Former Cross River State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Eyo Ekpo, says the State civil service has remained moribund with local government system gradually going extinct. The governorship aspirant in the 2019 election, who spoke with our Correspondent in Calabar also found fault with the level of decay of infrastructure and social service sector, alleging that Gov Ben Ayade-led government was turning State Exco meetings into contract award bonanza. He said he was running for governorship to clean up the mess. Excerpts:
What is your assessment of Cross River State government since Gov Ben Ayade took over
It is a question of paradise lost and paradise that has to be regained. Cross River state had a well designed, well-mapped out plan for the development of the state. It was a place people desired to go to for both pleasure and business but it is no longer so due mis-governance in the last three years. If politics is what it really should be, political parties should be worried about incumbents that are not delivering wholesale to the programmes of the party and to the programmes of the state.
Is it true that you are aspiring to sack the Governor in 2019?
As a member of the PDP, I am worried about what is going on. I am even more worried about the fact that despite all the admonitions and advice, our government has not listened. They have continued to plunge us further into the abyss of despair. Whether at the party level or at the government level, or at the popular level with the ordinary people of the state, there is deep cause for concern. So, in order to try and recover the mandate that was given to the PDP by the people of Cross River state, and in order to try and restore for our people a sense of belonging, a sense of progress, real genuine progress, the knowledge and certainty that we are actually having a state that is good, in order to restore that belief, that conviction of the people in the quality of the governance they once had, I believe I must step in and run.
What are the areas you feel government has not really done well?
Once upon a time in this state, every Wednesday, a commissioner would come out of the executive council meeting and address journalists about what has been deliberated upon on the day’s discussions, policies and programmes, their progress and execution. We came out and we addressed the press and explained what had been discussed at exco. That is no longer the case.
Exco meetings were not just contract awards or bonanzas. They were places where the policies of the state were enunciated and discussed. Their execution was discussed and issues were raised and agreed upon. In order for you to have a viable executive council, you need the civil service that supports the political appointees. Now go to any office, including the office of the Governor, nothing is being done. And then the great paradox is that the governor is not working with people. I am fully aware of the myriad advice that have been given to him by various people, various interests. He has not treated one.
Memoranda are sent to the Governor, he doesn’t treat them. There is no feedback from the Governor about what his aides tell him so they are no longer bothered about telling him anything anymore because he remembers everything he does by himself.
But the Governor is paying salaries to civil servant as at when due. Is this not an achievement when other States owe months of salaries?
Today payment of salary is touted as an achievement. Governors in the past, from Donald Duke onwards were paying salaries regularly and they did not make any noise about it. I cannot possibly come to work and then paying me becomes an achievement. It is simple compensation for my labour. So, it’s no big deal. That is the only thing he has done correctly. But I am aware also that quite a number of people at the local government level and outstations outside Calabar are not paid regularly.
In your opinion, how is Cross River State civil service and the local government system faring?
The civil service in the State is moribund. It is a great paradox that today we have 53 permanent secretaries. About six years ago we had less than 25 but those 25 were doing a lot more work than the fifty-something that we have today. Now we have so many ministries that I don’t even know their names any longer. They are not doing anything. Walk into any office, there is no imprest, no stationery. No initiative, no desire to get any work done. You come to the office at about 9:30 or 10am and you leave by 1pm. No problem. Nobody will disturb you because we all know that nothing is happening.
The local government system has totally gone. For three years running, there have been no elections. Nobody knows how local government revenue is being spent because there are no budgets for local governments any longer. The money meant for local governments stays in Calabar. It doesn’t get to local governments. It shows that there is no connection between the local governments and the centre in Calabar. When I take over as Governor, that has to be corrected. No power can be exercised without collective decision making. As a governor, I can’t possibly know what somebody in Yala, or Bekwara or in Bakassi wants except feedback comes to me. Then I can take a decision. Nobody is an island unto himself. Nobody is a repository of all knowledge and all abilities. You must work with people.
What is your take on the health programme of government and the state of Cross River education sector?
Go to any of our health centres anywhere in the state, they are ill-equipped, no staff, we have less than 40 medical doctors in the State, and there is no incentives. People are leaving in droves to go and work for the federal government and then when they come back, they work on contract for the state.
