“I do not see how people will vote and the vote will not count. We will police the votes. We will not be afraid. We will defend our votes.”

Ismail Omipidan

Charles Udoh is the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Information. His speaks on why his boss, Governor Udom Emmanuel deserves a second term. He also spoke on factors that will shape the March election.

Udom Emmanuel and sports development
What are your fears for the 2019 elections, particularly the governorship election in Akwa Ibom State?

I wouldn’t say fear, because it will mean painting a picture of apprehension. But, there are concerns. The opposition is not ready for the election. They are not campaigning. They are not doing ward tours. They are trying to act a script, cause enough trouble, and disrupt the process to an extent that the Federal Government will want to declare a state of emergency. They want to roll in the federal might and take control of the state. Be that as it may, the will of the people will always prevail. The people of Akwa Ibom State cannot be intimidated. They will not sit down and fold their hands and allow anybody to bring federal might to take power. The opposition is not out to play politics in the best interest of the people. They only think about their pockets. It is worrisome. They have created scenario of discontentment, violence, civil unrest and they are pushing the agenda that the election in Akwa Ibom State should not hold the same day like other states so that they can deploy the federal might when it is held later.

Why do you think the governor deserves a second term?

Look at his score card. I don’t think any first term governor has recorded the achievements that Governor Udom Emmanuel has recorded in the last three and half years, in the face of dwindling national economy. That is what stands him in good stead during the election. When the former governor defected, he expected a bandwagon effect. That bandwagon effect didn’t happen because people have seen the genuineness and sincerity of purpose, and the honesty of Governor Udom Emmanuel. Some of the people standing by the governor today were the people mentored by the former governor. The chips are down. They said it is better to stand on the side of the truth.

But the wife of the president said your governor will soon be on his way to the APC…

That is a pipe dreaming. It is wishful thinking. I can tell you emphatically that Mr. Udom Emmanuel is a man of honour and integrity. He will never eat his words in that regard. He stands for something. Before he stood for governor, he was well endowed; a director in Zenith Bank. He was controlling the finances of the bank. He has always shown integrity and strength of character. He is in government today. He is not thinking about the next election. He is thinking about the future of the state; that when he leaves, he should have legacies.

What are the issues you think will shape the governorship election in the state?

It is the character and quality of individuals on parade, and also their tract records. If you put that into consideration, you will realise that the incumbent governor is ahead of his nearest competitor. In terms of character, professionalism and personality, in terms of integrity, the incumbent is miles ahead. The last three years in Akwa Ibom have shown that this is the most transparent administration we ever had. The administration goes out to put things on the table in black and white for people to see. Akwa Ibom is probably the only state in Nigeria that publishes its annual account. That underscores the importance the government of the day attaches to financial prudence, book keeping and creativity in financial management. This government is miles ahead. This government is not looking at the next election. This government is looking at sustainable development in Akwa Ibom State. Government efforts are geared towards medium and long term development of Akwa Ibom State, and how it can have an economy that is self-sustaining, and for a more prosperous state. We are not building roads for the sake of elections. We are building roads that will stand the test of time, from design to construction. Every road we construct today should have a minimum of 25 years life span before any resurfacing or reconstruction on such road. If you look at education, health and infrastructure development under this administration, they are dotting the landscape of the state.

Today, we have top 10 health facilities, equipped. We have over 15 industries that are currently functioning and production fully on top. That underscores the determination of the government to achieve its dreams of industrialisation and tourism. Beyond the rhetoric, one significant thing this government has done is to bring down the price of staple food in Akwa Ibom State. In 2015, when this government came on board, for N200, you bought a cup of garri. But now, with N200, you buy between eight and 10 cups of garri, depending on the locality. We have the Green House Initiative along the Airport Road, to produce first rate vegetable that is comparable with anywhere in the world. They will produce for exports.

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We are witnessing the most peaceful era in the state. The last eight years before the administration were eight years of hiccups. We now have a peaceful environment where people’s lives are not being taken for granted. All the societal vices are being kicked out so that we can have a peaceful community, so that we can attract foreign investors to set up industries in Akwa Ibom State. We are succeeding.

In terms of education, we are one of the few states in Nigeria where basic education is free and compulsory. We pay WAEC fees for students. That costs us a whopping N600 million annually. If you aggregate all these things, you will know that this government is on the track.

You painted a picture of great achievements by the governor. But, the opposition does not see it that way, why?

The opposition will not see any good thing in the government. The opposition, naturally, want to run down the government. Just a few days ago, we commissioned the rice factory; the rice processing mill. The opposition said there is no rice mill. The reason the opposition is doing that is that, in the past, they would claim they were commissioning projects and there was no project. So, they are thinking that this government is doing what they used to do. This government is a government that stands for truth and integrity. If we say there is a project somewhere, it is there. If we say we have a coconut refinery, we can take anybody there at any time. We will not commission an empty building and call it a hotel. We will never do that. This government has integrity. Look at what happened recently when the wife of the president visited. The opposition started peddling lies. But, the video is there. They are always trying to manipulate the minds of the people. Unfortunately, Nigerians are more exposed than before. They have the gadgets. You can’t blindfold people.

How can peace return to the House of Assembly?

It is for the five miscreants to obey the rule of law. You can’t go to court and lose and start fomenting troubles. The law says you can go to a higher court. You follow the judicial process. Let the court decide. They went to court on their own. Nobody took them to court. It is only rational to go back to court. It is unreasonable for five people to want to sack an Assembly of 26 members. It is the height of rascality that people can do that in this day and age. They illegally entered into the House of Assembly, supported by the police. Hoodlums wearing fake uniforms were protected by the police. They were handed over to the police. The police without investigation, without prosecution released the hoodlums. Our democracy is taken a battering. The people who are to be neutral are taken sides. It paints a very bad picture for our democracy.

We are concerned that our democracy is being threatened. The actions and inactions of the police leave much to be desired, especially in my state where the police have clearly taken sides. The police sided with five dissident members who were sacked from the House of Assembly, against the court order. That is not what we should expect in our democracy. What we want is a democracy where both sides can sit down, dine and wine together, go to the poll and the loser will congratulate the winner. We have not got that.

What is the level of confidence you have in INEC, in terms of conducting a free and fair election?

We only hope and pray. If the elections are not manipulated, there is no way the opposition can stand a chance. They are not campaigning. My party is having door-to-door, local government-to-local government and ward-to-ward campaigns. We have structures across all wards, chapters, local governments. Now, that is grassroots. I just finished an outreach in my ward and local government. We are on the right track. Let INEC be a neutral umpire. They should not be like the police. They should be an unbiased umpire. The will of the people will always prevail. I do not see how people will vote and the vote will not count. We will police the votes. We will not be afraid. We will defend our votes.

How can we avert violence during the election?

Our prayer is that the Federal Government should ensure that security agencies and agencies of the government involved in elections are neutral umpires. The Federal Government should ensure that people who perpetuate acts of violence and rascality are brought to book. That is our concern. In Akwa Ibom State, a police station was burnt down. No person has been arrested, as a fall out of the primary of the opposition in the state. The INEC office was burgled and over 2,000 PVCs were stolen. Not one person has been apprehended. Not one person has been called to give an explanation. Yet, over a billboard issue, the IGP summoned a commissioner of the state performing his lawful duty and a local government chairman over a billboard issue.

INEC: 333,000 PVCs unclaimed in Niger