I Was Set Ablaze Because Of PDP – Etteh
January 16, 2017

I Was Set Ablaze Because Of PDP – Etteh

Rt. Hon. Okpulopm Etteh, is always an interviewer’s delight because of his blunt and fearless disposition on every issue under discussion. He did not depart from the trait that has defined his character since he started politics at 17, when he spoke with The Scroll team in Uyo. Coming from the great and politically-engaged Etteh family in Ibeno Local Government Area and as a foundation member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in his area, a three-term representative of Esit Eket/Ibeno State Constituency in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly and governorship aspirant in 2015, means that he is familiar with the intrigues that surround party politics.

His insight into the formation of the PDP in Ibeno revealed a well-plotted graph by the Ettehs to stick to their conviction that PDP was the party to be. Engr. Ette, who resides in Ibadan, Oyo State had called his brothers and instructed them to join PDP.

The subject for the interview was PDP, how to strengthen and the feelings of the grassroots officers of the party. He suggested the reintroduction of Option A4 in future primaries. His views on all the issues concerning the party and what should be done to strengthen it are presented in this interview. Read on…

The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP came on board in 1998 and the records show that you are a foundation member in your local government-Ibeno. What informed your decision to join the party at that initial stage?

Thank you for that question. I don’t know where to start, but I will take you down the lane, when we started politics so that you can understand the background and why we joined the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. I started politics in 1987 at the age of 17, because my elder brothers were in active politics. During the transition programme of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, we divided ourselves into the National Republican Party, NRC, and the Social Democratic Party, SDP. Members of the two political parties will meet in the same house. Those in SDP will stay in the dining room, while members of NRC will hold their meetings in the living room. Because of the hierarchy in the family, Engr Ette, who was in the NRC, would stay in the living room with other members of theparty, while SDP members will stay in the dining room. The younger Ettehs were the foot soldiers; the grassroots politicians in the local government. We had a formidable structure from the days of the Peoples Front, because my elder brother, Elder Nseabasi Etteh of blessed memory always contested elections. From Peoples Front, we moved to SDP and later joined the Democratic Party of Nigeria, DPN. My brother won an election on the platform of DPN. In the family, we maintain a culture of absolute respect for our elders. So, Elder Nseabasi, our political leader was in Uyo, while we were in the village doing the mobilization and going on house-tohouse consultation. He won an election on the platform of DPN. After that transition programme, we moved the structure to PDP, when it was formed during the transition programme of then Head of State, Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar. There is another member of the family who also contributed to our resolve to pitch our tent with PDP.

Engr. Ette was in Ibadan, Oyo State and had called one day to instruct us to join PDP. He told us that PDP would install the next government in Nigeria and not the All Peoples Party, APP. Now, many people in my local government were APP, because the late Obong Akpan Isemin, the first civilian governor of the state was in the party. To them, APP was the party to be because of Obong Isemin. However, we were not deterred, because we always believe in any political course we take. For instance, when NRC produced the governor of Akwa Ibom State in the Third Republic, the SDP produced the House of Assembly member in my constituency. That was an emphatic political statement. Since my brother was a chairmanship aspirant in the PDP, the party in Ibeno was built around him. Atuekong Don Etiebet had sent for my brother through Obong Etukudo Ekpro, now late to come and take over the formation of the party structure in my local government. But there was a struggle, because we had opposition from another group of politicians in my area, who wanted to install a chairman of the local government council. In Ibeno, if the chairman of a local government is from Upenekang, the council headquarters, automatically, the party’s chapter chairman willcome from another ward. As is the practice in politics, the other group struggled to have the party structures, but Atuekong Etiebet and other top members of PDP in the state, gave the task of setting up the structure of the party to Elder Nseabasi. That was how we formed the PDP structure in Ibeno. But, I must confess that it was not that easy, because many people did not believe PDP will win the elections and become the ruling party. Because of the prevailing situation, we had to set up the structure of PDP in Ibeno in a way that will make the party’s presence felt in every ward in Ibeno. That was why someone from Upenekang was made a ward chairman in another ward, because we had nobody to fill the party’s position in all the wards. For instance, my younger brother, who was the secretary in one of the riverine wards, was also a ward officer in ward 10. My younger brother Iko Etteh had to become the ward secretary in ward 10, just for us to have a structure across board. We made the late Pastor Abang Okon Abang the pioneer chapter chairman in Ibeno because my brother wanted to be the chairman of the council and we had to move the position of the chapter chairman to ward three; Mkpanak, while the chapter secretary was from Ukpenekang, my ward. The deputy chapter chairman was from ward seven, where the late Moses Itam, who later became the council chairman hailed from. Since we already had a structure on ground, which was formed since the Peoples Front era, we simply moved it to SDP and from there to DPN, before finally anchoring it on PDP.

