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Until we begin to stop this hypocrisy of accusing people who talk about resource control as the people coming to ruin this country, people who want to take everything for themselves, and begin to sincerely understand the meaning of resource control and encourage it, what we are seeing (hostage crisis) may continue unfortunately.
"Until we begin to stop this hypocrisy of accusing people who talk about resource control as the people coming to ruin this country, people who want to take everything for themselves, and begin to sincerely understand the meaning of resource control and encourage it, what we are seeing (hostage crisis) may continue unfortunately. I am sorry to say this but that is the truth.Ē
With these words, Governor Victor Attah of Akwa Ibom State warned that the Niger-Delta may witness more of militants problem if adequate attention is not given to the issue of resource control by the Federal authorities. Attah, who spoke in Abuja, last week, also gave his perspectives on the crisis in Oyo State, which consumed former Governor Rashidi Ladoja; the alleged third term agenda; the Obasanjo administrationís reforms and the achievements of his government.
WE have got to a point where the political movement towards another elections has started, how is it going?
It is decent if I can put it that way because by now there would have been a lot of open jostling and hustling even though some people have indicated interest. So, I think it is an acceptance of the fact that everybody is accepting the umbrella of the party and they know that, in the final analysis, their acceptance or their candidature will be determined by the party and then the party will move forward to see how they can promote them to the various elective posts.
But, many people see PDP as a garrison where absolutism is the right thing?
The word garrison is a place where you increase the number of people, it does not matter whether it is large or small. Nobody can say that is what PDP is doing because the party is accepting people everyday. So garrison is not the word to use to describe PDP at all.
Absolutism in that we are the biggest party in Africa and as I have always said, we have to be. Some people very unfortunately adjudge us not because they understand what we are but since they feel this is where they will win elections, they come to us. So, when you are that big, you are powerful. Let me tell you what happened to me when I first returned to this country in 1976. They used to do photo view, they take your picture and show it to people and ask them what they feel about the picture. Somebody came and asked, what do you think of NEPA and since I didnít know, I asked what NEPA stands for and they said National Electric Power Authority. And I said to him, if there is power and authority in your name, does it matter what I think of you? It is almost like absolutism. PDP is too big now that if you think of it as being absolutism, you may be close to it.
It was your party chairman that said PDP is a garrison, that whoever feels he does not want to abide by the rules should quit and putting it in the context of the Oyo crisis where the former governor was being challenged by the supposed god father who as it were finally got rid of him?
Was it the god father that got rid of him?
I donít think so. It was the State House of Assembly that got rid of him. You see, in all these things, something has to originate from somewhere. It could be the members of the House receiving information from wherever and acting on their own, it could be the members of the House receiving information from the person you called the god-father and, in the final analysis, the absolute authority must act.
Until two weeks ago, Senator Ladoja used to be your colleague, today he is out of office, how do you feel about it?
Well, you feel a sense of loss because it is like you are in the military, you go to war, you come back, you count losses, some of your colleagues were killed in the battle field, of course you feel a sense of loss, definitely. But, in this case, yes, it is a loss, it is just that it is not a permanent loss like in the battle field because somebody else takes his place, you just hope that the next person will be as good and will understand what governance and governorship is all about.
While the whole scenario lasted, as the chairman of the Governors Forum, did he reach out to you?
Unfortunately, no. We just never managed to get to talk on the matter. But I can give you a contrary example. Ngige, for instance, was constantly in touch with me when he had his problems.
So, if he had consulted you, would you have been able to save him?
It is so difficult to speculate on these issues because I donít know what he would have told me, I donít know whether what he would have told me would made it impossible for me to even intervene not to mention saving him because it is really an issue between a government, his House members and the people of Oyo State.
The Southern Forum met recently and reached a conclusion that power must shift to the South just as people of the Middle-Belt are also clamouring for a shot at the presidency, what do you see from all of these?
Struggle for justice, struggle for equity, struggle for balance, struggle for an improved federation. That is what I see and, in the final analysis, it will be who presents his argument most convincingly that the nation will go with. Somebody asked me one time, am I not contradicting myself because I had said one time that PDP had zoned the presidency to the North, now the South-South should have it. I said what is the contradiction? The South as a whole or even the South-South as a segment of the South is more than PDP, there are several parties outside of the PDP in the South-South and for whatever reason then, the PDP might have taken a decision. Yes, perhaps we may have zoned it to the North, today, but the South -South says to PDP, no, we donít think you took all the factors into consideration, if you did, you will see that these things today belong to the South -South and I buy the argument.
So, where is the contradiction? It started with the South-South saying the presidency belongs to us, the South-East also said we too have not really enjoyed it as much, we think it should come to us. Now, the South-West has joined to say we believe it should go to the South-South or South-East and I do know that most people in the Middle-Belt agree that if anybody should have it, it is the South-South because they have never had it and still Nigeria is a constituency issue. There will come a time when, perhaps, it does not matter where anybody comes from. What will happen will be that there is a system and the question will just be who is coming to administer the system to the greatest benefit of everybody. Today, why I call it a constituency matter is that there are still benefits to be earned because the head comes from a certain section of the country, that is why I call it a constituency circumstance rather than a system circumstance. Now, so long as that happens, there is need for everybody to enjoy that constituency.
