint Athanasius Okon is the National President, Buhari Friends Organisation Network, a socio-political group. He contested the election into Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly on the platform of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) in 2007 and contested same under the Action Congress of Nigeria (CAN) before contesting for a seat in the House of Representatives in 2011 on the platform of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). He spoke with OLUGBENGA ADANIKIN on the activities of the NGO as well as his concerns about the goings on in the polity.
What is your position on Akwa Ibom politics and speculations concerning recent appointments by the President?
Firstly, let me introduce myself, as Saint Athanasius Okon, from Uyo Senatorial District, Akwa Ibom State, a core All Progressives Congress (APC) member, registered with AkI/IBI-03002461. I started active politics in 2003 on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). Interestingly, I contested elections to represent my state constituency, Ibiono Ibom, for Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, on the opposition ANPP in 2003, won the primary election and stood for the general election against the PDP and other parties’ candidates. But for the massive rigging of the said election by the ruling PDP government in Akwa Ibom State. I could have won the election with a landslide, even as my first entry into the political arena. I was indeed the preferred a candidate in my local government.
After four years, precisely 2007, as my people were not getting the much needed quality representation in the state’s House of Assembly, I was compelled once again to re-contest in 2007, this time on the platform of Action Congress (AC). As a founding member of Action Congress in Akwa Ibom as well as at the national level, I did my best to ensure that the party was really embraced by my constituency and indeed Akwa Ibom as a whole, since the government of PDP was not really providing the expected dividend of democracy, considering the amount of money accruing from the 13 per cent derivation and internally generated revenue.
Indeed, AC was really accepted, with Mr. James Iniama as the governorship candidate. But despite the yearnings of the people of Akwa Ibom for a positive change to have a people friendly government in place, the ruling party, the PDP, still refused to let go and went ahead to rig the 2007 election. But even with what actually transpired as were witnessed at the elections tribunal, they still had their way with strong backing from Abuja. Again, history repeated itself, as I have to remain consistent in my ideological belief to be in the progressive, since the emphasis was on the emancipation of the proletariat, the downtrodden.
In the year 2011, apart from being a founding member of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), I also contested the primary and general election on CPC’s platform for the House of Representatives, to represent Itu/Ibiono Ibom Federal Constituency. Once again, as usual, I stood my ground, didn’t step down or withdrew for fear of the usual PDP attacks and intimidation, including killings/kidnapping of opposition candidates. In 2011, nobody, including the prominent faces today who are now born again, embraced the APC government.
Those who are pretending to be new members could not openly tolerate the name Buhari in Akwa Ibom. I was personally attacked by some of them for defending Buhari. It took God and the former DSS Director, a man I don’t remember his name now but know is from Plateau State, to save my life from the agents of the PDP. I was physically attacked, embarrassed for supporting him and for contesting election on the same platform as Buhari.
Were you the only contestant attacked in Akwa Ibom?
A number of us then in an area completely dominated by PDP were in the opposition, so we were prone to attacks. There was no wealthy man in Akwa Ibom State who could have taken such a risk except a few of us, the poor, who supported the ruling party. Since politics and party affiliation should as a matter of fact be based on ideology, I think my actions and those of other few members of the opposition then and today are ideology-based, and we are really proud to witness the emergence of President Buhari, a popular stone openly rejected by the same builders that have come through the back doors and benefited from his government.
What really surprised me lately is the fact that people like Senator Ita Enang, Senator Udo Udoma, Mr. Nsima Ekere and finally Mr. Frank Samuel George, are all from the PDP, and I want to be challenged here. As I have volunteered my party’s membership registration number, apart from being a bona fide member of ANPP, AC and the CPC, let them come forward and present same for us to really appreciate who actually worked and who benefited.
Apart from Senator Udoma, a known PDP man, who up till this moment has not opened his mouth to profess APC, the rest three, from my findings, claimed to be members of APC. Therefore, I challenge them to bring out their membership registration number to show when they came on board, as there is no justice where those who toiled and suffered persecution from PDP people are indeed the ones relegated to the background while erstwhile tormentors are those calling the shots.
Are you saying the President was wrong in his choice of appointees?
No. I feel there is a syndicate that wrongly advised the President because he is unfamiliar with Akwa Ibom politics. Apart from coming from the same Ikot Abasi Local Government Area, both the Minister of Budget and Economic Planning, Senator (Barrister) Udoma and Mr. Nsima Ekere, who was one of the PDP governorship aspirants in 2015; a former deputy governor to Mr. Godswil Akpabio, are from the same Ikot Abasi federal constituency. The two had been prominent PDP members since 1999, and can hardly join a non-ruling party, being rich men and powerful.
Again, the one called Mr. Frank Samuel George, a known special Adviser to Mr. Godswill Akpabio, a PDP man to the core, who never can tolerate both the name Buhari and APC during political campaigns is from Onna Local Government Area, same as the current governor of Akwa Ibom State. So, put together, all of them, except Senator Ita Enang who is from Uyo senatorial district, are from one senatorial district, Eket.
In view of the foregoing, I am compelled to ask if Mr. President was given this important information with regard to these new APC acclaimed members and where they come from, to avoid breaching the federal character principle. A case study here is what happened to one of the key supporters of Mr. President from Niger State during the ministerial appointment. I remember that after findings proved that a ministerial nominee from Niger State was indeed from the same constituency as the current governor, his nomination was withdrawn by the President for someone else who today is the Minister of State, Solid Mineral Resources, Hon. Bawa Bwari. And it is a fact that the minister in question here is from a different federal constituency and senatorial district. I stand to be corrected.
