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Otuekong Nse Essien is the member representing ONNA state constituency and Deputy Chief Whip of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, in this exclusive interview with the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Radar Newspaper, Otuekong Franklyn Isong, he debunked Radar newspapers’ publication on the perceived inactive nature of the sixth Assembly. He said that the House is not “Deaf and Dumb” as was reported by our stable. Hon Essien also fielded questions on several other state and national issues.

Excerpts:

Good morning Deputy Chief Whip.

Good morning Franklyn Isong my brother.

Let’s start with the State House of Assembly. It seems members of the sixth Assembly are younger in age, than those of the fifth Assembly, and this may probably affect the

performance of the House. What is your take?

Yea, I would say that we are younger than the fifth Assembly, but it’s not about age. It’s about the capacity of an individual involved. We may be young, but in our youthful age, we’ve attained great heights in our different fields of endeavours and so age should not be a barrier. But, I want Akwa Ibom people to rate us after our legislative years so that they can be able to compare the sixth Assembly with the previous Assemblies. One thing I can guarantee is that when you compare this Assembly with others in terms of Bills, Motions and quality of representation, it will be scored very high, I can assure you of that.

In May 29, 2016, Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom state will be making his one year in office, how would you assess his performance so far?

I would say that God did us well to send Udom Emmanuel to Akwa Ibom State at this particular time. If you compare one year now and a year or two ago, you will see that the economic situation has changed throughout the world and this is affecting economic development. We see a tough economic situation where some states are unable to pay workers’ salaries, but I thank God that as at May Day (Workers’ Day), different representatives of labour did say publicly that they are not been owed salaries that, except in few situations where maybe because of errors arising from Bio-capturing, some of them do not have their BVN and so on. They have been promised that it’s being sorted out. Udom has done well in the aspect of road construction and infrastructural development. He looks at the period where government businesses shall be run in government buildings. That is why we have the Secretariat Annex, the magnificent edifice along Udo Udoma Avenue, that had been abandoned over the years.

On road construction, Oron people used to complain that they never had good roads. I remembered when we used to go for campaigns in Oron, their roads were in a very distasteful state, but today am sure that on the anniversary, the governor will be commissioning some of the roads that have already been completed. I know that paucity of funds has hindered him from running at the pace that he initially wanted to run. A lot of projects on industrialization have been initiated and he has brought a lot of investors to Akwa Ibom state to try to see where they can bring in their investment to thrive in Akwa Ibom; and we have had a lot of companies that have come on board. In the second year, all these companies will be operating in full swing, and the benefits that are expected of them will now come to Akwa Ibom State, because he is looking at Akwa Ibom state away from the civil service era. Akwa Ibom that is totally independent from the center. Akwa Ibom that will be self-sustainable in the years to come. So, I would say on the whole that he has done well.

Assuming you are asked to score him, what would be his score?

I would not score him below 80% and 80 is excellent. I wouldn’t be sycophantic to say 100% because, 100% is perfection. So, if I leave some percentage, it is for him to brace up and get the 100%. He cannot have 100% in one year, it is not possible.

How is the relationship between the House leadership and the Governor?

We have a very robust and cordial relationship, where the Executive respects the duties and the existence of the Legislature, and the legislature fully cooperates with the Executive by passing Bills and Motions that support the policies and programmes of government for the benefit of Akwa Ibom citizens. So, we are working very cordially.

Going by the picture you are painting here in terms of your relationship with the Executive, Akwa Ibom people should expect a better future for the state at the end of the day…

(Cuts in) Definitely, like they say, if you bring somebody who manages money well, you bring a businessman and give him an opportunity to run your business, what do you expect? I am sure you will expect the businessman to make profit for you. And so Udom Emmanuel is expected to make profits for Akwa Ibom State. That is why he is on the hot seat and we are happy that he is making progress in that direction.

Recently, the sixth House of Assembly has come under intense criticisms by the public over approvals giving to the governor’s incessant loan requests. As the AKHA Deputy Chief Whip, what is your defence?

