By Chioma Onuegbu, Uyo
Captain Sam Ewang (retd) was, at different times, military administrator of Ogun and Rivers states. He vied to be Akwa Ibom State governor on the platform of the All Nigerian People’s Party, ANPP, before the merger of some opposition political parties that gave birth to the All Progressives Congress (APC). During the last general elections, he also aspired for the Akwa Ibom governorship position on the platform of the APC. In this interview, Ewang speaks on the performance of the ruling APC at the federal level and issues bordering on security and politics in the country and his home state.
By next month, the APC-led government at the federal level would be two years in the saddle. What is your assessment of its performance so far?
Well, considering the starting point of the administration, how things were, I would say that they have done well. I say so because of the varieties of problems and the style of handling those problems. And given the weak state of the start, you can say that this government has done well up to this point; it is only two years.
Nigerians are of the opinion that if President Muhammadu Buhari does not change his cabinet it would affect his overall performance. Do you agree?
Precisely it will affect his overall performance. You see when you are assessing people, you look at the initiative of the person, the capacity of the man to outlive his weakness. And as far as I am concerned, there are people there in his cabinet that cannot outlive their weaknesses. So, why continue with them?. But then I am not the President, I am only a member of the party and someone that sits on the side and views internal concerns. But you have to realise that the totality of what is called administration is somebody’s responsibility. And where I consider is not being handled well can happen to anybody because you are talking about selecting people to work with you. And you cannot really say he has done badly in the process of selecting who to work with him especially when people are pretending by saying they can do it. So, you give him benefit of doubt. That is the President now. He may not have done good assessment of the individual persons brought on board. I personally feel that some of his senior Ministers should not just have been just anybody; it should have been people that have good knowledge of the positions they were going to put them because I am very critical about assessment of a person’s performance. I will not say that somebody has done well if, from the beginning, he never had knowledge of what he was given to do because that is the premise. It is going to be one of the multiple factors I will consider in assessing him. So, I think there has been this problem of taking people because of what the President considers their ‘contributions’ and that has actually not given him the much needed success. But I believe that as he settles down and, maybe soon, he might look at what to do. If I had my way, there are people he should not have even brought in because they were not his and forever they will not be his, they can only pretend, and, in that case, there is nothing anybody can do.
But due to the biting hardship currently in the country, Nigerians seem to have lost confidence in this government. What do you think?
Yes, you discover that the word hardship is relative to certain things I have always talked about. And that was expected. And, of course, majority of the people complaining or condemning outright are people that either don’t understand the intricacies involved in governance or they just look at certain aspects that even me would consider have not been handled well.
During the 2014 campaigns, you were among those who spoke confidently that President Buhari was hale and hearty. But that seems to be in the contrary because he has been very sick and just returned from a long medical leave that generated controversy in the country. Do you still believe he is capable of leading this country?
Yes, I believe that he has the capacity to lead this country for eight years. I hold that view because when you talk of somebody’s health, no one is God. But the truth is that as much as I know him, he decides what he eats, and he has strong mind and determination. I believe, he can lead this country for eight years if he has people around him who are committed and who are not given to frivolities. People are just coming into politics because they want to do what others did. I think that is one of the problems of this administration. They brought in people who came to serve themselves. The President has not really got the people who are committed to Nigerians, who are committed to him, who are committed to leaving a name for him. So, as far as I am concerned anybody can be sick anytime and I know that he just came back from medical leave. And having done what they have done to him, I believe he is okay and will be healthy enough to carry on in the next six years. In Akwa Ibom State, everybody believes I should take responsibility for coming to sell the Commander-In-Chief to the electorate and I take that responsibility because I came here to sell him and I did that very honestly, and very commitedly.
But there are fears that he is not strong enough to continue in office following the announcement that he will be going back for further medical check?
It is quite normal. People do medical check once or twice yearly. I go on medical checks yearly. I don’t have any particular health problem but I do medical check continuously. So he had the level of medical attention he received, but he needs to be going back for check.
Buhari told Nigerians he will do one term only. Currently there are arguments on whether he should or should not do eight years. Do you support the idea that he should run for another term?
Of course he should. As far as I am concerned, he has come in, he should complete the term for the North.
But do you think he will receive massive support of the electorate the second time because Nigerians seem to have lost confidence in him to give them the change he promised?
When you say Nigerians have lost confidence in him, it depends on the people who have lost confidence ; definitely not all Nigerians. Majority of Nigerians are following what he is doing. They are seeing what he is doing. You look at the issue of corruption; you look at the issue of security. You see, the main issue in governance is security, not just the physical security but even other things that are tied to security like food. Look at what he is doing in the area of agriculture. And you see that the recession that we were in became so short-lived because things have started to change. On the economic front, things have started changing. The foreign exchange has started recovering and we have started recovering in many other areas. But I can assure you that if there had not been intervention in government, if we hadn’t changed the government, the recession would have been worse and maybe we may not have been able to hold the centre.
