Mr. Solomon Johnny, Publicity Secretary, All Progressives Congress, Akwa Ibom State.

Recently, the Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Solomon Johnny, spoke on the politics of 2023 in the State and the infamous ‘anointing’ of an aspirant by Governor Udom Emmanuel. He said, the PDP should not be allowed to stagnant Akwa Ibom State. Excerpts:

Q: What is your thoughts about the current politics of succession especially played by the PDP in Akwa Ibom state?

Solomon Johnny: Whether a leader does well or not, he will be succeeded. I think where the discourse is, is about how we get the successor and the succession plan. We need to look at whether such succession plan breaches laid-down procedures. You know governance operates by laws, rules and regulations captured in the Electoral Act in the context of elections. The Electoral Act states the procedures to be followed by political parties to have persons emerge as candidate of their political parties because that is where it starts. One must first of all become a candidate of a political party and he must subject himself to the general election to be elected by the masses. So the issue should be how do these persons emerge as candidates?

In our party the APC, we shall rely solely on the provisions of the Electoral Act which guides political parties on how to go about nominating candidates to fill various offices. Before you get to the level of candidates, you must have aspirants, for instance maybe five persons who want to be Governor for instance in 2023 election. So you must subject them to the scrutiny of the delegates in either direct or indirect primary or consensus. Now anything outside that is illegality.

The discourse in Akwa Ibom State now is about the Governor anointing somebody and saying this is my successor. That is a breach of the rules of engagement by the Governor. It’s a breach of the provisions of the Electoral Act. No one man, as far as the laws and Electoral Act are concerned, can say this is my successor. You must subject that person to the scrutiny of the party. Let delegates vote for this person and then bring the person out to the elections where he will meet candidates of other political parties. Parties are the vehicles you ride to government. These procedures should not be breached. It’s a very dangerous thing to find people in position of authority (In this case, Gov Udom Emmanuel) trying to ambush democracy. It’s a very dangerous thing when people in position of authority put up their will trying to make it look like the will of the state and bringing collaborators under so many nomenclatures like Fathers of Faith to validate their illegalities. We respect them (the clergies) but truth is that we should not politicise religion and in this case the churches of God.
We should not politicise the church. We should not make the pulpit a podium where people preach hate against each other. The podium should not be used to campaign. When we talk about vices in the society, there are a whole of lot of things we can blame it on. When people go to church, they should be taught repentance. They should be taught good principles. Pastor and church leaders should insulate themselves from the vagaries of politicking. Politics is suppose to be done at the campaign grounds and not at sacred places of worship where people congregate to receive inspired teachings to live better lives. People who are interested in knowing the manifesto of political parties should listen to the press where parties come to talk about their programs and visit campaign grounds to make informed decisions. It’s a wrong thing to see churches take sides with a political party. It’s important the media note this and follow up as well.

Q: After endorsing an aspirant as his preferred successor, Governor Emmanuel, said other aspirants can still contest. Do you see this affecting his original choice of successor?

Solomon Johnny: Other governorship aspirants buying nomination forms and participating in the PDP primaries cannot alter the choice the Governor has made unilaterally. It’s just like having INEC Commissioner in Akwa Ibom State or INEC Chairman in Abuja and you find him in a rally campaigning for a particular political party and then he tells you he is going to be free and fair in the elections he is about to conduct. How can that be? How can the Governor after bringing the Chairman of his party and sitting there he presents his preferred man to the chairman and said this is my successor, the man I want must succeed me; how that same person, the Governor and the Chairman of his party now promise other aspirants that he is going to be fair to them?

The truth is that the nomination (the PDP governorship primaries) you are talking about is already compromised. The Governor is not supposed to make his choice known. He can only make his choice known at the point of nomination, that is when the nomination is done and a candidate emerges. Being that he is not apolitical, that candidate becomes his candidate and he then can throw his support to his party. I sympathise with members of his party who have indicated interest to run as Governors. They have lost it due to the undemocratic tendencies of the Governor.

But then, this is politics. The challenge thrown at them (PDP aspirants) by the inordinate ambition of the Governor to distort the procedures is a challenge on them to show leadership, the capacity to lead. The Governor is a major constraint to their aspirations. How do they solve it individually? I remember in 2008 when Distinguished Senator John Udoedehe who is the National Secretary of our party now wanted to be Governor under the platform of the PDP. This kind of scenario played out. He showed political stamina and gusto. He resisted the tyranny and dictatorship of the time and formed a platform where he articulated his political convictions. That is how we got to have a political party today that is making waves nationally. We have him (Sen John Udoedehe) today, one of our own, arranging politics at the national level.