How much have we approved? That is the first thing. Some of us must not misunderstand guarantee to mean approval of loan. Bank guarantees are different from loans. So far, I am not sure the governor has taken up to fifteen billion naira (N15b) loan. I am not sure, going by the data at my disposal, though, I am not here with it, but I am not sure that he has taken up to fourteen, fifteen billion naira loans.

Let me tell you that there’s no government that does not run on loan or does not borrow. The President has just come back from China, seeking for cooperation and aids, the IMF, the World Bank; they are there because their duty is to give out loans to the needy countries for development. Even individuals, I am sure we also have instances where we take loans, even from our friends. Even individuals who criticize government of taking loans, don’t they owe? Don’t they also take loans in their times of difficulties? Since the essence of this loan is for the benefit of the people and the state, the House of Assembly will approve it. The governor does not take loans to come and share with people. No! It’s not done that way. Even the Federal Government of Nigeria owes other countries. The Federal Government of Nigeria owes the World Bank, what is new in approving and collecting loans?

I think the question is always on the oversight function of the House of Assembly over the executive on the usage and application of these loans.

We are monitoring these loans, I can assure you. That is why you see the House Committee on Works, is always on the road, going to make sure that these monies are actually applied to the projects they were meant for, and to also make sure these contractors do the work according to specifications. That is why we are in the Assembly; that is why I also had to go to Peacock Paint the other day, on oversight function. I know you want to talk about that one, because I learnt there were demonstrations there some days ago. The communities are not happy, according to them; the way certain things are done in the company is not satisfactory to them. That is the duty of the Executive arm of government. I am part of the legislative.

We expect our people to believe in us. You must believe in the authority, in the leadership that God has given over you. If you do not support the leadership, the day you are a leader you will not be supported by the people. So, we should encourage the Governor, he has four years, let us judge him after four years. I am sure he will come for re-election. His re-election will be based on what he has done for the people. The people will now decide, yes he deserves to be re-elected. So, we should support government, the House of Assembly is ready to work for the benefit of the people of Akwa Ibom.

Away from the Governor, let me take you back to the  House of Assembly, the people of the state seem not to know the number of Bills passed by the sixth Assembly, if any; would you shed more light on these Bills?

We have passed the 2016 Appropriation Bill and we also have the Revenue Bill that has passed through public hearing.We also have three other Bills that are at the committee stage, which means they have passed the second reading.

In one of our publications, the sixth Assembly was described as a “Deaf and Dumb Assembly.” What is your reaction to that?

We are not deaf and dumb assembly. You see, when we looked at those stories, we just laugh, because it is out of ignorance that we are called deaf and dumb. Let me tell you my brother, the legislature are not expected to fight the Executive, it’s only when we (legislature) are antagonistic of the Executive that people will now say ah! It’s a vibrant Assembly. The essence of having the House of Assembly is for the Assembly to help the Executive to give to the society what the society actually deserves and so, we should not be described as deaf and dumb, because we are not fighting the Executive. No! It’s unnecessary. The Hallowed Chambers is a place to go and make Laws and develop the society. So, we are not deaf and dumb, if we have needs to approve loans for the Governor definitely we will approve them.

Are you saying there may be more requests by the governor for loans and the House will give approval to them…?

(Cuts in) Definitely, because the Governor in his 2016 Appropriation Bill that is now Law, the governor has been given the leverage to take loans at least to a certain amount. He has not exhausted his limit. So, why wouldn’t we grant his loan requests? For instance, he came and asked for a Bank guarantee of ten Billion Naira (N10b). Bank guarantee is not a loan. He only came to say “can the assembly help me guarantee this contractor so that he can complete that road for us?” We obliged. So if he says approve five Billion naira (N5b) loan, let me take a look at Ikot Ekpene road, let me look at other roads that are not done. Let me look at the Eket-Etinan Road that is not done. So that we can give about three contractors N1.5b each for them to take these works, at least, to an extent, and you can come back and say “I have taken this money, done this and it has taken the job thus far.” And you will say “we will need more money to complete this project,” we will have to support or else we would have failed Akwa Ibom people. The essence for which we were elected into the House in the very first place is to make sure government works in the best way possible so that the electorate will be happy.

