2023 IS IN GOD’S HAND – ALBERT

Senator  Bassey Albert Akpan -Banker, Economist, Philanthropist, and Politician was first elected into the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2015 and re-elected for a second time in the 2019 senatorial elections. He represents Akwa Ibom North-East Senatorial District and he is a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Previously, Albert, popularly known as OBA, served as Commissioner of Finance in Akwa Ibom State from 2007 to 2014 and hails from Ididep Usuk village, Ibiono Ibom Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State.

He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics (Second Class Upper Division), University of Uyo and a Masters Degree in Business Administration (MBA) from University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

He worked in the banking sector in various banks rising to the position of Manager, Corporate Banking group at the Continental Trust Bank at the bank’s Victoria Island Lagos, Head Office. He later joined First Inland Bank Plc in 2003 as the Uyo Branch Manager, where he won the bank’s best performing branch manager award in the South-South region. He also won the award of the best performing branch manager nationwide in the bank’s mid-year review of the 2004 financial year.

In 2005, he joined First City Monument Bank as Assistant Vice President, where he was in charge of Akwa Ibom and Cross River States among several other responsibilities including overseeing the day-to-day running of over 15 branches spread across the zone as the Zonal Head.

He chaired the Senate Committee on Gas Resources; 2015-2019 and in the present dispensation, Chairman, Senate Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream).

The Senator is also the Chairman, Akwa Ibom Caucus in the National Assembly speaks with Crystal Express Newspaper on his contributions in the Senate, his relationship with Gov Udom Emmanuel, his passion for service to his constituents and other topical issues.

Excerpts

As the leader of the Akwa Ibom Caucus in the National Assembly, how do you network with others to protect and advance the interest of Akwa Ibom State regarding projects and programmes of the Federal Government?

I think for me, our basic responsibilities as parliamentarians are to make laws; lawmaking is our cardinal objective and primary responsibility. We will be adjudged and measured by the number of laws each of us contributed in making not necessarily that you must be the initiator of the law since it is collective responsibility. While lawmakers at all organs of government make laws, the Executive implements while the judiciary interprets the law. In the course of law making there are other things that play out depending on the platform you find yourself. First, is the ability to attract Government attention to the plight of your people back home. It is on that basis, one can measure if he has a good representative in his parliamentarian. I want to thank God for the opportunity given us to represent our people and also thank our people for finding us fit and capable to represent them at the National Assembly. On behalf of the caucus of the 9th National Assembly, I want to assure Akwa Ibom people that we are working together as well as synergizing with our colleagues across the country to ensure the best for them. We will do our best to leave the stage better than we met it.

In your first term in the Senate, you headed the Senate Committee on Gas Resources and must have recorded some milestones during that era. Can you tell us some of them?

I must thank the former Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki for finding me capable then to head that committee. I always tell people that once God gives you an opportunity, you must always take advantage of it and add value and leave it far better than you met it. We made tremendous achievements during our oversight functions in that sector and they are there for all to see. Through our instrumentality, we were able to frame a Gas policy for the country. We were able to contribute and strengthen the country’s Gas master plan which brought about the privatization by the present administration and of course I sponsored the Gas flaring bill that was passed into law by the Senate. We were able to streamline and refocus the sector. Gas in the past was seen as a bye product but there are other sides of Gas which makes it major resource to gain maximally. It is now seen as a major economic driving resource because you know that the problem of climate change and the challenges of solar power and hydro energy and all that as well as the need to enhance a cleaner environment which Gas offers have up its value and benefits.

The oil we see today is a diminishing asset because in the next couple of years, electrical will take over completely; but you will have solar propelled power and renewed energy all over the place.

But on Gas, we have driven it to a point where we can now look at Gas as an investible resource, so that people can invest in Gas to drive their business rather than crude oil and a lot of things have changed in that sector. I think my elevation to the upstream sector of oil and Gas industry which is the main body was because of my performance as Chairman Committee on Gas in 8th Senate. The challenges no doubt are enormous but we are making progress with God who has already taken the centre stage. We are striving to leave a foot-print for all to see and also make the State proud.

