Now that you have joined the governorship race, what is your blueprint for the people of Akwa Ibom State?
Akwa Ibom State is majorly a civil servant state, if you take away the oil major, Mobile and perhaps few other and then of course the servicing companies, you will find out that there are no industries; so the blueprint that I have for Akwa Ibom State is to industrialize the state. In fairness to the past leaders from Obong Victor Attah, the architect of modern Akwa Ibom, as you can see also a lot infrastructure has been put in place and then of course the immediate past Governor, His Excellency Sen. Godswill Akpabio built on that legacy of Attah that he left behind in terms of the airport, the five star Meridian Hotel plus the new ones he also originated. So you need to industrialise because the basic infrastructures are already there so emphasis in my own government would be on industrialisation.
And of course militancy is a common feature in the Niger Delta and by industrialisation I will create employment so that most of these jobless youths would be taken off the streets, by creating employment I would then reduce poverty in the short term and of course in the long term remove poverty. I am not into poverty alleviation, why do you alleviate poverty, take poverty away, set up a programme to achieve that, this is what I will do, if I become governor.
So within the short, medium and long term plan, which I will set up, the aim, the vision is to industrialise Akwa Ibom State and take it from the ruins of those civil service dominated states and convert it to an industrialised state.
The oil companies should be able to create other industries that can take advantage of the oil related products, for example the gas. Internationally, Nigeria is more of a gas country than crude oil and this is what people don’t know. We have the gas reserve which have not been tapped.
What policies do you have in place to also increase the IGR base of the state and actualise industrialisation of the State?
When you set the necessary environment, first of all, you create the enabling environment and when you do this, then it means you have the infrastructures because how would you encourage the youths to go into barbing of hair, vulcanizing etc, if there is no light, how many of them can afford to buy generator and the cost of fueling it? So you create the enabling environment by putting those basic infrastructures in place including light and other amenities.
You also support them financially through grants and soft loans and then even the attitudinal reorientation; except you are born certified evil otherwise attitude can be changed. In psychology it is said that a child is born blank, it is the experience and the environment that writes on them. So if the environment has created this negative attitude to work ethic, the environment can also debrief and clean them and encourage them to have that sense of dignity in labour, take pride in earning rather than sit down.
In terms of IGR, how do you pay tax when you don’t earn? Tax is based on earning. Do you expect an unemployed person to pay tax? No. A company that is not making profit to pay tax, that thing is income tax. In actual sense you have to earn money before you can pay tax. So IGR will be improved if we improve the industrial base, encourage entrepreneurship, generate income, people take pride having small businesses, growing businesses, even the moribund ones would also be given incentives to resurrect them.
All these will trigger entrepreneurship and economic growth within the state thus leading to increase of IGR of the state. And also attitude too, people when they see that the government is sincere, when they trust the government. How would you pay tax when you are not sure if the government will use your money to develop, if you believe that all the money is going to the pockets, if you believe that the government have not even accounted for the ones that they collected from the statutory monthly allocation?
So when we bring the government nearer to the people, when we create people oriented government, when we allow the people to choose the government, people vote and they are happy we voted, this is our own government, when people own the government, people would be sympathetic to the government and people would be willing to help that government. So the divide between us and they, the government being they, there will be no division between the people and the government any longer.
With your lofty dream to industrialise Akwa Ibom State if elected Governor, how are you going to tackle tax evasion and also strengthen the tax system in your State?
We have a problem because we don’t create strong institutions, we rather create strong people which is dangerous. When an institution is strengthened, you would not have discretion, you would be compelled to work according to that institution, which has been strengthened.
If people realised that it is their civic responsibility to pay tax, if people realise that if they don’t pay tax they would be sanctions, of course, they would stop. So part of strengthening this institution also includes coming up with sanctions, not intimidation, enlightenment also counts.
How are you going to make your leadership accountable to the people of Akwa Ibom if elected?
