Interview with former chairman, Nigeria Ports Authority and Cross River Information Commissioner, Obol Akin Ricketts

"During my time as commissioner under Sen. Liyel Imoke, I took great pride when I travelled out of the state. At that point in time, Cross River was referred to as not only the safest state, but also renowned for the clean, green and aesthetically pleasing environment"

Jul 13, 2023 - 13:43
Jul 13, 2023 - 13:45
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Interview with former chairman, Nigeria Ports Authority and Cross River Information Commissioner, Obol Akin Ricketts
Akin Ricketts


 

May we meet you, please?

M

y name is His Royal Highness, Obol Akin Anderson Ricketts. I am Kepon and Village Head of Abuli Village.

Politically, I am the former Cross River Commissioner for Information and Orientation and the immediate past Chairman of the Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA. I am also a businessman.

You have been around the political circle for a while now, and contested for the central senatorial ticket of your party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). Tell us what the situation is considering that your party eventually won the election. What was your experience like? How did you feel after your party emerged victorious at the general elections, winning the presidency, a vast majority of national and state assembly positions?

To say I was a contestant for my party's senatorial ticket, I am grateful for the opportunity. I lost the primary election to the current Senator representing the central senatorial district, Sen. Eteng Jonah Williams. But I am happy that my party won the election. I did all I could to clinch the ticket, but it was not to be. God knows best. As far as I am concern, we all won because one of my brothers is now the senator representing the good people of the central senatorial district at the end of the day.

What is your reaction to the landslide victory of the APC both at the national and state levels?

It was exciting but not surprising because we did everything within our means to ensure that the masses chose the APC we want progress and better life for the people. The people agreed and voted for our party and its candidates at every level. We thank God for that. Right now, we are only waiting to begin to reap the benefits of those choices for APC at the polls.

What are your expectations for the new national and state administrations?

At the national level, Mr. President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu has hit the ground running. He has done so by showing the citizenry his intensions in the area of security, welfare and good governance. His political and administrative antecedents clearly inform my conviction that he has the mindset, intention and courage to turn the fortunes and narrative of the country around. For me, he has given us a glimpse of his leadership ability by harvesting low hanging fruits; like the fuel subsidy removal and the likes and also set the stage for a new security network in the country, demonstrating his intentions towards fighting corruption. He has in barely a month demonstrated the political will to build strong institutions and poise towards upgrading the living standard of the citizens.

We all understand the present realities in our country. A nation of over 200 million people and not a segment of this population can be classified as middle class in the true sense of the word. In Nigeria, it is a two strata situation -- the poor and the super-rich. That is not ideal at all. It is a panacea for unrest. If we are not deliberate in finding solution to the yearnings of the masses which can basically be described as necessities of life for a developing state like Nigeria, such as security, electricity, pipe borne water, befitting healthcare system, and motorable roads. We need infrastructural development. For instance, it took me over three hours from Calabar to Ugep. Ideally, this was a one-hour journey. These are not too much for the citizens to expect. Having pointed these out, I believe we are set for a great ride as a nation with Bola Ahmed Tinubu at the helm of affairs.

We have nowhere but higher to go because we are at the lowest of the low. I am upbeat that the Tinubu-led administration will do well.

For Cross River State, this present administration, led by Sen. Bassey Otu has a humongous task before them. I was fortunate to be a member of the seven-man transition committee inaugurated by former governor Ben Ayade. I speak from the position of knowledge. The state civil service is haemorrhaging. It is so bad now that we cannot really say we have a civil service system. The civil service needs an urgent rejig. And with the high rate of retirements, young people have to be employed and purposely trained, given the necessary tools and confidence for an efficient service. You all know that there are complains here and there, I do not want to go into details. Sanity has to be returned back to the state. We must insulate ourselves as a state from separatism. I just pray and hope that we get back to good times when civil servants and political office holders were found in offices working. 

During my time as commissioner under Sen. Liyel Imoke, I took great pride when I travelled out of the state. At that point in time, Cross River was referred to as not only the safest state, but also renowned for the clean, green and aesthetically pleasing environment. Having said all of these, I learned our governor has constituted a committee headed by the former head of service, Ntunkae (Dr.) Theresa Ikwen. Her assignment as a former head of service, with her immediate constituency being the civil service, is spot on. She has no other options than adding value or doing the needful. The civil service system has to be thoroughly rejigged and sanitised.

Governor Bassey Otu is more or less starting from the scratch. I pray that he finds the courage inherent in him to scrap some of those 'offices created for the boys.' You know what I mean. Having said all of these, I want to reiterate that better days are here for Cross River and its citizens. Sweet Prince, as the governor is popularly known, would not leave a sour taste in the buds of Cross Riverians. He is a God-fearing family man who has spent a greater part of his life towards upgrading the living standards of his people. He will do well. I believe he will find a way around our present economic quagmire. You all know that Cross River has been relegated to being the poor cousin in the South-South. We pray that we all join hands to fight this injustice. This is the right time. We have a man at the helm of affairs whose name is deceptive. Our governor, that Prince Bassey Otu you see can be stubbornly focused. He is a strong-willed individual. He will redirect the State to the right track. At the same time, we also have a president with a track record of not just infrastructural development, but human capacity development. With both synergies, by God's grace, we will be better off in every sense of the word. For me, this is God's time for the state. Just watch my predictions. Otu is a capable hand to help stir the State to the right direction and also project credible individuals who would act as the state's ambassadors at the federal level (recommendations for federal appointments). These people must share in his dream of a greater Cross River State. There must be that partnership across party lines towards the common cause of improving the people. We must move away from party inclinations and work towards delivering dividends of democracy to the people. As a people-oriented individual who love his people, I pray that God blesses our state and country, while he guides and directs our governor and president. May he bestow them with all it takes to function well in their respective positions.

