Mr. James Iniama.
Mr. James Iniama is a renowned Estate Surveyor and Valuer. He is the CEO of James Iniama Consult. He was a frontline gubernatorial aspirant in the May 25 governoship primary in Akwa Ibom State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this exclusive interview, Iniama reasons that Nigerians should think more of a redemptive engagement for the country, beyond just elections in 2023. He spoke with UDEME UTIP in Uyo.
Q: What is your expectation for the 2023 general elections in the country?
Nigeria is in a position where I think we need to be thinking beyond just elections. We are at that stage. I lost my sleep last night, I was reading stories on social media and in a Nigerian state, a community leader steps out and tells the world that bandits now dictate to farmers how they should farm. Farmers cultivate their crops and at the time of harvest, they turn over 50% of the harvest to bandits. In some situations, bandits share accommodation with the owners of houses in the community. The other sordid side of it is that bandits now send instructions to men and fathers demanding their wives and their daughters.
For the 2023 elections, we will not limit our interest to Akwa Ibom State. We need to be interested in what is happening in Nigeria. How does the exchange rate at N710 to a dollar affect everything we do in Nigeria? I think of 2023 beyond elections. I love this scripture, Psalms 24. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. The world and they that dwell in it for He founded & upon the seas and established Who shall ascend to the hills of the Lord and who shall stand in His holy place? Only they that have clean hands and pure hearts”.
We should be praying that God will give us such a man with clean hands and a pure heart who has not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. We should be looking at 2023 beyond just having a man who makes public speeches. We should be thinking of a man who sees everybody in Akwa Ibom State as part of Akwa Ibom State. A principal stakeholder, a shareholder in the Akwa Ibom dream. We should conceive a dream. I am no more into all that fanfare. It doesn’t excite me. September is Wednesday, children will soon go back to school. What is in it for the children? Your pregnant wife may have to deliver in a public hospital or even a private hospital… What are we offering them? What is the hope for the business man? This government cannot employ everyone, government cannot provide for all of us but, it should be able to provide the enabling environment. That is what we should be looking at in 2003. Does this government even desire how we will feed? Can we continue to live in penury in spite of the abundance?
There are things to agitate for that is why I challenge the electorates more than anything else. It baffles me everyday when I see a multitude run after politicians. What are you looking for? What has he told you? What is he putting on the table? The challenge for me lies by far with the electorates. Let’s sit down and interrogate every aspirant: Who are you? We come from homes so where is your wife? How married are you to your wife? Where are your sons and daughters? You have a business, how do you relate with the staff in your business place? Your staff will probably know you better than your wife at home, because you go back home pretending to be nice.
For me, those are the things that should lie before us more than 2023 elections that come up on the 11th of March or so. It’s more important than that. Who are the people standing before us? We want to create another Akwa Ibom State and Nigeria where we will find every young man come around with a begging bowl? I don’t want to talk of the young girls who litter this Maitama at night. Those are my daughters, I’m not proud of it. So let’s get serious. We should be thinking of a redemptive engagement in 2023. This is not the past. It’s not the kind of things we should be doing anymore. So, 2023, that is what it is.
Q: Recently, you were invited by PDP reconciliation committee in the State. What was your experience and what can you say about that committee?
I had expected that the reconciliation committee would be the beginning process of re-engineering the structure of the PDP in the state. I had thought so. The reason I speak in the past tense is that we are drawing closer to the general elections and I haven’t seen our party engage in an activity that will reassure the people of Akwa Ibom State that they do not need to fret or worry in spite of what the other political parties are doing but so far, I haven’t seen us take advantage of that reconciliatory initiative. Yes, the reconciliation committee is made up of eminent Akwa Ibom persons. We had that meeting but I want to talk, not as a politician, but as a christian politician I would say that we haven’t yet been reconciled. My attitude is that I do not live with grudges. Before I get into a fight, l’ll instruct myself that I can either win or lose but I don’t win always, so the primaries have come and gone and am back to life. I’m praying that my party will get organized, deal with issues that are confronting us, to guarantee, for the nearly two hundred million Nigerians, a country that will give us hope for the future. That’s what I will say about the reconciliation committee.
Q: You said that you have not been reconciled, can you throw more light on that?
I speak like an Elder. An Elder in my community. An Elder in the Church. When you set out for reconciliation, it means that you accept that there were warring parties. There were feuding parties, so you bring the parties together. You have the parties talk to the people who came to hear them, now referred to as the reconciliation committee. The two parties will talk, you will take the issues and you’ll try to resolve the issues before them. But on that day, committee listened to only the aspirants and nothing more has happened. That is why I say we are not yet reconciled because we didn’t leave with anything definite.
