By IWARA IWARA
Donald Duke, businessman, politician and former governor of Cross River State, is an interviewer’s delight. He recently stirred the hornet’s nest with his views on homosexuality in Nigeria, even though the attendant backlash has been faulty and misplaced, he states so in this exclusive interview Duke granted me. Along the way too, I never was going to avoid questions spun around his presidential ambition, Cross River State, his time as CRS governor as well as his assessment of his successor, Liyel Imoke and of course incumbent CRS governor, Ben Ayade. It was too much to ask of him, considering Duke’s very tight schedule, but we waltzed through some of it as we drove around in his golf cart all through the interview. Below is something to take away from www.calitown.com Excerpts:
You recently received a backlash after expressing personal views that border on homosexuality in Nigeria. So that it can be placed on record, what did you actually say?
First of all, it is not an issue in comparism to the issues that affect us as Nigerians, but what I said was that I wasn’t going to go hunting down people on the street. I do not accept homosexuality, I think it is against the norm, I don’t understand it, but we have to be careful, how we deal with it in this country. Often, we label people only to destroy them, so except you see someone committing the act, sincerely, we shouldn’t go around labelling people homosexuals. See, two weeks ago in Lagos, 16 persons were paraded by the police, saying that they were involved in a homosexual initiation ceremony; I have not heard of homosexuals undergoing any form of initiation. Isn’t this a case of giving the dog a bad name in other to hang it? You also know that they are communities in this country where if they label you a witch or wizard, they will go ahead and lynch you. So that was what I meant; that we must thread cautiously. Now people who commented, never even listened to, or watched the interview, they just jumped to the conclusion that Donald Duke supports homosexuality; I do not. I do not understand the tendency and I cannot support what I do not understand. But at the same time, I believe the rights of every human being have to be protected. So, in our society today, even heterosexuals, if they are committing their act on the street, they will be arrested. The same with homosexuals. But you cannot for instance see two men holding hands and you hastily conclude that they are gays; we need to be cautious …that is what I was talking about.
Why do you want to be President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria?
I want to be President because I think we can do better than this as a country. Don’t you think that you are an underperforming person? Don’t you think that with the energy you have, the zeal you possess, in publishing www.calitown.com, if the Nigerian environment were conducive, you can achieve more as a person? In other words, the Nigerian environment is inhibiting us and all we should and are asking for is a conducive environment so that we can exploit our potential and enjoy the outcome. Look at our country, if anyone tells you unemployment is less than 70% in this country, he is deceiving you. You go to school, graduate and have no job, that’s an underperforming nation. Which of our indices is working? Is it healthcare, education, infrastructure or what? See, corruption, herdsmen crisis, Boko Haram, etcetera, are all symptoms of an underperforming nation. Look at corruption, until the vast majority of people in this country have jobs and can fend for themselves adequately, corruption will always rear its head. In our circumstance, the few people who have jobs, go through a lot of pressure to sustain those that have no jobs and this comfortably drives a lot of those working into corruption. If you see a policeman on the street asking for bribe, his take home pay doesn’t take him home; he has responsibilities he cannot meet with his salary so he’s going to attempt to make ends meet on the street. We talk about dealing with corruption in this country, but I think that we are actually dealing with the symptoms of corruption. Again, if our institutions are working, corruption will not necessarily occur. Look at our judicial system for instance, when did it finally convict Joshua Dariye (former governor of Plateau State, Nigeria)? If it takes 14 – 15 years to get a judgement, you can then engage in corruption with the reasoning that your prosecution will drag on or you may never be jailed. If the people have decent livelihoods in the North East of Nigeria, will they be Boko Haram? We have to create opportunities so that the vast majority of us can have gainful employment. We are stakeholders in this country and if we do have a good stake here, we will not want to burn the house, we will instead work at putting the fire out. I believe that it is difficult to demand patriotism from anyone who does not see what the country has done for him, so we need to build this country so that we all become equal stakeholders who have something to point to as being ours, that is why I want to be President of Nigeria.
Look at Cross River State today, for someone like you who gave, let me say your all, in running the state when you were governor, how do you assess today’s Cross River State?
Honestly, I try to sever myself from Cross River State; if I do not, it would affect me. See, when I left in 2007, I left behind a state that will, five years after, be financially independent of the rest of Nigeria; that was the dream. I mean a state that would have created huge opportunities so that every Cross Riverian will thrive. But I tell you Iwara, the decline you see today didn’t start now, it started on May 29, 2007. It was the vogue to undo everything that had been done, for political expediency. Let me explain something to you. The governor of a state is a shift worker who works for a four- or eight-years shift, after which he is replaced by another governor. If every time a shift changes, you go back to foundation building or go back to the starting blocks, you can never complete work. What we are all seeing right now is an undertaker in motion. The death of CRS happened in 2007. Frankly, I don’t hold Ayade responsible, he was served a bad hand and he was ill-prepared for the job; I don’t think Ayade really understands CRS, but at this point, he is the undertaker to close down everything.
