Mr. Charles Udoh is the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Information and Strategy. In this interview with Idongesit Ashameri in Uyo, he provides insight into the recent adoption of Governor Udom Emmanuel for a second term by Christian leaders across the world, recent ban on some identified cult groups in the state by the state government, among other issues. Excerpts:
The state government recently outlawed and placed a ban on 33 identified cult groups in the state, how serious is the issue of cultism in Akwa Ibom State?
We are all living witnesses to issues arising from cultism in the state. But again, as a proactive government, it would not wait till there is a massive run down before it takes action; government would not wait till the nefarious activities of these guys impact negatively on the populace. We had issues in the past where children in primary and secondary schools were forcefully initiated into it. So bearing in mind that we need younger ones for the future, we won’t mortgage the future by allowing children at such young age to be drafted into what they don’t know. So this is just government being responsive, being proactive, just trying to get things right, without waiting for things to get completely wrong before something is done about it.
The restrictions on motorcycles; don’t you think innocent people may be negatively affected by this decision?
The rationale behind the restriction on motorcycles in Ukanafun, Etim Ekpo and Ika local government areas is simple; most of the crimes committed in those areas in the last one year have been linked with motorcycle operators, you find them siting on motorbikes to carry out their crimes. So intelligence report has it that their major means of transportation is motorbike, and they do that when it’s a bit dark. So to also ensure that we can curtail their activities, security operatives recommended the restrictions to be put in place, to also allow security operatives effectively do their job. It’s not a ban, it’s a restriction of movement and use of motorcycle between 6pm and 7am. You know that when there are security challenges in an area, one of the ways to restrict and to ensure control is to impose a curfew, that way, people can stay in their homes and then security operatives can monitor what is going on. In Uyo metropolis the ban on bike has been on, it’s just a reinforcement to ensure that lives and property are secured.
How sure is government about its ability to enforce this restriction and ensure compliance with the curfew?
It’s the responsibility of the citizens to cooperate with security operatives to ensure that this works, because it is for the general benefit of everybody. The keke man may not be able to rob and get away with it, but the okada man would do so successfully. So it behooves on everyone to join hands to restore sanity to the affected areas.
On the issue of cultism, there have been some allegations that certain members of the state executive council are cultists, has government been able to identify these ones?
Let them come up with proof. The security operatives are seriously out to implement the document that was signed into force. Don’t also rule out the fact that the opposition will also try to make news. So that naturally would happen. Everybody is presumed innocent until found guilty, that is why government is taking up the issue. Remember that earlier in the week, the governor had held a town hall meeting in Etim Ekpo, to try to dig into the root causes of the crisis in those areas. The idea was to go first and directly interact with the locals and reassure them that government is committed to ensure that lives and property and secured. You know that it is a political season, especially in our state, a lot of things are subjected to politics, but government is committed to ensure that the right thing is done.
Fathers of Faith during the week, anointed Governor Udom Emmanuel for a second term, what is the significance of that and should these Christian leaders are fully involved in politics?
Should spiritualists rather be involved? See! If we all sit down and claim we do not want to play politics because we are Christians, then we have no reason to complain when the government fails to meet our expectation, in fact by so doing we may allow cultists and spiritualists to take over. If you want to impact on the future, then take active part in the system. It’s even a way to instill some positive Christian values in the system. INEC would not count prayer points but voters, so if Christians do not stand up to take active part, nobody is going to do it for them. The world all over, religious leaders choose their leaders, that way, you can also influence what happens, because if you do not want to be stained or harmed by the system, then you would wake up one day to find an illiterate as your local government chairman, if that happens, what happens to the economy of your people, because the world today has reached a stage that a leader without a verifiable e-mail address cannot attract things to his people. Even the Bible supports that, kings were anointed in the Bible, and we pride ourselves as a 99percent Christian state, the only state in the world named after God, so why shouldn’t Christians have the right to choose their leaders.
The NTA award on Governor Udom Emmanuel has attracted some criticism from the opposition APC, what actually qualified Governor Udom Emmanuel for the award?
In the last two years, Akwa Ibom State has been listed by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) as the second largest destination for foreign direct investment in Nigeria. We are only second to Lagos. Now ask yourself; what is foreign direct investment? It is a foreigner who has confidence in you and your governance structure, safety and security within your borders, and then they leave their shores to come and invest in your economy. Nobody would invest in your economy if you don’t have integrity, security, accessibility and other factors. Before investing in anyone’s economy, you must do some background checks and due diligence. Without sounding derogatory, some Nigerians are looked at with some questionable mark in some quarters outside the country. So when you find a leadership in a state, or a small part of a country that is governed, not by party at the center, but by a party of the opposition, and it is able to attract foreigners who believes and come from the shores of their countries to invest into multi million dollars businesses, having done their background checks and realized integrity on the part of that government, then you must agree that no government can have integrity without a leader with integrity. Secondly, the prevailing economic realities have made survival very expensive, how do you manage an economy like that? as much as possible, by trying to be accountable to the people. Since 2015, this government has consistently published its statement of account on newspapers for sake of due diligence, this government has also worked to ensure that budgets are passed on time. Now these are issues you aggregate and ask yourself, does this government have sincerity of purpose? Like I said before, it would have been easy for this government to at the inception complain that the economy is hard, and maybe opted to pull down certain things to conserve funds and move ahead, but government insisted on remaining a people oriented government. For instance; payment of salary never used to be an achievement, it would have been easy for government to delay salaries of civil servant, especially when the allocation has not come, but government realizes that the mainstay of the state’s economy as at today is public service, and so if you don’t oil the machinery of public service, you are going to create more problems, children would drop out of school. This government would also have dropped the free and compulsory education, payment of WAEC fees, free medical services and all that, due to hard economy, but clear intentions, clear sense of integrity, clear sense of responsibility, propelled by the leader of the state, he decided to focus on issues that have direct impact on the people. And then you talk about national service; that award was on Integrity and National service,
earlier in the week, the NFF leadership came, and in the statement of the NFF President, he said, in the history of Nigeria it was the first time a Nigerian team had started a major journey into the world’s competition and the players and officials didn’t carry calculators to fight over bonuses, ticket and other things. Akwa Ibom State had no obligation to do that, the state didn’t have to do that but we believe that through sports and tourism we can put Akwa Ibom on the world map, afterall what do we want? We want a situation that when we mention Akwa Ibom State to an investor, he wouldn’t ask where that is. There would have been something that had already introduced the state to them, a linkage somewhere. Those matches are beamed live and where are they playing from? Akwa Ibom! So when you mention the state to an investor, he is not thinking that you are from the cave, it becomes easier to penetrate those markets. There was no complain, no issue, government did all that was necessary to support the match wholeheartedly.