Thursday 7 January 2016

Onofiok Luke is a crowd puller, he is loved by all - Assemblyman

Hon. Aniekan Bassey is the member representing Uruan State Constituency in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly. He spoke to newsmen on sundry issues. Excerpts:

You came into the House of Assembly in June, 2015. How far, so far?

I came into the House of Assembly by the special Grace of God. Not because I was too good as a politician. Of course I was not a politician. I was into business. My people saw the little contributions I have made so far over the years. By the grace of God, I have contributed immensely to the development of Uruan youths. Anywhere I am opportune to meet indigenes of Uruan, I support them in no small measure. So it was through popular demand that the people of my constituency said that I should represent them in the House of Assembly. And by the help of God, I went into the PDP primaries, I won convincingly. I went into the general elections and I won. I went to the tribunal, I think I was one of the first in my state to win my tribunal case and the first to have victory at the Court of Appeal. So I give God the glory. I have nothing more to say than to reciprocate that same gesture in whatever way I can. But during my campaign I told my people something. I told them that I won’t be a legislator that will buy cars for few people, that whatever I will do will have to touch a lot of people, has to reach out to the larger population. It is not that I can’t afford cars for people. Looking through the past years right fromc1999, people have been buying cars. Members of the executive and legislature have been buying cars for supporters but how long does these cars last? Even maintaining the cars was always a problem. So I prefer reaching out to the less privileged in the society, especially those from my constituency because I represent them. When I came into the House of Assembly I discovered that JAMB has started Computer Based Training (CBT), and people that took JAMB could not pass because for most of them that was their first time of seeing a computer. And the Federal and State Governments did not make adequate arrangements before introducing that particular policy.  And most of the students have never seen computer before, so they failed massively. So I had to recruit consultants and by the help of God we trained about 1000 people all over Uruan. It wasn’t a central thing, I moved from zone to zone so that people who cannot afford transportation fare can just walk into the venue of the training. After the training, just to encourage them they were given a test on that same system. I bought JAMB form for the first 50 people who scored 50% and above in the test. And I promised them that on the JAMB exams day I will provide buses that will take them to and fro to the JAMB centres. There was no centre in Uruan because for you to have a centre you must have about 200 computers. So since there is no centre in Uruan, to encourage the young ones to go to school I will provide a bus and lunch for them. By 6am the buses will be there to take them to the centres, and return them after exams. Apart from writing JAMB, so many of them have been trained on computer applications. About 1000 of them have been trained in computer application and most of them are basically computer literates now. These are people who never saw computer before. This is how I have tried to reach out to people in my constituency.

Secondly, we are starting Free Medical Care. That should be between February and March. I met with the consultants last year and we are going to take care of as many number of people as possible. I am going to move people from zone to zone, not in a centralized place. I really want people from the grassroots to benefit. Any sort of ailment, be it major operation, eye problem, and all sorts of medical problem will be treated.

Thirdly, the young people whom I know need money to “stand up”, I have employed about 15 Personal Assistants. But you won’t see them with me. I told them let it not be because I’m empowering you with this meagre allowance you have to be following me from morning till night. Use that money and do business, start something, maybe in 2 or 4 years you will be on your feet. I told them that by the help of God I am able to handle my duties, so you don’t need to go around with me. There is something about this P.A thing. If you employ someone, pay him a meagre amount to be your personal aide and he goes around with you from morning till night he will never have time to think about himself and to think of something creatively. He will think of what you are thinking or what you send him to do. How can you keep a man for that long (4 years)? Are you going to pay him pension or gratuity? No. It is just a meagre monthly pay. The best thing is for you to allow him, give him that privilege of having an extra income, let him look for some other thing that he will do. Maybe in the next one or two years he may not be your personal assistant again and you pick some other person and empower because a man that is sure of consistent income can think very well. He can think of other businesses. Some of them that are married can give the monies to their wives to trade with while you look for some other thing and do. And I thank God, so far so good I have not had any reasons to call any of them to come and see me but they have been receiving their monthly salaries.