Our education system is still living on past glory. Very soon it will collapse. Attention is not being paid to it. We ought to by now review the syllabus. The last review was 14 years ago. This is the 21st century and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is the way to go. If we do not, at primary school level, begin to motivate boys and girls to focus more on science and science education and less on humanities and arts, we will have a future that is doubtful.
It is not just to say you are paying teachers. No. What kind of teacher education are we giving? What kind of teachers are we generating for our school system? What is the focus of our school system? What kind of students do we want our school system to produce? There is a lot of support out there but we are not getting it for our state. We need to upgrade our education system. But that is not happening and we are just happy doing business as usual.
A state that regards itself as a preferred destination for investment, for business, for pleasure, must be able to develop people that are ready, willing and able to service that group of people that are coming into the state. A state that says it wants to industrialize doesn’t have engineers. I worked with General Electric. When we were looking for people from Cross River state to work in the facility we are doing here, it was a difficult thing to find Cross Riverians. Why is that the case? We have them but they are all so engaged that we hardly found any. If we are looking to the future, we must try and address that.
What are you going to do differently if elected as governor of the state in 2019?
I have always spoken of four basic pillars on which one stands when it comes to governance, Number one is the strong desire to restore the connection between the people and the government. The second is to give attention to health, human services, education, the infrastructure that supports physical infrastructure, the heart and the mind of the people. They have to be taken care of, and their body. The third is infrastructure. Business, pleasure can never be carried on peacefully, capably, competently, properly if we do not have infrastructure in the state.
Our governor says he is close to the president. I wish he would use that closeness to ensure that one or two of our federal roads are properly done. We have not seen the benefit of that closeness yet. We have the state infrastructure programme, the RAMP—rural access and mobility programme– that was designed to connect the agrarian communities, the rural areas in our local government areas, to the main artery, the Calabar-Ogoja road. Since this Governor came, I am aware that he has received lots of memoranda on RAMP.
From Donald Duke through Liyel Imoke, we had attained 70 percent. Just that little bit that is left to complete it, Gov Ayade’s government ignored it and yet he says he was industrializing. The goods he is going to produce from the industries, on which road are they going to be evacuated through? Is it through the phantom deep seaport? But, until the deep seaport comes, you must use our roads.
But Sir, the current administration seems to doing well in the power sector with plants built in Calabar and even Obudu. Don’t you agree with this?
We have a federal government owned 560mw power plant. Basically, its capacity is barely utilized. One out of the four machines in that power plant is enough to supply electricity to the entire Cross River. The concern of government should be the transmission and distribution of energy and not generation. I have been in power generation business, with NERC, with BPE, board of NEPA and others for 17 years. Instead of finding a way to expand the distribution network of that infrastructure, our Governor is building one moribund white elephant power project in Parliamentary Village called the 21mw power plant. You don’t need to spend so much money. He should ensure that the people are enumerated and metered. If our people are enumerated and metered, then we will know where the need is and then address that need.
Insecurity has been a serious challenges these few years. What do you think could be done to solve this problem?
That question takes me to my fourth and the final pillar. It is to look into various indices that make up for our wellbeing. Number one is law and order. Cross River State is on the verge of being classified as a lawless state.There is a complete breakdown of respect for human life and property. It is becoming a norm that communities are fighting each other internally and we are fighting our neighbours externally.
There is no concern in identifying the causes of these clashes or understanding how they came about. Of course, how can it not be so? We have no local government system so who will report to you in Calabar? Nobody. Law and order is vital. Communal clashes, cult killings on our streets in Calabar, in Ogoja, in Obudu every day. It is not rocket science to maintain law and order. It has been done before in this state. Why are we not collaborating with the federal government to provide security to our people?
Any idea on how the State is doing in terms of sporting activities?
Once upon a time, we were known as a hotbed for a certain kind of sport but today, it’s all gone. Our parks, our streets, our cleanliness, our recreation are no more. Our museum has been locked up by the Governor for whatever purpose that has not been communicated to us. A museum, which is a place that people from across the world come and see history, and you lock it up? By this action, the man would have succeeded in killing the livelihood of the people. How will the youths not take to crime? The people of this state, in the demographics, are between the ages of 18 and 25, and they are almost 50 percent of the population of this state. They are the future of this state and focus must be on them or we will lose them to other states.