Politics

APC doing PDP’s mistakes –Bishop Isong, PFN Spokesman

Judex Okoro, Calabar

The National Publicity Secretary of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN, Bishop Emmah Isong, has decried the state of the nation especially in the area of conduct of election, deplorable state of infrastructure in the South-South and South East and concluded that the only thing that would stop agitation is for the present administration to embark on equal regional development.

Isong, who doubles as the President and Founder of Christian Central Chapel International, CCCI, Calabar in this interview spoke on various issues.

Recently, the presidency opened up a can of worms by disclosing that the National Assembly has wasted one trillion naira on constituency projects and not reflecting on the quality of lives in the country, what is your reaction to this?

That is a very correct statement. All members of the national assembly know that budgets are padded. Senators and House of Representatives members know that it’s not a secret that most of these monies called constituency projects are used to build hotels. Almost every senator, representative and House of assembly member owns one hotel or company in known places and these monies did not come from their salaries and allowances. They come from constituency projects. If the federal government is serious about fighting corruption, they should start fighting corruption with legislators.  The confession of Senator Cairo of what happened in the last few years in the NDDC is enough to frighten us. He alleged openly on the floor, during their oversight functions, that a certain senator which he refused to name needed N150 billion to be added to a certain project that’s why Niger Delta Development Commission has not produced any budget that has projects. So, most projects ranging up to N700 billion were given on emergency status. I believe if the Federal Government must fight corruption, they should start from the National Assembly. I want my brothers and sisters in the National Assembly to know that Nigerians sent them there to represent them  and so constituency projects are the only means by law where the Federal Government tries to reach the over 700 constituency  and over 100 senatorial districts and about 300 federal constituencies. They must also come clean and justify and denounce that statement Obasanjo said years ago, that national assembly members are thieves. Now is the auspicious time to come out and say we are not thieves. They should set up a probe panel so that we can know the truth.

A bill to regulate Social media is before the National Assembly but Nigerians are ill at ease with it. What is your impression of such bill at this critical time of our nation’s democratic development?

I was first devastated when I heard of that bill thinking that it was a mere social media rumour because I have never heard anywhere in the world where hate speech attracts death sentence.  I don’t know if that was an overstatement; I’m still thinking whether that is possible even in the most extremely Christian and Muslim communities. I have also not still heard at any civilized society where a speech attracts death sentence and these are the dangers we face in this nation since this government came on board.  If the bill sails through, it means I can sit in my office as a governor, legislator or politician and determine what hate speech is. I can also say stop that statement and the person says I won’t stop it and you say hate speech, you are dying tomorrow. That means anybody can arrest any body and kill anybody by law when kidnapping has not yet attracted death penalty; when corruption and stealing of public funds have not yet attracted death penalty; when rigging of elections as bad as it is has not yet attracted death penalty. But you want hate speech to attract death penalty.

However, I don’t have problem with regulating the social media. I’m told it is a different bill from the hate speech bill, but be that as it may, are we not contradicting the part of the constitution that provides for freedom of speech, religion and association? The sponsor of the bill should be arrested and prosecuted for proposing such a bill in a democratic system. In fact, as it is, death sentence has been abrogated by the United Nations many years ago and not even on armed robbery; it has been banned in many countries including Switzerland. So, if you are so angry about hate speech, how about hate action because Nigerians are not talking about hate action. For instance, you take a place that belongs to my local government and appoint somebody that belongs to another local government, that’s hate action and I now say for doing that look at your stupid face, you hate people from my tribe and I will be prosecuted for hate speech. If you want to prosecute people for hate speech, you should also bring up a law for hate action because it is the hate actions that promote hate speeches. Nobody speaks on what is not in existence.  What have you done to me that will make me speak against you? Therefore, there is nothing wrong with hate speech if they also incorporate the law that will deal with hate action.

Are you surprised that the APC that promised us change has now turned around to propagate this kind of anti-democratic law?

