Chief Ray Ugba Morphy, veteran journalist, and currently chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), in this interview with selected newsmen, gives the Buhari administration thumbs-up in its fight against insecurity and corruption. An indigene of Cross River state, he is acutely dissatisfied with the performance of the PDP-led administration in that state. As a result, he vows that the APC would take power from the PDP in 2019. MIKE UBANI was there for The AUTHORITY. Excerpts:
In the beginning, Chief Ray Ugba Morphy, was a strong member of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP). A son of one of the powerful politicians in Cross River state, it was thought that he, alongside others, would work hard to firmly establish the PDP on the ground in the state. But he jumped ship thereafter, to join the then All People’s Party (APP). Why did he do so?
“I contested and won the PDP primaries in 1999, to represent the Ogoja/Iyala Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives. After emerging as PDP candidate for the general elections that ushered in democracy in the country in 1999, the ticket was inexplicably taken away from me, and given to someone who didn’t win the party’s primaries. You can see that PDP’s bad behavior started a long time ago. And since I was not cut out for that kind of game, I left the PDP, and joined the then All Peoples Party (APP), which later became All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). Shortly after, I became the secretary of the Central Planning Committee of The Buhari Organisation (TBO), and the organisation’s first campaign coordinator for South-East and South-South geo-political zones,” said Chief Morphy.
In the next two weeks, the APC at the federal level will be celebrating two years of its being in office. Some Nigerians, particularly those in opposition political parties think that the ruling APC has not lived up to its electioneering campaign promises. What is Chief Ugba’s assessment of the performance of the APC-controlled federal government especially in the fight against insecurity and corruption?
He said: “We as a people tend to forget our recent history. Before the Buhari administration assumed office in 2015, many of us found it difficult to drive our vehicles or move around Abuja, because of fear of safety of our lives. But today, that is not the case. That is a clear illustration of how this administration has fought and won the war against insecurity. In terms of Boko Haram, you remember that there was a bomb blast close to a popular phone shop near Barnex Plaza here in Abuja before this government assumed office. You would also remember that there was a bomb blast at the UN office in Abuja. These were things that happened, but we don’t have such things anymore. So, I can use that to illustrate to you that certainly no matter how we want to spin it or deny it, the facts on the ground are that the security threats to the ordinary citizens on the streets have been abated. On corruption, I can tell you that the PDP ran a rapacious enterprise for the16 years that the party ruled this country. During that period, we were faced with the issues of corruption of our morals and the usurpation of the goodwill of the people. There is no way anybody can say that the rot in our system will go away in just two years. No, that can’t happen. It’s not a matter of APC being in government. My point is that Nigeria was in a far worse state than most of the average man on the street could see when the present administration came into office. Before then, we were doing deficit financing; we were running a high recurrent budget with very low output and capital expenditure, Most projects in the last few years that were in the budget were never funded. There was no money to do so. So, my point is that the country was so bad during the PDP era that if you want to correct it, it will take a long time to do so.”
On how Cross River state fared when the PDP controlled the federal administration:
“Anybody who knew Cross River very well will tell you that for me to drive from Ogoja to Calabar, I had to first drive into Ebonyi state, and then flank back into Obubra. In fact, there were no good roads to my state, and most of those roads are federal roads. But under the present administration, these roads are now being done. The Calabar-Itu Road that almost everybody complained about has been awarded to Julius Berger to build a brand new road.”
Should President Muhammadu Buhari, resign his office to take care of his health as some Nigerians have suggested?
He said: “My personal position is very simple. First, illness is a human right. Every human being has the right to be ill. Secondly, the Nigerian Presidency is the most powerful Presidency in the world. Nigerian Presidency is also one of the largest Presidencies in the world. All large enterprises and organizations run by delegation. At the best of times, nobody can cover that office exclusively. And that is why you have the vice president and the ministers. The President has handed over power to his vice president as acting president. The doctors have not declared Mr. President unfit to hold office, and the constitutional processes of declaring him unfit for office has not even commenced. Mr. President is a child of the constitution and the law. I am not in a position to ask him to resign because I don’t know the state of his health. And even if I can conjecture, I am not a doctor.”
On Chief Bisi Akande’s comment to the effect that Mr. President’s health is having an effect on the state of the nation?
“Mr. Akande is a lay man in this matter like me. The job of being a President is a gruelling job and Nigerians voted for Mr. President despite his age. The President’s ill-health is one of the possible fallout of doing the job, and so we should not punish him for becoming ill in trying to serve us.”
To what extent should Nigerians continue to be patient with Mr. President’s ill health?
“My father was sick for a while before he died, and I did not send him out of the house, I didn’t drive him away to take over his position as the head of the family. My mother was in coma before she died. I didn’t ask her to stop being my mother. I have not seen any ministry that has shut down because the President did not go to work; I have not seen any part of the Presidency that is not operational. My take on this issue is that when the constitutional processes declare him unfit for office, he’ll leave office.”
Does Chief Ugba have any political ambition as the country inches towards 2019?
He said: “First, my political ambition is to see that the polity of Nigeria is stable. That is my ambition, hope and aspiration. My state (Cross River) has deteriorated in the recent past. It has gone from being the most peaceful state in the country to a crime-infested state. “The situation today is that some of us are even scared of going to Calabar I am interested in our state returning to what it used to be both as a tourism destination and as a peaceful place. I was once Chairman of Cross River Tourism Board, so I know what I am saying.
Will Chief Morphy contest the governorship position in 2019?
The governorship of my state is zoned to the Northern senatorial district where I come from. Prof. Ben Ayade, who is the governor, is doing his first term of our normal eight-year tenure, and he is in the PDP. In my view, he is not doing well. The APC will vie for that office in 2019. We are not going to let PDP keep it, and our candidate for that office will come from Cross River North Senatorial District, which is my district. And if my people consider me worthy to be the arrow head or the spear-head, why not, I’m out for it. I want my senatorial district to be used to show the people of my state the excellence inherent in Ogoja people. Right now, the incumbent governor is not doing that. In fact, we believe that Calabar and Cross River as a whole have deteriorated in the past few years and anybody who is honest will accept that.”
What did he expect Governor Ayade to do, which he has not done?
We haven’t had any project commissioned by him since he got into office. You are all senior journalists; you should investigate that and tell Nigerians what he has done as a governor. Some people are complaining that Mr. President who is sick is not going to work, what of Governor Ayade who is well, When can you find him in the country?
Cross River state is seen as traditionally PDP state. Does he think the APC has a chance to win that state?
Let me remind you that Edo state used to be a PDP state, but today, it is an APC state. Donald Duke did his bit as governor. Since he left office, there has been steady decline of the fortunes of my state to an apogee today where we are disillusioned, and angry. We don’t even know whether we have a governor or not. And it is the responsibility of everybody to hold the government accountable…this is not an act of opposition. We want a government that will be accountable to our people, a government that has the interest of our people at heart. All the on-going projects in Cross River now are either federal government or NDDC projects. Go and verify. All the bail outs received from the Federal Government has not translated to smiles on the faces of our people.
Are you not concerned that your governor is close to the President as an individual and appears to be having a very cozy relationship with the APC at the national level?
Mr. President is a very warm-hearted man. I worked for him, and I know him very well. But ask yourself: when the President went to flag-off the Calabar-Itu road, why did he not go back to commission the garment factory? That cosy relationship you talked about is not there.