There is another aspect to how PDP was planted in Ibeno. We embarked on grassroots mobilization; we moved from house-to-house, talked and convinced people on the need to join PDP. While we were going about setting up the structure of the party, I deliberately refused to hold any party position, because my brother was contesting the chairmanship election and my younger brother was the ward secretary. When we brought in Pastor Abang, he also brought in his in-law, Samuel Ekpenyong and the party started expanding. William was always with us because he was a friend to Elder Nseabasi. We had to move William to ward 10 to be the ward chairman and set up the party structures in the local government area before the council elections on Saturday, December 5, 1998. The following Saturday was the governorship election, I was burnt in my village, because I was the anchorman for PDP in the local government. I was the engine room of the election there.

Why were you the target of the attack when you were not a candidate in the any of the elections and how did it happen?

I had gone out to distribute materials for the election and on my way back, I was attacked by APP supporters, who damaged the windscreen of my car, but I managed to get to the house. About 4 pm, I decided again to drive to Qua Iboe Church area to find out if our party agents that went to the riverine communities were back. On my way back, I was blocked and burnt inside my car. I drove with the fire from there to a certain point I could not drive again and was lucky to be rescued by some good Samaritans, who took me to the hospital. I stayed in the hospital for five months. Nobody thought I would survive. But I want to stress the point here that Ibeno Local Government is under the firm control of PDP and the party will continue to be a stronghold of PDP, because all of us that supported the party from the first day are still there. So, PDP will always win election in my local government.

Who were the dramatis personae and why did they have to go to the extent of setting you ablaze in your car?

I will not go into details of mentioning those that were involved in the attack. The most important things is that we won the election; we defeated APP. So, there is no way you will not expect them to be angry. However, we did not expect they could be angry to the extent of setting somebody ablaze inside the car. It was APP thugs. My village, Upenekang is the local government headquarters. I do not know what informed their idea of setting me ablaze, but I know that they were frustrated for losing so embarrassingly. I would not mention the names of those who set me ablaze, because I have forgiven all of them. It will not be proper to do that now.

What was the level of involvement of the Peoples Democratic Party in the payment of your hospital bills and other logistics?

I would not know the level of PDP’s involvement, because up till today, I do not really know if the party contributed or defrayed part of my hospital bills.

Why did not you get angry and leave the party for neglecting you at that critical time?

I am a team player. The other reason is that my brother won an election as a council chairman in PDP in my local government, so why will I leave PDP to a party that set me ablaze? I do not believe in that kind of politics.

After that encounter, was there any attempt by either you or the opposing faction to redress the grievances that led to the attack on you?

When I was in the hospital, the Police arrested many people, but when I was discharged, we took the matter to court. However, I directed the state counsel to withdraw the case from court, because the matter was drawing me back. For instance, on the day you want to attend to your private business somewhere, you may be needed in court. Besides, I have forgiven the people that did that to me and I thought that there was no point continuing with the case.

Most of them are now my friends and they even come to my house. To show that I have forgiven them, I recommended some of them for appointment in the previous government. I am a Christian and know that it is God that saved my life. In that case, there is no point looking back. The most important thing is that I am alive today by the grace of the Almighty God, so I have to move on.

Who were the other actors during the formative years of PDP in your local government?

I have mentioned my brother, Elder Nseabasi Ette, Pastor Abang Okon Abang who was the pioneer chapter chairman; I have also mentioned William, my brother’s friend and a member of family. Samuel Ekpenyong was there. The pioneer vice-chairman of the council, Hon. Inyang Eyo Ita was also there; Charles Ukoette, Enyina Etim from Upenekang and many others were there with us.

We brought in people from all the traditional villages of Ibeno to make up PDP and that was why we were able to win in all the wards in Ibeno, but the man that brought PDP to Ibeno, a party all of us are benefitting from today was Elder Nseabasi Etteh.

You appear to be the arrowhead of the PDP in Ibeno. How were you able to exert so much influence on the party over the years?

