Following an interactive session with the management of Vanguard Media Limited in his office in Calabar, Cross River State last Wednesday, Governor Liyel Imoke, winner of Vanguard’s Best Tourism Development Award, 2014, fielded questions on the ongoing national political campaigns, his perspective on the power situation in the country among other issues. Excerpts:
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
What is your perspective of the issues being raised by the president and his challenger in the presidential contest?
I think I will appreciate it if the campaigns are more issue based. Unfortunately, they are not really issue based. We have limited the problems of Nigeria to basically security and corruption. Unfortunately for us, the campaign is not addressing key issues like unemployment, education, healthcare, social services and welfare. If you compare this to a campaign anywhere else…campaign is about the people. Obama would win or lose an election on Obamacare, healthcare. A governor should win or lose an election for example on the falling standard of education.
For us in Nigeria we have just limited it to Boko Haram and corruption.
So, you don’t think that security and corruption are major issues?
They are major issues but how do you solve them and how did they come about? Is there any relationship between insecurity and poverty?
Insecurity and poverty
Or we should insulate security and think that that is the beginning and end of the challenge? Those are some of the things that we see in 2015 that unfortunately for us should not be the content of discourse. If you look at the issue of corruption, we have tried to define corruption as the greatest challenge to our development. Corruption exists, no doubt about it, it must be tackled.
But look at corruption historically and see what exactly we have done in the past to tackle corruption and how much success we had with those approaches. It is time we look at a different approach to tackling corruption. Or are we just happy to see people arrested, detained and maybe, six months later we forget about those people. Unfortunately, the reality is not being addressed.
How do you score your party, PDP in tackling these three issues, corruption, insecurity and the economy? Has the PDP done well?
Yes. I think so. Look at insecurity. It was a PDP government that resolved the crisis in the Niger Delta. Why? Because there was room for discourse. When you say insecurity now, you have extreme fundamentalism which is a global phenomenon. Why do we want to isolate Nigeria and say that what we have is a security challenge that we can overcome overnight? We have a security challenge in a particular part of the country that is obviously completely different from our previous experience.
So, in tackling that problem you deploy resources that are not exactly designed to deal with the former challenges. America had a challenge of 9/11 and a new department of Homeland Security comes into existence because of the nature of the challenge. So, it was not the American army or the US navy that tackled some of those challenges.
They said ‘we have a new challenge so we have to get a new approach to solving it.’
That is the reality. Deploying soldiers to deal with the terrorist challenge has not been done anywhere in the world. I know that this administration is training special forces in a completely different way to deal with the challenge.
Building of institutions
Unfortunately for us we play up politics at the risk of the society. If you look at corruption for example, even the so called references to Transparency International and our corruption perception have improved under the Jonathan administration and that is because they are building institutions that can make it more difficult for you to steal.
It is not about catching a man with a billion naira and celebrating that, meanwhile, you are losing ten billion through inefficiencies in your system and people are getting away with that ten billion, but they have celebrated the politician who you alleged stole a billion. In Nigeria we celebrate alleged corruption.
A man gets invited and is detained for allegations, the man has no right and he dare not sue. Indeed, the EFCC law is the most draconian law in Africa and indeed one of the most draconian in the world.
In fact, it allows the EFCC to do what they do, exhibit you publicly without even an indictment not to talk of a conviction and you now have the challenge of proving the corruption.
Today, we celebrate a lot of people who had been arrested. If you go to 2007, I don’t want to mention names but think of people who are leading campaigns who were arrested by the EFCC. So, you will remember some of those facts. Were they corrupt? Are they corrupt now?
Do you have that feeling that the PDP for the first time since 1999 may actually lose the presidential election?
No I don’t. Why? Elections are won in states and the PDP is still the dominant political party in the country. All politics is local and if you look at the number of states that the PDP controls; and those are numbers that count. Yes, you have two or three states in APC hands that have huge population and that is where you may consider as an advantage or disadvantage. But fortunately for us as a party, those states are largely cosmopolitan and those populations do not necessarily represent an ethnic group inclined towards a particular political party.
So, I think that those people are still reasonable. So, a lot of people who may have supported the PDP do not see the APC as the alternative. What you will see is that our strength is what will take us to the election.
Of course as an incumbent government we do have certain advantages and any incumbent government in the world always has such. We still have the numbers that we require both in the National Assembly and in the states. So anybody doing a proper analysis should take these into consideration.
But a number of PDP governors are also disgruntled?
That affects both parties. That governors are there and he must be very short-sighted. I don’t think we will lose the general election.
You were once a close associate of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
What is your feeling on his comments on President Jonathan’s suitability for a second term?
What are his comments?
He has said that the president reach an agreement not to go for a second term he has flayed the president for poor performance, not tackling insecurity and accused the president of fondling corrupt persons
I think one of the things is the corruption issue. We have these institutions set up by President Obasanjo, currently manned by appointees of President Obasanjo. Lamorde only became chief executive of EFCC under President Jonathan, but he was an appointee of President Obasanjo and worked with Ribadu.
I am not aware where the EFCC prosecuted anybody where the PDP government of President Jonathan intervened. One thing I must give to President Jonathan is that he does not use those institutions for political witch hunting.
Another thing you mentioned is performance. In all honesty, I would not underrate the first term of the Jonathan administration in terms of achievements.
