NNews: Your Excellency, please tell our audience what you consider your major accomplishments in the eight years you were Governor of Cross River
Gov. Duke: I brought them hope. You know, it is hope that enables us to strive for the future, we brought them out of despair by giving them hope as an option, that their lot could be bettered through hard work, and through vision.
Having said, we could look at some of major milestones in education, in infrastructure, uh, in agriculture, in tourism. In tourism, we developed a brand new industry in accordance with the consciousness of the people. In infrastructure, we have the best ever infrastructure in Nigeria. We have probably close to unrivalled rural infrastructure in Nigeria. Virtually every community in Cross River were touched by my administration. 80% of Cross River is on the National Grid. Every community in Cross Water has water, portable. We improve tremendously a work ethic in education. In education we motivated teachers, we provided virtually free books, subsidized, with very meager amount. In the area of health we made sure every political ward has at least one primary health center, and general hospital in every local government. I could go on and on and on. I do not want to dwell too much on tourism, because that had been celebrated last week. The critical thing that we were able to do for the people of Cross River was that we gave them hope that things can be better, that government can be made to serve people.
NNews: That is very fantastic Gov; you are a PDP party member, are you going to be running as PDP?
Gov. Duke: No, not necessarily, PDP like every other party is a platform, but the platform must represent the value that I represent, that I believe in. If a platform is at variance with my values, it will be hypocritical for me to remain there. My urge is to serve the people of Nigeria through a viable platform, not to serve the platform through Nigerians. What I tell people is that, if your allegiance is the overall development of Nigeria, don’t let the platform hold you back. I have issues with PDP, I have issues with the zoning policy of PDP. I have issues with PDP connectivity with Nigeria at this time. The PDP is totally out of sync with the aspiration of Nigerians at this time. And PDP is more concerned about winning elections than governance, and I can give you examples; Acting President Goodluck Jonathan had hardly settled into office when the PDP came with the announcement that they have zoned the presidency to the North. This has the potential of making Jonathan a lame-duck president, because when the people think you are going to be there for few months anyway, you lose the aura of authority, the announcement was more politically timed than expedience. Those are the source of things that make me worry. Those that are now fanning themselves out to serve on the platform of PDP, and now appear to be the solution to the problem of Nigeria, are indeed the problem of Nigeria. The problem cannot all of a sudden turn out to be the solution. I have problem with that. To me Nigeria is sacrosanct, PDP is not.
NNews: Do you still consider yourself a loyal member of PDP?
Gov. Duke: Absolutely, I have not formerly resigned. I have not formerly resigned from PDP
NNews: Assuming you are able to run on PDP platform, Babangida has already declared his candidacy, Atiku is following at his heels, and the balloon is also being flown in the name of Acting President that he will run, that makes PDP platform crowded, so how will that affect your PDP candidacy?
Gov. Duke: I have no problem with crowded platform, I have a problem with a viable platform probably in the sense that they are there to serve themselves, and not the people. People should really have the chance to choose who they want to lead them. But when you start zoning my constitutional right or playing musical chairs with leadership, then I begin to question what that is all about. I am a politician first and foremost, and a social crusader, not as a nickname, and so, if I am unable to further my social or my political views and expressions because few people have stayed in their rooms and decided what should be and what should not be, which is directly at variance with my constitutional right, I have enough ground to say I am not going to be part of this any longer.
NNews: You are coming form the South, and the understanding of the North is that they are entitled to eight years and Yar’Adua has not even completed four years, so what are your chances of becoming the president?
Gov. Duke: I think my chances are bright. There are men and women of goodwill in Nigeria. There are men and women in Nigeria that do not believe that it is where you come from that determines your ability to lead. They want the Nation to move forward. They are tired of the musical chairs. I can also turn around and say that, well, one section of the country has governed the country for almost 40 years out of 50 years, but I am not making those arguments. You must have a level playing field, that all and sundry come out. Let Nigerians choose the best and the brightest. When you start zoning, you don’t allow for the best and brightest of Nigeria. We are in critical condition in our history today, we are at a cross road. We don’t have the options of playing musical chairs with leadership. Things are really, really bad, when you are in a coma in intensive care unit, you don’t determine who your doctor should be. Whoever comes that can cure you and get you out of your coma and welcome you with open arms, that is the situation, and I do believe that we have men and women across the country in the 36 states including the Federal Capital territory who see things that way.
NNews: You have talked of musical chairs, which could also mean the recycling of at least old politicians, what are the …cut in
Gov. Duke: It is a combination of recycling of the old politician and moving and rotating the offices between one section of the country and the other. Because when we say the time of the north, is it the time of Benue too? Is Benue considered the North? To some part of the North, Benue is part of the North, but when it comes to their thinking of the time of the North, they probably would not think of Benue. We would need to evolve around this, we are Nigerians, I am not a Cross Riverian of Nigeria, I am a Nigerian first since evolution, and that is what I believe in. I am not running as Cross Riverian or as Cross Riverian of Southern extraction. I am running as a Nigerian.
