By Judex Okoro, Calabar
In this interview, Obol Suleiman Offiong, an All Progressives Congress (APC) and a governorship aspirant, stated that it is high time Nigerians extended hands of friendship, unity and equity by zoning the Presidency to the South East in 2023.
The financial expert and business mogul-turned politician, spoke on various issues ranging from why he is in politics, plans for Cross Riverians if elected governor in 2023 and the urgent need for states to re-engineer their internal revenue base to reduce over-reliance on federal allocation.
Zoning seems to have dominated our national discourse as we head for the 2023 general elections. At the federal level, it seems parties may throw the presidential ticket open. Do you think it is the best option for our polity at this time?
Well, at the national level, if we are looking at equity and justice, the Yoruba have gone starting with Obasanjo and he spent eight years. From there, it went to the North and President Yar’Adua spent two years before death took him away. President Goodluck Jonathan from the South-south has had six years. Buhari is now going for eight years, that is ten years for the North.
So for the sake of equity and justice, the East should be given the chance to rule so that we can weigh who is the best president. To be very sincere, the South East has never ruled since we started democracy; even when we had NPN, the Igbo man was vice-president and you know what the vice is; even when the president is not around, he cannot do anything. Ndi Igbo have contributed immensely to the growth and survival of this nation. They have sacrificed, been patient and have played key roles in rebuilding the political system since the end of the civil war. They are team players as seen in the way and manner they handle their businesses and other economies. They have the capacity and the human resources to lead this country out of the quagmire we have found ourselves in. This 2023 offers Nigerians a golden opportunity to extend hands of friendship, unity and equity to South Easterners. Once that is done, then there would be less tension and agitation from that part of the country, else the cry of marginalisation would continue to resonate from that zone. However, if you ask me, I would tell you , the best material from that zone is Sen Orji Uzor Kalu because he is detribalised, has national appeal, has the contacts, has the experience, and he has the capacity.
Down to Cross River State, there is also a clamour for zoning or what they call back-to-the South. It seems to be tearing parties apart. What is your impression?
Even if they throw the ticket open, I believe by the special grace of God that it is our turn in the South; I will win. But unfortunately, every time they say zoning, the Central will fault it and it is wrong. I know the South will come out at the right time and stand together because we have waited for 16 years. Mr Donald Duke was from the South and after that, Sen Liyel Imoke through zoning. In 2015, the incumbent Governor, Ben Ayade came as a product of zoning. So, it’s time for the South and we plead with the Central to wait because it is our time. This time, it is going to be zoned to the South. Every voting power we have here in the South will be for the south. We will not miss one vote. I am not bothered about whether the ticket has been thrown open because at the right time, everything will take shape.
I am also hearing of consensus and all that. Well, if they want to decide, then it has to be me because we are the landlords of the entire where the house is owned by the Municipality including all the secretariats. So, this is the right time for the landlords to occupy the Government House because we have never been there. And let me sound a note of warning, if somebody from the Central senatorial district picks the governorship ticket of APC, I will move to any other party because we cannot negotiate away our rights. Power has to move to the South; if we don’t do it this way, our unborn children will not forgive us. Even though there are many aspirants from the South, when time comes, we shall sit down and discuss and when they do, it will be in my favour.
You are one of the aspirants seeking to take over from Governor Ayade ahead of 2023. What motivated you into politics and what are those things you think can make the difference if elected?
My motivation to serve the people started in 1999 when I and a few others worked for the successful emergence of former Governor Donald Duke. After that, I tried to be the chairman of Municipal council and Governor Duke and his men blocked me and out of anger, I defected to the defunct ANPP and from there I moved to the CPC then APC. Since then, I have always had a dream to run for the governorship to change the state and bring it back to where it was.
And in readiness for the project, I have a six point agenda which include a free and compulsory education at the primary school level; a free medical service at the state hospitals for the poor of the poor and giving priority attention to pension and gratuity. It is regrettable to see our pensioners suffering after serving the state for 35 years. I think if God sees me through, salaries and pensions will be paid on the same day and those who are retiring as they are going home will go with their gratuities.
Again, we shall undertake a comprehensive policy on secondary school education and the tourism sector to bring back the old glory of Cross River. We were known as a tourism destination state with lots of lined up activities that generated revenue to the citizenry and boosted our economy. I will also revive the Tinapa project, the Obudu cattle Ranch will be restored to where Donald left it. We were never known as educational disadvantaged because our secondary school education was functional and funded to standard. All those days are gone, so I am coming to put things back on track.
Considering the low income from federation accounts, how do you intend to execute all these laudable programmes?
To be able to do all these, I will beef up the revenue base of the state. Most of my research shows that these IGRs are diverted into private accounts, thereby denying the a substantial revenue base. There are lots of loopholes in the system. Revenue agents are mostly family members of those in power and so they see it as an opportunity to settle their cronies and relations. So, there is no proper accountability of funds generated by these revenue agents. From my investigations, Cross River is losing billions of Naira to Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). We shall plug all these loopholes so that all these monies will go into pockets and we use it to develop the state. So far, we have been interfacing with critical stakeholders to see how we can realise our ambition. I am ready to sacrifice so many things I intend to do and will cut down so as to bring the state once again to the limelight. This was the first capital of Nigeria and I am not coming to make money. Jacob Esuene was a governor of this state and he made a name and he has no single house of his own in this state, but he was the man that built almost everything in the state.