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Your leadership of that committee must have opened your eyes to the challenges of the problems in the region. Can you bare your mind on some of them?

When I was announced as the Chairman of the Petroleum Upstream, it didn’t come to me as a surprise. It is one of the four top committee positions in the Senate and National Assembly. In the House of Representatives, the upstream chairman went to the North, the downstream Chairman went to the North and only Gas committee was given to Delta State. Even in the Senate, the downstream went to the North and only Gas committee went to Delta State but the Senate President insist that I must drive the industry for Nigerians to see a positive change and we are already working. So it is a huge responsibility and I must tell Niger Deltans that we must take advantage of the opportunities God has given to us. In the next couple of weeks we will tour the entire installations and know how our people are coping with the oil and gas exploration. A lot is in the offing and we are desirous of doing our best to leave the industry far better than we met it. I can assure the people of Niger Delta that the 9th Senate is working for their good and will improve the living standard of the people. We must all work together not only as the upstream or downstream of the National Assembly even those in NDDC and Niger Delta Ministry must work for the peoples need; by the time you add the bits, it creates an ocean of empowerment. As for where I found myself, I pray to God to enable me make an impact for the good of our people.

59 years after, will you rate Nigeria as a great nation or one still struggling for survival?

I have always made it clear that I have high hopes for this country and also have seen great hope on the horizon. Nigeria has been desirous of leadership and I pray that God will give us leaders who will work for the good of the country. One of the good leaders, I have seen is President Muhammadu Buhari. He believes in the greatness of this country. He may not be perfect but has great love for Nigeria. I believe that those who will come after him will also do their best to alleviate the sufferings of the masses. We must collectively work together to turn around the fortunes of Nigeria. The leadership of the country must be seen as a collective responsibility and we must stop the blame game. Nigerians who trusted us with their mandates are also waiting to see the manifestation of that decision. The interest of our people should remain paramount at all times. As a member of the National Assembly under the leadership of the impactful Ahmed Lawan, I can assure you that we are doing everything possible to alleviate the sufferings of our people.

This National Assembly is going to be different from the last one because one of the contentious issues which surrounded the emergence of the leadership of the last one is not there this time around. We believe the Senate should allow the President the opportunity on the choice of leadership to avoid blaming anybody if he fails. He has been given all he wants and we are ready to support him to the later to ensure that he implements all his policies and programmes for the benefit of all.

Early in the life of this administration, you moved a motion demanding the President to immediately send list of ministers to the Senate for screening. What motivated you for the action?

Well I did that to clear road for the quicker implementation of his plan for the country and avoid the blame game of the past. When some lapses were blamed on the failure to have his cabinet in place on time. So it was a patriotic action and barely a week after to the glory of God the list came to the Senate for screening.

Last month, the Tribunal reaffirmed your election. But your opponent still believe he will get justice at Appeal Court. Do you feel disturbed or distracted by his action?

No it’s his right to do so as enshrined in the electoral Act of the country. But I am confident that even if he takes the matter to the Court of Appeal, it will not change. I was popularly elected. I wish him well while serving my people with the greatest sense of responsibility, their support has strengthened me.

Your last year’s Empowerment Programme was one of the best in the country and your constituents are looking forward to more. What is in the offing for them this time.?

It is the best not one of the best, the Lord himself said that the later rain shall be greater than the former, so expect nothing less but expect something more.

Notwithstanding your enormous contributions to the campaigns and success of Governor Udom Emmanuel’s re-election, information in town is that both of you have parted ways. Is that true?

