Date Published: 11/07/10
THE GOV GODSWILL AKPABIO INTERVIEW
Kidnappings In Akwa Ibom, handiwork of politicians without relevance -Akpabio
Second Term, A reward for my good work
Child-Witch Videos was for Monetary Gains
Akwa Ibom, Safest in Niger Delta
No ACN in Akwa Ibom
Why We Need State Police
Lately, Akwa Ibom State has being in the news for various reasons. In this interview, governor of the state, Godswill Akpabio opens up on security issues bedevilling the state, and the nation at large. He also harps on the need for state police to help curb the spate of kidnappings in the Niger Delta. Excerpts:
Q: Why have you been silent on the issue of Kidnapping in your state?
Yes, you must be wondering why I don't normally make statements, but I must tell you that I realised that there is no permanent governor in office. You only have permanent secretary, so I'm not going to be a permanent fixture in government house so I must focus on the available tenure. I always tell my commissioners that I will not be judged by how much I answer critics, but by the legacies I leave on ground. Most of the time, even when I present a statement on what my administration has done for the people; I always forget even the more than 3,000 projects we have done in the rural areas. We've given light to more than 862 communities since I came in a s governor and more. I don't want to talk because the work of government is to work. 7-year-olds say, "God bless Gov Akpabio, God bless you", and that is my joy, my happiness, what I was elected to do, not to answer to people who have lost political relevance in their communities and are now trying to sponsor kidnapping just to have an edge. You must all join me to condemn such acts in their totality, and pray that security agencies be up and doing to stamp out this from the society. Since 2011 is on the horizon, things will not be easy, but we pray that God will keep the country and grant us peace in Jesus name, Amen.
Q: The last time you talked about completion of the state power project...
(Cuts in) ... no, that was the first phase and it happens if you still have investors coming in. The first phase is completed but the second phase will take it to five hundred or thereabouts.
Q: With that phase completed, why does electricity problem persist in the state?
The first thing you need to know is that the 191mw goes to the national grid and it is what the PHCN returns that we are using. The problem is that there are three aspects in electricity supply: generation (which we have license to do), transmission (which consists of high tension wires), and distribution which is the third. Distribution is still in the hands of PHCN, but we've applied to the federal government to give us license to also distribute. The license we have is only for generation. The PHCN distributes it by its own discretion. So, it is possible that you produce 200mw and what is returned to you is 10mw, even if you need 70, and you will still have power outage. But when you're given license to distribute, only then can you be accountable for the problems.
In Akwa Ibom, we have a two- prong approach: the four states that make up the PH distribution centre; Bayelsa, Rivers, Cross river and Akwa Ibom came together to form the Q4 Power Limited, and we have applied under that to take over the PH distribution centre, so the four states can distribute the power that we produce in the region and it will be enough to produce power within the region if that is granted. Secondly, as a state, we have also applied to the federal government that we have the capability of taking over distribution from PHCN. Another aspect is that the current equipment on distribution across the state are moribund; some of the wires are such that if you load them, they get burnt and affect lots of people because they are old. There is need for detailed planning and massive rehabilitation, and decampment of the current equipment in the state.
Q: You said 50 years after; the Nigerian press is still fighting the government. What would you expect; a day with or without the press?
I didn't say 'fighting', I said after 50 years; the perception has got to change...
Q: Possibly, it will change if we have leaders who change and live up to their responsibilities, so which do you prefer?
I prefer a day with the press, otherwise people wouldn't know what I'm doing; they'll mistake it as business as usual.
Q: On the 20th anniversary hospital you are constructing, did you say it is to be designed by Germans? I know you have fantastic architects; why did you have to go outside?
We had to go to Germany because we are building an international hospital. What's better than to let those who have the expertise do it? Sometimes, you could have a fantastic structure but the BQ would be in front. Have you been to some hospitals before where after the theatre, before the recovery room, the next thing that follows is the morgue? How do you expect a person coming out of the theatre to recover after seeing the mortuary on the way out? You see, the doctor's mistake is buried forever while that of the architect lies forever. I strongly believe that if you want to build a five-star infrastructure, your best bet is a five-star construction firm. No, I'm not saying indigenous contractors are not good, but there are certain jobs you don't give to them. We want to build a hospital with the mortuary in the right place (laughter). It is no civil service hospital, it is a five star, one which we will bring in expatriates to run. The other four hospitals were designed by indigenous architects and they are very good, but this is different.
Q:You have said nothing about the child witchcraft issue, of which you set up a committee...
On the child-witchcraft thing, I have said it on CNN, that the young man, Foxtrot Gary first met me in 2008. Some people came and said, "there are some children waiting for you outside," I asked why they were looking for me, and they said, "they have a petition they want to give to you, but they are too many to come in. Can we send a representative?" I said, "no, if the children came to my office, they came to see the governor. If they are too many, I would rather come outside and see them, or else when they leave, they will go and tell their parents that the governor was too busy to see them". Having a representative is no good because I know that it you see the face of God, your life will never be the same.
