In this interview with COMMUNITY PULSE, the very vocal diplomat, Chief Assam Assam, SAN, Nigeria?s Ambassador to Russia and Belarus spoke extensively on his recent letter to the Secretary to Akwa Ibom State Government, Mr. Udom Emmanuel and the rejoinders that followed suit. Excerpts:
YOU RECENTLY WROTE A LETTER TO THE SECRETARY TO STATE GOVERNMENT, MR. UDOM EMMANUEL AND THE LETTER HAS HAD SOME REJOINDERS WITH SO MANY ISSUES RAISED, PARTICULARLY IN UDOM?S REPLY. CAN YOU SPEAK ON THIS?
I have seen the response from the government of Akwa Ibom State through the secretary of government, alleging that the government of Akwa Ibom State bribed the Supreme Court to make me a Senior Advocate. I have seen that as one of the issues raised. That is being tackled and addressed at the level of those who normally give such honour. I have drawn the attention of the body of Senior Advocates and the attention of the Supreme Court. Those things are being managed at their respective levels. I wrote a personal letter to Mr. Emmanuel, I addressed him as secretary to government which he is but the government of Akwa Ibom replied to the letter. The reply to my letter was written with the official letterhead of the state government and making allegations which is quite regrettable. I will respond and when I do, I intend to be quite precise. You notice that my letter which I wrote was very specific. I asked for Emmanuel who is being sponsored by the government to distance himself from the threat by the governor that we are all going to die. I assured him that killing us was not going to make him governor but was going to create more bad blood and revenge killings and I thought that was sufficient opportunity for him to clearly distance himself from the issues but he rather chose to leave the matter in the hands of the government and the government now wrote to me to say that he (Udom) was being sponsored by the government, that he has received the endorsement of the government and that election is going to be fought on that basis. I will respond to it.
WHAT WERE THE LACUNA YOU SPOTTED IN UDOM?S REPLY TO YOUR LETTER?
Udom never replied to my letter. He has not still replied to my letter. The letter was written by the government of Akwa Ibom State and said ?we are in receipt?. The letter was written by the government of Akwa Ibom and signed by Udom Emmanuel. Did I write my letter as Nigeria?s Ambassador to Russia? Or do you think that I don?t hold an official position in government? Did you see my official position anywhere in the letter I wrote? Did you even see my official address? You think I was stupid? The government replied to my letter, Udom has not replied me yet. The day Udom replies I will know what to say, but for now the government has replied and I will take the matter up with the government.
SINCE IT WAS THE GOVERNOR THAT MADE THE DEATH THREAT, WHY DID YOU HAVE TO SEND THE LETTER TO UDOM INSTEAD OF THE GOVERNOR?
I explained it in my letter. I said to Mr. Emmanuel the governor wants to kill us because of you, distance yourself from it in case it happens. I wrote to Udom as the beneficiary of the proposed killings and I said to him ?people will be killed because of you?. I told him to distance himself from it because if people are killed because of him, the killings will not stop. People will now come after your own family and it will spell doom for you. I stated this very clearly. Udom does not think that somebody will be killed and he will become governor. He cannot become governor if anybody is killed. That is as simple as ABC. I told him to persuade the governor not to kill us. If a man who is a beneficiary of an intended act comes and says I don?t want to be part of this, he will be restrained. I didn?t want to write to Godswill because I told Udom in the letter that this Akpabio must be taken serious because he is the governor of the state. His word is the word of a Pope ex-Cathedra, it must not be taken lightly. If he says he is going to kill, he has the ability, he has the time, he has the fortune, he has the experience. Nobody has denied it. Godswill has the experience to kill.
WHAT ARE THE PROGRAMS YOU HAVE FOR THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE?
My programs will come out in my manifesto. I have not declared to contest election in a formal sense which will carry the trademark of what I intend to do. I have set programs in every aspect of our natural life. I will enunciate it, expand and allow it to be criticized. I will build on it, develop it and I will liaise with even those who are going to contest election in the house of assembly and it will thrown open for discussion because I think it is time for us to contest elections on issues rather than on tribal and religious affiliations.
