BENJI UDOBIA’S HIGHHANDEDNESS CAUSED PDP TO LOSE MEMBERS – RT. HON. AKPANUSOH
Dr Usoro Akpanusoh, Chairman of the House Committee on Rural Development and Public Utilities, represents Esit Eket/Ibeno State Constituency in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly. He is an advocate for justice, equity, fair play and a founding member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this exclusive interview, he recounted his achievements and what transpired during the Saturday, March 7th PDP Ward Congress in Esit Eket Local Government Area, his agitations for internal democracy and inclusiveness as well as his relationship the political leader of the area, Elder Benjamin Udobia. Excerpts:
As a two-term member of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, could you kindly tell us about your legislative achievements?
If I want to recount all of them, we would spend the whole evening. Primarily, my responsibility is to make law in the Akwa Ibom Sate House of Assembly. That is why I was elected and that is what I am doing. Outside that, I have responsibility to carry out oversight functions, which I have done extremely well even as Chairman of the House Committee on Rural Development and Public Utility. There have many major achievements in my Committee and one of them is our move to finally invite Port Harcourt Electricity Holding Company (PHEDC) to come to the House and explain why they are charging consumers wrong tariff. We are putting up a team that will help us achieve a thorough work on this.
Secondly, we have intervened in the recent Ikot Abasi blockade that led to the shutting down of Ibom Power Plant. We had to invite leaders of the communities to come and tell us why this happened and by the grace of God; we were able to arbitrate between Ibom Power and the communities. Ibom Power was reopened by the communities to carry on their functions of generating power to PHEDC. Beyond these official functions, I have been able to integrate my local governments into a one family system under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party. I have sufficiently attended to mostly students in terms of payment of school fees and allowances to ameliorate their sufferings. I have also gone back to my community to brief them of the situation of things in the House of Assembly. That, in itself, is a major achievement because some of the things they asked me to do is what I am putting in place.
Mind you, I am representing two local government areas and I don’t have any special allowance or fund, I have the same privileges as the member representing a local government area. So, this and the biting economy are our constraints. Back in Esit Eket, I have made every arrangement to establish a JAMB Centre because that is what we are lacking in the local government. I have made arrangement to convert one of my Constituency Projects, a Town Hall, in Uquo, to JAMB Centre to afford our young people the opportunity to write JAMB now, which is computer based. In the House of Assembly, relationship is very paramount. All the Members are working in harmony to see how we can deliver dividends of democracy and effective representation that will bring about human capacity development in the state to our people. So, if I want to list my legislative achievements within this short period in the 7th Assembly, a whole day will not be enough.
As a former State Official of PDP and ranking member of the State House of Assembly, what is your assessment of the just concluded PDP Ward Congress in your State Constituency and across the state?
Well, for Ibeno Local Government Area, we have a stable leadership for the PDP and I did not hear any rumour of hijacking of materials or writing of names. That happened because of the stable leadership there and the fact that the leader provided an all-inclusive platform for everybody to participate. So, it was very peaceful in Ibeno. The same was not obtained in Esit Eket where I come from.
The Governor and the leadership of the party set up a Congress Committee with a mandate to all stakeholders to show high level of transparency. The idea was to allow room for everybody to participate instead of the old convention of one man running the show. What I saw in Esit Eket was on the contrary. The men who were given the opportunity to be the Chairman and Secretary (a former member of the house of reps, who left the party sometimes ago and only returned back to the party at the eve of the 2019 general elections) of the Congress Committee in Esit Eket did otherwise.
They did otherwise because they were thinking the party structure is for the local government election that is coming up sometime this year. Local Government election is at the discretion of the people and the party, whoever they want as their candidate wins. Unfortunately, they hijacked some Wards in the local government, took the materials to their houses and entered names of their supposed loyalists. In the end I protested. They even came to my Ward to do same without any iota of respect, not minding my status as an elected member of the State House of Assembly and a financial member of the party since 1999.
So, I had to raise alarm, which the entire state heard about it including the Governor. A rerun was ordered in those wards. I cannot tell what happened thereafter because I travelled out of the country. However, I know very well that if anything is short of what the people wanted on ground, I will not have any option than to continue to agitate for a free and fair party congress. As we speak, people have already written to me that they may go to court.
Apparently your agitation did not go down well with some of your constituents, who took to social media to criticize your protest as an affront on the political leader of Esit Eket, Elder Benjamin Udobia. What will you have to say?
Well, why I did what I did is that the political leader, Elder Ben Udobia, is the one that is aiding those people. He is the one that gave them the confidence to do what they did. And this is always coming up during election period. In 2015, Elder Ben Udobia sponsored his brother, late Imo Udobia, to contest election against me. By the grace of God, I got the party ticket and everyone then turned and supported me during the general election. In 2016, they ran away with the entire Congress materials during the Party Congress and that did not bother me because I knew I could always go back and use the structure for any purpose that I want to use it for. In 2019, he brought Barrister Aniefiok Ekwere to contest election against me and but for the intervention of Governor Udom Emmanuel, who insisted on my second term.