The fear among people is that with the resources available in the South-South, having the presidency will be too much for them?
Explain the meaning of too much. We donít have the fear that when somebody else gets it, he is coming to take our resources and leave us naked, just as they have done now. The evidence is there. Let me tell you, it was an issue. As governors-elect, we were called to a meeting with the then head of state, General Abdusalami Abubakar and this same issue came up, and when the head of state asked one of his aides, I am not sure who it was now, to go and see the place, the reply they came up with was that one of the problems with the area was that the terrain was very difficult to develop.
Can you imagine that? Because the terrain is very difficult to develop, you will never develop it. What you should say is that because the terrain is difficult to develop, you should allocate twice as much to that area than anywhere else regardless of whether resources come from there or not. If you are a reasonable human being that wants to develop the country evenly, you should say here is an easy area to develop, I give you X, the area difficult to develop, I give you 2x and it would not matter where it came from.
But, in this case, the same resources that they are taking to develop the easy area comes from the difficult and because this area is difficult to develop, you turn your back on it, is that justice? Is there fairness in that? And somebody even asked, Ďdo you think God was stupid? Your area is so difficult to develop and gave you all the resources with which to develop and the other places that are not so difficult, He gave them another type of resources so that they can develop at the same level with this one but you now come and take everything.í
It is not so difficult for you to take the resources, you can go into this difficult terrain and take the resources but to develop it, no. You now take it to develop the easy to develop areas which already has it own appropriate quantum of resources with which it could be developed. If anybody held Nigeria together, please, acknowledge that it is the minority tribe in the South-South. Why is the majority fighting, looking for supremacy? And I put in one of the speeches I made, the minorities try to become the matrix that binds Nigeria together.
We are moving towards 2007 and your resolution is that power must come to South-South
When you use words like must, I wish I could use them too because justice demands that it should come to us but, as a politician, I strongly recognise the fact that, in the final analysis, this is not an individual or sectional decision, the entire country must choose where power goes to. So, I say, power should come to the South-South. If you want to be fair, equitable, it should.
But donít you find it curious that less than 17 months to the scheduled handing over of power, we are yet to see the serious presidential aspirants from the South-South?
But, was that not the very first question you asked? And I said even though people have expressed interest, they are not coming out yet to back this interest. That was the very first thing I said. If you are looking for candidates, you will see them but like every other aspirant, they need time .I was reading a headline the other day, IBB says I may not take a shot but we all believe he is an aspirant.
The reason for the seeming lull, some have said, is because people are not sure whether there would be vacancy, given what PDP is doing, in 2007?
What is causing this uncertainty?, if I may ask. There have been talks about amending the constitution. But, I was going to ask a series of questions. Have we had this situation before? The answer is yes. We had it with Abacha who was determined. This is where the use of the word, determined, comes in, he was determined to transform himself but here is a situation in which the talk in town is that there is a possibility that the constitution could be amended. Of course, if the constitution is amended to allow a third term, then, any governor, and the sitting president are free to contest. May be that is why some people at the end of the day are saying I must, I must. You know what I mean? Because there is the thinking that if there is amendment, the person that will make it happen should be given the chance to continue with the reforms. But, if that does not happen, then, they will jump in.
People are not just talking about the possibility but there is another question about it, how morally defensible is this?
Morally defensible to amend the constitution? This is not a matter of morality.
If the constitution becomes amended and it becomes possible for the incumbent office holders to seek third term, will you have another shot?
I have already told you that the people that are waiting have a very good reason to wait because they know that it will be good that this person has been able to start this reform that we never had. How many years have we had independence? We could not dream about these reforms, we could not get debt relief, we could not get the kind of respectability we are now getting in the international community, we could not accumulate the kind of foreign reserve that we are accumulating now. So, if somebody says may be this man knows that perhaps he can teach us. So, if the reforms come, may be it is even good for him to continue, let us learn a bit more from him before we take over.
May be, as I said, that is why nobody is jumping to say I want to contest the presidency. For the simple reason that if you know something, please continue for a bit longer. On the governors, ask Akwa-Ibom people, how satisfied have you been with this man? Donít forget, there is a difference between a person wanting an issue, and another person bringing back the issue. I will say in response to your question, of course, if the possibility exists, I could be interested. But, again, two questions arise here: Will my party even put me forward? Will Akwa Ibom people accept me if my party puts me forward. So, wanting is one thing, the people voting for you is another.
Some are saying that the reforms of the federal government are anti-people, it lack focus. What is your view on the reforms?
I take the simple view that the reforms have been good enough to even bring us debt relief, that the reforms have been good enough to bring us international respectability .
So the reforms have been so good for us to continue with?
