In this interview with The News Chronicle, Hon. Cletus Obun, the APC Vice Chairman for the Central Senatorial District in Cross Rivers State and the party’s candidate for the IKom/Boki Federal Constituency in the last election, answers questions on the controversies surrounding his candidacy in the election, the government’s recent declaration of Amotekun as illegal, the Ayade government in Cross Rivers State – and many more.
TNC: Let me start with this question. When INEC published your name as the House of Representatives’ candidate for the Ikom/Boki Federal constituency of Cross Rivers State during the last election, your candidacy became mired in controversy. I believe some people claimed that someone else – I think Victor Abang and not you – won at the primaries. Some also claimed that you do not have the necessary muscle – perhaps both literarily and metaphorically – to win. Please tell us what really happened.
CO: My political journey was a game of musical chairs and my candidacy was one of the reasons APC collapsed in Cross River state. The challenge at that time was that we had a zoning arrangement of three senatorial districts in Cross River (South, Central & North). However, this did not reflect the true nature of the state, which led to the creation of the Atam Congress. The Atam Congress was a movement aimed at redefining Cross River’s zoning formula, to adopt the old Calabar (Efik-speaking region) and old Ogoja (Non-Efik-speaking region) power-sharing arrangement, which recognized only two power blocs in the state. The group believes that power-sharing should reflect the Atam and Efik groups only.
That is where my crisis began, as I spearheaded the Atam movement. I became a target for the likes of Senator Ndoma Egba, who supported the three Senatorial zones’ power-sharing arrangement. In 2015, despite our differences, as Vice Chairman of the Central Senatorial district, I brought Ndoma Egba into the party, along with his Personal Assistant – Victor Abang.
In February 2018 – I was ready to contest for the House of Representatives’ seat and Senator Ndoma Egba assured me of his moral and political support. Victor Abang, who is also from my local government, surprisingly and secretly procured a nomination form for the same seat I was to contest. I appealed to Ndoma Egba to persuade Abang to step down, but he declined.
After the primary elections, Senator Ndoma Egba and Victor Abang connived to create a fake result, declaring Abang the winner of the elections. Abang and I presented two different versions of election results to our National Chairman – Adams Oshiomhole – who found my copy of the result to be the authentic one. On this ground, the party at the national level declared that I won the primaries.
Senator Ndoma Egba called and asked that I should surrender the ticket to his PA – Victor Abang. I refused. The problems we had within our party made it easy for the PDP to win.
TNC: Do you feel you have been adequately compensated by APC (or ‘carried along’ as you politicians will put it), in light of your massive contributions to the party?
CO: This is one of the biggest questions and challenges that I have faced. The reward system in APC is very discouraging. APC has not given me sufficient recognition for all my efforts. Even my harshest critics will agree that my consistency has not been compensated at all.
I am in politics based on the conviction that our society can be better when we have quality people in government. Most people are in politics to better their financial circumstances, but I am not part of that ideology because I have never lived below the poverty line.
TNC: The federal government which is controlled by your party, the APC, has recently announced that Amotekun, the security outfit conceived by the Governors of the South-west, is illegal. How do you respond to the fact that while the same government allows Civilian JTFs and the Shariah police (Hisbah) in parts of the North, it is moving against a similar security outfit in the South-west? Don’t you think it is a double standard on the part of the federal government?
CO: The Attorney General of the Federation made a pronouncement as the law officer of the country, which can be interpreted as the Federal Government’s position. The ban on Amotekun is not an issue of ethnic groups – don’t forget that the vice president is from the South- West.
My issue is with the person of the Attorney General. He was not speaking for the North or the government; rather he was speaking from his office. His statement might not reflect the position of the Federal government. The way I see it, the relevant questions should be: does the constitution allow this kind of outfit? Do we have them elsewhere? And if we do, what qualities do the approved outfits have which Amotekun lacks?
In my view, the Attorney General’s statement was not founded on any constitutional provision. It was a hasty, misplaced and misdirected pronouncement. Only a Court of law can so pronounce, as they did in the case of IPOB. It is only the courts that can interpret the law and make a group illegal – not the Attorney General.
TNC: The federal government controlled by your party is trying to obtain external loans of almost $30bn – equivalent to the entire external debt stock which Obasanjo managed to pay off in 2015. How do you respond to this?
CO: Within the context of the political economy, debt is a necessary ingredient. When you get short term loans – such as one that will mature in 5 years, for a long term project – such as one that will start yielding in 20 years, those are the kind of killer loans Nigeria used to get, that put the country where it is today.
This particular loan of $30 billion is justified because its purpose is clear. Before now, we used to have blank loans that were tied to nearly nothing. The finance ministry has also done a good job of releasing budget and loan figures, as well as the interpretation of those figures
TNC: President Buhari and the APC are routinely accused of treating the herdsmen with kids’ gloves because he shares the same Fulani ethnicity and Muslim faith with them. How do you respond to that?
CO: Once you elect a government, it is no longer an APC or any party’s government, it becomes a Nigerian government. The President is not acting as a Fulani man; he is acting as a Nigerian, who is confronted with security challenges. Individual states which are suffering from herdsmen crisis such as Benue have dealt with the issue in their local capacity. The president can only give the state’s backing.
In Zamfara and Oyo states, the governors did not have to wait for the president , they took action and addressed their security challenges. To sit back and wait for President Buhari is wrong. This is why in my opinion and in the light of the security challenges we have, Amotekun is one of the timeliest things to happen now. Governors should rise to the challenge and tackle this issue and only seek support from the centre .
