The Era Of Handouts Is Over -Akiba

Feb 2, 2024 - 12:48
Feb 2, 2024 - 13:09
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The Era Of Handouts Is Over -Akiba

In furtherance of our quest to keep the citizenry abreast with the policies and programmes of Senator Bassey Otu in Cross River, as enshrined in the people-first mantra, The Beagles News crew of Ndifreke BASSEY and Victor UDU, interviewed the erudite and versatile Special Adviser to the governor on General Duties, Barrister Bassey Akiba.

He gave an insight into the focal point of the Otu-led administration, maintaining that the new government is poised to rejig the state from the brink of precipice. It is a compelling, captivating and insightful read.....

The present administration of Governor Bassey Otu is about eight months in office. Could you say it has started off well, considering the enormous responsibilities facing the new government?

 Well, I’ve had the opportunity to be Governor Bassey Otu media aide right from when he was in the national assembly representing Calabar Odukpani federal constituency.

It was at that time, courtesy of his meaningful representation at the Green Chamber, his constituents gave him that addition name of Sweet Prince.

In fact, that also propelled him to the Red Chamber and then Sweetest Prince because he performed creditably as one of the parliamentarians nationwide that exposed the benefits of national politics to the grassroots through empowerment and also attracted physical structures to his immediate community by single handed built a school with over seven blocks with ICT component as constituency project. His reasons was  that people cannot  trekking long distance to go to school.  

That singular act endeared the people to him and since then, young people believed in him despite the travails, disappointments and road blocks towards his political. But through the mercies of God from from 2003 up till 2019 and to 2023 that he became the governor of Cross River state he had contested elections in the PDP, Labour Party and then APC. 

However, working with HE Bassey Otu these months has been very demanding, because leadership position comes with responsibilities  and when you work for a man that is poised to deliver deliberately, you also are duty bound to be able to catch up with the pace.

For me, it has been very tasking, especially  when we have a governor that stays awake beyond twelve midnight, treats all his mails and memos personally and also draws your attention to where there are errors; when we have a governor that is ready to meet with people one-on- one; takes all his calls if he can and reads all his messages, thereby making governance what it ought to be.

Besides, we have a governor that is coming to overhaul a seemingly dilapidated system where the civil service organogram were all gone; where the political classes no longer follow due protocol in terms of hierarchy thereby creating room for inefficiency. 

So, we have been under a very serious tutelage with the governor in all these aspects because he wants Cross River state to compete with other top ranking states that are doing well in terms of productivity and service delivery.

So, these few months have been months of experience  and handwork and without any equivocation I can say he has done more than 90% considering the circumstances of his assumption of office.

Remember, we landed on a ground that was not solid to run and for him to be able to survive the murky waters and withstand the enormous challenges in the environment sector, educational, agricultural, security, road infrastructure, beautification of the state, sports, human capital development, infrastructure like state library, international conference centre shows that the governor has done very well within this short time in office.

As a member of the legal team in the just-concluded litigation against the Governor, can you share some of your experiences and what you think should be done to reduce these various court cases experienced after every election in Nigeria?  

For me, it is part of our democratic process after every election and any group that is not satisfied can test the process by way of litigation. In our own case,with we faced pre election issues  and survived all the way to the elections itself.

The facts or issues raised were all similar concurrent facts because the same parties at the pre-election matter in the federal high court  and the same questions were asked at the federal high court.

It was questions that border on the qualification of the governor and the deputy governor.These questions were all answered on merit and the ones that had no merit they were unable to substantiate their arguments.

So when we were done at the pre-election level they now went upstairs to the appeal court  and those issues were still determined in favour of the governor so we were not expecting the same issues having been tried at the pre election level at the federal high court and later the Court of Appeal to still be re-litigated.

For us as lawyers, and because the appeal court is one, we were confident with regard to qualification issues because they have all been tested and confirmed and nothing would change.

The governor was very confident and even as legal team we were also very confident but being that we cannot obstruct the wheel of judicial process we followed through all the legal processes.

And that was why the Supreme Court described it as judicial waste of time to have brought this matter up to the Apex Court because it sounded academic.