In my local government, you must always speak the truth. We have been there, not just Okpulopm and his elder brothers who started playing politics many decades ago, but the succession arrangement we put in place. This one will go and another steps in. We have done so much in Ibeno Local Government and all ofus in the family have been tested. If you take out 100 families in Ibeno, I believe we have touched up 70. We have sent people to school, not with government funds; we have done so many things. The secondary school in my village was built by my father, while most of the streets you find in Upenekang today were opened by late Neseabasi Etteh in 1975, when he was the Agric Extension Officer in Eket. He brought in the bulldozer to open those streets.

We have done a lot, and we do not tell lies in politics. We play politics of loyalty and reward. If you support us, when the opportunity comes, we will do something for you. In the local government, you will not see any of my brothers in some places. This is what I mean. Maybe, the governor has given you a leverage, you nominate your wife, mother, brother, and others for political appointment. That is not the case in my local government. Friday Ikpo is from Okorutip in Ibeno and he is a current transition member. He had been an officer of the party. He was my brother’s presiding officer in the 1998 local government elections and because he has been faithful to us, we gave him the opportunity to be an officer of the party. In one of the elections, he was an agent of the party and the other time, a presiding officer. He contested an election and came back, so we have to support him. In politics, when people support you and they are rewarded, they definitely will follow you to the end. It is as simple as that. The late Itam Moses Itam, was the deputy chapter chairman of PDP and later took over from the late Pastor Abang Okon Abang as the chapter chairman before he was elected in 2008 as the council chairman.

When he died, we promised his village, Iwuochang and his ward that the moment Hon. Regina Egbe, who was the vice-chairman of the council and Itam’s successor completes that tenure that we are going to return the position of the chairman of council to Iwuochang. That was how Henry Ekpe Nko came in as council chairman. To me, politics is all about telling the people the truth. Tell them what you can do and what you cannot do. A politician does not need to deceive his people. In Ibeno Local Government, we do not deceive people in politics and that is why we have a large fellowship. Everybody knows that when the Ettehs say yes to a thing, they will do it. If I tell you that I will assist you, I will assist you.

Before the last elections, I was in my local government and my people where angry, because we lost the PDP governorship primary. They wanted to go to another political party and I said no to it. I told them that we built this house (PDP) and because we lost the governorship primary, we cannot remove the roof.

Remove the roof to where? In politics, you have to tell the truth. I think that is the border line. A politician should be able to tell somebody, I can do this and I think cannot do this one for you, but when a politician keeps deceiving his people, at the end of the day, the followers will abandon him and the party and the result will be defeat at election.

Can you tell us about your journey into the House of Assembly?

I went to the house of Assembly in 2006 after the death of Ernest Ukochio. Before then, I had always been a private sector-driven politician. I was not a career politician, but a professional in politics. I am a marketer by academic background, a fisherman by nature and politician by vocation. So, I am not a professional politician, but a professional in politics. For instance, I am not in any political office now, so I go back to my farm and keep watching the terrain; anything the system wants me to do, I will do.

One would have expected you to leave after the 2014 PDP gubernatorial primary in the state. Why did you not leave?

That is one of the questions I have been answering everywhere. I don’t know when I will stop answering this particular question. It is not reasonable to leave, because I lost the gubernatorial primary. Politics is defined as exercise of power, meaning that the process of acquiring power must be accepted. We have been defeating people. I supported former Gov. Godswill Akpabio and he won. I was the only House of Assembly member in the 2003-2007 session that did that till we won the election.

So, when we defeated those who did not share the same aspiration with us, they did not defect from the party. There have been several victories on our path, so my defeat for the first time in the gubernatorial primary is not enough reason to leave PDP. What would make me to leave the party is if I am not carried along; that means that I have been sidelined. I will now have a genuine reason to leave the party. To me, anywhere the gubernatorial primary was conducted; there would still have been one winner. Everybody cannot win at the same time.

If everybody that is defeated in the primaries leaves the PDP, nobody will remain. When Obong Attah defeated Benjamin Okoko in the 1998, even though it was through a consensus arrangement, he did not leave PDP. He stayed and worked for the success of PDP. Now, it is your turn to work for the success of the other person, who is flying the party’s flag, you want to leave. That is not the mark of a good party member. Other members of PDP worked for my success in elections I contested over the years and it is my turn to work for others and the party to win future elections and somebody wants me to leave. Leave the PDP to where?