This is time for PDP aspirants who wanted to be Governor to show capacity that assuming that this was a leadership issue that affects the entire state, (for now it is a political party thing) let’s assume that it was something like the Resource Control war where we had President Obasanjo obstructing Akwa Ibom State from taking derivation on oil, you saw what Obong Attah did. He went all out. Now this is internal, a political party thing, the Governor is blocking the aspirants. We want to see how they demonstrate capacity or how they chicken out to eat their humble pie. They cannot stay within the party to demonstrate capacity because already, the apparatus of power in the party has been pocketed and any analysts worth his name can predict the end from this beginning. So the question is what can these aspirants do to salvage the political situation? What can they do to stop the tyranny of the Governor and ensure he does not succeed in his plot to ambush democracy and throw up a mess on the masses? Note that once the political party is compromised, you cannot have good governance assuming we get to the point of forming government under that circumstance and everybody will be affected.

Q: You said that the Governor is not supposed to name his preferred choice of aspirant before the primaries?

Solomon Johnny: Yes, I said so.

Q: The Constitution supports his freedom of choice?

Solomon Johnny: Have you ever read or listened to the oath of office taken by the Governor upon being sworn in? He is under oath to be fair to all manner of persons. The Governor is expected by law not to allow his personal interests to becloud his sense of judgment. When he says this is what I want against the interest of every other aspirants, against the rule of law, against his rule of engagement as a Governor, against the provisions of the Electoral Act, he is not fair to all manners of person. He has allowed his personal interest which is the interest he has in this particular aspirant, to becloud his sense of judgment.

With the things that are happening in the political space in Akwa Ibom State, we are beginning to know why the Governor is desperately seeking to foist a person, plant a stooge, his surrogate on the State in 2023. Ordinarily this is supposed to be a cause for serious alarm. Governor Udom Emmanuel’s insistence on setting aside the law to impose a person as candidate of his party and forcing institutions to endorse him is suppose to make Akwa Ibomites worry but as a party, we are not worried because Akwa Ibom people are reasonable and intelligent set of people. When you find one man being interested in a particular person, a Governor who has not been transparent, a Governor who has not done well, a Governor who has baggages of financial irregularities being interested in a particular person succeeding him, you need to ask question as to why it must be that person and then move on to stampede that from happening because there must be some skeletons in the cupboard that he is trying to protect. That is why the Governor is not interested in allowing the processes to be free. Again, like I said, we are not worried about that. We leave that for Akwa Ibom people to decide at the elections.

Q: Now you are not comfortable with the politicking by the ruling party in the State. What alternatives are there for the people?

Solomon Johnny: Well, that is the main focus of our political party. Why must our politics be just Akwa Ibom and PDP? We seems not to look at national politics, what is happening at the National Assembly, the Senate. We are not looking at what is happening at the Presidency and how we can position Akwa Ibom State to participate in national politics and bring more benefits to the state. Our leaders here play politics of local champions. I don’t remember the last time I saw my Governor, Mr Udom Emmanuel sitting with the President of the federation to discuss issues of governance in Akwa Ibom State. In fact I can’t recall and certainly, I’m worried.

Apart from that, I don’t remember anytime any person talked about the Presidency and how an Akwa Ibom person can be a Senate President, for instance. I have not heard any discussion on how an Akwa Ibom person can be a Speaker of the House of Representatives in 2023. I have not heard Akwa Ibom people talking about having ranking figures in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Everything the PDP does at the moment is trying to create local champions. Their politics centres around Akwa Ibom Government House and ends there. This is backward and worrisome.
We are saying if we look at one direction and keep looking at one direction, we will continue to have the same results that we have been having. When we say APC stands for change, we mean that if the about 22 years politics of the PDP has failed the state, we should change the party and get a different style of governance, much better results that we expect. If we are saying people are hungry in Akwa Ibom State, we have to look at what government has failed to do to make food sufficient. If we say the youths are unemployed, we have to look at the government and the party that forms the government at the state; if we say that things are generally hard in Akwa Ibom State and that few people are enjoying benefits of the state, we have to look at the government and change it if we want a different and better result. If we continue to recycle the the players and continue to keep the PDP in power, we certainly shall continue to have the same old result. Our proposal as a political party is to broaden politics. We have politics at the national level to struggle. We have a state to reset to work for the general interest of the people. We need the people to support the re-setting the process by standing firmly with the APC.

