Barr Paul Erokoro is a lawyer. Just recently, he led a team of lawyers both from Akwa Ibom and Cross River states on a solidarity visit to Senator Victor Ndoma Egba whose house was vandalised by hoodlums in the wake of the last protest.. He spoke with Journalists on the sad scenario. JOSEPH OBUNG was there.
What is your reaction to this kind of destruction?
I can tell you that you may not really understand the impact of the damage until you see it. This is a horrific sight.
With this horrible sight, I believe that if Ndoma Egba was in with his family, they probably wouldn’t be alive today. It’s hard to believe that this was a random attack.
The methodical way in which the damage was inflicted calls for concern. There is a strong suggestion of malice and hatred because it’s hard not to think that this was a planned attack and they took advantage of the situation in the country to perpetuate it. We all have houses in Calabar; we all live here.
Victor Ndoma lives here in this estate and bought his first plot of land in 1981. Victor started his first house here in 1981, so those who think this is the money that he made from the government are liars, No! We were in our second year in private legal practice when we bought land here and Victor built his.
This particular one he started in 1991 before it could ever occur to him that he would be a senator one day. Obviously it was not only this house that was attacked, Senator Gershom Bassey’s house was also attacked; they also ransacked and looted his father’s house which is the pride of white house.
Why would you burn the house which would have been a thing of heritage? I can understand the hunger in the land; we are witnesses and recognise that they have never seen as much hardship in this land as it is today, but that does not explain this level of carnage.
What do you think the federal and state governments should do in view of all these colossal damage?
The first thing the government should do is to accept that white elephant projects have never developed the country. What we want from the government is actual governance and that is not hard.
Actual governance requires simply a sincere approach to taking care of the welfare, security of the people and it’s very easy if their salaries are to be paid. Fill the potholes in the streets, if water is not running, give them running water. Make sure that pensions are paid.
Government projects should be focused on reality. All over the world, jobs are created not by employment of workers into public service but by putting in place an enabling environment for the private sector to create jobs. We have here a situation in our state where perhaps government policies are ironically putting poverty on the people, Take the issue of taxation, for instance, Cross River state ranks very high in internally generated revenue.
Everybody knows that we are a poor state, so how are we able to generate so much tax, obviously by over tax. Most of the quarries are scaled down because the taxation is too much and a lot of businesses have closed down because the people are overburdened by too much taxation.
We thank the government for waving taxation for the poorest people in the society but you must also cut taxes for businesses so that they can expand and employ people. Government already receives statutory allocation.
So why do they need to tax the people so much? The second policy is that the local governments are not functioning. If they are allowed to function as a tier of government, they would create employment opportunities through economic activities. Every month, they just pay salaries and that is it.
I went to a primary school built by a local government in this state. That primary school with the same infrastructure trained the technical college, the college of education.
Today, it houses the campus of University of Cross River state; it was built by Ogoja Council. So, the local government councils should be encouraged to work to build schools, water works and roads. The local government should function as pure government.
If you go abroad, you hear of councils flags, much of the houses in those communities are done by the councils, so let our councils work. The main resource we have in Cross River is land. Our government must understand that making land easily available for people is economic empowerment. Set aside two Saturdays to sign certificates of occupancy.
I should be able to come to Cross River state and say I want land without going to any community and it should be possible to collect my certificate of occupancy in no time.
In Cross River, the government should put up a law where certificates of occupancy would be collected in five days and the World Bank will immediately put 200 million dollar into that state. We in the legal profession believe that somehow the government has waged war against our profession.
Lawyers in the Ministry of Justice are not paid; so many were sacked recently. There is a magistrate who has not been paid for two years and they are working.
The last batch of judges that were employed, have not been given cars. These are things I am sure that the government can easily address. There is so much that can be done; if you do not deal with the effect of the law enforcement agencies, look at the consequences.
It is said that this attack came from outside. What’s your take on this?
It is a thing of shame that the narrative out in the street is that people came in from other states to invade us, how can that happen? There must be a security architecture that is supposed to prevent that kind of thing. We have a security vote which is meant for collection of intelligence like this.
Those people operated in this house alone for four hours and from one house to another and none of the security agencies could come and intervene.
Clearly, there’s something wrong. From what we gathered, the information about this attack was known about 24 hours before it actually happened. This narrative that people came from here and there creates unnecessary tension and danger.
Akwa Ibom people are not our enemy. So far as I know, many of these houses you see here are owned by Akwa Ibom people. Up to one third of the population of this state is made up of Akwa Ibom people, from here right up to Akamkpa, Biase, Ikom and the rest.
So, the idea of trying to dehumanise our neighbours is wrong. We are calling on the state government to please do all that it can to find out and tell us how and why all of these destructions happened.
Should there be compensation?
The state and federal governments must compensate those who suffered this damage because the primary responsibility of government is to protect lives and property, whether it was the state government’s fault or not, If the government does not speak clearly it gives room for these conspiracy theories, so that is why the government must speak.
Government should pay compensation, Senator Victor Ndoma Egba may not need the compensation not because he has the money to restore his house but if he has received this kind of discouragement from investing in his state then why should he come back.
Most people have run away to Abuja, Lagos etc, so those who actually invest their money in their state should not be singled out for victimization; they should be encouraged. It’s clearly a failure of government, there is no way you can sugar-coat it.
I don’t know what method the government will use; all we are saying is that the government owes the people the duty to tell us how and why this happened.
For a year now, the state has no substantive Chief Judge. What is your take?
We said earlier that we feel that this government is waging war against our profession.
The process of appointing a new chief judge is very simple. The governor sent the name of the most senior judge, Honorable Justice Akon Ikpeme, to state House of Assembly and the State House of Assembly refused to endorse her appointment and because of that we have been on the position of acting chief judge.
Akon Ikpeme acted for three months; Maurice Eneji acted for six months and now we have another. We cannot allow this to continue because there is too much uncertainty in the progress of the judiciary.
Cases are not being properly assigned. The point to be made is this, we want a substantive chief judge in the state and all those who are involved including the National Judicial Council (NJC) should understand that this impasse has gone on for too long.