In 2014, somebody from my senatorial district was the standard-bearer of the party for the 2015 governorship election and I am an apostle of zoning of the governorship ticket to Eket Senatorial District. I had always stated in my position at every fora that it was the turn of Eket Senatorial District. Therefore, you would not have expected me to leave my party to support somebody from Uyo Senatorial District in another political party when it was the turn of Eket Senatorial District.

That would not have been fair and I would not have been free with my conscience. Today, I am the happiest man, because we won that governorship election. It must not be me. Gov. Udom Emmanuel is from my federal constituency-Eket and from Eket Senatorial District. We share a common boundary and I can always pick up my phone and call the governor and say, please, in my localgovernment, we need this infrastructure and I am very sure he will do it. If I had defected, I would not have demonstrated leadership.

I have a large number of followers across the state. The day I came back, I told my followers not to leave the party and they listened to me.

Still on the PDP gubernatorial primary; most of the delegates did not vote for aspirants from their local government area, but Ibeno delegates defied all the odds and more than 50 per cent of them voted for you. What was the magic?

That goes to confirm to you that we play liberal politics. The Ettehs have always been transparent and carry their supporters along. The fact that my brother was a chapter chairman was not enough to convince delegates from my local government to vote for me, but they did that because they believed in us. We do not force anybody to vote for a particular candidate. I have funded PDP in my local government from 1998 and contributed immensely to Obong Attah’s election in 1999. I will tell you here that I brought out money from my car to assist the party on election day in 1999; the balance was burnt in the car when I was attacked. Obong Attah sent only N50,000 to each local government and that amount cannot even pay speed boats to carry people from Upenekang to riverine communities. And you cannot go to the riverine communities in the morning because the tide is high. What I am saying here is that N50,000 was grossly insufficient to finance that election. But, we have been funding elections in Ibeno Local Government. I and other key stakeholders funded PDP and supported others; we funded PDP up till few months ago when I left public office. We paid the rent for the party office; paid hospital bills and school fees for many people and students, because the governor cannot do everything for the people or reach them at the same time. So, we try to reach out because I was elected on the platform of PDP.

Since the governor can reach me, I should be able to touch the lives of some people; the council chairman should be able to reach others and the councilor should be able to affect the lives of some people in his ward.

Is it true that you were told by former Gov. Chief Godswill Akpabio to withdraw from the governorship race? If it is true, why did you reject the offer to go to the House of Representatives?

The fact that one has won many elections does not mean that one must contest every election. I wanted to be the governor and had no intention of going to the House of Representatives. As a governorship aspirant, you have a long line of supporters. There were people who aspired to go to the House of Assembly, House of Representatives and the Senate in my camp.

And I had gone to persuade Barr. Ime Ekpoatai to release his wife, Mrs. Owoidighe to contest the Eket Federal Constituency election in my camp and it will have been wrong for me to now turn around and say that I wanted to go the House of Representatives, because the governor had called me and said that I should withdraw from the governorship race. He said I should run for Eket Federal Constituency ticket. It is true that the governor actually called me from the party secretariat in Abuja and said I should join the House of Representatives race and I said I am sorry, I cannot take the offer, because I have a candidate I told all my supporters I was supporting. I told him that instead of doing that; I will go home and rest. There are people who play that kind of politics, but I can’t do that. I had brought out somebody for the House of Representatives and two days to the primary, I will call some people to my house and declare that I have changed my mind. What will happen to my children after my tenure in the House of Representatives? When people see my children on the street, they will say, the father betrayed people. They will say that there is every tendency that the children can behave like the father. No, I cannot! I don’t have any regret rejecting the offer to go to the House of Representatives. I am so happy that my candidate for the House of Assembly, Hon. Usoroh Akpanusoh won; Mrs. Ekpoattai also won as well as Chief Nelson Efifong, whom, I supported for Senate. We had supported Nelson Efiong before in 2006, but he was denied the ticket. We supported him and he won. In the governorship election, we voted for PDP and we won, and I am enjoying myself as a PDP member.

It is true that I would have made more money if I were in the House of Representatives. But of what use would that money had been to me. What about my name; I would have betrayed someone I brought out for an election.

What are those things you have seen that you feel should be corrected in the PDP 17 years after?

We have one major problem and that is the number of those who scheduled by the guidelines of the party to participate in the primaries. Initially, the PDP Constitution stipulated that ward executive members were delegates in chairmanship, House of Assembly, House of Representatives and Senate primaries, but in the last amendment of the party’s constitution, that provision was removed. And the primaries were opportunities for the ward officers to have some money, but they have been removed as delegates. By this action, we have lost the grassroots because the ward officers are the people that are used as party agents on election day, because they are committed and are stakeholders in the party. They have been removed and replaced with three ad-hoc delegates from each ward.