READ : 2023: PDP delegates in Akwa Ibom endorse Onofiok Luke for governorship

Q: Do you agree that zoning can work against the possibility of playing national politics in the PDP? Are you looking at defections?

Solomon Johnny: Yes. There should be defections, alignment and realignment of interest in the best interest of Akwa Ibom State. As far as I’m concerned, Akwa Ibom people should be more political towards state interest, general good than being political toward keeping PDP in power. What we have seen in Akwa Ibom State is that the government is so concerned about protecting the ruling party interest than playing politics that can bring more benefits to the people.
I talked about politics of comparative advantage. I asked between politics of protecting, defending and ensuring that PDP remains in Akwa Ibom State and the politics of change that is looking at what is playing out at the national level and seeing how we can align and benefits the more, which one is important? At the moment, we have an Akwa Ibom son, Senator John Udoedehe as the National Secretary of the ruling APC and so many people have indirectly benefitted from that office; Millionaires have been created, Akwa Ibom youths have been given several appointments. When President Buhari takes a critical decision, Senator John Udoedehe who is a member of the Seven man Presidential Advisory Committee is also privileged to make inputs. Governor Udom Emmanuel and the PDP won’t want you to know the role Senator John Udoedehe and other leaders of opposition in Akwa Ibom State have played in securing approval for Ibom Deep Seaport and the funds approved by President Buhari to that effect. The system here won’t want the people to know those behind our current success stories. These are things that a PDP president Obasanjo refused to grant Akwa Ibom State under a PDP Governor Victor Attah. There is a book, Akwa Ibom Heroes, The Inside Story of the Abrogation of Onshore/Offshore Oil Dichotomy written by Etim Etim. You need to get a copy of the book and look at the things we suffered as a state under President Obasanjo and Obong Attah, that is PDP versus PDP. You then need to look at how magnanimous President Buhari, APC Federal Government has been to a PDP Akwa Ibom State in approving viable projects a PDP federal government refused to grant Akwa Ibom State under Obong Attah because of the key roles that prominent Akwa Ibom persons who are members of the APC are now playing in Abuja.

So I talk about politics of comparative advantage. Today in Akwa Ibom State, the zoning thing, you know zoning is not constitutional but persuasive. The Senate Presidency will likely come to the South and South South precisely. And when you look at the South, South South precisely, Akwa Ibom State precisely, how many APC Senators do we have who can go for the position of the Senate President? Do you know what it means to be number three citizen of Nigeria controlling the upper chamber of Nigeria’s legislature? It’s more powerful than being a governor. As citizens, as a people who will vote, as critical stakeholders in the electoral processes, we have to enlarge the focus of our politics in 2023. Akwa Ibom Politics should not be about PDP and Hilltop Mansion. There are so much for Akwa Ibom State to benefit if we do some adjustments in line with current political realities in Nigeria. This country has move away from the PDP. We cannot be stagnated with it in Akwa Ibom State.

Q: How will this be achieved in view of the disparities in zoning arrangement by political parties because you just mentioned that within your party, the proposal is to zone the senate presidency to the South; is it possible to have a president from the South East and a Senate President from the South South?

Solomon Johnny: Politics is interest; Politics is lobbying and consultation. Any group of persons, the zones, the power bloc that negotiates, consults and lobbies well, will always get whatever they want because it is about building confidence between those who want to be voted and those who will vote, the people. From the standpoint of both politics and journalism, we have to look at comparative advantage of Akwa Ibom State supporting any of the parties in 2023. Akwa Ibomites should look at what we have benefitted when we had a PDP federal government and what we are benefitting now under an APC federal government. Has Akwa Ibom State been better off with which?

READ ALSO : Policy Alert launches #PublishRiversBudget, a campaign demanding fiscal accountability from Rivers state

My submission is that Akwa Ibom State is far, far better under APC than the PDP. We can count the approval for Ibom Deep Seaport and funds made available by the federal government for its construction; we can count the Liberty Oil and Gas Free Trade zone; We can count the University of Science and Technology currently under construction at Ikot Abasi Local Government Area; We can count the Maritime University of Nigeria, Oron all made possible by an APC President Muhammad Buhari within the space of six years. My submission is that Akwa Ibom State has been better off with the APC than the PDP.

Our call as a party to Akwa Ibomites is that they should support APC to form government at the state level in 2023 to reset politics and governance to be people centred and consolidate on the gains we have made so far from the APC Federal Government.