DO YOU BELIEVE ALHAJI ADAMU MU?AZU?S LEADERSHIP THAT THE PRIMARIES IN AKWA IBOM STATE WILL BE OPEN FOR EVERYBODY?
The National Chairman of the party has assured us that the primaries will be open. I have no doubt that he intends to enforce that.
WHAT MAKES YOU STAND OUT FROM OTHER ASPIRANTS?
You ought to tell me what makes me stand out. Or am I just part of the crowd? It is left for the electorates to decide. For me, I am a simple village boy, just believing in the fact that without education I would have been nothing and that I want to give back to the society what the society has given to me. The love, experience, knowledge which I have acquired over the years and the ability to act, perform and work by the virtue of the various exposures I have had as an SUG leader, as a lawyer in practice for 35 years, as a SAN, as an attorney general, as a diplomat, as the president?s principal envoy in one of the most powerful countries in the world. These are the things I would bring to the table as an aspirant. When I put these to the table I want to be measured against the experiences of other people as to whether they can match it or overcome it. And that is what I have always said. Let us share out what we have as the basis for this contest rather than the ability to kill, murder and maim people.
IN THE REPLY TO YOUR LETTER BY UDOM, SOME ISSUES WERE RAISED. FIRST, THAT YOU DON?T HAVE A HOUSE. SECOND THAT YOU ARE 68YEARS OLD AND THIRD, THAT YOU HAVE ISSUES TO SETTLE WITH FORMER GOVERNOR VICTOR ATTAH. CAN YOU TAKE A LOOK AT THOSE ISSUES?
I want us to look at those issues with respect to what it portends to this state at this particular time. I had scores to settle with Gov. Attah, so what? Does Gov. Akpabio have scores to settle with Attah? Will he say he doesn?t have? Attah would rather talk to me than Godswill. Attah is such a completely reasonable character. He is intelligent, he reads documents that is why he is different. He wrote a thesis to have a degree, he didn?t just go to school. He has the ability to rationalize and look at things in their proper perspectives. Attah is not egoistic. Attah is someone who is not burdened by the mere little things that go about on a daily basis. He is a respectable person. If I had issues or differences with him, I had to discuss this with him and he is comfortable with me and I cannot tell you what I and the governor had discussed. On the issue of me owning a house a in Uyo, it is sad that people use real estate as the basis for determining whether a person should be a governor or not. I can tell you that Okpara owned no house as the governor of eastern Nigeria, Akanu-Ibiam owned no house as premier of eastern Nigeria, Eyo Ita was the premier of Eastern Nigeria and died without owning a house. Shagari did not have a house in Lagos when he became president. President Goodluck Jonathan did not own a house in Abuaja before he became president. Late President Umaru Musa Yar?Adua did not own a house in Abuja before he became president. Is it because people have stolen money and acquired houses in Uyo that somebody should come and tell me that I should also own a house in Uyo before I become governor? That is absolute rubbish. I do not even intend to tell anybody whether I own a house or not. It is not a criterion for being governor.
WHAT DOES THE CONSTITUTION SAY ABOUT AGE AS A PRE-CONDITION FOR SOMEBODY ASPIRING TO BE GOVERNOR?
I should ask you because if you have come to ask me why being 68years should be an issue then I should ask you. Based on the letter Udom wrote that I am 68, I have been a lawyer for 35years. That means I was a lawyer at 23, that means I graduated at 22, that means I went into University at 17, is that not a feat? Udom was 2 years old when I was a lawyer. Is that not enough reason for him to respect me? His father who is my agemate is an illiterate in the village, he has never become a lawyer. He wants to deprecate education and age. Isn?t it stupid?
WITH ALL THESE CREDENTIALS OF YOURS, WHY ARE YOU STILL INTERESTED IN THE MURKY WATERS OF AKWA IBOM POLITICS?
