C/River@50: Interview: we’re living on past laurels, we need to restrategise – Prof. Eyo Nyong

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Monday, 3 June 2017 
Cross River is one of the most geographically advantaged states in Nigeria, in the area of Agriculture. This is the only state in Nigeria I know that has 5 different ecosystems. Starting from the Mangrove swamp forest, Fresh Water Swamp Forest, Tropical (lowland) Rain Forest, Derived Savannah Eco-zone and the Montaine region ecosystem and all of that with different soil types that can grow different types of crops, vegetable etc. What are we doing to empower our people or to encourage our people to go in and exploit those opportunities? Do you know of any mechanized agricultural farm in this state? For me I don't know of any. These are issues that youth like you should be worried about. 

On Friday 19th of May, The Mandate, a civil society organization with keen interest in leadership paid a visit to Professor Eyo Etim Nyong, globally renowned as well as academic, politician, businessman and elder statesman in commemoration of Cross River @ 50. 
The Mandate had in their company her Director General, Mr Ambo Ekpenyong, Director of Programmes, Mr Eteng Eteng and Publicity Secretary, Mr Efio-Ita Nyok. 
Professor Nyong graciously granted The Mandate a near-30 minute interview. The renowned statesman fielded questions particularly bordering on the upcoming Cross River @ 50 event, youth involvement in politics, Cross River State economy, education, agriculture, development, etc. 
All through the course of the interview, Professor Nyong made emphasis on re-strategising our development paradigms. 
Excerpt:
THE MANDATE: Sir, for the purpose of this interview could you please introduce yourself? 
Professor Nyong: My Name is Professor Eyo Etim Nyong, a Professor of Petroleum Geology. I spent a good part of my time in the university system and also served in this state as a commissioner and in three offices Special Duties in the Governor's Office, Ministry of Agriculture and finally Finance and Economic Development. 
I have also served the state as a Commissioner representing Cross River in the premier board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). I am also involved in numerous governmental and non-governmental organizations, I'm currently the National Chairman of Oil and Solid Minerals Producing Areas Landlords Association of Nigeria (OMPALAN). I am also affiliated to as well as being  a member of many professional societies. Yes, my activity cuts across academics, politics, business life, community service as well as church service. 
THE MANDATE  : Come May 27, it's alleged that Cross River will be fifty years. In your thinking, do you think there's anything worth celebrating in the state?
Professor Nyong : You are asking if it is necessary to celebrate Cross River @ 50. I don't even know if Cross River State is up to 50 years old. Because CRS as presently constituted, was established in 1987 when Akwa Ibom was separated from us. Before then we were South Eastern State that was set up way back. May be as South Eastern state we would be celebrating 50, in which case Akwa Ibom should be involved in the celebration. 
I may be wrong but you can check the records, but I think we came to where we are today after separation of Akwa Ibom state. We may have answered Cross River State all along but we were not the entity that we find ourselves today, that not withstanding.. 
Life is worth celebrating no matter the circumstance; I think what we should be more concerned about is are we making progress in life? Are we creating sustainable development platforms for future generations? As we celebrate, are we conscious of our losses? We've even lost territories, we've lost Bakassi, a very rich territory, and we've lost oil wells.  We have lost parts of our rich ecosystems.
As we are today, getting ready to celebrate, we are one of the largest recipients of pollutants from offshore oil spill as recorded in the Cross River Estuary and in the Calabar River and also in near by Quaiboe River estuary, yet we in Cross River are the lowest recipient of the benefits of oil production in the country, within the Niger Delta Region.
What are we doing about it, to enable us get the necessary data to key into it and receive funds to restore our land. Our fish life have depleted over time: When I was young we used to play with fish names. You may name different types of fish then, but you cannot name beyond three now. It was popularly known as ata nso iyak meaning what type of fish do you eat. We have lost a lot of species  because of pollution. I think these are areas, as we celebrate, we should be strategizing, looking at the way forward, we need to get our ecosystems natural resources restored for sustainable growth that will take us to greater heights. 
Right now, as I speak, we are living on our past laurels. The laurels of being, the most hospitable, the most secured, the most charitable, the richest culture in the country and all of that. We are living in those past laurels. We are not even preserving those virtues. We're no longer the cleanest state in the country, we are no longer the safest; I'm not saying we should not celebrate, we are alive, there's population growth, okay, there are things that are happening, but this period of celebration should be a period of reflection and re-strategising for the future. That is my immediate reaction to your question.
THE MANDATE : Thank you very much Sir for the keen response. With an Emmanuel Macron presidency in France and the nationally trending Not-too-young-to-run campaign what do you think of youth involvement in politics? 
Professor Nyong
Okay, I know about that campaign. But let me ask you, how many 39 year olds in Nigeria will be willing to marry a 64 year old woman?  
THE MANDATE: Sir, we don't have the statistics… (they all smile).
Professor Nyong: I am putting that to you to let you know that age is a question of the mind, it's a thing of the mind. Nigerian youths don't have that kind of mindset to accommodate and tolerate a 64 year old woman. That kind of mindset is very different from our own. So, going into governance at the age of 39 with a mature (adult) mindset in a well structured and established democracy as in France is different from the Nigerian situation.  
But let me tell you, there's need to have youths in governance. There's need because we can only grow by experience. And if you don't have opportunity you cannot build experience. Let me also say that the quality of education in our country not only in Cross River is deteriorating drastically. A West African School Certificate holder in the '70s can handle things better than a first degree holder of today from a Nigerian university, in many cases. The quality has dropped. So when you say bring down the age, bring down the age let 20 year old, 30 year old hold offices and so on. What are they going to deliver? What is the leadership content in their heads? What exposure levels do they have? What have they gone through in life to enable them sit in governance.