Coming to the renovation of the House of Assembly, I like decency, I like clean places. The first day I walked into this place, I discovered that the condition of this place was very terrible. They showed me my office but I could not walk in. I could not step into the office. I took it upon my self (even before renovation work started) to change the toilet system and other facilities in my office. I didn’t even receive my first salary as at then. I called in my workers to screed and paint the place.

On the other hand, I keep on advising our youths about being proactive. We are having financial recession in Nigeria and we need people who are proactive. We have to undertake serious measures, individuals not just government; cut down your expenses, try as much as possible to be focused, increase our revenue base no matter how little it is. The recession we are going to, Nigeria is solely dependent on crude oil and the price keeps on dwindling. I read yesterday that there will be no increment in the foreseeable future. Maybe in the next 20something years. In Nigeria we forget so easily what the past was like. I used to hear one garri they used to call ‘nwa anyanya’. It was this same situation that people had to use the back of cassava to make garri that will not last after few hours. There was also a cream called ‘owo idoho ukem’. There was no money for so many families to afford cream. So you will go to the market, they will bring cream in basin. The person that sells the cream will be rubbing the cream on his face or hands every minute. People forget so fast. There was also a point that there was no soap for people to use for bathing; that is how ‘saika’ was invented. People forget all those things. It is not really about the government. It happened in so many countries. So what do we have to do? We have to tighten the nose, cut down the expenditure. A young man came to my house a week ago, and was telling me that the governor is so bad, there is no money. I told him there is money everywhere; I told him look at me, I started business at 17, at 21 I was somehow established, my companies are twenty one years old while I’m 37. What do you think of yourself? Did I ever do any contract from government? No. Did I ever have support from anybody? No. I lost my dad while I was doing remedial. I have sustained my self uptil now. I had to look inward. I told the guy you have so many things to do that can give you money.

I told him you can look at the road; you have disposal bins by the Ministry of Environment. The proximity of that place to my house is about 200 to 300 metres. There are so many houses in the neighbourhood who will be so comfortable to pay you N5,000 per month to dispose refuse for them. Do you need government for that? I keep on encouraging young people that they can make money out of nothing, you don’t need government. This same thing happened in America that a former President told the citizens “think of what you can do for your country and not what your country can do for you”. Why am I saying this? I’m taking you to the preamble of what I would love our people to do.

When the governor presented the budget to the House of Assembly, I said one thing on the debate. I said we need only one thing. EARCOM. Ethical and Attitudinal Re-Orientation. That is the only thing that will help us. The days of handouts are over. We need to change our mentality. That is why I said the money allocated for that is too meagre. All media houses should liaise with the Ministry of Information and EARCOM. People like you (media) should be mobilized to propagate the message. Remember in the ebullient years of EARCOM under The Rt. Hon. Eseme Eyiboh, the mentality of most youths changed. That is when most young people started being industrious. The income to the state was very meagre. But people were so happy, everyone was making money. This was the advent of GSM shops, advent of boutiques, and advent of sit outs. That thing has died. People are no more working. People are no more doing business. All those businesses have gone moribund. We make political offices to be very attractive. It should be service, it should be a sacrifice, it is not something that should be enjoyed. We need mental rebirth. We need so much money in EARCOM. Without mental and attitudinal change no money will be enough, income from FG will not be enough because we need that mindset that we need to help the government. We need to think outside of box and be creative.  No matter the business you do you will see your income. We have a very big problem as at this moment. People should start creating wealth for people. Before I was 25 I had over 60 people in my payroll. Most of my staff have houses of their own but I don’t have a personal house. My factory and hotels have provided employment opportunities for many people. In due course, I will grow to a level that my business will build my house. There is always a multiplier effect of looking inwards, thinking outside the box, being creative. You don’t need to live in luxury, just that comfort that you have been able to achieve something for yourself.

You were touted to succeed Aniekan Uko as the Speaker. What happened?