Yes, 1999 we were coming out of military rule and it was difficult to make a headway. It was in 2003 that a lot of what we celebrate today came to being. But under the Jonathan administration, they came in running, they didn’t come in writing a new blueprint. So, if you go and look at accomplishments as an administration, I dare to say they have done very, very well.
Management of propaganda
The challenge for the PDP is managing the propaganda, the perception and off course the focus on intangibles, he is corrupt and I can call everyone here now, corrupt..
Who is saying that?
Everybody is saying that. That we are dealing with corruption. It is not a tangible thing that you can measure.
Let’s move to tangibles. As chairman of the Technical Board of NEPA, you raised the country’s power generation to 4,000 MW and you left in 2007. What is the current output?
I don’t know, you should have an interest.
I have an interest in being governor of Cross River! I cannot know the current power generation, but I will tell you something and this is something that I warned about. I said that on no account should we expect to define power supply in terms of megawatts. When NIPP started I said this is replacement capacity and people said what did you mean by that?
My response was that we are talking of Kainji, Shiroro, Afam and all that and they are all 30, 40 years old and you haven’t put in any new capacity and that as these new stations come on, that they would be replacing the old plants that are taking themselves out because of age.
It is like you having a generator in your house which you have used for ten years and it is now suffering and not able to generate at maximum capacity and you didn’t buy another one until the older one packs up.
So, what you thought was the output from the new generator that would add to the family energy needs because the family has grown, now becomes simply a replacement and that is what we have been doing.
We are actually replacing old capacities that had taken themselves out, you cannot repair them any more. You have repaired and maintained and cannot do any more!
So, we are going to go through that phase and unfortunately for us, though it was a PDP government, we now queried the power projects, shouted corruption, and all the power projects died for two years and we came back. The whole idea was that in between the time that you privatise which would take several years, while the economy is growing, you needed to bring in the NIPP plants to keep the system stable until private sector is confident to start investing. That was the whole idea.
So, it is very easy to say that you haven’t improved, meanwhile, you have added tremendous capacity into the system. Also, you have accomplished something that has never been done in the world, you actually privatised your power system within one year. It has never happened anywhere on earth. Go to England, Venezuela, India, there is nowhere in the world where we have privatised within one year. That is a great accomplishment.
One thing that has crossed my mind but God forbid, in two years time there will be a lot of power because of the privatisation. But God forbid that President Jonathan is not in office. Guess what they will say? That PDP was in government and somebody else will come and take the glory and you cannot convince anybody that it wasn’t the new government.
Addition of real capacity
In two years time I reckon we are going to see new capacities because we have now past the stage of replacements and we will now be adding real capacity especially with what is happening in the oil and gas industry with crude oil prices coming down, I see an opportunity for that sector. It will happen but we pray that it will happen under the administration of the man who has made it possible.
There used to be this famed closed power group consisting of Senator Imoke, Donald Duke, Victor Ndoma-Egba and Gershom Bassey. What happened to it?
Perception! Perception of a closed power group in Cross River.
Was there actually an agreement that Duke, Imoke and Gershom Bassey would govern the state in turns?
No! I never even wanted to be governor. That is how far from the truth this whole thing was. When we started, I would be honest with you. We started in Lagos, I invited all the young people in Lagos to look at Cross River and that was where I reacquainted with Donald. He came to those meetings just as Gershom came to those meetings. The difference probably was that I knew Gershom in England long before I met Donald.
We started this in 1996 but it wasn’t a three man affair. Three of us didn’t sit down and plan it. I planned it and invited everybody. Our relationships with all these people have remained strong. My own idea was that I wanted to confront the traditional establishment in Cross River. The traditional establishment in those days used to say that nobody from Efik could become governor, the traditional establishment used to say things like only those from a particular group could become governor and they had some powerful big men.
Powerful big men
Inviting all those people to be part of the process, we had to identify someone to be governor and because I wanted to challenge the system and because Donald had been commissioner for finance, I urged him to run. Everybody said it was impossible at the time. At that time, I even wanted a deputy governor to come from the North and I identified one of us to run for deputy, but in the course of this, the person I had identified believed we couldn’t win and I needed to find a strong person to run and so, I went to the central, and the person I identified was someone I thought would succeed Donald, but unfortunately, he had disagreements with Donald and subsequently, he passed on. So, for me, I really had no plans to be governor. It was following from all of these and I came under tremendous pressure.
There was no arrangement with Gershom whose general preference was that not all of us friends must run for governor.
There was never, ever an agreement.
Given this scenario, how did you feel when Governor Duke alleged about only two monkeys chopping in Cross River?
For me, I have my own rules, my own standards in politics and I stand by them. I don’t think you would hear me publicly run down even my opponents. It is not something that I would discuss or respond to. As an individual, I would never go to such lengths of anyone whether the person is close to me, has worked with me, is a member of my party or even my opponent. I think there must be decorum and minimum standards.
I watched it and I was surprised, but that is what life is all about.
Have you spoken to him since then?
What will he tell me?
About the monkeys?
What will he tell me? We saw it live on TV.
It is alleged that the president begged you to return Senator Ndoma-Egba to the Senate but that you stamped your feet against the suggestion. Is it true?
I don’t know where people get these powers? This is the thing about our polity that I am very concerned about, where people on their own allegedly beg you and say this person can go back and another person no. I don’t play God, it is about the people.