TNC: The Buhari government is also often accused by politicians and other actors in the South of undermining the federal character arrangement by favouring Northern Muslims in strategic political appointments. What is your reaction to that?
CO: During the 1996 coup when General Aguiyi Ironsi was killed in Ibadan – none of his bodyguards was from his Igbo ethnic group and the concept of mutual suspicion was born. The mutual tribal suspicion has remained and the tendency has been for leaders to keep their security architecture within their reach.
Under Obasanjo, appointments in the security sector greatly favoured the Yorubas. Under Jonathan, the position of DG of DSS should have gone to Hassan Daura because he was the most senior but because of mutual suspicion, Jonathan retired eight of the most senior DSS officials who were not from the south-south, in order to qualify Ita Ekpeyong to become DG of DSS.
Nigerians seem to have historical amnesia and it has become the bane of our polity. This system is not correct, but the heterogeneous entity called Nigeria has already been overtaken by this mutual suspicion. This must be corrected. For us to arrive at our nationhood, something cataclysmic must happen to effect the change Nigeria desperately needs.
TNC: Let us talk briefly about your state, Cross Rivers State. Governor Ayade is probably one of two Governors or so in the country who is a Professor. I know you do not belong to the same political party but how will you objectively assess his government? What do you think he is doing right? And what will you propose he does differently? Also what are your views on the journalist Agba Jalingo who has been languishing in detention allegedly for plotting to overthrow the government of Cross Rivers State?
CO: Ben Ayade is a great dreamer and a sensational political dramatist. His potentials are expansive, but his performance is diminutive. So far he has shown us the pathway, and his industrialization plans can sell anywhere in the world, even though some of them are within the realm of comedy. He has attempted to resurrect the vision of Donald Duke [a former Governor of the state], but like Duke, the infrastructure to support the grandiose ideas he proposes does not exist.
When Duke proposed Tinapa, we objected on the grounds that Tinapa was not sustainable. , Today it is under receivership by AMCON. The Obudu Cattle Ranch, thrown up at that time, is a ghost of its former self. The architectural design of Obudu does not fit the climatic conditions and soil texture of the area. And today as we speak, the Ranch Resort is an abandoned project. All the loans collected to execute these projects under Donald Duke have gone to waste. Cross River state is the third most indebted state in NIGERIA. How Gov Ayade manages the state is still a marvel to unravel.
On the issue of Agba Jalingo and Joe Odok , I think it is the lowest point of the government of Cross River state. If Ayade’s industrial policy is a tragedy, his treatment of Jalingo and Joe Odok is a disaster.
TNC: What do you think of the recent Supreme Court judgment in which Hope Uzodinma who came a distant fourth in the March 2014 governorship election in Imo State was declared the winner of the election – despite the fact that with Uzodinma’s new score – the total number of votes far exceeds the number of accredited voters
CO: In Nigeria, Judges do not go searching for evidence; the parties present the evidence to them. Hope brought his case before the court and said his votes were wrongfully cancelled by an INEC official at the point of collation. Ihedioha’s lawyers were simply arguing that the result presented by INEC was accurate.
By the constitution, the Electoral Act and pronouncements of the Supreme Court, only a Presiding Officer in a Polling Unit can cancel votes at the point of collation. This was the foundation of Uzodinma’s petition. Ihedioha , PDP, and INEC never countermanded the Certified True Copies of the Polling Unit results tendered by Sen. Uzodima. It is therefore very absurd for any lawyer to have expected any judge to disregard unchallenged evidence. The 236,600 votes tendered having been untainted, were by our jurisprudence accepted by all respondents ( Ihedioha, PDP, and INEC) in the matter. Therefore 236,600 added to the 96000 votes gives Sen. Uzodima 25% of votes in 2/3 (18 LGA s) of the 27 LGAs in IMO state. Accepting without conceding that Sen. Uzodima did not win, Ihedioha got 2/3 in only 12 LGAs. Ab initio Ihedioha did not win and should not have been declared the winner. The issue of over-voting was never raised even at the trial court and it is not the role of the Appeal court to start a trial. Once the votes were not challenged, it means that they were accepted. Over-voting vitiates any election once it is challenged and sustained.
This judgment has taught us that our bar and the bench must sit up and make the judiciary firm, cerebral and contemporaneous.
TNC: What is your position on the whole restructuring debate and power rotation controversy? There are some elements in the North who are clamouring that power should not shift to the South in 2023.
CO: Rotational presidency is an unwritten law of our country today. Every political actor will always act in his self-interest. Therefore, it will not be surprising if some northern political actors desire that the president remains in the north because the north lost two years due to the death of late President Yar’adua. But those northern zealots must not underestimate the resistance from the other federating units. Boko Haram and other security challenges must compel a more diplomatic approach.
On the issue of restructuring, it will come on its own. For instance with Amotekun and civilian JTF – Nigeria’s security architecture is being restructured and is slowly being devolved to individual states and regions. There are also regional economic zones like the Oodua investment in the South West – that is already economic restructuring at the regional level.
People want us to climb the pulpit and announce that “we hereby restructure the country ” – but that is not going to happen. We are already restructuring without anybody shouting about it.
The interview was conducted by Jideofor Adibe, Ekpedeme Umoh and Chiamaka Ohakim