The issue of me being a Speaker was speculative. People thought since the Speakership position was zoned to Uyo Senatorial District, that I should emerge the speaker. So it was based on assumption that Uyo Federal Constituency should produce the speaker because the immediate past speaker was from Uyo Federal Constituency (Ibesikpo Asutan to be precise). People thought either Uruan, Uyo or Nsit Attai should produce the Speaker. But speakership is more than that. You have to look at capacity and you have to look at what we are facing at this particular time. I believe that the Speaker that we have is the best for the moment. He has the capacity. He is a former Students Union president and former Speaker of the Nigerian Youth Parliament. He has the capacity to lead us at this time.

I’m someone who believes in results, I believe in capacity, he has the capacity to be the Speaker and I support him wholly. We (Uyo Federal Constituency) are very happy with his style of leadership. His predecessor, Aniekan Uko was very good, he was a good leader but God knows why it had to happen the way it happened and a new Speaker, in the person of Rt. Hon. Onofiok Luke has emerged. He has the requisite experience having been in the 5th Assembly and this is his second term in the House of Assembly. So at this point in time experience matters. So we had to shelve whatever individual and sectional interest we had and we went for the best. I believe Rt. Hon. Onofiok Luke will not disappoint us. He has started on a very good note. He is a crowd puller, he is loved by many, he is a popular choice. The issue of me being a speaker was just speculative.

There have been issues about the legitimacy of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly. Four lawmakers have been sacked and the 6th assembly is presently constituted by 22 members. And the constitution says the composition of the House should not be less than 24 and not more than 40. What is your take on this?

What was the composition of the National Assembly (both Senate and Reps) when Saraki was elected President? Basically, the quorum for sitting is always 9. Even if it were to be 22 lawmakers that elected the current Speaker, I don’t think the Appeal Court had communicated the Clerk that those people lost their seats. This is one of the technical grounds. By law they had to communicate to the House. Maybe that was based on assumption that they were not members of the House but I think uptill now it has not officially been communicated to the House. It is only the Clerk that would have communicated to us. So without much ado, the quorum for sitting is 9. I have been hearing that rumour and it is very laughable. In the Senate, 90 percent of the APC members were having a meeting somewhere and a quorum was formed and a President was elected. Why is it different in the case of AKHA?

The immediate past Speaker recently empowered his constituents with vehicles and you had earlier said you don’t believe in sharing cars to few people. What do you make of this?

If you were there at the event, the governor said that each person that has been empowered with a car should make sure that the vehicle produces two or three more cars. What did he mean? Those who got the cars can use it for transportation business. Most of those people who got the cars may be transporters. Airport taxi may make about N20,000 a day. If I’m capable, I would buy buses for transportation. It is part of empowerment. The car should not be used for pleasure or leisure. It is not as if you should not give out cars as empowerment, but they are people who because of their age and business, a car becomes additional advantage to support their businesses. There are people you give cars and it becomes a liability. There are some people who cannot fuel their cars, and there are some who cannot even register the car. They don’t have money to register the car. I have seen such persons. One of such persons was given a car, he drove out, the car was impounded and he called me and said he is looking for money for registration. Will i be giving him money for fuel daily?