So, when I now saw the same attitude from Elder Ben Udobia and his cabal, I had to raise alarm and that is exactly what has given them the impetus to say that I was attacking the political leader of Esit Eket. I never attacked him negatively, but I was just raising alarm that something was happening to our party which in turn may not make the party popular in Esit Eket. For instance, when I noticed the issue, I put calls across to him without response. I also went to his house but he refused me entry. So, I had to do what I did to let people know that this hatred did not start now. It started since 2015. Today, he is paying people to write all sought of things against me on social media. I am not bothered though. My representation in the House of Assembly is known and it speaks for me.
With the whole political play out, it seems there is something about the politics of Esit Eket and the cabal that is being controlled by the political leader. Could it be that you have either refused to join or you refused to be subordinated to?
Exactly what I am saying. I have been a Councillor twice, I have been a Vice Chairman of Esit Eket Local Government Council and I have been a financial and founding member of the PDP since 1999. Elder Ben Udobia was not a PDP member in 1999. He was a member of All Peoples Party (APP). So, there is no way we could have work together then because we were in separate platforms. Fortunately for him, he knows how to play his game to enter government at all times because he is a businessman. Today, he is the political leader of Esit Eket. Unfortunately, he does not believe in inclusive politics, whereby everybody is on a roundtable to take a decision for the local government. If you look at it, one of the major problems that caused people to defect from PDP prior to 2019 election was the way our leader handled issues. And he still does the same till date. For instance, the likes of Hon. Eseme Eyiboh, Hon. Bassey Dan Abia Jnr, Elder Bassey Dan Abia Snr, Engr. Imaobong as well as Hon. Bassey Essien, a former Speaker of the State House of Assembly, all left the PDP because of Elder Ben Udobia.
So, a whole lot of people left the party because he is always putting every government dividend in his own area and I do not agree to this. My emphasis has always been for evenly spread of the democratic dividend, be it project or appointment, to all the three political zones. And this standpoint has been my crime. The cabal sees me as an opposition to the political leader. Let me further shock you, a 14.7Km Road project was given to Esit Eket by the state government and do you know that the Local Government Headquarters got only 2Km. the remaining 12.7Km went to Elder Ben Udobia’s village. Does this act spell fairness? No other village in the entire local government has even 1km of that Road project, but during electioneering period it is the entire local government that will vote for PDP. The party may have a serious setback in Esit Eket. The people of the area are not happy with the way political appointments and projects are being spread. The Political Leader’s Ward alone has Chairman of Secondary Education Board, State Youth Leader of PDP, Local Board Chairman of Frontier Oil, PDP Woman Leader, Local Government Youth Leader of PDP and Chairman of the Local Government Council.
I have simply asked for evenly spread for everyone. The cabal wants to exclude me from participating in the local government decision making process and they know it will not work. It is not possible. I know the invaluable contributions of my father to the creation of Esit Eket Local Government Area and my political leader was never in the community. He has been in Calabar all his life and only came back when the local government was created. Unfortunately, those people have all died and he is here today as the one holding the knife and the yam. This is beyond PDP politics, from the way I look at it. Why can’t the cabal play politics in a way that can be fair, transparent and equitable? Why can’t the cabal allow the people to actively participate during election? I am personally tired of the way my political leader is running the affairs of Esit Eket. I have staged a walk out and I will continue to agitate for the world to hear and for something to be done.
Are you saying there could adverse effect on PDP in Esit Eket if things are allowed to go the way they are? Would you say the Governor, as the leader of the party, has been proactive in nipping the situation?
The party and its leadership have not been proactive enough. People hold us responsible and every time we go back to the people. What saved our party in Esit Eket the 2019 election was the 14.7Km Road project given by the Governor, which has also been completely mismanaged by our political leader. Government must show sufficient proactive measures toward mitigating these complaints for the safety of our party in Esit Eket.
One of the issues raised subtly by your opponent is your relationship with some opposition figures and one of such persons is the immediate past Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Obong Nsima Ekere. Do you wish to respond to this?
This blackmail started before the 2019 General Elections. But what happened during election? We were able to deliver Esit Eket to PDP. I cannot join issues with anybody, if you have misunderstanding with another person. My relationship with Obong NsimaEkere was purely business relationship and not political, as falsely portrayed. If I had any political affiliation with Obong Nsima Ekere, I would have gone to APC. In fact, my own mentor and leader, Chief Bassey Dan Abia, left PDP for APC. I would have followed him but position was very clear, I am a member of the PDP. So, my relationship has remained a basis for their blackmail.
Again, one Emem Edoho claimed he has screenshot messages that I sent to him about my joining APC. The question I asked is how could I have been fraternizing with the APC and still win election for PDP in Esit Eket? It is pure blackmail and pettiness. They are looking for what to throw at me to enable them get the Governor’s attention. I joined PDP since 1999 and I have not left PDP for one.
Apart from the few kilometers of road and some appointments, how has EsitEket fared as a local government that supported the PDP and Governor Udom Emmanuel right from 2015?
It has always been my earnest request for this administration to consider the rehabilitation of Akwa Palm in Etebi. The Governor has set up a Committee to restructure Akwa Palm Estate. Outside the Road project, the administration through the Inter-Ministerial and Direct Labour Committee has renovated Primary Schools in the area and also employment of Esit Eket indigenes in Civil Service most especially in nursing and teaching cadre. We are still calling on the Governor to site other projects in Esit Eket and Ibeno Local Government Areas, which I represent. The Governor has appointed a commissioner from Ibeno Local Government Area, which is also part of what I requested from the Governor. I am still appealing for more in my state constituency.