When I got there, I saw this young man who identified himself as Gary foxtrot. I didn't know what it was all about but they gave me a petition, demanding a law that would protect the rights of children. If you go watch that video - it's on you tube - I turned to my women commissioner thrice and demanded, "where are they from?" They said, "they are all Akwa Ibom children". I turned again and asked, "What is this all about?" she replied, "they have a petition". I turned again, "what about their parents?" she said, "they are orphans, destitute or something and that some people have accused them of being witches and wizards. I turned to the children and said: "you are not witches or wizards, so if anyone accuses you of such, tell them your governor said you're not. " I want you to go from here to Mr. Biggs, since I don't have a kitchen that can take care of you, so I'm giving you N1 million, and I'll come see you at the centre to see how to improve it for you. I also want you to know that you'll go to school because I'll declare free and compulsory education. Understand that you must go to school and whatever assistance I have to give to you is only for your uniform, okay? They said, "Yes".
I went to the centre to the centre thereafter and donated N10 million only to find something else being reported. They don't come here to take good stories out, all the videos you saw were done for financial reasons, and they have by that, violated international laws; using children who are victims to fleece members of the public. The first day they showed it on Channel 4 in the UK, they made over two million pounds. We'd bring them to account; it is the same children that were used in 2007, 2008 in my office, that are still used in 2010 in every corner of the country.
You should be wondering: why the same set of kids despite the passing of that child rights law? Why do we still have kids on the roads after it has become punishable by about 10 years in jail to call a child a witch or wizard in Akwa Ibom? I also made education compulsory so that even when a child who's not yours is living with you, it'll be a criminal offence to prevent that child from going to school. True, we have different talents, but the opportunity must be equal. I appointed education monitors to go round the streets during school hours to see if any child is hawking while others are in school; that child will be apprehended and the parents will have to answer or spend six months in jail.
When the CNN came to Akwa Ibom state, they missed a lot of points. I've invited them to come and continue from where they left off. I can tell you that heads will roll, they'll account for all the money; they've shown it in Australia, Holland, other places and donations are coming in. They'll account for ever single cash they made. I'm setting up a judicial panel of enquiry to look into how the children came into that centre. It is my job as governor to take care of the children. This is a warning to them; they should keep every kobo they've made using the helpless children because they'll account for every dime.
Q: Few weeks ago, it was in the news that one of those who would be contesting against you in 2011 defected to the ACN and went with about 4,00 people from the PDP...
...(laughs) and you believe him? His children must be part of that crowd! Let me tell you the truth; propaganda does not win a war, wars are won by men and machinery. When I saw that, it wasn't worth the paper it was written in. Whoever ran to the ACN must have known why he ran; he felt intimidated by performance. If a man runs from the PDP, he knows his fears - the primaries, not the election. I welcome to contest against me under any party. What's the party's name again...?
(Laughter)... That's only relevant in Lagos but he's contesting in Akwa Ibom (laughs). There is no ACN in Akwa Ibom, unless he's coming to establish one there. Government is a process, not an even, take note. I have no reason to be shaken, i beat 57 people, i can beat a lesser number. The only thing is, my elders in the state are not even happy with anyone coming out to contest, because they think a second term should be my reward for the good works of the last three-and-a-half years. They were looking forward to having the first unopposed governor in the country... (laughter).
Q: With the arms build up in the country, how safe is Akwa Ibom?
Even with the few reported cases of kidnapping, Akwa Ibom is still the safest in the Niger Delta. It is the only state where politicians try to use people's misfortunes as a point of campaign - this is because we don't have politicians who can campaign on issues. We have mischief makers gunning for offices and all they do there is blackmail. We cannot allow the state to be a safe haven for kidnappers. We've been apprehending them, from next week we'll be charging them to court.
Q: How many of them?
I can't recall but they will be charged to court. We'll respect no one's status so long as he is connected to insecurity. My people know i am acquiring some technological know-how to fight kidnapping and bring it to a standstill and I'm sure between now and December, the Egyptians you see today, you shall see no more. I can assure you of that.
If you want the right thing to be done you can push for a state Police. A governor is called the Chief Security Officer of a state but that is just in name. In the true sense, you are just a general without troops. As it stands now we can do the very little because as a governor you have no say in the promotion of security agents, and they work at their own pace. I'm not saying they are not working; a lot of them paid the supreme price but the reality is that we need state police. The governor has two tenures; he can't stay forever but during that time, let him be responsible for his security and that of his state, so as to deepen democracy in Nigeria.
Consider the American system. You have the state police, paratroopers, municipal police and most of these places are safe; you don't see people carrying AK-47-rifles up and down on the street. There is security. This is because if you bring in Mohammed from Sokoto to come police my hometown, he can't even pronounce the name, talk more of knowing the nooks and crannies of the area. There is a limit to what security agents can do when you don't allow state police to be established.
We must take all proactive steps so that our children can walk, play more around wherever they are, in safety, without fear. My state is the only one that has signed a bill into law, making kidnapping punishable by death sentence. I don't pay lip service to security. When I did so, people said, "ah, it's against UN convention agreement" and I said, "there is death sentence in Texas and many countries. Why are we opting for international convention agreements that have no bearing on prevailing circumstances?" We are not like the developed world. If some of these countries still have death sentence, let's ensure that it's right here too.
Even when someone attacks another on the basis of religion or ethnicity, like what happened in Jos, we should promulgate a law that makes it a treasonable offence, so that Nigerians can feel safe anywhere he or she is. If someone attacks you on basis of ethnicity or religion - whether Boko Haram or anything - then it should be punishable as treason felony. Life sentence should be enshrined in our law so that Nigerians can be safe to live anywhere.