I would have disappointed the governor if I do not ask this question, because you are from his constituency and you are his Lawmaker. Recently, Governor Udom Emmanuel has come under intense criticisms for building and/or completing his private residence in his Awa hometown within his one year in office, even in the face of the harsh economy. What do you have to say on this?

Let me ask you a question. I am not an Architect; I am not a valuer. How much do you think that house is worth? Some people just look at the house and quote certain figures as its worth? Take a look at my residence (pointing to his house). You’ve seen my house? I built this house before I went into the House of Assembly. It is not a new house, and so, if I build a bigger house than this, people would have said; “Oh! He has built a big house. Why is he building a gigantic house?” Let me tell you about the governor. I don’t know if you have taken time to look at his CV, to know how many boards he had been involved with. How many boards he had been involved as chairman both locally and international; I mean, reputable institutions before he became the SSG of Akwa Ibom state? You need to run a check on his background to determine if he built that house with his sweat or with public funds. The governor keeps telling me that his only regret is that he did not finish that house before he was sworn into office as governor. But if you check the governor’s profile, you will know that he was a Billionaire before he came into politics and so, I don’t know if that house could worth N2billion that the governor could not afford? Please go back and do background check on him to know if he was a Billionaire before office or not?

I think we should move into other issues since you are not the governor’s spokesman…

(Cuts in) He is my brother; I can defend him anytime anywhere. So ask me any question about him and I will gladly answer you.

Alright, can you also speak on the issue of N2b Security Vote alleged to be taking monthly by the governor?

Security Vote! That is impossible. How much money comes into the state?  For instance, we had about four points something billion naira for last month federal allocation and you mean the governor took 2billion naira? That is not possible and my brother that I know, the governor, that I know, would not even accept that. He would not accept that, because he would feel that he is doing great disservice to his people. If one person takes 2billion naira for security; what kind of security? I can tell you very correctly that he does not take N2b for security.

(Cuts in) How much does he take as Security Vote, can you tell us the figure?

I don’t know the figure right now. But he does not have that in his budgetary provision as passed by the assembly. Go back and check the budget and see what goes to the Governor’s Office directly, and you will see that N2billion as security vote is an exaggeration.

Let’s focus on your sixth Assembly, is the House of Assembly broke?

We are not broke. I am entitled to my salary and by the end of every month it must come. I am not broke. We get our subventions every month so we cannot be broke. What do we do with money? Our duty is to make Laws and repeal Laws. We are not the Executive to go into capital projects.

PDP Congresses; what do we expect of the party after the exercise?

The party will come out stronger. There is no record of imposition across the state. There is no record of hijack of materials, so I can assure you that PDP will emerge better and stronger after the whole exercise. Why we lost at the centre to the APC was because things were not done the way it should have been done. Party structures were hijacked from the people. But today, we have returned the party’s structures to the people. We have realised our mistakes. Our mistake in the past was that we allow one man to sit somewhere and select certain persons and imposed them on the people, but all that have been corrected. PDP will take back power from APC at the centre in 2019 elections.

Would you say the state governor, Udom Emmanuel, is in charge of the PDP’s structures in the state, because we heard it is the Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio that is in control of the party here…?

(Cuts in) That’s not true. The governor is totally in-charge of the party’s structures in the state. The constitution of the party and the workings of the party, allow the governor to be the leader of the party in the state. At all times, it is the governor that is always the governor; and so, nobody struggle the structures with him; nobody struggles the leadership with him. To the best of my knowledge, the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, has not asked for the structures of the party; he has not asked to be the leader in the state. It is just speculations and rumours from people. Why would he struggle for the party’s structures, in the first place, he worked for emergence of governor Udom Emmanuel as his successor, so he would not want to destroy the house that he built. He had already tested power at the state before; he was in-charge of the party’s structures by then. He has moved to Abuja and is playing national and international politics. I think people should not raise issues where there is none.

What is happening to the Constituency projects of the State Lawmakers one year into Udom Emmanuel’s administration?

Yes! We have not done our constituency projects, but the process is ongoing. Constituency projects will come. Not all communities may benefit from these projects at the same time. I am aware that in some communities, some primary schools are undergoing renovation works, while some are being constructed and these are also constituency projects from this government. I know the one you are talking about, the one that we (lawmakers) nominate; we are working with the government and the governor has assured us that as soon as the economy improves that they shall be taken care off.