So, what happens to the ward executives; people who have been running the party?

I want to appeal to the party to return the ward officers to their former status; delegates to the chairmanship, House of Assembly, House of Representatives and Senate primaries. This gives them a sense of belonging. This is the major problem PDP has and it is very serious grassroots issue nationwide. When we had all the ward officers participating in the primaries and congresses; because PDP is formidable at the grassroots, they will be ready to die for the party, because they are beneficiaries of an organized process in the party. Any attempt to take away a process that has been beneficial to them will be interpreted as a ploy to remove food from their mouth and they will resist it. I want to appeal to the national leadership of PDP to bring back that provision, which made ward officers delegates in chairmanship, assembly, House of Representatives and Senate primaries. When you talk to them now, they will tell you that they work for the party and during primaries, some party leaders will bring their brothers, sisters and wives from outside the state; people who have never been members of the party as ad-hoc delegates.

We thank God that the court has nullified the congress that carried out that amendment, declaring that Ali-Modu Sherif is not the national chairman of PDP. Maybe, we are now going to draft that judgment to affect that section. But, I must tell you that I am not happy with the developments in the party now. And the reason we have these developments is because of the members of the party. There are two categories of PDP members; those who joined PDP in 1998 and others came into the party later. Those who joined PDP at inception are the ones trying to save the PDP today. All of you here can confirm what I am saying. Those who joined PDP after its formation and successes at the polls are causing the problem in the party; creating the confusion. They came and hijacked everything from the founding members and took over.

They came with blackmail and propaganda to push out the founding members from the system. This is what I mean. We must return PDP to the grassroots and allow proper primaries to take place. PDP is no longer a ruling party in Nigeria, but an opposition at the centre and for it to return to government at the national level, we must allow somebody who wins the primary to fly the party’s ticket. If we return the party to the grassroots as was done during the last congresses in Akwa Ibom, you will see that our party members will be ready to die for us to win election.

For us to return to the centre, we must allow the will of the people to stand. In the world, we have negative and positive, intrinsic and extrinsic, the poor and the rich. In PDP, we must also give opportunity to everyone. That way, we will return the party to the ideals of the founding fathers. The APC has committed enough blunders, which will give us an edge in the presidential election in 2019. APC is like a transformer that is over loaded and is just waiting for one small lightening to explode. So, we should take advantage of the situation and put our house in order and wait for APC to explode so that we move on.

What is your future political aspiration after the 2014 gubernatorial primary?

For now, I do not have political aspiration. I am tired; I have been working since 1998, so I want to assist government from the sideline.

There are many politicians who were in APP yesterday, but defected to PDP and are the people enjoying the government. There are people in government that had not gone out for campaign; they have never contested any election, but have money more than those of us that contested elections. I also want to deploy that strategy by not contesting any election; I want to sit down and enjoy the PDP-led government, because I have paid my dues for the party.

What will you do if you are compelled by your people?

No, my people cannot compel me; there is no way my people can compel me to go for an election. I took a personal decision to go to the Akwa Ibom House of Assembly. I was not compelled by anyone.

In any case, must I be contesting an election all the time?

There are other things I can do for government. The government can appoint me into any position. But I must not be in a political office to assist the government. Currently, I am assisting the government without occupying any office. I use this period to visit my friends and work on my businesses. Some weeks ago, somebody called me on the phone and said, we have been told that you are preparing for governorship in 2019 and I asked him, which governorship again? The governor is from my federal constituency and he has eight years to run, so why should I join the governorship race?

Would you support the reintroduction of Option A4 in PDP?

I am an apostle of transparent primaries. I was the chairman of PDP councillorship and chairmanship election committee in 2008 and that was the first time PDP released the original result sheet for the conduct of the primaries. That was the first time those who won the primaries were announced on the Radio. I told all the aspirants that if any of them was not satisfied with the result we had announced, the appeal panel was the place to go. I told them, whoever won in the field and the result gets to me in Uyo and we verified that there was no crisis, that we would announce the result.

Having said that, let me go to your question on Option A4. I will advise PDP to use Option A4 to conduct future primaries because it is the best. It will build confidence among party members. Although it can be manipulated, it is the best option if there is protection.