The very sins the PDP committed and we were all angry and voted for change are the same sins the APC government has committed and perfected the skills.  I feel the National Executive Council of APC should look at their manifesto once again and look at the things they promised us. For instance, they promised us security, prosperity and a corrupt-free society and environment. Like I always tell you, President Buhari has good intentions, but intentions and good wishes are not enough to transform a society. Mr. President should prove to us that he is the Buhari that we knew; he should come down and surprise his appointees, and go round town hall meetings. I have looked at his personality and integrity, but can he please wake up now that God has given him good health to look into the nitty-gritty confronting this country.

There are fears that Eastern ports in the country are not active while dry ports are springing up in the Northern parts of the country, what do you have to say about this?

I watched some days ago the dry port in Kaduna and I was shocked it is booming even more than the Lagos seaport. The problem with Nigeria continues to be that people in authourity are not nationally minded rather they are regionally minded. They don’t think about Nigeria anymore. Besides, we have a set of myopic politicians roaming about Abuja whose minds are just to develop their little villages and their cronies, whims and caprices. We don’t have national politicians like Nnamdi Azikiwe,  Obafemi Awolowo  or Ahmadu Bello. What we have are village town criers; people who represent the interest of their tribe and cronies in government. Even National Assembly members are making laws for their friends who are in business to help them get some things cleared. Patriotism has gone to the winds. People are not thinking of the nation. Perhaps, they are thinking of dividing the country later so you develop your place and I develop my place so that if we divide, if this is so, then it means the division thing is true.  If we are thinking of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, then a federal minister of education or works should look into the development of the entire nation; if states that own the seas, the riverine areas don’t have a functional seaport and those that don’t have a stream, they don’t even have anything and their dry ports are working that is very unfair to Nigerians and it is surprising.

I think that also applies to the coastal railway which has been abandoned and the Federal Government has just awarded contracts for Katsina to Niger Republic and Daura to a town in Niger and it will be paid by tax payers’ money.

I don’t know who is going to Niger Republic from Nigeria. If that’s the interest of the Federal Government that we should all go to Niger and Chad, then we should go now and leave there where there would be good roads. It sounds ironical and hypocritical that there is no means of transportation for getting to each other in terms of road from one Niger Delta State to another. No one Niger Delta state has roads linking each other. Besides, is it not shocking that there is no flight in between any Niger Delta state. No flight from Calabar to Port Harcourt; no flight from Port Harcourt to Warri; Warri to Uyo. The same applies in the entire South East. No flight among one another. Any flight you see in Owerri is going to Abuja or Lagos, any flight you see in Enugu is going to Lagos or Abuja or Kano. There is no connection between South-South and South East. No road for now linking any of the states; no air, no rail and no sea.  There is a total breakdown of connectivity among five or six states or eleven states in terms of infrastructure. Thus, the reasons certain people go out and say we are not part of Nigeria.  Therefore, if you are a father in a house and you have thirty six children and eleven of them stand up and say we will not bear your name, you don’t bring a gun, you sit down with everybody and jaw-jaw. So, building railways or highways far into Niger Republic with federal funds and abandoning the coastal rails and other federal roads in South East and South-South is an injustice and calls into the questions the sincerity of the present government in equal development. Regional agitation will reduce when there is regional development just as equal development in the country will engender peace and unity.

In the last elections conducted so far in APC-led administration, we have witnessed lots of militarisation of elections, especially in the last four years, what does this portend for Nigeria’s electoral system?

I am sorry to say what the APC hated about the PDP and criticised PDP against, they have perfected the skills. If you remember, this is exactly why we went for the APC, exactly why we wanted change. APC has simply perfected PDP election rigging skills. It is so sad that in the era of election, we still send over 60,000 policemen, thousands of military men to do election matters. Worst of it all, those security agencies were not there to protect lives and property  but there to aid and abet some individuals to achieve their political goals. Now, election under the present administration has been turned into Israeli-Arab war. Politicians go full out to kill, main and destroy both opponents and electoral system. So sad and this should stop if really we are in a change government. The best option now is electronic voting and transmission of results.

