Ntufam Hilliard Etta is the National Vice Chairman (South-South) of the All Progressives Congress (APC). He speaks in this interview with CLEMENT JAMES, on the party’s performance so far and the recent suspension of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Usani Uguru Usani, by the Cross Rivers State executive committee of the party
How would you react to the statement credited to former President Olusegun Obasanjo recently in which he assessed the APC-led Federal Government?
First, let me join my party in saying that he has every right as a statesman and as a former head of state to intervene when he perceives that the ship of state is heading the wrong way.
That right cannot be taken away from him. But let me also join the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, to say that the former President may have been too busy to have looked carefully and see what this government has been trying to do in the past two and a half years.
So, that judgment is hasty and not a result of deep thinking. Recall that this government hinged its electioneering campaign on three planks; security, corruption and the economy. In two and a half years, if we have not seen improvements in these areas, then I wonder what we have seen.
Now, when I go through the new media, I see a culture that is emerging and I am worried about that. We judge people on the basis of where they come from and this is sad and heartrending. Even young people, when you hear them speak, you can easily find hatred in their speeches. And this hate culture has blinded us to the achievements of this government. I cannot stay here and say this government has not made mistakes; that will be speaking lies.
For instance, I personally would have preferred that even in the security architecture of the country, and because of our fault lines, there would have been a semblance of national spread. Now, because of the level of maladministration in the country over the years, Nigerians now care more about where somebody comes from. I will however blame the country’s elites for accentuating these fault lines.
Don’t you think that the rising cases of herdsmen/farmers clashes may have also heightened the suspicion and your party is not addressing it properly?
Personally, I think we were not proactive in the Benue State case, where 73 people were killed. With due respect to Governor Samuel Ortom of the state, I don’t think it was right for him to have made a public show out of the death of his people. But on the day that they were buried, the National Working Committee of the party was present and it was led by the national chairman to empathize with the people of Benue State.
I must state that the life of every Nigerian, irrespective of where he or she comes from, should be precious to us. If you ask me, I think that the farmer who loses his crops to cattle must be protected by the government and the cattle rearer must also be supported by the government.
You recently met with members of your party in Cross River State, what was the meeting about?
You know, I am a member of the State Executive Committee of the party and because I was in town, I was invited to the State Executive Committee meeting and I decided to attend. But I had to excuse myself when I saw the agenda which included certain disciplinary actions from the state. And since I belong to the appellate institution of the party, when it came to matters of disciplinary process, I decided to excuse myself. At the end of the day, the chairman came to brief me on the outcome.
One of them was that the state exco of the party in its wisdom decided to suspend the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Usani Uguru Usani over certain infractions. But I am not conversant with all the matters on ground, so I am expecting that a formal communication would be sent to me as the head of the zonal executive committee, and if the minister is not satisfied with the processes that led to his suspension or not satisfied with his suspension in its entirety, he has an opportunity of an appeal.
But before I excused myself from the meeting, we decided to inaugurate the state caucus of the party as well as senatorial caucuses, chapter and ward caucuses. We believe that activities leading to elections have commenced and that our party must be alive to its role as the opposition party in the state.
Before the suspension of the minister, there was this allegation that he hijacked the list sent to the President for board appointments and it was also alleged that he is the reason why the state APC does not have a substantive chairman. Could these have been the reasons for his suspension?
You are asking me to delve into matters that may eventually come to my table. I do not know the reasons for his suspension, but what I can tell you is that the appointive authority, when it comes to board appointments is the President and if the President appointed Cross Riverians, then we can only thank him and be appreciative of that gesture.
As you are aware, at no time since independence had the state enjoyed the level of patronage that we are enjoying now from the Muhammadu Buhari administration. So, we can only thank him for this.
Those appointed into the boards are Cross Riverians and I cannot see how the minister can hijack the list from the President. But I must also add this, like the national chairman said some time ago, the party was not consulted, and because of that, there were a lot of oversights. The President has called for a review, so we are hoping that at the end of the review exercise, the mistakes that were made would be corrected.
Was it only the minister that was suspended or there were others suspended along with him?
Well, the state chairman did not brief me on any other person who was suspended along with him.
In case the minister wants to appeal, how does he go about it?
By the constitution of our party, the minister is just an ordinary member. Having been suspended by the state executive committee, he will have to come to the zonal executive committee of the party, and if he is not satisfied with that, he will then go to the National Executive Committee.
What is the implication of the suspension on the state party?
You are still pre-empting the outcome and I am at the center of it. I don’t want to make any comment on it or take any position because I will eventually be called to play the role of a judge in this matter. So, I cannot say anything that will be prejudicial.
APC in the state has been mired in crisis and only last week, it was alleged that there was a meeting in Abuja which reportedly ended in a deadlock. Why is this crisis taking so long to resolve?
I usually wonder where this perception of crisis comes from. I have often told those who care to listen that a political party is a human organisation and in any human organisation, you must have disagreements, frictions and altercations.
But the ability of that organisation to be on top of those issues is what makes it effective, efficient and competent. And I want to say that APC has always been on top of issues. With regards to the meeting that was held in Abuja, which you referred to, the constitution of our party did not envisage that kind of meeting. In fact, it was so bad in terms of the context and the content that not one single officer of the party was at that meeting.
And I can only appeal to our people that we do not undermine the structures of the party.
Having said that, let me say that even the party in power in the state has its own crisis, disagreements, dichotomy and the rest. At the end of the day, however, I am very sure that APC in the state will put its act together and we will go into the elections as a united, strong and effective party. We must be ready for the kind of battle that is ahead of us.
What is your take on the gale of endorsements of Governor Ben Ayade for a second term?
Why would anybody bother himself with members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) endorsing one of their own? But if you look at it critically, those who are falling over themselves to endorse Ayade are those who are afraid that the governor may not give them tickets to run for elections. But let me warn those who are endorsing him that they write their history every day.
Politics is futuristic and it is what you do today that will count against you tomorrow. So we have to be very careful about the things we do. Nigerians are used to short memories before, but with the advent of the new media that keeps reminding us of indiscretions, it becomes almost impossible for Nigerians to forget. When you look around, you will discover that those things we used to being proud of in the state have been destroyed.
You just need to go around the capital city and that for me, is symptomatic of the decay the present administration has impacted on the state. Calabar is the signpost and the face of the state, so it is very difficult to understand what has happened to Calabar now.