Talking about working across party lines for the common good of the people, what is your advice to the opposition parties who are seeking redress at the elections petition tribunal, knowing that it is somewhat a distraction to the governor in his quest to deliver good governance?

It is always a distraction. But it is difficult to ask a full-grown man to halt his fundamental right. You have to talk, cajole and make him see reason if that is for the overall interest of the people. This state belongs to all of us and I am sure that no matter whose ox is gored regarding the elections outcome, they can be talked to and made to see reasons just like I did. As soon as we finished the primaries, I embraced my brother who won, turn around and worked for his victory. The margin between me and Eteng Williams was quite small. We had very strong candidates. But I refused to go for a rerun because the essence was not to go to the Senate at all costs. When God says it is your time, man's machinations would not work. We must learn to let go when it is prudent to do so. There are other roles one can play to achieve same objectives. If you are not senator today, you can be tomorrow. Power is transient, nobody was born and called senator. Political and appointive positions are not inherited. So we must learn to let go. That is why we must encourage those in the political process to have a fallback position, so when things do not go as expected, they can fall back to their positions. I am not trying to diminish anybody. All I am saying is that we can all join hands to move the state forward.

Recently, it was understood that you were part of the delegation that visit the governor to talk him into accepting the siting of the floating LNG plant in Calabar. Is that true?

Actually, the promoter and owner of the project is called Mr. Julius Ronny. He is a man whose intentions are not only to improve the living standard of the people and self, but also to do well for the country. He has come out with a project called FLNG, meaning Floating Liquified Natural Gas. Unlike the one in Bonny Island, this one will be floating. So it is going to be rigged in proximity with the gas products. And by God's grace, with the interface with the governor and myself, we were able to convince them to visit and inspect in a bid to have them site their operational base in the State. It is a humongous project that at the barest will bring about 3000 jobs to Cross Riverians and residents of the state.

A portion of those jobs would be set aside for Cross Rivererians. It is going to contribute to turning around the fortunes of the state. These are the things I am talking about, doing our bit to bringing the state back to where it was. Our loss of our littoral status was of no fault of ours. We are being left to hear the brunts. Thank God for the coming of Bola Ahmed Tinubu who is mindful of the infrastructural and human development. So I believe that at the end of the day we will be better off. When projects such as this are sited in the State, they would definitely turn the economic status of the state around.

When is the project expected to take-off? Would the cost be jointly borne by the state government and the company?

The company and its partners are going to bear the cost. All they crave from the government is a conducive environment to begin business.

With the jostling for appointments at the national and state levels, do you trust Cross River APC's internal structures to recommend the best for positions?

 

I want to believe in the sincerity of purpose and integrity of those with the mandate to run the party. I want to lean on the integrity of the person of our present governor. I am happy and believe that he will do the right thing. At the state level, as we speak, there is confusion, because there is a directive from the party Secretariat asking all 196 wards in the state to produce three names for appointments. And I hear, that is causing a lot of rancour. I am not surprised because people being what they are, would always want to put themselves first. But I think that process should be guided and better managed. I think people should be carried along, but be also mindful of recycling people from our localities for political appointments. There should be some new blood into the system. The new government should be allowed to prevail in his selection of people for appointments. The party leadership should feel the pulse of the people and do the right thing. We must eschew self-centeredness, nepotism and favouritism as we look for those to be appointed to assist the governor actualise his vision for the state.

At the federal level, like I earlier mentioned, the right people should be given the opportunity to engage in governance to bring government nearer the people. I am not too bothered about that because governor Bassey Otu is sagacious enough to go for the best. He will do well by the grace of God.

Are you in support of the Otu-led administration running with an oversized list of appointees?

If you recall, I have said earlier that some of these offices have to be scrapped. Others have to be merged. We can’t get anywhere by just creating meaningless offices. A state like ours with this kind of economy cannot afford a bloated system, and I do not think that the present administration has that intention. There will always be pressure, appeals, blackmail. But our governor, being the strong-willed man that he is, will do what is best for the state. I am an antagonist of a bloated system.

 

The maritime potentials of Cross River have remained untapped. As a key player in the sector, how can government harness these potentials to boost the economy of the state?

We have to be represented at the centre in the maritime sector. My tenure at the NPA board was interesting and intriguing with some levels of fulfilment. Unfortunately, certain mitigating factors and 'politricks' blighted my efforts to work. In the maritime sector, you don't say Calabar or Port Harcourt port, you say eastern ports. It covers the entire region. My goal was to upscale it and get it to work at an appreciable level. But it was defeated. The issue of stagnation kept rearing its head. Unfortunately, I will say it also brought us to an appreciable level with room for further improvement. However, be that as it may, during my stint there, we recorded some level of successes. You can attest that you saw some ships berthing at the Calabar port. Successes were recorded at policy implementation, and I thank God for the opportunity to showcase and contribute my quota. I am also grateful to former president Muhammadu Buhari and his transport minister, Chibuike Amaechi, through whom I was afforded the opportunity. It is regrettable that the potentials of the blue economy have been left untapped. The way to unlock such potentials is to have our people well represented at the maritime sector. So, if there are going to be appointments in the maritime sector, Cross River must raise its hand to be part of it.

What is your take on the recent murder of Madam Martina Okey Itagbor on allegation of witchcraft?

I condemn this barbaric act. Nobody has the right to take another person’s life. I call on the Police to arrest and persecute the culprits. Justice must be seen to be done on this matter, so that it would serve as a lesson to others.