NNews: Let me ask this question quickly and then we move forward; the problem in Jos between the ‘settlers’ mainly Fulanis, and the Berom, do you think it is a religious problem?
Gov. Duke: No, I think it is an economic problem.
NNews: Is what?
Gov. Duke: I think it an economic problem.
NNews: Economic problem, ok.
Gov. Duke: The settlers obviously are threatening the economic well being and vice versa of the original land owner, both sides were having conflict on land, right, it just happens one group happens to be Moslem or Islamic and the other happens to be Christian, but the core of the problem, the reason why they are at loggerheads has nothing to do with religion, no group is trying to convert the other to Islam or Christianity
NNews: If I may interrupt you, your Excellency, the settlers are not necessarily Fulanis, you have the Igbos and Yorubas, but the problem is always between Fulanis and Berom, why are the Beroms or the Fulanis never have direct confrontation with these two groups?
Gov. Duke: Well, It may be a question of disposition, it may be a question of who has stayed there longer. The people that has stayed there longer has intermarried, that is, it is as well their community. It is very similar to what happens in South Africa. At the end of the day, where do you ask the white South Africans to go? They have been there, they don’t even know where they came from any longer. But when you have the other groups, the Yorubas and the Igbos and all that, they have not as much at stake as the main contending parties, A lot of them still have their ties to their ethnic ancestry, but to Fulanis, it is different. Then if you can’t call it an Islamic invasion, because nobody is trying to covert anybody, If you say it is Islamic, is anybody trying to sell the Koran or if you say it is a religious issue, is anybody trying to sell a particular religion in that crisis?
NNews: What do you consider the most pressing problem in Nigeria today that a president would have to address?
Gov. Duke: Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, you have got to create an economy that can provide jobs to millions and millions of people. The provision of electricity and all those things are just basis for the creation of jobs. If you have electricity, your industry will thrive and jobs will be created. If you want to put it in one word, you need to create job We need to enhance our productivity as a people, we are of very low productivity, and over 70% of our working class is either under unemployed or unemployed.
NNews: Is it possible to create job without viable electricity?
Gov. Duke: No, you cannot, but what I am saying is that electricity is not an end by itself; it is the tool for enhancing the productivity of people. If you ask me what is the biggest problem of Nigeria, I will tell you job creation, because some jobs do not require electricity. If I ask people to go sweep the street I don’t need electricity for that, if I ask people to go and plant trees to stem desertification and all that, it has nothing to do with electricity, but it is critical, it would help jumpstart industries that will further provide jobs.
NNews: In terms of priority, will you agree that you need good education to get good job? What are your priorities?
Gov. Duke: You have got to train the mind here, education is of critical importance, an uneducated person is an unproductive person. You also have got to provide health care, because an unhealthy person is also an unproductive person. Then you’ve got to focus on infrastructure, infrastructure is electricity, roads, communications and all that. In all these under infrastructure, I will put electricity as number one. I will put roads, we have ports, we have sea ports, and all those that will enhance productivity, railway, is all part of it, but yet education, I will put as number one, because you have to train the mind, and you have to have a sound body and then you have access to a solid infrastructure. And I will even add another one, you must embrace technology it is technology that will act as catalyst, because what you would have done in two days, can be done in few minutes.
NNews: How can Nigeria achieve the level of development that brings her to the 21st century? You will agree with me we are not there yet.
Gov. Duke: We have to invest mammoth sums of money in education, in training teachers, in providing the infrastructure for education, in ensuring that every child up to the age of 18 is mandatorily enrolled in school. It is not an option; not getting a child to school must be treated as an offense. That is the first thing. We must ensure that we have good health care system in the country so that our people’s well being is being taken care of. Then of course, we must provide requisite infrastructure for growth. If we do these three things and embrace technology, with the Nigeria's strength, in 10 years we would leapfrog from where we are now to the 21st century.
NNews: I will like to talk about re-branding of Nigeria, the president went to Saudi Arabia without informing the National Assembly, and when he came back, he stays put, and the National assembly has so far done nothing to restore the part of the constitution he breached, do you think all these sad events help in re-branding Nigeria?
Gov. Duke: Well, of course, re-branding Nigeria is just a slogan, it does not mean anything. When you re-brand yourself, you will change the way you do things, when you do things properly, you become a major brand. You take a product like Coca-Cola, which is one of the world’s best brands, the product is a good product, and it holds its own anywhere in the world. You cannot do things wrongly and talk about re-branding. It is just a slogan, it is not real. It is not sloganeering that will re-brand Nigeria, it is changing our attitudes that will re-brand Nigeria. If a man falls ill, and by falling ill, which is a mortal illness or mortal weakness, the entire presidency is shut down, that doesn’t re-brand Nigeria properly. If you don’t know or cannot account for where your leadership is at a particular time, that is not re-branding Nigeria. So, we need to do thing that is expected of civilized community of people. Re-branding Nigeria the way it is been stated today is childish. It does not mean anything. You continue doing things the wrong way on one hand and talk of re-branding on the other hand, nobody is going to take us seriously. Since we have started re-branding, nobody has taken us seriously.
