Tuesday, 24 March 2015

PDP in Akwa Ibom does not have a manifesto – Obongawan Imo Isemin

Obongawan Imo Isemin, a leading business woman and a grassroots politician in Akwa Ibom State, is the wife of the first civilian governor of the State, late Obong Akpan Isemin. In this interview with reporters in Uyo, she opens up on why APC will win the forthcoming governorship election in Akwa Ibom State. 

Is there anything interesting about 2015 politics in Akwa Ibom State  that you may like to share with us?
What I have noticed which makes me happy is that the person I am supporting, Obong Umana Okon Umana, the APC governorship candidate for Akwa Ibom State is always one step ahead of the gimmicks of PDP, and that makes me quite comfortable. It shows that he is somebody who has vision and who is able to plot his way around situations. That makes it quite interesting for me. The other one that I have observed which regrettably is on the negative is that PDP is forever attacking APC; they (PDP) don’t discuss issues, they are always looking for one thing or the other to criticise APC, rather than come up with what they are going to do for the electorates. I have never heard anything about their manifestoes.

When you were addressing the APC Presidential Rally in Uyo, you said that Akwa Ibom women would no long serve as mere dancers and cheer-leaders during political events. Can you throw more light on that?
What I said was that we are creating change. APC is about change. It is time to change the status of the Akwa Ibom woman. Hitherto, we were serving only as cheer-leaders; people out there to clap hand to make up the crowd and at the end of it the women are given token to go home with. My position is that it is time a proper structure is put in place for the development of the Akwa Ibom woman. It is time to create a pool of funds for whoever wants to do business. Why are there so many women floating around from one party to the other? Every woman now owns a phone so that if they send text message to her, she passes the message to several other women, and then they flock to a particular event so that they could get two hundred naira or five hundred naira each. There is nothing wrong with five hundred naira. At least, you can use it to buy crayfish. We want that woman to be able to generate the five hundred naira by herself, from there she can build on that, she should be taught how to save and invest, she should be taught how to grow her own business from micro to cottage. The women should be taught how to fish, and not to be given fish.

How ready are the women for this kind of change?
The women have been ready since 1993 when I was the wife of the governor. When I came, I came with certain structures. We put a bank in place, it was called Uforo Community Bank. We had Uforo magazine which was reporting on the progress of women. We had a trading arm, we were bringing in cement and all kinds of commodities for the women to buy and sell and they were able to make their profits.

If you could introduce all that when Akwa Ibom didn’t have money, at what point did we really go wrong, because we don’t have such things anymore?
I have been out of the system, but I want to think that it went wrong right from when I left. When I left, Mrs. Bako came in (during the military intervention of 1993), I handed over to her because Mrs. Mariam Babangida said every wife of the governor, just as the governors did, should prepare handover notes. So I prepared a very elaborate handover notes, including the land that we were going to build an international market, including the business plan and the approval which we got from the Bank of Industries to establish a rice mill at Ini Local Government Area to be owned by women, including a business plan for a transport company. I put all of those things together and gave to Mrs. Bako, and what she said was “Na who go read all of these?” I believe that it started going wrong right from that point. There was nobody to drive that vision, there was nobody to give direction to the women, and each person that came did her own thing. But that can be corrected. What it takes is to go back to the drawing board, create a women development fund, dedicated to women. I heard our own governorship candidate Obong Umana Okon Umana saying that he will create ten thousand start-up businesses and I have told the wife that five thousand of those businesses should be for women. I have also heard him say he will promote small and medium enterprises (SME) through Akwa Ibom Investment Corporation (AKICORP), so I said please don’t lump up the women in that plan, because starting from the days of Obong Attah when he created a micro business programme and until the man left nobody could pin a finger on who got the loan and who did not; certainly, not the women. Now, in the days of Governor Akpabio, yes Mrs. Akpabio gave the women two hundred and fifty thousand naira each at a certain point in time. This is what I am preaching against. If you give me two hundred and fifty thousand naira whether you are telling me it is for business or not, I have pressing needs. I will go and pay school fees. I will go and pay rent that has been hanging on my neck, before I will start thinking of business. Probably, by the time I finish that, what is left for the business will be like thirty thousand naira and is not enough for business. My position is that we should create women development fund, managed by the women, not managed by the men, and let all the conditions that will apply to SME apply. And to back that up, there will be a continuous and consistent entrepreneurial training.

What have you done about all these brilliant ideas?

