Oron People Are Regarded as Second Class Citizens in Akwa Ibom, Says Oron Union President General

Dr. Effiong Edunam, President General of Oron Union

Interview with DR. EFFIONG EDUNAM

In this interview, the President General of Oron Union, Dr. Effiong Edunam stated that Oron people are regarded as second class citizens


So far, how can you assess Nigeria under Buhari Presidency?

For me we could have developed faster and fulfilled our promise earlier if we did not have a system that is held down by corruption. However, Nigeria’s growth is stunted in every aspect of our national life due to corruption. Effort to fight corruption and free Nigeria to develop at the desired space has had very mixed results. Under President Obasanjo, some institutions were put in place but those institutions were also hobbled by executive interference. Under President Jonathan, there was glaring corruption. The current effort under President Buhari to tackle the corruption is receiving a boost. And we want dramatic result and punishment to serve as deterrent to those who are corruptly disposed. But two years is not enough. So, we must give President Buhari administration more time.

Looking at the present administration, how will you rate corruption war because you have identified corruption as the bane of Nigeria’s development?

Well, the corruption war is ongoing. It has indelibly stained the fabric of the Nigeria’s project. In other words, it has its roots in the Nigerian soil and has defied every effort to fight it. We need to deal with the root because it has prevailed for so long that an average Nigerian thinks that corrupt has become our way of life. If you want your file to be attended to, you should bribe the messenger who will take the file. If you want to pass on the road where police have set up a road block, you should bribe the policeman. And these days, it is being alleged that if you were to meet a police man who requested money from you and you did not have it, he would follow you to your ATM so that you could take the money and give to him. In other words, it has been institutionalized. And to dismantle it will go beyond dealing with the flowers at the top of the tree of corruption. If it is uprooted, then the entire mindset of a Nigerian must be re-oriented. Otherwise, we would tinker with it and as soon as you finish pruning the branches, corruption would sprout again from the trunk of the corruption tree. So, we need to do more much than we are doing. Nigerians need to see corrupt people punished, the money and property recovered from them should be properly put to public use. The sentences given by the judiciary which unfortunately is also a Nigerian institution also suffers the same malaise as every other Nigerian institution. That aspect has to be redressed as well so that when that issue goes to court, our lawyers would not just stay in the court to look for procedural advantages- to look for all the somersaulting they do there in collaboration with our judges to let off the accused and then allow Nigeria to continue the way it has been doing without an appreciable progress. We want a situation where whoever wants to undertake a corrupt practice would look over his shoulders and know that long arm of the law will catch up with him or her and if it does so punishment will be severe enough to deter the next man similarly disposed.

But considering that countries including Malaysia and Ethiopia came here and collected palm seedlings and repair their Ethiopian Airlines respectively, don’t you think something ought to be done to return Nigeria to an economic giant once again?

That still boils down to corruption. I am not against democracy, but all the countries that broke out from the vicious cycle of poverty in the 60s, 70s and 80s did so under dictatorship. Nigeria had its own opportunity during those decades as well. But while others were stealing and investing in their countries, Nigerians were looting and exporting their loots and denying the country of resources to stimulate development. For example, in South Korea, the dictatorship of Park laid the foundation for the take-off of Samsung and other big conglomerates; Malaysia under one Prime Minister for more than 30 years and during that opportunity started happening. Taiwan was under one man’s rule for over 40 years; Philippines were under a dictatorship; India under one-party rule for about 50 years. In those countries looted and ran abroad were arrested and asked to repatriate their loot, but we mismanaged our own opportunity. Even people that looted are enjoying their proceeds at home and abroad. Until, we tackle such tendencies along with consistency of positively disposed policies, then the growth of our own country would remain stunted. A situation where every succeeding administration wants to start afresh development is a cumulative process, does not augur well with the country. Besides, we should have long-term planning and think of where we want Nigeria to be in the next 20 years. To achieve this, we need to define a framework of progress and development regardless of which administration is in power. And I think we would get there.  Furthermore, we should stop depending on strong individuals and strong characters. We should start developing strong institutions that would outlive every administration.

Is it right to aver that looting our commonwealth by some of our leaders is responsible for poverty among Nigerians? If so, what are the measures that should adopted to eradicate poverty?

Well, poverty exists everywhere in the world, but in Greece poverty seems to predominate in societies where there is no application of technology to oversee whatever the citizens are doing. If in Agriculture, you continue to do what you are doing exactly the way your great-grand-parents did 300 years ago, you are not going to make progress. And poverty will remain in our environment. If you are trading, and you don’t know how to keep a proper account then you will in spite of trading be inviting poverty to your domain. So, if you want to fight poverty, education is number one. An educated palm wine tapper would tap differently from the way an uneducated palm wine tapper does. An educated fisherman would fish differently from an uneducated fisherman. An educated man would know how to apply the resources available to him in order to improve his circumstance. He would think in terms of self-improvement- improvement in terms of technology and so on. So, all those technicalities which would help to pull him out of poverty require a measure of education. And the skill acquisition- since everybody cannot be in formal school- some people would learn skills which they find themselves they would apply those skills to alleviate poverty.

In fact, in many societies around the world, the economy is driven not only by gigantic investments, but by small-scale industries which is really the direction to go. If you look at it, all the giant steel mills we constructed during the first coming of President Obasanjo as the military head of state with Murtala Mohammed have all collapsed. Ajaokuta Steel Mill we tried to build in 30 years, we have met an absolute failure of it. And you see in our environment, the Oku Iboku Paper Mill, and ALSCON in Ikot Abasi investments have all collapsed and contributed very little to the promotion of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). So, I think our leaders should be more thoughtful in embarking on some of those things.