Q: If there was no reconciliation, wouldn’t that affect the fortunes of your party?
No, it will not. And I do not expect it to, Neither do I hope it does. Here is the way I live my life; for everything I engage in, it is beyond me. I do not live anymore for myself, I live for my community. I live for my society, I live for the people of Akwa Ibom state. Eight million people, majority of them needy. I live for them. So, when I aspired for the governorship ticket of the PDP and for whatever reason, I didn’t get it, I’m fine. All I’m doing now is, I’m back. And I’m still saying to myself; “what do I contribute to society?”. “What would God have me do?” You know, it was Saul of Tarsus who had an encounter with Jesus Christ on the way to Damascus. When he came out of that spiritual stupor, he just asked a question, “Lord, what will you have me do?”. That is where I sit today. What next for Akwa Ibom people? You see, I do not expect that to affect the fortunes of my party. I have not been presumptuous, I’m not disrespectful to anybody but I am just viewing the PDP as the only party that will offer Akwa Ibom State people what would move us forward. Again, it depends on who we entrust leadership responsibility to. That is what it is.
Q: Your party’s flag-bearer, Pastor Umo Eno, is in court over contentions about his secondary school certificate. The public is alarmed that an enlightened state like Akwa Ibom would watch a governoship candidate hire seven SANs to defend a secondary school certificate. What is happening?
Okay, let me tell you why I’m not worried. I did not vote on the 25th of May, when we went to the Akwa Ibom State International Stadium. I didn’t vote. I went there as an aspirant. I wasn’t given the privilege to vote for myself, neither was I given the privilege to be voted for, I can not complain or comment on a matter I do not have business with.
Q: Your party is pro North. The National Chairman is from the North, the presidential candidate is from the North, other key office holders in the party are from the North. Does it bother you?
Well, I must be honest with you. I come from the South. I come from Akwa Ibom State, I studied a bit of law in the university and one of the things I learnt is that: equity helps the agile not the indolent. Those of us from the South will need to begin to learn the art of negotiation. When we lined up for the PDP convention when the National chairman emerged. Yes, I’m a stakeholder but I follow leadership. Oh yes, they had said, “when the presidential candidate is from the North we will ask the National chairman to step down”. It is not as easy! You are a political party led by a party constitution. The first thing is your constitution. The constitution talks about rotation. You overlooked that provision. You made the concession and you agreed to get a National Chairman from the middle belt. If by any reason, the chairman or the presidential candidate emerges and is from the North, then the National Chairman will step down. You didn’t avert your mind at the point of concession that, that will become a constitutional issue. You will need to amend the constitution if we want the National Chairman to step down today, we must go to a convention to vote another National Chairman. If we want the Deputy Chairman to act on his behalf, the Deputy comes from the North. So, PDP we’ve found ourselves in that position but it is my position. I have heard people talk recently and I must say, am disappointed.
Sule Lamido, a former governor talks about the party and about Nyesome Wike. I would expect someone like Sule Lamido to talk like a leader, to talk with a reconciliatory posture. To de-emphasize the North-South issue because I heard him threaten and say “whatever Nyesome Wike is doing, the North is watching”. Don’t intimidate anybody, don’t intimidate us or attempt to do so. He owes this nation a duty to speak in a reconciliatory tone.
You know, when banditry started, the impression that many of us had was that it was a middle-belt business and they are the ones that are going to be affected. But what are we having today? Even Katsina State is affected so if we are going to have another Nigeria, we should be thinking in PDP of making decisions; not just so that we will win the presidency but so that PDP will be able to take Nigeria out of where we are today.
We have failed. So, it is not whether it is pro North or pro South, but there must be geopolitical balancing, equity and fairness. We have to be all inclusive, so that is what it is. I expect those who sit in leadership in Nigeria today to be a little more thoughtful before they make comments. You see, the former Governor of Niger State, he cannot talk the way he is talking because I could also challenge him. What do you have to show Nigerians for the eight years you were a governor in Niger State? Nothing. So don’t get on war paths the way you’re doing.
Q: Are you not worried about the defections from the PDP to other political parties in Akwa Ibom State and Nigeria in general?