People create these things. People make the waters murky. If it was this murky by the time governor Attah left office we won?t be here now. He had his own interest, he had his candidate but he did not kill everybody else in order to impose his candidate. That is what makes the waters murky. So if we are not there to change it the waters will become murkier. So why don?t you change it now that you still have a change? That is why I?m in politics.
PEOPLE THINK THAT YOU ARE JOKER, THAT YOU DON?T HAVE THE STRUCTURES AND WHEREWITHAL TO SUCCEED IN THE PRIMARIES. CAN YOU DISCOUNTENANCE THIS?
I don?t have the wherewithal, I don?t have the structures and I?m in Russia. Those are facts. You want me to dispel that these are not statements of fact? I won?t. But that I will win nomination and become governor, I will. I have the intellect, I have the ability, I have the exposure, I have the knowledge and I have the experience to win nomination and become governor.
MAJOR GENERAL EDET AKPAN HAS WRITTEN A LETTER TO THE GOVERNOR. SOME PEOPLE HAVE PICKED HOLES IN IT AND CONDEMNED THE LETTER. WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF THE SITUATION?
I don?t agree that many people have disagreed with General Akpan. I have seen a very lowly gutter-snipped typed letter written to chastise General Akpan by somebody who says he is young. He has abused General Akpan to quite an unimaginable extent. I sympathize with our communities, that children could now call their fathers names. (pauses). I will say no more.
WHY DO YOU STILL STICK WITH THE PDP?
There is no doubt about the fact that PDP is the most stable party in the country. Because of the party?s long stay in national politics, it has its own set of programs. I completely align myself with the policies of the party. I am an appointee of the PDP process and I have no reason not to love the party.
YOU WERE RECENTLY QUOTED AS SAYING THAT YOU WILL RESIGN YOUR POSITION AS AMBASSADOR IN AUGUST SO AS TO START FULL-FLEDGED CAMPAIGN FOR YOUR GOVERNORSHIP BID. HOW TRUE IS THIS AND HOW SOON SHOULD WE EXPECT THE RESIGNATION LETTER TO DROP?
My resignation is a personal issue and I did notify my supporters that I will resign by August. How many days do you have in August? 31 days. So there is still time for me to do that.
AS A DIPLOMAT WHAT IS THE PERCEPTION OF THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY ON NIGERIA IN VIEW OF INSECURITY, CORRUPTION AND OTHER ISSUES THAT RAVAGES THE IMAGE OF THE COUNTRY?
The most corrupt country in the world is not Nigeria and the most insecure country in the world is not Nigeria. My host country has her own share of problems. They understand us totally and it is because of our interaction that we have a huge number of businessmen from the Russian federation coming into this country now to do business. An average of 300 business groups come into this country to do business every month and quite a large number go from this country to Russia every month. It is our belief that if this is sustained the trade relations between Russia and Nigeria will increase but we have our problems. The problem that we have is that of two parallel lines meeting at a point. The economy of Nigeria is basically hydro-carbon based. The economy of Russia is equally hydro-carbon based i.e. gas and crude oil. I don?t expect Russia to buy our crude oil because they have theirs and I don?t expect Nigeria to buy Russia?s crude oil because we have ours. So we are working on investment opportunities, creating an opportunity for the Russians with their high level of technology to come in to the country for the purpose of setting up refining facilities for our gas and crude oil. We are here right now on aviation, medicals, power generation and all sorts of things. It is my belief that within a short time we will have a much more robust relationship with the Russian federation.
LET?S LOOK AT THE PEDIGREE OF OUR GOVERNOR. HE IS THE CHAIRMAN OF PDP GOVERNORS? FORUM, INCUMBENT GOVERNOR OF AKWA IBOM, A MAJOR STAKEHOLDER IN THE PARTY AND HE HAS A PREFERRED CANDIDATE FOR THE GOVERNORSHIP SEAT. WITH ALL THESE, DO YOU THINK THE GOVERNOR WILL ALLOW A FREE AND FAIR GUBER PRIMARIES IN THE STATE?