(Cuts in) Even if there are areas where you think there should be modification, even if there are areas where if you want to use the popular Nigerian word, the full meaning of which I donít understand, it should be done with human face, even if you want to say whatever you want to say about it, there is no denying the fact that these reforms must continue. Can you imagine a situation where government must buy a car for everybody and when you leave office, you go home and ride that car because you find a way of saying, please, write off this car for me, so that government buys car for every officer that comes into a particular office, government gets a house for every officer that works in government, where does it happen? Our attitude to these things has to change, may be that is what the reforms are all about.
When we were discussing pension reform, contributory pension, the President said that he had been told that, very soon, we would get to the point where the amount of money government is paying would outweigh non-productive people, that is pension to retired people can reach the same level as they are paying to productive people. I said Mr President, I donít know where you got the arithmetic from because I am sitting here and I think the number of retired persons has already exceeded those who are productive. This was a Council of State meeting, I said this is General Gowon sitting here, he is a retired officer, General Babangida sitting here, he is a retired officer, General Abubakar, retired officer, you are sitting here, working, that makes it three non-productive and one productive. So, you can actually situate the situation in which we are spending a ridiculous amount of money maintaining you when you leave office when something else should look after you. If you have a pension scheme that you contribute to while in service, it is that same scheme that will look after you when you leave office, same with editors.
There is this trouble in the Niger-Delta currently and you are one of the governors in the region. This has been a common occurrence where people hold foreigners and make all sorts of demands?
If people had listened rather than get emotional about resource control, it is possible where we reached today we may not have reached. In the early part of my first tenure, I went to Mr President and propounded the theory of marginal oil field. I had to hire a consultant to do a paper on it, I told him that with marginal oil field, let us start from there. If you allow us to take care of ourselves with 5000 barrels of oil a day, we will be involved in this business. I went further and really had to illustrate this so that people will begin to understand what resource control means. That was the beginning of resource control. People want to confuse and mix resource control with derivation of 100 per cent which is arrant nonsense. Let me give you another example of I what proposed which has not even been considered yet. I think, today, NNPC is 60 per cent equity shareholder in every major oil company. But, rather than 60 per cent for NNPC, we can say, out of the 100 per cent, oil companies 40 per cent, NNPC 40 per cent, a state or community from where the oil is derived 20 per cent.
For goodness sake, the same amount of money that accrues to the federation account today would still accrue to the federation account with resource control and you find that all these boys that are useless, helpless, restless will be involved because to the extent of that 20 per cent, there will be something for them to do and, if nothing physically for them to do, a sense of involvement, a sense of protecting what is theirs. It is natural, you donít look after somebody elseís property as much as you look after your own. Until we begin to stop this hypocrisy of accusing people who talk about resource control as the people coming to ruin this country, people who want to take everything for themselves, and begin to sincerely understand the meaning of resource control and encourage it, what we are seeing may continue unfortunately. I am sorry to say this but that is the truth. You have to take the right medicine to cure a disease and I believe resource control will be a major step towards curing this disease because it is a serious disease.
You were honored in South Africa recently, how did you feel?
I felt pleased, very very pleased. It is an indication that somebody was observing you and giving you credit for what you are doing. I am not playing down the significance of local awards, no.
But, when it comes from outside, you know I got the first one, Good Governance Award in London from a publishing house and here is another one from West Africa Union of Kenneth Kaunda Foundation.
For the sake of enlightenment, how far have you gone with the projects and what stage are they in?
I told somebody recently that if you accuse me of dreaming impossible dreams, I will say you are wrong, I am sorry for you because you are stunting your own vision. But, if you accuse me of dreaming big dreams, I would agree because somebody once said, even though I may not be quoting the person correctly, the future belongs to those who see possibilities in todayís impossibilities. I give you one good example. By the time I started my airport project, the national hanger project had been talked about, discussed for well over 10 or 11 years, there was even a feasibility study.
It is entirely possible that if we had had a hanger in this country, some of the air disasters might never have occurred. But, I came in and I told them, people even wanted to misunderstand most of the things I do because they cannot fully share my vision but my effort is designed around maintenance, repair and overhauling of the facilities within the hanger. This giant hanger is capable of taking either one wide-bodied aircraft or two narrow-bodied aircraft. So, it is an ambition and I am achieving it and by Godís grace, it will be finished if not December this year, latest February next year, and aircraft will be landing and taking off there.
How easy has it been trying to meet the aspirations of the people of Akwa Ibom State?
It is impossible for me to have achieved all that I achieved working alone. I have a good number of lieutenants who have been assisting me to move the state forward. We have this economic summit coming up on March 2 and 3. The summit will be setting an agenda for Akwa Ibom of the future. I have made the job easy for whoever is going to be the contestant in 2007. Even if he does not know how to say I will do this and this, he only has to come and prove to Akwa Ibom people that he is capable of taking them along that path, and this economic summit is going to begin by defining that path we want to go through, sustainable path of development.
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