I am quite impressed with the fact that our people are beginning to understand that Agriculture does a lot to promote our economy and we should go back to those basic things. Nigeria’s food security is perhaps of greater security value than all the tanks and aero planes we acquire. If Nigeria cannot feed itself, if Nigeria should migrate from West Africa beginning to look for what to feed itself, the economy of the entire West Africa would collapse. I think we should go back and address those things especially on how to improve our yields through extension services and the application of appropriate technology.

With agriculture we can first feed and then feed our industries as well and in the course of time begin to export the surplus that they generate.

What are your pieces to Nigerians at 57 and Akwa Ibom 30?

Nigerians, be animated by what is good. Nigerians should stay together because we have stayed long enough to promote understanding and cooperation. When Nigeria was put together in 1914, nobody asked Nigerians. But now we have experimented and we have seen that staying together is more beneficial than pulling apart in different directions. The attempt at secession during the civil war was an ill-wind that brought this country no good. And nobody who saw the civil war as an adult should contemplate another attempt of break-up again. What they are doing about Biafra would make sense in a way not in the physical separation of Nigeria but in the recovery of the can-do spirit which characterized Biafra. In other words, not physical Biafra but geo-political, geographical and spiritual Biafra. What was good about Biafra? The Biafrans were isolated in their enclave; they could produce weapons of mass destruction through their own ingenuity. They could refine petroleum products through their ingenuity. They discovered things we never ate before which you could eat in a circumstance of critical need. And Biafra survived long in spite of the disabilities imposed on it. In that sense, I accept spiritual Biafra because it is the spirit that distinguishes average Biafrans from others. And you can see how hungry they are for education. That is something others can emulate- how hungry they are to make money. They are very outgoing people which is why you see them in every corner of the world. That is what we can learn from those people. And I say on a final note: keep Nigeria together, let us cooperate and work together to make Nigeria fulfill its promise not only to Nigerians but to Africans and the black people across the whole world.

What is your reaction to the clamour for restructuring of the country?

Those who oppose restructuring are those who think Nigeria is already not worth to be. But we know that Nigeria is work in progress. From time to time, we must take a look at Nigeria against the prevailing exigencies and realities and see where we could tinker Nigeria to meet the expectations and yearnings of Nigerians. At the moment, even a blind man can see what we are running is a unitary system masquerading as federalism. And to make our federalism fairer and just then it is essential to tinker with the structure. The level of tinkering is what Nigerians can discuss. The revenue allocation formula demands restructuring because oil is a wasting asset and may be 20 years from now, oil producing areas will no longer be oil producing.

And if those areas are not developed while the oil lasts, what will happen to them knowing the attitude of Nigeria when oil runs dry. That addresses the issue of fiscal federalism. On devolution of power, there is a central power that every governor runs cap in hand to so that many state governors spend more time in Abuja than their state capitals. Normally, it ought to be the other way round. But if we do not restructure and have the necessary conversation which will lead to the correction of these dysfunctionalities may be in the future because of lack of dialogue, we will be having violence. Already, you have seen in many parts of the country groups which feel unfairly treated are clamouring for restructuring to correct the anomalies beholding power entrusts for such groups. Therefore, if Oro produces the governor others will have an equitable stake in that opportunity. Of course, Oro still demand to produce a governor for Akwa Ibom in 2019. There was a miscarriage of justice in 2015 which Akwa Ibom people must come together to redress so that we do not create a situation where some people (like my people) are regarded as second class citizens because we would not be while at the same time are producing first-class resources which are being used to develop other parts of the state. With this kind of marginalisation, it gives the people very few options and we do not want the Oron situation to reach that level.

You can imagine a state where some people think what is happening is okay. The five local government areas in Oron produce 80 per cent of the oil wells of Akwa Ibom state. Yet, not one local government area in Oro is recognized and classified as oil producing. And other places without a drop of oil are recognized as oil producing. As a follow up to the idea of oil possibly running out, it was Federal directive that oil producing state should set up an agency to develop the oil producing areas with the 13 per cent awarded to such thing. Akwa Ibom is one of the few states in the federation that has refused to set up what could have been our own AKSOPADEC so that those in power would have the leeway to appropriate the money to develop their own areas. I don’t know how in good conscience the rest of Akwa Ibom State can think they would carry on that way for much longer because it is absolutely unacceptable to Oron.

How can you also assess Governor Udom Emmanuel?

He hasn’t done badly if you compare the amount at his disposal to what his predecessor had. In spite of that he is doing things that are visible. There may be a few criticisms about the location of the projects. As an Oron man, I feel bad that some of the projects have by-passed my community. For instance, the road dualization to Oron started four years has not gone beyond one kilometre. I have every reason to think that my people have been treated unfairly. But that does not mean he is not doing anything. I would rather encourage him to extend it to my area. Besides, deep seaport in Ogun State, which was not even on the drawing board when Ibaka Deep Seaport was conceived, would be opened in 2018. But there is nothing called Ibaka Deep Seaport; it is just pure propaganda. Instead the government is interested in International Jetty in Ikot Abasi and the investors coming in the due to media hype. It could build at Ikot Abasi because it will bring jobs to the state, but the advantage of Ibaka of alternative shoreline. So, I advise them to do the right thing and keep politics out of it would serve the Eastern and North-Eastern parts of the Nigeria as well.