It is getting to about three months now since Venatius Ikem, a former Commissioner in Cross River State went into hiding as a result of the misunderstanding he had with his kinsman and governor, Professor Ben Ayade, which became pronounced after he decided to join the APC. So, where exactly is he hiding and why is he still in hiding? Why is he even at war with his brother-governor? These and other issues were addressed in this online interview with TNNonline.info
How has life in exile and in hiding been thus far?
It’s been a mix of many things. Moments of anger and sometimes sadness, moments of self blame and moments even of self doubt. But most of all I think it’s been a moment of deep introspection. Coinciding with the Christian season of lent and Easter, I hope that I have imbibed a few lessons moving forward, believing that my life must have been enriched by the experience.
How did you receive news of the attack on your house? And what do you think led to it?
Of course with shock, even trepidation. In all that we do, the least we expect is that the vulnerable ones we hold dear do not come into harm’s way because of our adult ego battles . I have one constant refrain for my adult children: never to inherit my enemies. I think my family is apolitical enough to be left alone. I take responsibility for my actions. Having said that, as a student of nature, though I don’t panic about such things because what is to be will be. I believe we are all family men. Since I am powerless to protect them even in the best of times, I leave their protection to God. If anyone harms my family, he will reap the reward in due season. What you sow is what you reap. If anyone harms an innocent member of my family on my account, he will reap same. What comes around goes around somehow. Clearly, the genesis is political. Our politics is descending to a very low level of fear. People discuss in fear. People avoid people for fear of being seen to be associated with people of opposing views. It’s unfortunate. The climate of fear in the state is suffocating and I just fear what it portends for the future.
We would have thought that you would come out of hiding after the court ordered that you should not be arrested by the police…
Certainly, that was my expectation too, even excitement when I got the news but I was advised to be a bit more cautious given the pervading atmosphere of fear and intimidation that has come with some bruised egos in the aftermath of this unnecessary crisis. Secondly, we also have some matters to resolve in the Abuja high curt bordering on the subject matter under consideration. Clearly, you live to fight another day. A hero is not one who commits suicide by being foolhardy in the face of clear danger. Caution, they say, is the better side of valour.
At what point will you be willing to reconcile with your brother and Governor?
Honestly, I do not know if I have any issues with the governor as it is. Our relationship of hate and love spans many decades and as he knows me I have an open mind. What maybe I think he cannot understand is why I put myself in what he considers unnecessary danger instead of settling down to benefit from my effort. Clearly, therein lies an ideological difference between us, the idea of materialistic acquisitions as a necessary reward for political effort. Before I left PDP, I duly informed him saying that I was unable to find any further avenue to fulfil my political aspiration under the PDP as presently constituted. As an intellectual, I had expected my brother to seek to find out what those “political aspirations” were. But instead he chose the line of intimidation. That I had lost faith in PDP did not come over night. I have been very vocal about my misgivings for quite some time. It was only difficult to leave the party after our candidate was cheated out of the primaries and all of us treated very badly because we would have looked like bad losers especially when the candidate that emerged in himself happened to have been a brother. Having known me this long since we did politics together in the defunct SDP, he should know that intimidation is not the language I listen to easily. I am not averse to fear, mind you; but courage is not the absence of fear. It is the ability to confront it. Or carry on despite it. So for me really, I think as governor, he should grow up to the realisation that his responsibility is huge. He must constantly learn how to step outside of himself and do things because he is governor not necessarily because he likes them. I had earlier warned him after some observations to stop letting power get into him because I said to him that he was changing from the person I used to know. Little did I know that I was soon going to be a victim of his newly acquired power. To answer you directly, anytime I become aware that it is okay for him to live with the fact that we can co -exist in two different political parties, then I will feel free to relate with him as my governor. If he wants a more formal resolution of the issues, he can always summon me and as a citizen, I can always oblige him.
Do you think the rift between you and the governor is in the best interest of the State?
A rift between persons by its very nature cannot be in the interest of anyone. Ideas thrive in harmony not in crisis. I believe that we have lost a lot as a state even in the few months of this unnecessary crisis because whether the governor admits it or not, he has been quite distracted. His public perception is nose diving and I think it is regrettable. But as governor, I think he must take responsibility for allowing things to descend to this level. I can’t blame advisers because I know him well enough to know that all that has happened has been so because he chose to have it so. The solution also lies with him.
What does the future hold for you politically?
Honestly, I wish I knew! If there are things I believe man would wish for more than if he could look into the future, they won’t be many. As it is, God has kept that a closely guided secret from man. If you are asking what I could wish for myself politically moving forward, then I would summarise it to be to continue to have the opportunity of contributing towards shaping our society in any little way that I can. It is the privilege God has given me in being part of the political process for a long time now and I am not happy when I see the political process, in terms of basic freedoms getting worst under a supposedly democratic regime. Corruption is getting worst, unless President Buhari sustains the anti corruption war. Impunity is getting worse by the day. Democratic tenets have become worst. All institutions that help to nurture democracy are under threat because we allowed money and not principles, to override our consideration in determining suitability of persons for public office. These are all the failings of PDP as a party because as the party that won the first election in this dispensation, it had the onerous responsibility to build institutions that should sustain democracy. We failed woefully because we were too keen to remain in power and that love of power meant nothing was sacrosanct in our determination to acquire it. But we did not count on God so at the appropriate moment He showed us that He could take away that which we seemed to cherish above all else.
The governor has made frantic efforts in getting foreign investors into the state. Is this not commendable?
I will say outrightly no. There is nothing commendable in frantic effort. What should be commended to my mind is that he has “attracted” many foreign investors into the state, not the “frantic efforts”. We are in the 11 month and all we have heard from day one have been investors, foreign investors. There has been so much motion without any movement and I think the time has come for the governor to take a few steps back and get more realistic. He said he got € 500m within the first one month. I hope it is there! On a more serious note, what is our state’s policy framework for foreign investment? Anybody can invite some white men, yellow men etc, to the state at state’s expense who will come and look around, recreate and make a few statements or be shown on TV as investors and they go back home and snigger at us. Any serious investor will rely on two things : the legal and regulatory framework. Two, states are not sovereign so they have limits to which they can make commitments so you need sovereign guarantees. In all this talk about foreign investors how prepared are we? When we talk about seaport investment, we seem to forget that one, Cross River State has no sea boundary and two, the state house of assembly cannot legislate on seaports. Naming an agency a deep sea port can be declared null and void in the absence of any enabling law any day. Passing the law will meet the same fate because the state house of assembly has no powers to legislate. Unless we want to look for excuses for our failures I think clearly the governor needs to reassess his priorities. Those urging him on in the face of glaring issues that he needs to confront are not doing him any good. I said it before that he needs to take a few steps back, swallow his pride and draw a sustainable road map to move the state forward but he is running out of time. His success is our collective success and I don’t want him to fail.
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