You said let us look at the governor?s pedigree. I say the governor has no pedigree. If you look at the word pedigree it means what puts him in his present state. My pedigree is that I?m a son of a primary school teacher and an illiterate mother. I haven?t seen his pedigree in politics. So take the word ?pedigree? out. What you can say is that you doubt the ability of the governor to organize a free and fair congress and that is why the governor will not organize it because the governor himself says he is supporting a particular candidate. So he cannot be a judge in his own cause. That is where the fire and brimstone will come. Don?t be in doubt that that is the point we will fight. That is the letter of the government of Akwa Ibom State to me where they said ?we are supporting a particular candidate so don?t expect a level playing field were we to organize the congresses?. So the congress has to be organized by the party at the national level.
THERE ARE INSINUATIONS THAT YOUR MAJOR BACKBONE WAS THE IMMEDIATE PAST NATIONAL CHAIRMAN OF PDP, ALHAJI BAMANGAR TUKUR AND THAT NOW THAT THE MAN HAS BEEN OUSTED IT WILL BE HARD FOR YOU TO SUCCEED IN THE PRIMARIES. WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON THIS?
Let me tell you what my backbone is. I have been a lawyer in practice and lived among these people. I know these people one by one and they know me. In 35 years of practice I have touched every local community and LGA in this state. That is my backbone. My backbone is that I?m one of the most successful lawyers in practice in Nigeria. I was a member of the House of Representatives in UPN in 1983. I won election as one of the very few members of UPN. I was the chairman of All Peoples Party. I won 14 of the 31 LGAs chairmanship elections in this state. I took a party to elections and that is the best any party other than PDP has done in this state. I left the party because I disagreed with some aspects of the leadership. I have served PDP as a caucus member and as one of the most vocal members of the party. After Godswill Akpabio became governor he asked me to become an honorary adviser to government. After that he asked me to become Attorney General. I won?t tell you circumstances under which I accepted but I did. I can tell you that it was one of the most memorable opportunities that lawyers have experienced of any Attorney General in this state. That was just 8-short months. I will not tell my story as ambassador. I am waiting to leave for others to tell the story. That is my backbone. The real supreme backbone is in the Almighty God who makes kings. I have friends by the virtue of the fact that I have practiced politics all over the country for over 4 decades. So if I have Tukur as my friend and I have Mu?azu as my friend and I have the President of this country, the Vice President, ministers, serving ministers, party bigwigs, governors of other states as my friends, don?t I have enough relationships to win elections if I have to? But the most important thing in PDP is that it is ?power to the people?. Those carpenters, farmers, ?Alalok? (motorcyclists), etc are my strength.
IN YOUR LETTER TO UDOM EMMANUEL YOU ADDRESSED AKPABIO AS A CULTIST. SO WHY DID YOU ACCEPT TO SERVE IN HIS GOVERNMENT IF YOU KNEW HE WAS A CULTIST?
Did you read my letter? If you had read it I said ?those who stood by him when he was wearing the garment of cultists?. Is that not what I said? Let me show you. (Takes up his phone and shows the reporter a photo of Governor Akpabio wearing black garment. The photo had been used on the cover page of TELL Magazine, portraying Akpabio as a secret cultist).
(CUTS IN) I HAVE SEEN IT ON TELL MAGAZINE
Yes, have you seen the picture before Where Akpabio was shown as a cultist?
BUT TELL RETRACTED THE STORY AND ISSUED AN APOLOGY TO THE GOVERNOR
Retracted which story? Why did they retract the story? It was because of the pressure from the office of the Attorney General. I came in and salvaged him. That is why I?m saying the people he wants to kill are the people who helped him to force a retraction of story and picture where he dressed in cultists garment. I was not writing poetry, I wrote plain prose. The problem with them is that they never understood my language.