Barr Mfon Ben is the Caretaker chairman of Uyo Local Government Area. Apart from being a member of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, in the state, the Ikono-Uyo lawyer cum politician is a diehard supporter of the state governor’s leadership style. In this interview with our political team, Ben who is also the Obong Iwaad Uyo dwells extensively on the recent wave of defections from the party in his domain and the political undercurrents behind these movements.
Q. Of recent, some high profile members of the PDP in Uyo, mostly former council chairmen have left the party; don’t you think these defections can affect the fortune of the party in your area?
A. You just mentioned that some people are decamping; some of these things are political intrigues which people are trying to create so that they will be noticed and called for settlement. But unfortunately most people have come to understand these intrigues. These are the kind of things we need to avoid. That is why they always strive to create a situation where the system will depend on them to go and remedy the situation. A kind of being the solution to the crisis you actually created. This is fraud of the highest order and I am happy the present government has not bought into this old scam. We must understand the politics and mindset of certain people. Once things are done differently and they feel they are losing grip, they must create situations to be recognized.
Are you God? You can only work within the power government gives you to function, so if one man wants to leave, the government has the ability and capacity to create a standard and a person to take that place and make it work better. So the power you have is given to you by government.
This government has the power to give people the mechanism to work and fill the space of whoever wants to leave. We are not saying you should leave, but don’t threaten the party. Don’t make it looks as if without you the party will not work and government will not function. The government will function with or without you.
You are there to serve and if your interest is to serve the people you will serve them, you will not find excuse to dislocate the government. Anybody defecting is just looking for an excuse to discredit the governor and make it look as if Uyo does not like the governor and the government.
What we should ask ourselves is this, those claiming to be this and that what was their means before? The same PDP government that gave you power to be a man of means can also give others the power to do more than you. So don’t instigate trouble so that you can come and manage it.
In life generally, there are people who believe that there are greener pastures outside. It is like when you have a wife that wants to go out of your house, all the reasons she needs are within her. There is nothing you do that is good for her, nothing you could do that will satisfy that person, because of the curiosity to look outside since that is the nature of the person. People have the nature. These are people who were chairmen in their time and others were waiting for them, following and supporting them.
It comes to a point that some people will want if it is not them a particular time; it should be no other person. So you cannot satisfy them every time. But truth is, what is the impact of their movement on PDP? It is virtually zero because PDP does not lack the materials to fill the space. We can never lack people to fill those spaces. Their going out has also allow people to grow in to that position.
Q. You referred to the defectors as being leaders. As leaders they have followers, don’t you think that their followers who have also moved with them is disastrous to your party?
A. Let us look at one point. We seem to look at politics from only a present tense. Politics has an history, there is past and future tense also. In every situation in life, there is also opportunity for other people to grow. Some will say one man’s meat is another man’s poison, some say when one door closes another opens. The man going out is giving another person the opportunity to fill his place. It is a matter of choice. The fact I want to make is that PDP is strong in Uyo local government area. Those leaving the party are on adventure and you know it is the nature of man to be adventurous. People are inclined to curiosity and adventure.
Q. So the people decamping to APC are on an adventure?
A. The point I am making is that some people are just adventurous.
Q. Tell us in specific terms what the PDP in Uyo is doing to keep her members from being adventures ?
A. I will not assume the role of the chairman of the party and party mechanism, but I will speak from my honest position as the member of the chapter of the PDP. If three people leave the party and four cheerfully comes in, is that not space you are creating. If four people are coming in and two people are leaving, what is the news. The four people coming in, do they make noise, no we gain members in PDP than ever before because the economy is realistic. The economy is pushing people to be realistic with the truth that PDP is doing something. What was the price of fuel at the commencement of the present administration? What is the price of bread in the present administration? These are indices to show that more people are coming to PDP but we are not making noise because it is a realistic party.
The government is doing things that people are appreciating. Take for example, the former Governor Obong Attah coming to appreciate what the governor is doing. Is it not a stronger message than any other message? You look at more elderly statesman even at the national level coming back to say yes the governor is trying and doing something. It is in the nature and character of some people not to see anything good except they are involved. So I don’t want to join issue with people and personality of that nature, I want to look at the system, how is it working. The system is working well, is accommodating people because what you do today is to put PDP and APC in contemplation. Look at both party, look at the policy and the regime, what is in the Federal Government, what is in the state government. How is the Federal Government working for the betterment of the people?
The answer is clear. The people are simply suffering. When a man now sees in Akwa Ibom State, what is the capacity of the state government, the people are seeing the benefit of good governance. Is simple, if a man who is a beneficiary of good governance put it in contemplative now, now wants to admit that the other party which we know is not giving the enabling policy background for encouragement and development of the structural benefit of governance is now a better party, it gives you a mindset. Is a mindset issue, is moving from light to darkness. Darkness would attract but who does it attract.
Q. You said we must not look at politics from present tense only that there is always antecedence. You are from Uyo local government and also the council chairman, there is this assumption that Uyo is always opposing government politically. Why is it like this?