Why are you concerned about these appointments? It appears most APC members in Akwa Ibom are satisfied with the President’s choice. What do you stand to gain if they are relieved of their appointments?
My answers are very simple. As well known, the average Akwa Ibom person is not interested in things they believe they lack the power and capacity to challenge, especially when it concerns the rich and influential in the society, for fear of intimidation and threats. Another reason here is the fact that majority of Akwa Ibom people today are still being controlled and directed by the influential PDP people, who perhaps use their capacity in position of authority to influence their choice of reasoning.
Again, since Akwa Ibom is still under the control of the PDP government, the rest of the APC extraction, with high level of poverty, are afraid to come out and speak. Rather, they may not mind going to see the possibility of associating with the new arrivals, perhaps they may be lucky to be carried along. Finally, most of the genuine APC members, the real suffering ones, who laboured, toiled for years, praying to God for His intervention and for the change which, by the grace of God, we have today, are still wondering what has suddenly taken place. They still believe what has happened is a dream story and cannot be seen to be real in the average man’s imagination.
As for me, am indeed compelled to speak in respect of this ugly trend, believing that Mr. President was indeed not properly briefed about the backgrounds of the aforementioned appointees. The Niger State’s case has established a precedent. I can quote him exactly: “Those who just decamped and joined the APC in order to get comfort and benefits should forget it, as it would not be possible.” He would carry along and appoint to work with him only those he knows so much as associates, who laboured and toiled with him right from the era of the ANPP, up till the APC.
So, considering the fact that I am a known APC member, a proper Buhari supporter who at no time decamped from my ideological belief and principled stance of President Buhari, one of the very few in Akwa Ibom who, even the PDP members themselves can attest to, the only name apart from Group Captain Sam Ewang (rtd) known amongst the Akwa Ibom media to have been so vociferous in the campaign for Buhari’s emergence, the only one apart from Ewang that would go to a known private radio station via Politics Today to defend the person of General Buhari. The others never spared either Buhari or APC during the campaign era, as they were busy working for themselves and Goodluck Jonathan to continue.
Even on the floor of the Senate, where Senator Enang was during the campaign period, his stance was indeed obvious. My question is, if Ita Enang had won the primary election for his second term in the Senate, which he never contested via the APC platform but his Party, the PDP, would he have come to embrace Buhari? If he and others who are the major beneficiaries today had supported Buhari genuinely, I think the right time should have been when a few senators of the PDP decided to join the struggle and certainly not after the battle has been won and lost.
He himself, the first beneficiary from Akwa Ibom in Buhari’s government, should have joined us based on his love for the man Buhari and his stance against indiscipline and other social vices, including corruption, whom he has now found comfort to be speaking for today.
Don’t you think their appointments will indirectly benefit the people of Akwa Ibom State, irrespective of party differences?
As far as I am concerned, none of the above mentioned appointees from Akwa Ibom, has enjoyed the support and encouragement of genuine APC members in the state. I stand to be corrected. None of their appointments have ever been celebrated by the people of Akwa Ibom. I mean both the poor masses and genuine APC members.
They are certainly not popular among the down trodden and the average electorate. Here, I mean political value. I wish to challenge these privileged appointees to come up with a fact that they indeed supported the emergence of President Buhari, not certain APC friends here.
Where were these names when I led the Buhari Friends Organisation Network for a South South political rally in Uyo, which attracted supporters from all the six states of the South-South? Even a great number came in solidarity from the South West. I have documented records of all this, including when we were attacked by their party members, etc. If these calibers of men were behind me and others for Buhari, I think a lot could have been achieved in Akwa Ibom then. Up till this moment, the only known physical structure which every sane person in Akwa Ibom, irrespective of political affiliation, including the media, identify with the name Buhari can be found at N0 61, Udotungubo Street, off Oron Road, Uyo; the Buhari Friends Organization Network Office donated by Group Captain Sam Ewang, a national patron from the State.
This structure is known to have been there since January, 2014, when the names mentioned above were still very active PDP officials who never gave us a chance. The name Buhari, to them and their associates today, was an abomination, while people like us were seen and called agents of Boko Haram. Since APC, to most of them, was known and addressed as a dead party with a dead presidential candidate.
In view of the above, I am personally forced by my conscience and the pressure I got daily from genuine supporters of Buhari who really suffered and were beaten mercilessly by supporters and agents of some of the born again beneficiaries, I am compelled to speak out. None of these names has done anything in form of financial contribution or other logistical materials, including open identification with the Buhari agenda in the 2015 political campaign and suffering, compare to myself and other genuine APC members.
As I speak here, I think no one else can be called a major APC stakeholder in Akwa Ibom State more than myself, Group captain Sam Ewang and a few others, considering the level of sacrifice we put in place, therefore the need for me to finally open up to convince the teeming supporters and members of the
Buhari Friends Organization family in Akwa Ibom State that I am not in support of the recent developments. I wish to finally plead with Mr. President, as a man of probity, fairness and justice, to address some of these anomalies, find out the true feelings of the average genuine APC member in my state, Akwa Ibom, as the few privileged elites would hardly avail him the exact position on ground.