If you look at section 177 of our constitution its self explanatory on the qualification of a governor and deputy governor and 177 has settled several cases nationwide because you are first a Nigerian and Nigerian here by birth supersedes any other citizenship because the fact that you are a citizen by birth is the most fundamental definition of a citizen and you are also up to 35 years.

Senator Bassey Otu  and his deputy were more than thirty five years; they  belong to a political party and the party nominated them for the election and that they  schooled up to school set or its equivalent; Senator Bassey Otu having been a graduate in the department of sociology  and having also been a Senator of the federal republic with working experience made him more than qualified.

So, the court saw our own case as a case that ought not to have lasted that long so my experience is that it lead to unnecessary waste of time  and distraction in terms of being focused  and even in terms of followers.

However, the Governor has said there is no victor and vanquished  and that elections are over its time for governance I think we are happy for the state and people are happy for the state and its time to move forward. 

Could you explain some other encumbrances the government has faced in trying to get things done?

Yes, there has been a lot of vandalisation in our state; a lot of criminal activities just as  people have turned themselves to ”legal thieves.” 

People that have stolen for too long without any fear and it is like trying to bend  a grown tree that’s the circumstances we face in Cross River.

Carelessness and rascality have been the order of the day for the past years.

Residents have been very reluctant and show much unconcern about what is happening around them.

We are in a situation where a transformer that serves all of us on the street  are vandalised and we just sit back and be in darkness for years.

So, we have come to meet a system where you walk into the water board and discovered that  all the armoured cables have been vandalized.

You try to bring back water and there are no pipes because the water pipes have been stolen  and private facilities too have been vadalised.

You try to put up a building and you don’t have security marabouts just walk in and uproot your toilet seats and you come back and trying to build gradually and there are no more windows at the botanical garden.  

Again, a lot of those industries the former governor left behind, as you are aware, have been vandalised.

The same thing goes for the street lights, all were vandalised  by the time we came on board. 

If you observe, there is no light from Calabar-Calabar to eight miles, because there are no cables and to bring this light that you are seeing we had to buy new cables.

So, the lighting you are seeing cost the government a lot of millions of Naira.  

The government is now engaging with communities to begin to have community interest and security because government police security cannot cover the whole towns without partnership with the locals.

The Governor, because of his determination to see that all these visions come to reality, has also had engagements with high level experts and investors to boost security and move their own capital in the direction of Cross River.

The flag we are trying to raise at the Cenotaph were equally vandalised because everything was removed.

We were targeting to raise the flag by the first week of December 2023 but when we went in there was nothing inside and the mechanism to do that needed to be imported.

We also have a system where there were no more offices functioning, no office materials there were no motivation for civil servants to boost them to do what they were supposed to do; people don’t go to work as at when due and people close before its time and there has been this gaps.

Where it will surprise you is that most secretaries cannot even write a memo.

There has been a wide gap because there has been no training and retraining no workshops so these are the challenges which the governor has set up a module through the secretary to the state government to be able to re-caliberate the entire administrative system because if the administrative units is weak, then the entire governmental structure would not be able to function and our governor is a seasoned administrator who is ready to stabilise the entire system.

The governor is noted for his empowerment capacities, but it seems this has been slowing  down in terms of appointments, seen as one of the empowerment schemes.  As one of his advisers, what do you think because Ayade made lot of appointments which has become the norm?

Yes, the governor talked about sustaining democratic gains  from the administrations of Donald Duke, Liyel Imoke and Ben Ayade and what they developed would be worked on. He also talked about sustainable empowerment. But you would be surprised that most of the people that were on the payroll in the previous appointments can barely feed and pay house rents just months after they left government.

So, for Prince Out, the era of handouts are over rather its important that we shorten the line of appointments and expand the line of employment, empowerment and training, investments, productivity and where necessary for exports.

Now the governor is putting in a lot of money in sports because we can make multi millionaires in sports. People can have self sustainability through sports; people can have self sustainability through agriculture if you secure a sizeable hectares of land  and go into even plantain plantation. That is where the government is going into.

The government also wants to invest a lot of resources in the angle of self sustaining ventures where we can produce multi -millionaires that will outlive this administration.