A. That is an established falsehood
Q. There are indices?
A. In Attah’s two terms in office, he had his largest votes in Uyo, so what are the indices that Uyo played to the left. We like promoting the views of some very few people in Uyo against the majority interest. That is the problem of people about Uyo. People are very judgmental about Uyo, they look at the few people and their antecedence and promote them against the collective position of the people. This is a strategy to undermined Uyo in governance.
How did Godswill Akpabio win the PDP primaries in 2007, was it not from Uyo? There were so many aspirants from his senatorial district resulting in vote spilt and it was Uyo votes that came in handy for him to win the primaries . In his second term he emerged, even when Udoedeghe was campaigning in Uyo, he had the required 25 per cent spread .
People should give judgment in proper perspective and Uyo son was in that election, do you expect Uyo son not to win in his local government at all. That is a wrong judgment, is like we are not sensible at all. Do you expect Governor Udom Emmanuel to lose in Onna where he comes from, is not possible. Let’s be realistic with some facts, Uyo has always been a central figure in forming government, but people always used statistic of error to dislocate Uyo, so that it does not benefit in governance.
Don’t use the few who have decamped from PDP to sustain the falsehood that Uyo does not play government. We sacrifice a lot. Uyo has given a lot to the PDP and the state government and we stand with the present administration. Uyo is standing with Udom than any local government area. So don’t allow one or two people to dislocate the collective contribution of Uyo to the government.
Q. What is your take on the massive road rehabilitation presently going on in the state especially as Uyo local government area is one of the greatest beneficiaries?
A. NDDC is just doing its official duty as an agency responsible for Niger Delta. Is an interventionist agency. Compare the network of activities in Akwa Ibom State from the commencement of NDDC till now, you find out that we have been the worst beneficiaries of NDDC. The greatest time that Akwa Ibom State ever gained was when Sam Edem was there and he concentrated more in Nsit Ubium where he comes from, and Nsit Ubium today is one of the most developed of all local government areas. They have roads even up to streams. You can’t beat that. It means the impact of the person inside also affects the area he comes from. People will always see Uyo because they pass through Uyo, have you gone to Nsima Ekere’s area, is he not doing something there, he is doing something. What am I saying at the end of the day, he is only doing what the constitution says he should do as interventionist agency, so is not a matter of Uyo but that of Akwa Ibom State. He is doing these projects to Akwa Ibom State because these roads are used by everybody.
But let’s look at the quality of the road also. Can you compare that to all the road that the state government is doing, you can look at all the roads that NDDC undertook, give them span of 2-3 years, they are gone but look at the roads the state government is doing, these are roads that are meant to last for 10-50 years. So they are just what we said, and interventionist agency to remedy areas where there has been critical need. But where there is only solid need for infrastructural development, the state government is doing massively very well.
Q. Don’t you see it as an improvement in the activities NDDC down here?
A. I don’t want to undermine my own brother I will just call on him to do as much as he could within the period he is in office because others did enough for their own areas when they were there. Please make it a format to improve on the condition of Akwa Ibom people while you are in public office.
Q. But at least this should be a plus to the APC led Federal Government?
A. It is not about an APC government but a federal government agency working. We had NDDC when we had a PDP government, and they effect was not felt in the state it was felt. Like I said go to Nsit Ubium and see the impact of NDDC when Sam Edem was there. APC is not the first government in NDDC. APC did not establish NDDC, it was PDP that established the agency. PDP had the vision, so we can drive it better. APC has not created any new agency to intervene in any area, APC is just relying on what PDP has already done in the ground. They don’t have ideas.
Q. Do you need to establish new agency or to sustain what was on ground and make it more effective?
A. Then don’t criticize what people have done before, accept them as working mechanism that is the point I want to make. Accept that PDP established a mechanism to streamline an effectively function in governance, so what you are doing today is the platform that was established by PDP. We should accept that point that whoever is appointed as an MD of that place, once you assume office, your party line is closed. So lets not publicize offices which are responsible to provide services so whoever is there is to provide services irrespective of the party affiliation.
Q. Do you see the traffic to APC now as related to the quest to get contracts from NDDC?
A. Let me answer you from this point of view, there must always be traffic. The question is what the destination of the traffic is. If you open a bid today to sell online products, people will apply because people need to do business. When you finish the bidding process, the man who will now get it will do what, will come into to get because he knows better, so we are not afraid of the traffic.
Those who have gone there, when they don’t get what they want they will come back to where they can get what they want. Is the matter of destination at the end of the day. What is the destination of the average politician; to be in power. Who is in power – PDP, so when we take over from federal government, after 2019 the traffic will still come back again. So we are working toward getting back the presidency but in the state we will retain that, that is the important thing. There is no traffic, people are just looking for where they can be accommodated and PDP is large enough to accommodate every interest.