My relationship with Governor Udom Emmanuel is fantastic. It is very cordial; the Governor is my brother, my confidant, my mentor and my leader. I don’t have any issues with the Governor and anybody waiting for us to quarrel will wait till infinity. Udom and I, are working together for the good of our people and I hold him in a very high esteem and he respects me too. So we have mutual relationship, my support for him in 2019 election is also what my people who elected me mandated me to do. The people of Akwa Ibom North East (Uyo) Senatorial District overwhelmingly resolved that Udom’s second term is not negotiable and as their Senator, I could not do otherwise since you cannot move without the followers. I was only the voice after the leaders met and resolved to support him and to God be the glory, he won convincingly. I worked tirelessly and made enormous sacrifice to actualize the success of the Governor and all of us in the PDP.

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Your scholarship programme for students from Akwa Ibom North East (Uyo) Senatorial District (USD) and beyond is creating maximum impact. May we know the number of beneficiaries and how much you have spent on the exercise so far?

Well, one experience in life that has shaped my passion was my background. I came from a very poor background and God saw me through. I have been a house help, I have sold on the streets and when I see myself today speaking for the people as the Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I give all thanks to God. Nature never gives me such opportunity but God saw me through. That is why I am passionate about Human Empowerment mostly through Education.

Education eradicates ignorance, poverty, mental poverty, illiteracy and vices, like kidnapping, robbery etc., even when I was a commissioner; I had a scholarship programme named after my mother with hundreds of students at that time. So when in 2014, I stepped down for Udom Emmanuel to become the Governor because I found him capable and worthy successor to Chief Godswill Akpabio, I aspired and found myself in the Senate and I decided to give back to my people for the love they have shown me and Education readily came to my mind. The scholarship programme is purely on merit, we had an aptitude test in which the students took the test and mark the test by themselves. I never recommended even one person on my own. These I did so that anybody who fails will know he failed and those that passed will know they merited it. So from over a thousand students, 141 students were chosen, out of the 141 students we have about 38 left. One of the overall best students produced by the scheme is from a very poor family. Today, we have students in the scheme who made first class and others with second class upper division. The rule is that you must maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0 to remain in the programme. Once you drop to 2.95 you are out of the programme, so the rules boasted their morale and they worked harder to mountain their GPA. I can tell you that 80 percent of these students graduated with (2.1) second class upper division and about 15 percent made 1st class. In three years, we have spent about N38 million in the scheme. What we did that stood us out is that we pay your full tuition fees and then give you N20,000 per annum upkeep and N10,000 per semester to buy handouts to avoid situations students pay school fees without money to buy handouts. I was quite encouraged by the success of that programme and have to take up another 200 students which will cost me about N9.6 million in which I have already paid N6m.

The students cut across all the institutions in the country and we do pay direct to the institution’s portal and I know that by next week, I would have fully paid the first semester fees and then their upkeep. So we are now adding the current 200 students to the remaining 38 students from the first scheme. We recruit once in three years and we have a committee of experts who visit the schools to find out how the students are faring and reports have it that they are doing well. The courses too cut across all professional fields of studies, like medicine engineering, pharmacy, law, etc and it gives me so much joy because when you put smile on a child’s face that child will grow to become very useful citizen. The greatest asset you ever had is the number of lives you touched.

Today, it is my turn, tomorrow could be that child’s turn and he will remember that OBA contributed to his success and when he sees OBA’s son on the street in the future, will offer a helping hand. These are some of the things we have passion for and I pray God to give me more so that I could impact on many more lives. What I am doing is giving me great joy and I must commend the committee headed by Dr. Promise Etim for doing a good job. Every activity of the scheme is on our website and if you log in to www.senatoroba.org, you will see all that we have done which is quite robust. We thank God for the grace and ability to contribute our quota towards uplifting the living standard of our people.

You did marvelously well in your first term. What are the federal projects you attracted to your senatorial district during the period?