What can be done?
We need to find leadership that can restore and rebuild our state. CRS deserves better leadership than what we are seeing.
It has been bandied around that the failure of Tinapa is tied to national politics, can I have your thoughts on this submission?
No, Tinapa didn’t suffer national politics, it suffered state politics; let us not blame the rest of Nigeria. We had a governor here who claimed that Tinapa was designed in his bedroom, yet did nothing about it. The blueprint was there, my administration had carried out the first phase, which was the more difficult phase; building the place. The brick and mortar were already in place and the next thing to do was just to run it, to get it working. The people to make it work were Walmart, the American multinational retail corporation that operates hypermarkets, discount departmental stores and grocery stores, and all others. They had indicated interest but they were prevented from coming in. We should be man enough to admit that Tinapa was killed here in the state. Would we also say it was national politics that killed Obudu Ranch Resort? What has national politics got to do with these two? Nothing. We were the only state in Nigeria that had internal flights, from Calabar to Bebi, wasn’t that killed? I went to Aero Contractors after I left office when I found out that the flights had stopped and asked them why. They told me straight that the Cross River State Government said they were not interested again. How can you say that? Was it not this state that had a Reserve Fund? Recently, I was doing the calculation, the money from that Fund, by today would have been N190 billion, if we had continued the way we were going. As soon as I left office, the money in the Fund was squandered. So, let us not blame anybody but ourselves; we had poor leadership, we had selfish leadership, we had visionless leadership. That is what happened.
I think that they are allusions at this point that point at former governor Liyel Imoke. What is your relationship with him now?
What do you mean by civil?
What school did you attend? (A deep throated chuckle follows) Well, on a personal level, cordial. We can sit down here and you will not know there are any differences. But when it comes to CRS, I see him as a recurrent failure. He failed as a minister and he failed in CRS. In his public service he has failed because he has used the wrong parameters in public service. In public service, you put others first, before yourself. When you think that the whole state should revolve around you, I disagree. We are three million in this state and we are all equal stakeholders, whatever I do, I take into cognizance the one fact; what the greater good would be and not my personal good because I am transient.
Liyel misused and abused his opportunity of public service, he had an opportunity to electrify and power this country but he failed. He cannot claim success by the stretch of any means or imagination because if you spend N16 billion on power, it is assumed that you would have generated at least, 16, 000 megawatts of electricity. As governor of CRS, he didn’t fare well either. I liken CRS to a state where you have an aircraft taxing on a runway, about to take off, then you change crew and take the plane back to the hanger and when you take it back to the hanger, the night shift man is just shutting the doors. That night shift man as we speak now is Ayade. I pity this fellow Ayade but if Imoke had continued from where we stopped, Ayade would not have derailed, he would have had no option other than to build further on what is already on the ground.
What is your impression of Gov. Ayade?
When he was being sworn in, he said he was going to build an international airport in Ogoja; that’s when I knew we had a problem. When he made that statement and added that elaborate designs of what the airport will look like had been completed and told us too that the engineers and experts were actually in the audience, I shook my head. When he said he was going to build a super highway and a deep-sea port, I wondered how that was going to be feasible. See, we are by the river and not by the sea. I drew his attention to that and he said he was going to dredge it. But we already have a port, so why not work on making the existing one work instead of spending money on a deep-sea port. The amount of money you are going to spend on dredging, use it, get into a partnership with the Federal Government, even obtain a certain percentage of equity from the FG on this collaboration. Ships come to the Calabar Port, the problem is traffic and that’s what Tinapa would have resolved. You see Iwara, CRS is at the end of Nigeria, it is not Benin or Kaduna, people only come here if they have need to come here. So when we had the Carnival and developed the Ranch, it was to draw people here. The essence of Tinapa was also to draw traffic here, otherwise why would someone come to CRS, where it rains all the time. We wanted to create something for ourselves considering that we are in the Niger Delta where the bulk of Nigeria’s money is. We needed to create an environment where people will come and spend their money, it was why we built up our infrastructure and people came here buying land to build their country homes. You will agree with me that the price of a piece of land shot up. All we needed to do was stick with the template all of us had bought into, a template we had spoken to so many people about, done a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis and a lot of people contributed to the Tourism vision, in its wider focus and agriculture. I asked Imoke, how do you want your conference centre to work, if there’s no further attraction other than just sitting down in a room and having a conference. If Tinapa was working, there would have been a very successful convention centre because people would shuttle back and forth because of the synergy with a working Tinapa, close by. Now what they have done is to put a mono rail between two dead projects.
But the mono rail was your idea!