NNews: How would you grade the National Assembly on following their own responsibilities during all these Yar’Adua imbroglio?
Gov. Duke: I don’t think anybody who is objective would give high mark to our National Assembly today, neither would anybody give high mark to the presidency either, I mean, these are institutions that have not delivered. The National Assembly has not been able to carry out their constitutional responsibilities. They were not decisive on constitutional matters. How many bills have been passed to date?
NNews: Principle of necessity is a cleaver devise to protect Yar’Adua; do you think if Yar’Adua is a Southerner he will still remain the president today?
Gov. Duke: I don’t want to bring ethnic connotation to this I don’t think it is ethnic, I think it is personal interest, I don’t think it is ethnic at all
NNews: Your Excellency, there is no way you can remove ethnicity from this. This is what baffles people here in America; they have sections 144 and 146 of the constitution woefully disregarded.
Gov. Duke: This is my view, you are interviewing me, and you are asking my view and you are trying to put your view. I don’t believe it is ethnic, I think it is self interest. It is self interest that enables them play around the presidency the way they have.
NNews: Let me put it another way, If you were to be the president, if you were sick, God forbid, would you handle it the way they have handled it?
Gov. Duke: Of course not, first of all, my vice president will be a vice president. In my absence, automatically, without anybody knowing, he will take over. Ok, and that is how it should be. That is why he takes an oath. The oath the vice president takes is exactly the same oath the president takes. The only difference is one says president; the other says vice president, but the same wording. That is important. There is no place in the constitution where it says that certain formality must be in place before the vice president takes office. It says in the absence of the president, the vice president shall act. The moment Yar’Adua was out, we had an Attorney-General who is ignorant enough to say that president can govern from anywhere, then why do we bother building the Federal capital in the first place. You know, so, it is all self interest, it is not religious. Even though we charge religion all the time, we are not religious people; a lot of time we use all these things to perpetuate our self interest.
NNews: As a president, what would you do to clean up Nigeria’s image?
Gov. Duke: I will ensure that Nigerians are productive people. I will ensure that our infrastructure is a world class; I will ensure that our children go to school; I will ensure that the economic environment is such that businesses thrive, and employment is given to people. I will ensure that Nigeria is a country that works. That is when you would re-brand the country. If the country is working, children are in school, hospitals are functioning, infrastructure is world class, the place is esteemed, we are responsible citizens of the world community, we are good neighbors and good influence to our neighbors, and then the world would respect us. You earn respect; it is not given to you on a platter, you earn it. We have not earned it. To whom much is given, much is expected. We are very resourceful country of 150 million people or more, we have tremendous economic and material resources, but we have not justified respect. That is why the world sometimes treat us with scorn.
NNews: Nigerian politics dwells on God-fatherism, do you have any God-father to make your presidential race viable?
Gov. Duke: You know, I was a Governor for eight years. When I ran in 1999 I ran against the establishment, I had no God-father. Today, I am putting myself forward to run for the presidency, I seek no God-father. I seek the mandate of our people. In 1999, I got the mandate of the Cross Riverians to lead them. Today I seek the mandate of Nigerians to lead them. No mandate given by the people can be subservient to the mandate of any God-father.
NNews: Military President Babangida recently opined that no young people is capable of ruling Nigeria, you are a young man, do you agree with him, and what can be done to counteract this god-fatherism system?
Gov. Duke: If you allow your vote to count, if you have an electoral system that allows your vote that is cast count, god-fatherism would not thrive. Babangida is free to express himself and his opinion, I differ. He is constitutionally capable of running in an election, I differ with his candidacy. But the critical thing is that the people must decide who they want. Babangida is hypocritical when he goes out to say that young people cannot run the country. That is a stigma of his own eight years in office, because he was a young man then. What he is saying is that it was a mistake to have governed the country for eight years, and if it is so, the consequences of his governance for eight years have been disastrous for us. Bringing back Babangida is a double tragedy. Let me say, when you recycle, you recycle from bad to good, not from bad to worse, and that is what is going on in Nigeria.
NNews: One last question. We know you are a politician, and being a politician is not a bad name, Ibori is running from the dragnet of the law, what can you tell us about that?
Gov. Duke: I have been in the United States, I really don’t know too much about it. But I feel that each and every one of us is subject to the law of the land. I don’t have the details. I hear on one hand that Ibori is saying that the government is flouting the court order, if that is so, that is unfortunate. At the same time, each and every one of us, particularly we politicians who have held the high office should make ourselves available, we should be accountable for our actions, nobody is above the law. That is one of the way we can re-brand our country, by doing things properly. If people feel that we cannot be checked, that we are above the law, who will be protected?
NNews: Your Excellency, as far as NNews is concerned, you have been very open in answering all our questions We hope Nigeria will come up with commonsense that will make election count, and we hope Acting President Jonathan will be able to make that happen in 2011. Thank you very much, your Excellency and we wish you good luck in getting PDP nomination.
Gov. Duke: Well, Jonathan's legacy would be to make votes cast count, if he fails to do that, he will go the way of ignominy as others before him. And I am not bound to the apron string of PDP.