Obong Victor Attah, penultimate governor of Akwa Ibom State was the first governor of the state at the onset of the Fourth Republic. Attah who governed the state on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP who will be 80 in a few weeks time has with age gravitated to become apolitical and a elder-statesman.
Known for his passion on resource control while he held public office, Attah has over time withdrawn himself from the fray only intervening periodically as situations demand.
In this interview in his Lagos home, the professional architect, former politician and leader of the Ibibio in Akwa Ibom State spoke on national issues and on the recent defection of his successor in office, Senator Godswill Akpabio to the All Progressives Congress, APC.
What is your take on the current state of the nation?
Nigeria is in very severe distress and has been for a long time. The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) composed two prayers a long time ago, one is called ‘Prayer for Nigeria in Distress,’ and the other one is ‘Prayer against bribery and Corruption in Nigeria.’ We have almost gone past the stage where certain actions can have effect on the country. I think we need we need divine intervention. This distress is caused by politicians, who have lost every kind of morality, integrity, and honour and I find that very distressing.
What value do you think Senator Akpabio will add to the APC?
The APC celebrates Akpabio at the national level, but I can tell you that at the state level it is a completely different thing. There is something we say in Akwa Ibom. We say that when you manage to cook a nice pot of soup, you should cover it down properly because if you leave it open and allow certain unworthy creatures like cockroaches, millipedes, and centipedes to crawl inside, they will turn your nice pot of soup sour.
This may just happen to the APC in Akwa Ibom. There was a time I could have said Akwa Ibom State had become at least 80 percent APC and I would not be wrong. There was also a time the whole state was PDP. Then somebody as prominent as Don Etiebet left the party and went to the All Peoples Party (APP) and became chairman, he later returned to the PDP, because other political parties did not stand any chance and I welcomed him back to the PDP.
Then suddenly, Akpabio came, and all of those people moved en masse to the APC. Start with Akpanudoedehe, who was his campaign manager in 2007, followed too by Nsima Ekere, the deputy governor, Umana Umana, the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), every prominent person, including Etiebet, who is very close to Akpabio moved en masse to the APC. But today, look at the decamping from the APC back to the PDP.
So I can say the APC have got their pot of soup completely sour by certain things they are doing. Let me see whether the APC can win Akwa Ibom State with Akpabio. But I can tell you with conviction that if the APC manages to win Akwa Ibom today, it would be in spite of rather than because of Akpabio because if you leave it to Akpabio, I don’t believe the APC would go very far in Akwa Ibom.
Today what we hear is that Akwa Ibom is going to be in similar situation that Warsaw was in the hands of Hitler. Is that what they want in Akwa Ibom? Akwa Ibom people will resist it vehemently. This kind of statement shows we have lost every kind of morality and ideology both in the formation of political parties and the pursuit of our various political ambitions.
Who do you blame for the kind of arrangement where the Federal Government does community development projects?
Of course, it is the fault of the Federal Government. If they had listened to us and restructured the country, we would not be talking about such things. Again look at a serious thing like the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) budget, perhaps, because they could not have their way with changing the election sequence, and, I must ask do we need a different sequence whenever we have election? However, in a true federalism, the Federal Government has no business with state elections. The states conduct their elections. The federal government should be concerned with only the Presidential and National Assembly elections. Because we have this unfortunate thing we call a federal arrangement, we have situations like this. Because of this situation we have, they are now prepared to cripple the INEC and prevent them from conducting credible elections.
What is your take on the cabal said to be running the presidency?
We accuse the presidency of having a cabal, but there is a more vicious and more destructive cabal in the National Assembly than there is in the presidency. We forget that the role of the opposition is not to prevent the government from functioning but to see to it that government functions properly in the interest of everybody in the country. Nigeria today has about 90 political parties. How would this deepen democracy in the country?
What is your take on restructuring?
The accusation now is that President Buhari is not ready to restructure the country, but believe me, the problem is more from the National Assembly. We suggested a thing as simple as state police and resource control; they dismissed it. But at some point when the northern senators were meeting, the Senate President said, and I quote him, ‘I have no doubt in my mind that we as leaders need to do a lot more work, we need to carry out analysis and research to be able to pick the substance from the sentiments. I say this because, during the last constitution review exercise, there were items that were rejected, like devolution of powers, but upon reflection, we realised that it was actually not inimical to the interest of the people.
On the economic front, whatever will bring about growth and development is what must be done, economic diversification is not just a buzz word, it is the real life of a transition that must be made if we are to deliver dividends of democracy to our people.’ If the Senate President knows this, then why wouldn’t the National Assembly consider how to make the necessary laws to restructure the country, rather than just shouting you cannot do devolution of power without us. What I expect is that since the National Assembly knows the importance of restructuring, they should call upon the president to convoke a conference or assembly that will write a new constitution for the country.
The president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) said in August 2013 that ordinary amendments to the constitution may not reflect the wishes and aspirations of the people, or repair the fundamental flaws in it, that there is need for a people orientated constitution which would be subjected to a national referendum and will be self enforcing. That is what we need and I expect that it is the National Assembly that will work in the interest of the people of this country. I expect them to see the need for restructuring and work towards it.
They can call on the president to convoke such an assembly and if the president refuses, it is an impeachable offence. If we don’t restructure, this country is going to die because there is limited opportunity in the oil industry and the resources cannot develop this country. Look at the evil consequences of the crude oil not belonging to particularly anybody; that is why you see a situation where the country still flares 76 percent of its gas that is enough to generate 3,000 megawatts of electricity. We must institute resource control and it can only come with restructuring. Nigeria is doomed if we do not restructure.