There is a public outcry from the PDP members and supporters that one year into this administration; they are yet to be compensated into boards, commissions’ appointments and no date has been fixed for the local government council elections

It is because of the economy. It is not only the state, even the federal government is yet to constitute the boards and commissions in the country. It took the President about seven months into his office before he was able to appoint ministers and constitute his cabinet. It is a nationwide problem of paucity of funds. But I am sure that as soon as the economy improves the governor will conduct election into Local Government and make appointment into boards and commissions which will account to bringing on board extra workforce into the already wage bill of the state.

What would you say you have done for your constituents and the state as a lawmaker?

I have tried my best. Like I said earlier, being a lawmaker is to advocate for their well-being and represent them effectively at all times. I have tried my best to empower my constituents. There is no village in ONNA that I have not touched people’s life directly. And some of them are on my monthly payroll. I run a scholarship programme for my people. I try as much as possible to train some of them in schools. I tried my best to help the needy. It may not be everybody because my finances are limited. I try to make sure that the things that I see in the society, I take it to the Chambers. For instance, I had arisen to ask that the Ikot Akpatek/Odu road be constructed because the other side of the road is always immotorable during raining season like this. I have also had reason to ask that compensation be paid to the people of Iwokem in Ika whose buildings were affected during the construction of that road. I have also had reason to oppose the citing of a Nuclear Plant at Itu LGA, reason basically because we are not technologically prepared for it, and the risk involved in higher than the benefit of the project. I am sponsoring the Hotels and Inkeepers Bill 2006, basically, for repeal, because the previous Law left a lot of issues unattended to. The trial of offenders was not taken care of; the security aspect was left unattended to. I am introducing 16 new clauses into the Law by way of amendment.

I have also been fortunate to attract a very big project to my community, Awa ward four, where I am from. You know, in this game call politics, you must lobby and persuade to get what you want for your people. So I have the Sports Complex undergoing construction now in my area. A very big Complex with a stadium, lunge tennis, basket ball; it has a sitting capacity of about 2000 people and a 42 room hotels, that will take about 180 students at a time. It comes with a dressing room, a dining, a kitchen and other sporting facilities.

Since, we are talking sports, what really led to the sack of the Akwa United management team under Nse Ube?

It is like a race. Nse Ube came and put in his best. The one who hires also has the power to fire. And so, his employer felt his best was not good enough that he had to go. I would say, he did not cover the areas we needed to cover. If you look at a team like Enyimba, you will see three teams and a very effective bench, but we don’t have. I think he didn’t do well in the area of recruitment. It is our belief that with the coming of Paul Bassey, we will bounce back. I believe that we have no reason to bow out of the Confederation Cup, but along the line, we lost focus, we lost concentration.

You held a Constituency Briefing within three months in office, what is your view of Constituency Briefing? 

Constituency briefing is an interaction between a lawmaker and his people. A lot had happened within that three months so I needed to brief my people and get their views and opinion to guide my activities on the floor of the house. As a lawmaker, you must always return to your people to brief them. But, people misunderstood constituency briefing to mean empowerment programme it is not. Like the name connote, briefing. It should be a regular thing with your people.

In ONNA local government it may interest you to know that before my tenure, anyone that was fortunate to be in power would just organise factions. But when I came in, I brought everybody into one fold. And this was possible through my constituency briefing. The people aired out their minds and problems and we sat together and resolved them. Today, people who never sat together and discuss politics now sit today.

What is your assessment of the sixth Assembly?

Akwa Ibom state is lucky to have the set of people that are here today about five or six Bills pending. The numbers of Bills and motions passed so far, and the once pending will tell you the vibrancy of the house. It is assembly that believes in its leadership. I don’t know what will happen that the assembly will ever think of replacing its leadership, because we are very close and we work as a family.

What advice do you have for your constituents and the people of the state as we close this interview session?

My constituents should believe in me and believe in the governor. Akwa Ibom people should believe in their leadership and respect the constituted authorities. They should always pray for their leaders to succeed.

Thank you Franklyn for coming!

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