One has to be in a position to influence policy.

We mean you setting up maybe an NGO?
We have our own NGO, Uforo’s World Business Owners Association, where we trained young people in all kinds of vocational trades and then we raise money for start-up, and we have been getting the support from Mobil Producing Nigeria to do this.

What about support from the state government?

No, we have not received any help from the Akwa Ibom State government.

Have you made any attempt?

Yes, we have made requests to the state government several times. Mobil have been our partner over the time. Apart from Mobil, we have the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) and Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).

You are close to Umana and his campaign structure, what comprehensive package do they have for the women?
I must confess I have not read through the manifesto, and that is a fault on my side. I have heard of skills acquisition. He has also said he will give money to women for trading, that is very good, but then we would suggest that it should be packaged in a particular way for sustainability and growth ….

But one would expect, with your knowledge and your connection to APC governorship candidate, you ought to have made some contributions to the manifesto….
Yes, I submitted my own inputs when they were building the manifesto. The manifesto is on the web, that is where I saw the ten thousand start-up and other things. I have browsed through it, but I haven’t really studied it.

Are the women enlightened enough to know that it is time to ask the different candidates what they have in stock for them?
I want to use the word ‘spoil’, but in a positive sense. I want to say that the women have been spoilt. Politicians after politicians when they come, they share fifty thousand or hundred thousand naira to a group of three hundred women and when the women share the money it comes round to five hundred naira per person. So they have come up with the mentality that immediately you see a politician, you should expect ‘landing’. This is what they are out for. That is why there is a need for change. I have been in APC for some months now. APC is not doling out money. In APC, you believe in what you are doing and so you go for it. There is something that can be given to the women which is richer and will last longer than small money politicians give to them. There are several things that need to be changed:  our attitudes, our thinking pattern, and the sustainability of our businesses.

Is there a way the church could be brought in to be a part of the development programmes for women?
This is my personal and honest opinion. I will ask you not to involve the church. There are enough civil society organisations which you can use and also hold them accountable to funds released to them. If you ask me, I will say let the body of Christ mind the things of Christ. There are cooperatives in the church, if they government wants to patronize them, they could do it. There’s nothing wrong with that. But let the government not use the church as a strong arm of development.

What is your take on the controversy that it was Unoma Akpabio that introduced the PDP governorship candidate, Udom Emmanuel to Governor Godswill Akpabio?
My honest opinion is that Mrs. Unoma Akpabio, being a bonafide Akwa Ibom woman by marriage, can introduce Udom Emmanuel to Governor Godswill Akpabio.

Why should Akwa Ibom people support APC?
First and foremost it is because of the face of APC in Akwa Ibom now Obong Umana Okon Umana who is tested and trusted. Besides being educated, he has the required experience in and outside government. Like I said earlier at the beginning of this interview, he is very smart and always a step ahead of them. He is very courageous and he is the only one, out of all the candidates, who can look at Chief Godswill Akpabio eye ball to eye ball. He has an inner strength. APC in Akwa Ibom and at the national level, from my own observation, they are straight forward people, they don’t say one thing then turn around and do another, which is what I dislike. That is why I believe that all that is in the manifesto, Obong Okon Umana will execute them. He will cause the people of Akwa Ibom to smile. There’s something my husband used to teach me which he was taught in management school. He said if you try and you do not succeed, may be your successor will. In Akwa Ibom State, Akpabio has built roads, he has built infrastructures, but the people are hungry. If Akpabio can’t do it, maybe his successor can. Someone else should come and put food in the stomach of the people. Let’s give APC a chance. Umana has been here long enough with the people, and he knows where the shoe pinches.

The State chairman of PDP, Obong Paul Ekpo,  the speaker of Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly are from Etinan local government area, any hope for APC in Etinan?

Most of the people in Akwa Ibom follow PDP because they are being coerced, they are not allowed to go to work; they will hold t-shirts and stand at Akpan Andem market, and as you are passing by they would give you t-shirt and ask you to go into the stadium. But when we go for APC campaign, nobody wears uniform because nobody is being coerced. I share the same ward in Etinan with the speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Elder Sam Ikon. The women are told if you dare enter Mrs. Isemin’s house, we will destroy your house. You must not take anything from that side, and then it is the same women who will come back to tell you “that’s PDP’s headache and not our own”.  So let PDP do all they can, but what I know is that in Etinan, APC will win just like many of the local government areas. I believe that God is strongly with us.

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