Iwara, it was meant to run from the airport to Tinapa. I didn’t want Calabar to turn out to be like Port Harcourt. I wanted to isolate the traffic coming to Tinapa from entering the city, so that our city remains as pristine as it is and leave it unspoilt. Now, so that Imoke’s conference centre will not look like the dead project it is, they now built a mono-rail and in the process destroyed the lake by Tinapa, boats can’t go into the lake now and I think it is sheer wickedness. Can’t you see that the mono-rail is now useless, nobody is going there and Imoke knows that Walmart was pleading with him, to take over this place but he refused to talk to them. I didn’t bring Walmart, it was then President Obasanjo who brought Walmart after I had spoken to him about Tinapa. Obasanjo met with Walmart and they agreed to come. Walmart was going to use Tinapa to make inroads into Nigeria, the biggest consumer market in Africa but they were frustrated by Imoke and he knows it because I had this conversation with him not once, not twice.
How do you feel when you drive around the state?
I hardly do. But like I said earlier, I severed myself from Calabar because why suffer the pains; I know we can do better than this. At the time we left office, 80% of our communities in CRS had electricity. Today, all those things have gone. We managed to fix our roads and the federal roads so someone could leave Calabar at 8am and be at the Ranch at midday. We had flights going to the Ranch, had nine flights coming into Calabar daily, we were the fourth busiest airport in Nigeria after Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt airports. Today, there is only one flight coming in. So, we are seeing the rise and fall of our state in a blink and the people who caused this are not remorseful, they still think they are superstars and they should be adored, No. Nobody is here to serve anybody, if the governor does not perform, get rid of him, don’t hold the state back because of an individual.
How did you survive the Atam Congress, back then?
Em, our state was so divided then. We had this Efik and non-Efik divide and the non-Efiks were called Atam, something I consider derogatory, I don’t even like to use the word. Then in the thinking that the Efiks were a minority in the state, someone forgot that the non-Efiks are not a homogenous people; it was quite sad. If you understand the dynamics of CRS, you will see that there are 25 ethnic groups in the state, (Calabar even has three paramount rulers) and there was an election and someone from the so-called minority group emerged as governor. To be fair to the people, they didn’t even know me. So, I contested and won election in the South and Central parts of the state while my result in the Northern part of the state was dismal. But I felt the onus was on me to prove myself. This led me to doing a lot of things in that part of the state; improving roads, infrastructure, electricity, and so on, because I had to win hearts.
The people there did not vote for me because apart from the fact that they didn’t know me, they definitely did not feel I would protect them and champion their progress, so I had to win their hearts. Undoubtedly, Atam Congress was borne out of fear and I had to do exceptional things to allay that fear; let me share something with you. General Unimna, a high-ranking Army officer, who was one of their leaders, lived in Abuja. One morning, I drove straight to his house and knocked on the door. He opened the door and when he saw me, he was shocked and I told him I need to speak with him. He let me into his house and we sat down. I took him through his illustrious background as a military man, a unifying force, and I asked him why would he fight to unite the country but work at dividing his state? I told him I also wanted to know what I had done to make him want me out of the way, if he told me what it was, I told him I was ready to make amends. O, was it about me being an Efik man? I told him that even some Efiks don’t consider me Efik enough. We spoke and he told me that after this meeting, he will do everything to disband the Atam Congress. I left and reached out to other leaders in the state like Joseph Wayas, M.T. Mbu, Kanu Agabi and I begged them that we cannot do this to CRS. You remember too that at that time, they were also talking about Ogoja state, but by the time I left in 2007, because leadership led me to reach out to them, no one was talking about Ogoja state again as intently as when I entered office. I believe seriously that Atam Congress was a sad thing and it put me under a lot of pressure, but it was also a quick school for me to understand the people I was leading and it helped me appreciate their worries and concerns and how to deal with all of that. They are some people that will politicize it but I think I left CRS ever more unified and we were all proud to call ourselves Cross Riverians, regardless of what part of the state we come from.
Even though you have left the PDP to the SDP, I need to know if you would have supported these automatic tickets given by the PDP to National Assembly members.
It wouldn’t happen in my time because you cannot jeopardize peoples’ ambitions, you have to give everyone an opportunity. See, it doesn’t stop the governor from saying this particular person is the man I am supporting, but the man should also go and take part in the competition; if he wins, Ok, if he doesn’t, so be it. The governor may have the clout to clamour people to support but to tell someone that you cannot run an election; what of if running this election and holding the position is his destiny, do you now fight a human being’s destiny? In the 10 Commandments, when they said that thou shall not kill, it is not physically maiming a person alone. If I toy with your destiny, with your desires, I have killed.
If you stood before God to take on the form of an animal, what animal would you go for?
I definitely will go for an eagle. An eagle because I will have strength, soar above everything and see everything from a different perspective. It is also a powerful and reflective animal which can stay and hunt only when it wants.
Can I have your thoughts on CR’s Budget of Kinetic Crystallization?
Please I am not the author o. Go and ask your governor who authored it.
Iwara Iwara is a radio personality and anchor of the tough tackling news and current affairs programme, “The Public View” on Cross River’s first private radio station, HIT 95.9 FM, Calabar. He is the publisher of www.calitown.com
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