In advanced countries in Europe, America, Asian and even in Africa, you can stay in your bedroom and vote, you can walk across the streets and vote, people don’t need to go and queue again. Nowhere in the world do electoral body still conduct manual voting and counting. Very primitive and sounds ironical that a country that prides itself as the giant of Africa and the most populous black nation in the world cannot conduct an ordinary free and fair election. Incredible!

However, in Nigeria, there are three things politicians don’t want to happen again. Firstly, digital voting, whereby from your phone and laptop you can cast your vote electronically. Secondly, politicians don’t want a peaceful election because with peaceful and credible elections, the right candidate wins. With the current system, it is not the right candidate that wins but the preferred candidate who has the support of the military and police that win. Thirdly, they don’t want the proper data. We don’t know how many we are in Lagos, Calabar, Ibadan and our population. The vital data are fake, fictitious, archaic and expired. So, you have a situation for instance in Essien Udim Local Government of Akwa Ibom State where a certain ward had 15, 600 registered voters and at Appeal Court level, they discovered that 68, 000 people voted. How did they get 68, 000 votes in an area of 15, 000 people. So, politicians don’t want a correct data. So, if we can push for these three things, there will be good elections in Nigeria.

This brings us to so much hues and cries about the just-conducted elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states. Could you say there were improvements?

What happened in Bayelsa and Kogi is quite unfortunate. It really showed that we are not moving forward, election-wise. I had expected great improvement. Nigerians are beginning to question the roles of INEC and security people in conducting a free and credible election and the Kogi is a case study because there were lots of militarisation of that election including shedding of blood.

From reports, we have heard of alleged killings in both states during elections even though some people died after elections.  Kogi was a total war -slaughtering of people, and burning of a woman leader.  Even the Inspector General of Police, IGP accepted that there were reports of fake policemen. The question then is what has he done about it?  Senator Dino Melaye claimed that he got some video clips, so those video clips should be sent to the National assembly and competent court of jurisdiction to be analysed.

The Bayelsa thing is unfortunate too. I prophesied two years ago that this was going to come and people were not listening to me. To me, the people of Bayelsa spoke very clearly, it’s not about PDP or APC. If you met an average Bayelsan on the road, he is happy and they are not talking about APC/PDP again, they are talking about a particular family; talking about taking back their government into their hands; talking about wresting powers from the powers-that-be. So, the two scenarios are very different for me. But in all, it fell below par and confirms my statement that everything PDP was criticised against has been doubled by APC and has perfected it out of proportion.

Once again, NDDC is in trouble waters. No budget and there are tussles between the Minister, Godswill Akpabio, and the management team. Don’t you think this will affect development in the Niger Delta region?

It is already affecting us because most roads in the Niger Delta region that the commission would have undertaken remedial measures are all in deplorable conditions. It takes about four to five hours to travel from one Niger Delta state to another. Calabar-Itu road and East West Road generally are all gone, yet the people are fighting who should be in charge of NDDC.  Some of us have raised the alarm that the Federal Government had abandoned Niger Delta people, but one of my sources told me that  the fault is that NDDC awards contracts and they don’t execute the contract. Based on that, I once suggested that anti-graft agencies should go after those you got the contracts and refused to execute it. So, I am happy people have started calling for forensic auditing of projects in the Niger Delta. It just happened that Senator Godswill Akpabio is the man on the saddle now. If you look at Akpabio’s antecedents, it is clear that by appointing Akpabio, the Federal Government is looking for an uncommon transformer, a man who for eight years, is known for projects.

Again, it is very bad that Akpabio assumed office when we have three managing directors in one week which shows that there is politicisation of the development of the Niger Delta. I had thought that the Niger Delta Development Commission is purely for development; that is what we were told and the ministry is purely an oversight ministry. Therefore, the movement of the NDDC from the office of the SGF, which is the Presidency, to the office of the Minister of Niger Delta should be looked into. The two federal arms should work together; they don’t need to work as one because we are missing the very reason and the very developmental purpose for which the NDDC was created.

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