As often as possible because it would not be wise to say monthly, weekly. As a government I have had the privilege of serving. The trouble we have is that we now have new breed of leaders who have never been followers, you have people that are leading that have never been led. They don’t have leaders, who taught them. Where did you learn? You must learn, there must be tutelage in every profession, you learn and you grow.
I have had the privilege of working as a civil servant, I have been in state council, of course, starting from youth service, you serve as a youth corps member and you learn. You went into public service, you went into your own professional services, you went into government, serve at various levels. I have been a special assistant to a minister, I learn so if I become a minister today I have something to fall back on. I moved on to the state government, I have been attorney general and commissioner for justice, I have been a commissioner for transport, I have been commissioner for housing and urban renewal, I have been a state rep in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), I have been the acting chairman of the governing board of NDDC and I have been a CEO; that is experience, you don’t buy it in the market.
So I believe that armed with all these, if given the opportunity to serve at the level of the state governor, I will definitely make a difference. I have been a student, I have learnt from the masters, I served under Obong Victor Attah, I served as special assistant to Don Ettiebet. We have crawled, we have walked, we are ready to run and we will run systematically. We have been around and we know where those banana pills are, we would avoid them.
So I would be coming to government with very rare experience people rarely have before they go into governance. I am not boasting, with all modesty, I am sufficiently equipped to govern the state, to lead, to set the pace, to develop on infrastructures and other legacies that the past governors and leaders have built.
The thrust of these whole ideas that you are bringing to Akwa Ibom state, what are you anchoring it on?
Governing Akwa Ibom is not an ambition. I cannot at this stage be having ambition; ambition at this stage is a little bit cardinal, I have offered myself to serve because the vacancy there is due for election, we are not removing. The tenure of this present administration will expire next year; it is four-year tenure, so we have offered ourselves including the incumbent.
So it would be the choice of the people of Akwa Ibom State to assess. Can’t we have something better than what we are having? Do we have an alternative? Who are those that have offered themselves? They would weigh us by putting us in a scale based on our antecedents and then they will decide who amongst us; so that is why I said I have a slight edge over every other person and I believe that from all the intelligence gathering they would be quite satisfied to accept me as their governor come 2019.
Within the party I believed that majority of the members of the leadership would be happy to have a man with my pedigree as their flag bearer and I have no doubt about that otherwise I would not even have bothered.
Considering the fact that a lot of other persons are aspiring to take over in 2019, what chance do you think you have?
A: I have a slight edge over every other aspirant so far, so if given a chance I believe that nobody that wishes Akwa Ibom State well will complain. In a liberal democracy like ours, one of the ingredients of liberal democracy is competition so we take it in good fate.
Would you step down for another candidate if the APC tilt towards consensus arrangement?
I can’t rule it out but as of today there is no consensus candidate. You cannot rule it out because it means you have closed your mind to progress.
As a very senior lawyer and a former attorney general of a state, one of the ingredients of modern administration of justice is alternative dispute resolution (ADR), so I see consensus candidate as part of the ADR, so it cannot be ruled out until the deal day. As I am talking to you, I have been screened and other aspirants have been screened to contest the primary election, it means they are ready to go for election.
Soon electioneering campaigns will take over the length and breadth of the country as we approach 2019, what is your message for the people of Akwa Ibom State?
The people of Akwa Ibom State certainly deserve something better than what we have today. Akwa Ibom needs a change, they need a new orientation, attitudinal and practically. Akwa Ibom need to step up, build on the legacy that the past leaders have left behind.
So what I would do differently is that continuity will not just be about words of mouth. The projects that were conceived by my predecessors, would be given priority because they are part of the state money, so they are not private enterprise of the previous government.
When I say change, change in attitude, practically, theoretically and attitudinally; a new lease of life, a new way of doing things, hope; let the citizens of the state feel that something new has happened to them.
When I say continuity, you continue with what is good, you improve on what you came to see. So the message is a message of hope, I will restore the lost hope, sense of pride, participation-we own it, it is our government not their government, you don’t sit down and complain, sense of belonging, trust in government, that is what I will bring on board.