Anietie Ukpe is the Chief Press Secretary/Senior Special Assistant, Media, to Akwa Ibom State Governor, Godswill Akpabio. In this interview with journalists in Lagos, he bares his mind on some political issues in the state, including the just-concluded elections.
On the recently concluded 2015 elections, the opposition is alleging that Governor Akpabio used the power of incumbency to ensure that PDP recorded massive victory in Akwa Ibom State, what is your view on this?
A lot depends on what you refer to as the power of incumbency. This was supposed to be an open race since an incumbent was not contesting. But APC was in a dilemma on two counts. One, Governor Akpabio had written his name into folklore and legend with his unprecedented achievements and uncommon transformation of Akwa Ibom State. Two, there was a stature-gap between the PDP’s Governorship Candidate, Deacon Udom Emmanuel, and the rest on the field. Mr Emmanuel was without blemish and a consummate administrator with sterling qualities. Faced in this no-win situation, APC clutched at straws and resorted to attempting to trivialize the monumental achievements of Governor Akpabio. That was counterproductive and hit a raw nerve with the people, who see what the Governor has done every day. Therefore, if by the power of incumbency you mean that Akpabio used the goodwill the good people of the state have for him, then I am with you all the way. If you mean that as the government in power he touched more lives in this state right now than any other Akwa Ibom person living, then you are right. If you quantify all the good he has done in the state and its people and the swirl of gratitude which accompany him, then you are on cue. If the opposition did not expect him to use this goodwill to attract votes to his party and his party’s candidate, then they need democratic re-education. It is a myth to think of the power of incumbency otherwise.
On the suspended four lawmakers in the state House of Assembly, some stakeholders are saying that Governor Akpabio influenced the sack. What is your view?
Governor Akpabio is not a member of the House of Assembly, and the House is not accountable to him. So, how did he influence the House? More so, the House attributed its decision on the matter to relevant portions of the Constitution. So, did Governor Akpabio write the Constitution? It is a point of law. Governor Akpabio’s name should be left out of the internal matters of the House of Assembly.
What is your view on the APC’s call for cancellation of governorship the election result in Akwa Ibom State?
I consider it unfortunate. Have you noticed that all over the country, only the PDP candidates have called victorious APC candidates to congratulate them? APC needs to tone down their war rhetoric and show more respect for the wishes of the people. The entire APC campaign in Akwa Ibom was built on two propaganda techniques – name-calling and bandwagon. In name-calling they dissipated their energies abusing the PDP and calling its officials all kinds of names. In bandwagon, they dredged up some politicians, who have lost steam and relevance and told the people, “See Otuekong ABC, Senator KLM and Obong XYZ are supporting us, so join the bandwagon.” But these people had no electoral value or goodwill. Some went on radio and would tell barefaced, regrettable, lies. APC did not tell Akwa Ibom people what they had in mind for them. They did not connect with the people.
Do you think Udom will continue the legacies of the governor or there will be crisis between them as in most cases with governors and their successors?
Certainly. Both the incumbent and the incoming are two of a kind. Mr. Emmanuel shares Governor Akpabio’s love for the people, his integrity and his forthrightness. He shares his sense of patriotism and statesmanlike comportment. They are like brothers from different mothers. I don’t foresee any crisis or strained relationship between them.
In the eight years of stewardship of Gov. Akabio in the state, what is the area he has affected the lives of the people of the state most?
The parable of the Blind Men of Hendostan and the elephant should answer your question. It is what each man touches that he delights in. But taking the global and holistic picture, I believe that the greatest transformation is that of moulding a new Akwa Ibom person – respected in our country and standing tall in any part of the world. The next should be the free and compulsory education, which has led to triple enrolment in our primary and secondary schools.
As Gov. Akpabio is stepping into the Senate, what will be his senatorial and legislative agenda?
I can say that we have the highest expectations that his representation in the red chamber will be legendary and a watershed in effective and competent representation. He is already a treasure in Akwa Ibom and he is set to become a national gem in the Senate. A goldfish has no hiding place.
What is the magic wand that enabled PDP to record massive victory in the state?
The magic wand is the uncommon transformation of the state by the Akpabio administration and the love the people of the state have for Governor Godswill Obot Akpabio.
Can we say PDP’s overwhelming victory in the state can be attributed to the love that the people of Akwa Ibom has for Gov. Akpabio?
I positively confirm that. It is glaring for everyone to see. The governor touched their lives positively and they rewarded him with their support and votes. That is why when the governor asked them to vote for President Jonathan, they responded positively. That is why the president won convincingly in Akwa Ibom. President Jonathan’s achievements were underpublicized nationally. But Akwa Ibom people knew what he had done, because Governor Akpabio used to talk about them. I believe he is the best President in Nigeria’s history but unfortunately his publicity did not seem to match his momentum. There was, unfortunately, gap between his administration’s performance and its communication.
Do you have any regrets about supporting Jonathan given that he failed in the presidential elections?
None whatever. I am a standup man. I am like Apostle John. When all the disciples of Jesus abandoned Jesus because they saw the hostile mob, he stood with Jesus till His crucifixion. This generation does not understand President Jonathan, but history will note that we had a treasure in him and we did not know it.
What expectation do you have for the incoming Buhari presidency?
Fortunately, he is not new to the job. There should be minimal learning period for him. He should hit the ground running. He should also let everyone know that he is in charge and that he is the President of Nigeria – not APC President of Nigeria. APC has a sense of entitlement to the presidency, but on May 29, he will take an oath of office and oath of allegiance to Nigeria and the Nigerian Constitution, which will place the national interest above every other interest (party included). I hope and pray that he will do well.
A lot of Nigerians, including Prof Wole Soyinka, criticized President Jonathan’s handling of the Boko Haram insurgency and made it a campaign issue. It is believed it cost him some support and votes. What is your take on this?
You can criticize the President based on the fact that the buck stops on his table. But you have to note that every country has personnel trained in security and defense. These are men and women who, after secondary school, attended the Nigeria Defense Academy, got commissioned and have attended several courses within and outside Nigeria on national security, counterinsurgency, intelligence networking, warfare etc. President Jonathan is a zoologist and a lecturer. He had to depend on these men who are the experts in security for information on how to engage Boko Haram and what to tell Nigerians. You can blame him on this account as much as you can blame him for the failure of the Super Eagles to qualify for the last African Cup of Nations. But now I think President Jonathan has the last laugh with the recent successes against Boko Haram. Thanks to him, Boko Haram is on the verge of extinction and he has proved his critics wrong. What happened? I think he studied the situation and considered his options, while the critics were on a road show. Then he took the right decisions and now Boko Haram will soon be history.