Governor has been doing empowerment quietly to support the aged and some very senior citizens because he said that in a season of sweetness people have to stay alive.

He has ventured into medical bills because as you grow older you begin to have some very serious medical challenges.

However, there is no fear that Prince Otu is not going to empower the people for appointment. He has already listed the affected agencies boards that there are vacancies which he will fill them in the coming weeks.

I can assure you the difference is that the appointment this time is that which has to do with qualification and productivity. You would not be sent to where you will not be able to function. That age of appointment where people were not able to write their names, neither do they don’t even know the definition of their portfolio  nor even know where they are running from with no office that era is gone.

The governor is saying that we need to take our time study the laws how many people are supposed to be in agency A,B,C  and he has a committee that is working on this so that we will not come and appoint eleven people in an agency that said there should be six.

We will not also come out to call somebody a name that is not commensurate with his qualification; we would not send you to compete with your unequal when we will not be there  and then state’s identity would be embarrassed. So, that has been the reason for a seeming delay on some of those agencies that are yet to be filled.

HE would also continue to empower the youths in the area of skills acquisition and through scholarships.

If you look through the budget presentation, HE talked about bringing back the functionality of our scholarship board because a lot of people would have been admitted going forward. We have a free SSCE registration for indigent students.

So, the governor wants to empower people in that direction; he wants to empower the people with good roads so that you can convey your commodities easily from Akamkpa to Benue without being blocked at Obubra because of bad roads.

He wants to empower our communities of Akamkpa, Akpabuyo and Bakassi with electricity because when you have electricity the man that has a clipper can open a barber shop and survive with his family; a welder inside Agwuagwune and Okwurikang can do welding  and feed his family; the man in Mbube Ogoja can do same without calling the governor because there is electricity.

 The empowerment the governor is working on, which will not be  handed over overnight, is to ensure that there is water supply electricity, roads and security and we can pay school fees that is a more sustainable empowerment.

The governor is also interested in the recruitment process that is ongoing in both the military and para military so that our quota will be filled appropriately so that even when he leaves they would have had some cadet officers that will rise to military generals for the good of Cross River state.

Those are more sustainable empowerment because this other empowerment people come out for are flashy empowerment that are temporal and HE is saying that should not continue.

Our youths seem to be more interested in revenue points these days. What is he government doing to get them off the streets to reduce youths restiveness and the quest to control revenue points?

We are trying to make revenue point less attractive and trying to harmonize our taxing system  because there is also conflict of taxation.

There is also multiple taxation in the state  and we are also trying to create a unified taxing system where it will also reduce tax agents.

We are also trying to delete most of those irregular revenue units  that have been brandished in the whole state.

And when you make revenue less attractive, unified and also reduce the point of revenue you are automatically sending many people out of the road. Indeed, its difficult to  bend a grown up tree. Some people have been addicted for years  and they have been living and feeding fat from those channels.

So, until  we are able to divert their attention  and begin to create wealth elsewhere through skill acquisition, then we can begin to have succour.

For instance you can see the fabrication we are trying to do at Marian to enforce the walk over by all means that is also going to be done around the Watt Market, Eight Miles so it ease traffic so that at the end of the day the road users, the pedestrian walkway will be properly utilised.

By the time these new development we are bringing along those areas  and sending street traders out of where they used to be  to a well arranged location, those thugs and fake revenue agents will begin to realise that something new is coming.

You could see the new bus stops because we want to gradually return and make people to queue and enter buses so that you don’t drop people anyhow anymore.

Soon, people have to wait at the bus stop knowing that the buses are coming.

It’s a gradual process and its deliberate that we are taking it from different dimensions.

It also has to do with the human psychology; the mental state because when people begin to see everybody going towards a particular direction they begin to think what is in that direction and also want to follow.

So, by the time we succeed to restructure the state and begin to reduce traffic, the touts would not be able to operate.

Besides, we have a fabrication where we want to even produce these our expired waste bins here in Calabar.

We have gone that far because that is the essence of the academy those things will now go to Aba and places small things we would have produced here locally are now sourced from other states when we now have those training.

The governor is discussing  with SMEDAN and we are going to have it training senatorially. So, by the time all those things are activated ,the numbers of touts on the streets would reduce.