Well, I made a comment somewhere here that I respect people a lot. It doesn’t matter where you stand. It doesn’t matter if you’re a peasant. After all, I was once a peasant. I came from such a background. It doesn’t matter whether you are a truck pusher. The Bible says only time and chance can make a difference, but you see, I listen to the political interaction that are going on in the state and for me, none yet is touching on the issues of Akwa Ibom State. It’s still the issue of me, me, me.
I wasn’t a sportsman but I was active as a student, so we went for a game many many years ago and the student cafeteria was short of plates and spoons and stuff, so if you picked a bowl, all you needed to do is tell how many people you wanted to share the food with. This guy picked a very big bowl, went up to the stewards. They asked him how many people, he said “I, myself and Sabina”. He was the Sabina. That’s all I hear in the country. Nobody is talking about Akwa Ibom State or Nigeria. Everybody is so pedestrian. People are just thinking about themselves and what they will be. So for all the Commissioners and Special Assistants and PAs we’ve had, what has that got to add to the value of life of the Akwa Ibom people? We’re all yet pedestrian. I am not worried. I’m only wishing that in PDP, we can put our house together.
Q: Earlier you talked about geopolitical balancing. There was this impression that after President Muhammadu Buhari, the next president would come from the South. In Akwa Ibom, people from your federal constituency are laying claim to the governorship position. In these two cases, what is your take?
Let me say this, I have been a private business man since I left school and I have grown to learn a principle in negotiation. You will not get what you do not ask for. When you sit on the negotiation table, you have to be prepared for whatever you want to go home with. Again, I have learnt not to sound critical of leadership. You recall that the Governors of the Southern part of this country came together and there was an understanding that they will be of one voice and insist that the next president of Nigeria will come from the South. But you saw what happened. It was Governor Okowa who remised and then he even abandoned his leadership responsibility.
Everybody is thinking of 2023 but people are not thinking of what they will offer. So when you make an analysis of that, you can see that these guys are thinking. only of themselves and not about us. In that case, who would you blame? The same leader who sat with people and said we must have the presidency from our zone. The same guy who backed out of it, so what will you do? When we started this conversation, I said the time has come in Nigeria when the electorate will get people we have entrusted with the leadership of this country to understand that power belongs to the people. They can’t dictate to you anymore for God’s sake. If you take Akwa Ibom, I hope the population figure is correct, eight million Akwa Ibom people. I assume we have about four million registered voters but if we all come out and say; enough is enough, will choose our own leader, I believe it will teach leadership a lesson. We are going to begin to hold leadership to learn accountability. But if we allow things to continue to go as they are, everybody and anybody who comes into the government office goes in his own business, no longer about the people.
You talked about my constituency, Itu/Ibiono Ibom, I will tell you my own attitude towards it. I schooled in the University of Nigeria. Then it was University of Nigeria the only university in Nigeria. Many time when I talked with my Igbo friends, they will refer to us as minority. I will tell them always that we are not minority, I only come from Cross River State. I can compete with anybody, everybody here and everywhere. As far as I am concerned, we practiced democracy. That is where the difference is. Just allowing the votes to count, allowing a free and healthy democratic environment For God’s sake, I don’t need to ask for zoning. In 2007, the governorship of Action Congress was not zoned but you are still my witness that we came as a small political party and we made our impact in this state. So I don’t belong to minority, zoning and all of that. I love competition but let it be healthy. So for me I believe on the national issue. Yes, I’m a Southerner. Presidency should have come to the South. That is why I support Nyesom Wike in what he’s doing. I support what he’s doing. But when we do at the PDP level, discussions are going on and I believe the issues will be resolved.
Q: What’s your reaction on the ongoing ASUU strike?
Very unfortunate. Very very unfortunate. The problem I have is, for example, if you are my friend, my real friend and we have a disagreement, most likely two of us will not be telling people the actual reason we disagreed. So, for the dispute between ASUU and the federal government of Nigeria, I don’t think we have heard the truth yet on the issue but whatever, it is irrelevant. And for me, the federal government is insensitive. Whatever ASUU has done that is right or wrong, as far as I’m concerned, I hold the federal government of Nigeria responsible for where our sons and daughter are today. Sitting at home, this is the fifth month. I read it on social media that this same federal government donated to a research institution in Malaysia, N610 milllion. For God’s sake, are we jokers? The federal government must see it as a duty to our son and daughters to resolve with ASUU and let our children go back to school. That’s where I stand. We owe them a duty to get them educated. Imagine, they call off the strike today, you take them through a few lectures and get them to write exams.