But that is contrary to general held opinion that the country recession worsened because of the inexperience of this government?
What then brought about the recession? The thing that brought about the recession is corruption. You are given money to do something, it becomes your money; in fact you will go and share it with top government officials. That was what was going on. Once you share the money with the officials, they go home and you go home. That project may not be done. But that is not the case today. And I have always said that once the leaders are corrupt, the entire body is corrupt. Yes, there is no place in the world that anybody can say is 100 percent free of corruption, but one thing you would see is that there has been reduction in corruption in this country because corruption is not just financial. Corruption involves attitudes, behaviours and activities. Even people in this government are very corrupt. I am not afraid to say it. The issue of corruption has reduced because Buhari has shown transparency, so you can say that the head is not corrupt.
Many people believe the anti-corruption war agenda of Buhari is selective and seems to target only those opposed to his government. What is your perspective?
It is not really selective. It is focused because the concept of looking at who has taken milk has been focused on some people. And remember the President only receives information, acts on the information and reports given to him. He has to go back to the basics to start looking at those reports. He cannot know every single person, and he cannot know everything at the same time. So people should give him that benefit of doubt. And remember that he is human. The only thing I will advise is that the President should be determined to touch anybody whether in his government or outside his government. If anyone is corrupt, let the person go home. You cannot continue keeping people who have been corrupt.
How do you see a situation where the same PDP leaders and politicians that were accused by then opposition APC of being corrupt now being part of the APC government?
You must distinguish between the party and the administration. The party becomes viable when many people come into it and the party may not really have time to select who comes in once you declare for it, whereas administration, which is the government, is different from the party. Many people can go into the party but when such people are influential enough to want to get into the administration, there should be a way of monitoring and determining their fitness. And most people that get into positions are not going in on merit and I don’t contend with such people. I was in ANPP and even though PDP invited me several times with promises I never left. I am in APC now, nothing has come to me; but I am not going to leave APC.
You have been a governorship candidate of the ANPP and in the last general elections you also aspired for the governorship position of Akwa Ibom State on the platform of the APC. Are you also going to run for the same position in 2019?
Well, I cannot say no or yes because I think it is too early to say so. And again many times people would come and call you up because they know your worth. They know that you mean well for the state. But remember that politics is not played that way. There are people there who are ready to kill, maim, to get there. Why I am saying so is that maybe tomorrow some people might come and say ‘please come’ and they are already saying so. But I have never told anybody yes or no. I have decided to sit and watch.
Are you satisfied with the approach adopted by the current administration in tackling insurgency in the North-East?
Yes, and, because it is security, I can assure you that Buhari is an expert in that. I remember in 1993, I was in charge of the air-force contingent when Nigeria had problem with Chad. And it was him that Nigeria sent as a commander of that imminent war then. Also I remember that before then, there was the issue of Matasine and he was also the General Officer Commanding of not just a unit but also the war. And when you talk of security, you talk of an area. You must have knowledge of the area, also you must have general knowledge of the people; and you must have general knowledge of what is obtainable. So when it come to security issues, he is doing well.
Elders and leaders from this part of the country have been calling for the restructuring of this country. Do you see Nigeria breaking up without restructuring?
In the first place whoever desires that Nigeria should break up is wasting his time. Such persons should go back and look holistically of what Nigeria is, how Nigeria has evolved and what has brought Nigerians to where we are. Most times I worry about those who think that they can bring Biafra into being. I just pity them. It would be very difficult to break up Nigeria. I can to an extent agree that there should be fiscal federalism. But fiscal federalism is like somebody asking for state police. We have not come to a level where you have the best man coming to lead when you look at the corrupt tendency of most of our leaders. I am talking about the best man in terms of maturity, in terms of knowledge, in terms of commitment, discipline and ideas; in fact best man with love for his people. That is why you see that when a state governor comes, what he does is to get all he can. He forgets about the fact that the things he has gotten are beyond what he is supposed to have. And once he is out of government and he cannot manage those things, the next thing is those things just rot away. And when he dies, those things die also because his children cannot manage them. I am one person that believes that I must account for whatever I do in life and that my children don’t need me to keep things for them; that all I need to do is to make sure that my children are well trained and that they are able to succeed on their own. You must be able to take care of yourself. The only thing I can give them is good education. Good education is not just going to school to read, but teaching you the knowledge and ideas of what life is and what you need in life.
Some stakeholders in the PDP in Akwa Ibom have at various occasion alleged that the federal administration has been deliberately starving the state of funds especially in the allocation of projects to states. What is your take on this?
Maybe because our people have given the impression that we are developed. Look when I was in government, I was always attracting to wherever I was. I was not in the habit of publicizing that I have done so much. But when the people are left in penury, when people are frustrated and destroyed and you are telling the world that you have done so much, what do you expect people to do? Akwa Ibom is very poor, the people are very poor; our infrastructure except around Uyo here is very poor. And we are earning so much from monthly allocation, what have we done with all that we have earned? So, it is not true that the state is starved of funds.
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