My place is a riverine place. I called the youths of the community. I told them I will try and provide a speedboat. Form yourselves into groups, I will provide a speedboat. That is about N1.8m. They will use it for transportation to Cameroon. When the money comes you put it into a centralized purse, as a corporative, giving out loans to individuals. Some of them I told them to give me the price for hacksaw. They want to go into lumbering. I will buy a chainsaw, give them money to buy whatever they want to buy and they go into lumbering. As for women you give them N50,000 to trade with. Because with such amount you can buy a bag of crayfish and you can sell and realize N70,000.  I’m negotiating for some youths to be trained in carpentry, welding and other vocational works. After the training, I will empower them with tools. If I give unskilled people cars, what will come out of it? May be drunk-driving and accident. The value of a car diminishes as each year passes. The car that you bought for N1m, next year it will go for N700,000, in four years time it will go for N100,000. It is not progressive, it is retrogressive. So if we intend to empower people, let us look for avenues that will add value to that person.  I designed the Ishiet market. It was over N3m. That would have gotten me about 6 to 7 cars to give to people. But I called in people, they designed the market. I have a construction firm. I have an architectural firm, I have a surveying firm. So apart from the external firm that did the soil test, every other thing was provided by me. That market alone will provide employment for over 1000 people. That is empowerment. That is the highest fresh fish selling market in the whole of South-South Nigeria. They sell and buy fish more than Oron. It is bringing so much revenue to the state government. If you go to the market now, you will see about 5 to 10 lorries loaded with rice, plastics from Akwa Ibom to Cameroon you have the same number of lorries. That is the kind of empowerment I’m talking about, not selective empowerment. 23,000 people voted for me, why should I give 10 people cars? With free medical care you can touch up to 2 or 3 thousand people. At least with that, I will get an appreciable percentage. 1,000 have been trained on computer. If I can select 30 to 50 women and give them money for trading, they will touch about 500 people because each of them has families. I’m looking at such an empowerment that will spread, not just spreading but will give everybody that sense of belonging. I’m looking at something that will outlive my tenure in office. Setting up empowerment machinery that will outlive your tenure is better than buying cars for few people. If those 50 students I trained in CBT can have admission into the university, their great grand children will not forget you because you empowered generations yet unborn. Their fathers will always tell them how he succeeded and went to the university. Most politicians like too much of publicity. It is still part of the mental re-orientation I talked about. You don’t go to the destitute centre to donate to the needy and then you promote it in the media. One day that child will grow up. Publicity is good but not in all aspects. There are those that are very humiliating. The worst is the one you help the poor and you pay for it to be publicized. Have you seen the picture circulating in the internet, showing the President of Congo where he was adopted? Do you think that man will be happy? He has succeeded no doubt, but these are things we forget but will reappear in future. You gave someone a tin of milk and you publicize it on Facebook. God says that whatever you do in the secret He will reward you in the open, and that what your left hand does your right hand should not know. So where is our tenet of Christianity, where people that profess Christ will be doing such things. But there are people that might be doing more than that. Most of the things about me you see in the media are not basically done by me. I just believe I have done my bit. They say do you know you are a politician? I will tell them must I go for a second term? Must I hold a political office before I assist the people? If that is the yardstick for going for second term I don’t need it. I just love helping my people, not helping them because I want second term, I’m not helping people because I want to be in politics. Can you play politics with people’s lives? The day I bought JAMB forms for people it was supposed to be publicized. Invite TV stations, take pictures of me presenting the forms to the beneficiaries and post on the social media. I told the consultant I don’t even need to see the beneficiaries, take the money, buy JAMB forms for 50 people and give it to them. God knows I have not seen them. How much is JAMB form? JAMB form for 50 people is less than N400,000 and then they told me to spend half a million for publicity. Instead of that I increase it to 100 people. The bill for the publicity of the presentation of the JAMB forms was about N500,000. I said instead of spending such amount let me buy JAMB forms for 100 people. You buy JAMB form for 50 people at N400,000 and spend N500,000 on publicising the event. Is that not insane? And politicians are always very happy to do it.

In giving a facelift to the Assembly complex, did you patronize Peacock Paint?

That is the area I’m having a little problem. Although our governor said we should patronize Peacock Paint but I’m also an entrepreneur. I started my paint industry around 2000/2001.  I’m proud to say that we have about 50 students from Uniuyo going through practicals in the lab. So in essence, the paints used here are all my products, produced by an Akwa Ibom son, all my workers are Akwa Ibomites and they have been receiving their salaries. I have been paying tax.

We heard that in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly there are factions. How true is this? And what are your future plans for members of your constituency?

There is nothing like factions in the AKHA. Every office is occupied based on capacity. We have a Speaker in the person of Rt. Hon. Onofiok Luke and Deputy Speaker Felicia Bassey. By the special grace of God I’m the Deputy Leader. There is nothing like G-whatever.

And for what I want to do for my people, I’m from Southern Uruan. For me to go to my mom’s village I have to come to Uyo and pass through Calabar-Itu Road. My mom is from Uruan. For me to go to my Local Government Council I have to come to Uyo and go through Nwaniba Road. But there is a road between Oron and Calabar-Itu, and if that road is in good state you can reach Calabar-Itu bridge head within 10 minutes. I want to try and provide roads in my local government. And also train people to be skilled in so many fields.

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