Nigerian Ambassador to Uganda, Etubom Nya Asuquo, is a former House of Representatives member for Calabar Municipality/Odukpani Federal Constituency of Cross River state. In this interview with KINGSTON OBUNG, the diplomat says, among other things that Nigerian governors should be held liable for the hardship Nigerians are passing through
In his assessment of 19 years of democratic government in Nigeria, he said:
Yes, democracy is 19 in Nigeria today but we should also understand that democracy does not evolve and become ultimate overnight. For me, we are making progress. Few days ago, the President signed the ‘Not too young to run bill’ into law. This will open up many opportunities for so many young people to come to the political scene and push the banner forward. That is a very nice political development that the president has given to all the youths in Nigeria. I believe that we will get there one day.
But on the issue of former Taraba state governor, Jolly Nyame, who was recently jailed 14 years for financial impropriety, among others, of which critics have said President Buhari is engaging in selective prosecution and persecution. Let’s know your perspective on this.
What is selective punishment there? Those who have been in government for the past 14 to 19 years have been PDP people and in the history of Nigeria, this is the first time that a prominent man has been able to be prosecuted by the court of law. In fact, his prosecution has lasted for so many years. Think of when he left government and a competent court of law in Nigeria, not APC nor Buhari, after looking at all what was presented, the court convicted him. So that’s not selective. The case has been on and on. You know that in Nigeria, it would be adjourned a number of times and the defense would be shifting date. This is the first time and it shows that the anti-corruption war is working. For the first time, a prominent Nigerian, a former governor has been convicted, so let’s forget about sentiments on that.
Our checks show that Nigerians are complaining of too much hunger. They say President Buhari has not done many projects in the South, particularly in the South South region, as compared to massive infrastructural development projects in the North. Do you believe he has the capacity to propel the nation forward as one indivisible entity?
I think charity should begin at home. I think the question should be what our state has been able to do to make sure that people who are in Cross River state are gainfully employed. It is not Buhari that is controlling the resources of local government; it is not Buhari that is controlling the resources of the states. Every state government has allocation every month and other states are using their allocation to develop their states.
In Cross River state, what we hear every day is superhighway and the Bakassi deep seaport which are non-existent. All the other things you hear are propaganda. By December, they will come and show us the new power bike they have bought from Europe, so charity must start at home. Buhari cannot come and develop my village. He does general politics for the whole country for the states/local governments to tap from and make development available to people. But if the state is only waiting to show us new power bikes in December, then the condition will be as it is.
Then, what can you say about Buhari’s three years in office?
That has been documented about a week ago in a very lengthy document and it will take a whole day for me to list them out. Go and get that document published by Lai Mohammed (Information and Culture Minister) and see things for yourself.
The APC has been embroiled in series of crisis. In Cross River, there are two parallel Exco. What is your reaction to this development in view of the upcoming general elections?
My reaction is that it is unfortunate. It is unfortunate that there is a split and my duty as an elder is to reconcile the two factions. If you noticed, I did not attend any of the state congresses. Why I did not attend any of the state congresses are that when two are fighting, there must be responsible elders to separate them reunite them for progress. That is exactly what I am trying to do.
What steps have you taken to address the infractions?
Well, I am talking to the leaders of the two groups currently. So far, as of today, there is progress. I think those factions are ready to come together and settle their differences. You see, why it should be so is that when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers and we do not want the grass to suffer. We want Cross River State to be governed by a responsive and responsible leadership and I think it is only APC that can give us that kind of leadership which will be able to align with what the president is doing in Nigeria and all what he has done for the Cross River State people.
A number of the federal government’s projects in the South, like the Lagos-Calabar rail road and the 4th section of East West Road linking Oron to Calabar, are yet to take off after three years. Do you believe the APC-led federal government is sincere enough to execute these projects?
I have just read a few days ago that a United States company has agreed to build the railway up to Calabar. It was well documented in the dailies. The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs was quoted, last two weeks, to have disclosed that the Federal Executive Council has approved release of funds for the last section of the East West Road. The Federal Government is trying to spread infrastructure to nnoks and crannies of the country.
The view of Cross River people is that the APC should have put its house in order before baring its fangs, considering the level of crisis bedevilling the party. They are of the opinion that what is going on within the APC in Cross River state is a threat to democracy? But do you agree with this?
No, I do not agree. I’ve told you that in every democratic process, there are always contending forces; it shows the dynamism in the APC. Look at it the other way, if the party did not have the hope of winning the State as a whole, so many people will not come in and be fighting for position in the party. It is the vibrancy of the APC as a party that has made people struggle for position. Look at it this way, four years ago, when some of us were fighting for the platform of the CPC, people were just laughing us off. They were not around for us and we were even looking for candidates to fill vacant position, but now the struggle for position is so much and it shows the vibrancy of the APC.
Like I say, we have passed that stage of reconciliation and re-strategizing for victory. What I am saying is that if a party is not dynamic, a party does not have hope and the possibility of winning, will you see people fighting for position? So that fact that people are fighting so seriously for position shows how vibrant the APC is.
As for the expectations of Cross Riverians in the next political dispensation, he responded:
I think the President should continue the way he is going to make sure more development projects are delivered, but the state has to complement what the federal government is doing. What I am saying is that we are asking after Buhari but we are in Cross River State. If the State is dead and has no water to drink, how will you have water to feed your farm? The State has to do its best.
Asked what difference he will make if he is given a chance to contest governorship under APC?
I have withdrawn from the race and my duty now is to make peace for the contending groups so we can build the party as one strong group ahead of the elections.
On why he withdrew
I’ve already told you. There are two contending groups within the state APC and I would not have gone to any of the two congresses. As an elder, I believe that we should bring the two groups together and make sure that if there is any problem that had arisen; you solve it to save the party. I mean you cannot eat your cake and have it. So for the interest of the party and state, I have decided to withdraw and then lead the reconciliation of the party in the state.
Now let’s look at Cross River again. People believe that zoning is not serving the state well considering the performance of the present government. As a major stakeholder, do you share this view?
Well, as far as I am concerned, there are competent and patriotic people across the zones. My focus is not on which zone somebody comes from, but on who can do what is supposed to be done; I mean a person who has a marshal plan for the development of the state. We need a person who can revive the agricultural estates which are dormant whereas some are sold off. There is a lot to be done, so where someone comes from should be distanced from what he can do to make the state grow.