When we did our empowerment, it was countless and I can’t recall them again. Currently, we are doing several other projects across the Senatorial District. I am doing a road in Ifa Ikot Akpan in Uyo LGA, the village of the House member representing Uyo State Constituency in the State Assembly. I am doing a road in Ekit Itam with boreholes for the community. There is a fish processing plant in Uruan and in Itu Head Bridge too. Mine is basically to nominate where the projects will be cited and those in charge will come and execute. Many of such projects cut across the entire Senatorial District. All I say is that I will continue to engage in robust activities to give my people very effective representation in the National Assembly.

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Akwa Ibom State just celebrated her 32 years recently. Can you tell us your views on the journey so far?

Well I can’t be a judge in my own case but something interest me when I returned to the State recently with my colleagues for official assignment and the comments they were making gladdens my heart. Senator Uche Ekwunife for instance described Uyo as the best city in Nigeria. According to her, once you arrive Akwa Ibom, you feel Government presence and that gives me joy. For those of us that live here, we may not appreciate the grace and favour of God upon our State. Since it is the State we sleep and wake up to every morning we may hardly see and appreciate the ongoing transformation here.I always refer to a State as a building of blocks, in our 32 years of existence we have had military Governors who have contributed positively and civilian Governors who have done very well within the limits of their knowledge. We will always have Governments. State building is like barracks soldier come soldier go, barracks remain. So it is a case of once you come do your best and leave the stage for the next person and over time the State will be fully developed. I look forward to a State in the next 50 years when we will look back and say oh Akwa Ibom has grown faster than Nigeria. So Akwa Ibom will become like the land called Goshen in the Bible where even with all the famine the look place in Egypt, Goshen was safe guarded. We must always look up to God not man and I know with God all things are possible. This State has great potentials and it’s about having the right sets of leadership at every point in time and God will take us to the land of fulfillment.

Nigerians will like to know what you had in mind to say during the screening of former Gov Akpabio as minister which the Senate President stopped you from saying ?

When I was not allowed to say what I want to say, why will they imagine what I want to say? Since I was not allowed to say it, I want the people to keep wondering what I would have said.

We know you worked under Akpabio as Commissioner and what you will have in mind to say is goodwill message on his appointment. Isn’t it?

Well for me, I don’t work on sentiments, one of the things I want to say to Senator Akpabio is to inform him that once again he has the opportunity to work for the unity of the State and another one is to remind him that it is time for Governance and people must benefit from voting President Mohammadu Buhari for a second term which gave him the platform to become a Minister. The same applies to the Governor who came through people’s support and me who was voted by the people. We must work for the collective good of the people as it is time for governance, politics is over. I would not be a party to any group that will play politics with the collective destiny of Akwa Ibom people.

2023 will soon be here and speculations are rife that you have thrown your hat into the ring. Have you?

Well for me, I think it is too early to bring this discourse. All I can say is that from the bottom of my heart, I see that year as one in the hands of the Almighty God. And God will manifest his glory and power in 2023. I will abide by the wishes of my people when that time comes. This is time for governance as that agitation is too early. The Governor needs serene environment to succeed in his completion Agenda. It is only God that knows tomorrow so let’s leave the 2023 matter in his hands. Let’s not distract the Governor.

There is also rumor in town that you have concluded plans to join the APC once the PDP toys with giving you the party ticket for 2023. Is that true?

My brother I am going to stay in PDP for life. I remain in PDP for life.

We have also observed the closeness you and other senators of APC share in the National Assembly, we hardly decipher which party each belongs ?

There should be no division in the first place because we are all Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Our primary concern is the unity of this country; you are first addressed as the Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria before the people you represent. The paramount thing in the Senate is the unity progress and prosperity of Nigeria. You saw me with Ifeanyi Ubah of the YPP and other members of the APC in Uyo. We have a South-South Caucus in the Senate and the leader is the Deputy Senate President. We don’t care about party when it comes to aligning with the interest of your region; we all speak with one voice beyond party affiliations. Of course you know that hunger knows no party, unemployment does not know party.

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