Q. How do you hope to get power back in 2019 when the PDP at the centre is still factionalized?
A. The beauty of PDP is that Nigerians have come to realize that PDP as a government has its policy, functions and strategic role. No matter how is being conceived we were able to manage the economy in such a way that the palliative effort of a common man was seen to reflect in it. The price of food from 1999 to 2015 was visually stable, Cement came down from N2,000 something to N1,000 something. When APC came Cement prices t rose all over again the cost of building has risen, people that started houses cannot not complete them and some are even selling but when PDP was in power, people were able to stream line and meet their basis needs. We should understand where the fault is. PDP is prepared for governance in Akwa Ibom State. I speak for Akwa Ibom State point of view. We have the benefit of good governance. We always have the benefit of being prepared because from our forefathers, we established the platform to provide good governance, so is not about the man, is about the love for the people we who are there. The governor has the passion for the people, he listens a lot, and he activates and put energy where it is necessary. Look at the come to the market women because that is the key economy, when the market is functioning the food will be on the table. He understands macro and micro economy and he is investing in infrastructure, industrialization, human capacity and market economy.
When the federal government takes such effective steps to work on the macro and micro economy then things will be better. We are not feeling the impact of certain things in this state because of the level of management by his Excellency, governor Udom Emmanuel. Go to other state and compare what is really happening make calls to your relatives in other states you will find out that God has blessed us with a save heaven over here.
Q. Let me speak the minds of some people who said good governance alone cannot win election for any sitting governor seeking for second term that Udom has not done well in human empowerment?
A. I think that is one of the cardinal mistakes that people are making. This administration has been human driven. People should work on time frame. Every political system works on a time frame. Presently, the essential thing is how to be able to make people feed themselves which is where we are lacking. Like you just said people want money in their pockets but don’t want to work.
The Dakkada Philosophy is to ensure that you get involved in something that will give you the capacity to produce what to utilize. Some people are benefiting from this new mentality and frame work, but some people are still waiting for the old time. The government is doing everything politics requires but people should allow things to evolve. A man who has planted seed will want to see that seed grow, not to abandon his seed just because it is stunted. You apply fertilizer to make it grow. Udom met a party that is growing and is sustaining that party, he will not let that party die, he is meeting the need of the party and that of the people, so when people complain, is it between the government or party? In both side he is planting to improve the condition of the people. He is not unaware of the situation he is dealing with them as they are evolving.
Q. Recently there is this accusation that the tariff for electricity in the Akpan Andem market increased exponentially the moment you assumed duties as the council chairman but there has not light. What exactly is happening there?
A. We have a two tier management in the market constituted by the local government that manages revenues of the market. We have the welfare committee which deals with issues of the welfare of members and traders in the market. So the issue of payment electricity bill is strictly of the welfare committee. Money from the welfare committee is not paid to the local government, but it is utilized between the welfare committee members and the traders in the market. It is the traders who manage their own welfare.. It is they that contribute and pay their bill. I called the welfare committee chairman to find out what happened in the market and he told me that for some time NEPA gave them bill and they negotiated the amount and paid that amount constantly, but of recent NEPA came and installed a meter which was so high and I said go and confirm whether It is industrial bill they install and he confirmed that it was industrial meter. I said no market is a commercial and not industrial venture, go to them to give you commercial billing and not industrial because you are now billed on industrial billing, it is so high for them and they cannot afford to pay, so the NEPA disconnected them.
NEPA is service provider and we are all complaining that they are defrauding people. It is a general complain every where it happens in our homes and everywhere and so why must we look for excuse to blame Barr Mfon Ben for obvious things that is not within his power to control. These are works of mischief makers ..
But the real traders know the truth about it, that Barr Mfon Ben has nothing to do with it. They have their meetings and I don’t attend with them but when they have issues I try to resolve it for them, that is my work as local government chairman. I don’t shy away from my responsibilities, I will ensure NEPA give them the proper billing and not exorbitantly. People should stop blaming me for what they don’t have information about.
Q. Is it true that you will contest election, if there will be election?
A. By Gods grace, when AKISIEC releases the timetable for the election, I will decide whether I will contest or not but for now I am simply facing my responsibility as the transition chairman, I don’t want to be distracted by the issue of election or no election because AKISEC has not given guidelines for the election. I am working toward the mandate that I was appointed to, but others outside are going beyond the framework of my mandate. And I assume they are trying to destroy my personality. They thought they are destroying me and not knowing they are destroying themselves.
Q. What is your advice to members of People’s Democratic Party in Uyo Local Government?
A. I will just say what are we doing within the party, we are mobilizing. We are working and streamlining. We are not making noise. When you go for an event today, you realize most people don’t have a conscious knowledge of what opposition is all about. What they have is they brought members to destroy the next person. That is not opposition to my own understanding. An opposition party drives its own policy to show that it is better than the other party. But look at the policy from APC and that of PDP which one is working. It is for the average man to look beyond the propaganda and lets realistic working mechanism of both administrations to guide his reasoning.
You cannot use one item as tools for governance. You must be a broad minded person to be able to look and descend policies of each of these administrations and what they have translated into. The policy of APC has translated to poverty, suffering, and massive break down of law and order; it has translated to abuse slander and dictatorship.
On the other hand, what has PDP policy translated into; economic revolution, to the things you see around yourself, new mechanism being built to encourage dynamics of human capacity development and young people are now being engaged in things that have to do with their future. So it is imperative that Uyo people continue to trust the PDP because it holds their future dearly.