My recommendation is that we grow the quality of education in our state, build the capacity of our youths, create jobs and entrepreneurial skills and opportunities and shut down the on-going trend of celebrating those that lack development concepts for peanuts and vanity gifts. Let our youths believe that their tomorrow is greater than today.
Recently I have read about the issue of over 600 uncertified, unqualified people with fake certificates in the teaching department and government has allowed them to stay rather than sack them, we reduced their salaries and so on. That does not mean that they are not delivering low quality teaching to our people. My suggestion is, either you get rid of them or set up a panel or an institution to retrain them to improve their service delivery to the community rather than leave them there to continue to impact negatively on our educational system. 
Our very poor quality of education does not produce the quality of youth that is found in the 39 year old French president. So, we have to look at our own background before we start comparing ages across the world. let us look at our own background first. If you look at the biography of this French president you will see that he has recorded quite some exposure and experience. So, that is what we need to be able to get into that level, but gradually we must still identify the good ones among our people, give them some opportunities to gain experience to give their colleagues good governance. 
After celebrating, what next? Are we going to remain like this? Like I said earlier, are we going to re-strategise our development paradigms to be able to carry the youths forward? Like I told one of you this morning. Everybody cannot be looking at the university system, come out and be looking for jobs in government. There are no industries; there must be strategic proposals that will enable the growth of industries. Not always we are looking to setup mega projects alone. There are smaller things, that can engage our youths. Look, in this our state especially in the Calabar area here, if you look for a painter its a non-indegene, in fact in all aspect of building, if you look for professionals in those areas all of them are non-indegenes.
Why can't we deliberately set up facilities to train and equip our people in vocational skills, to be able to deliver on these jobs? Looking at welding, none of our people. You look at carpentry, none of our people. Looking at electrical works none of our people, very few, very few. So, government can set up workshops, one in each senatorial district, cause the place to be properly equipped, employ knowledgeable people to lead in the place and train our people, partner with banks who will now give them access to funds to set up these businesses. We can even dedicate an area to set up these kind of businesses and run it with solar so that they can perform effectively with modern technologies. That way, they get employed and employ other people not waiting for government appointments. We have to re-strategise. 
The government of the federation is talking about diversifying the economy. Cross River is one of the most geographically advantaged state in terms of Agriculture. This is the only state in Nigeria I know that have more than 5 different ecosystems. Why cant we build a cassava value chain to meaningfully engage our people in a scheme that is projected to raise up to $50bn (fifty billion U.S dollars) annually? Cross River can lead in this initiative. 
It's not just about obtaining a university degree. Even those of you that have obtained university degrees and don't have jobs, can invest whatever knowledge you have acquired in managing these kind of businesses. Even the little we are producing, are we adding value to them in terms of agro processing? I don't know of any! We just sell them raw like that and other people go and process it elsewhere and make the money. Imagine the number of years of cocoa production in this state and yet no cocoa processing plant. There's no value chain set up to produce, add value, and market. Please we need to re-strategize, we need to look back at our conditions, and ask ourselves what progress have we made from the past to the present and what hangs on for the future. We talk about ICT which is what's driving economy globally today. What are we doing in our state?  
We may be thinking globally, but lets act locally. Let's do things that address our local perspectives. Mega projects! Good. I have no problem with them, but let them be practical, let them be things that will impact on our communities. I don't know how many of us will drive on a six lane high way. But we can do small projects and still do them in a big way and still finish them in a great way and impact on more people than so called mega projects that will enhance the business life of those who are already opportuned. 
THE MANDATE : As a build up to the 2019 elections we are beginning to experience a gale of defections from major political parties particularly from the PDP to the APC. What's your perspective on this trend? 
Professor Nyong:  (cuts in) yea!  Well, I can tell you that I don't blame anybody defecting here and there. That leads me to the issues of good governance. Good governance is what we desire. All these ideas I spoke to you about before now can only be driven if you have good governance. 
If you are in a party that is run by impunity, if you are in a party that does not respect internal democracy, if you are in a party that is run in a family, family dictates everything, if you are in a party that does not recognize what you have to offer, if you are in a party that everything is for sell, if you are the kind of person that believe in good governance, you will not stay in that party. That is the truth. 
A lot of people that are defecting from PDP to APC know what they have suffered in PDP over the years. I had been in PDP years back, before becoming a member of APC. I had my own experiences, for God sake, don't blame anybody. The important thing is that don't come with your own individual agenda to any party. Go there with the mindset of working as a team member to grow the party for proper governance if the opportunity comes. That is my own opinion.  
I don't think anybody should be stopped from moving from one party to another because there are different experiences, some of them very sad, for instance PDP had ruled this country for about 16 years, all we can see in the records that are being made available today is the greatest level of corruption and looting of the treasury of this country worst than all the military regimes put together. Now, if you have a heart or a passion for your people why will you want to continue to serve in such a party? I don't blame anybody.
THE MANDATE : Thank you very much Prof for your time. It's a pleasure, your statements were very incisive and educating. 
The Mandate hopes to have subsequent discussions of this nature with you. 
Professor Nyong:  (laughs) The pleasure is rather mine.

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