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Sunday, 20 May 2018


- RT. HON. DR. USORO AKPANUSOH (Chairman, House Committee on Finance & Appropriation)

At birth, Rt Honourable Dr Usoro Akpanusoh representing Esit-Eket/Ibeno State constituency in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly had everything going for him. He had a wealthy politician as father, and a businesswoman as mother. But at 4 year old, he lost his mother.
As if that was not bad enough, his father died when he entered secondary school. As the first born child, it became his lot to manage the fortune left behind by his parents and hold together a large family. The only encouragement and hope he got, was from Governor Akpan Isemin, the then state governor, who was at his late father's funeral rites. He said at the gathering, "I see this young boy growing up to be a leader of his community." Those words were comforting but the next years were tough for the young Akpanusoh.

In this interview with Paul Ukpabio, Rt Honourable Dr Usoro Akpanusoh tell us the path that led him to the State House of Assembly where he is the Chairman of the finance and appropriation committee, and his present lifestyle as a Ph d student at the university campus. 

How has your early life been instrumental to the person you are today?

My early life has definitely been instrumental to the person I am today. That’s because far back as 1991, I was a officer at the advent of the group that later became National Republic Convention. I was below 20 then. I got involved in politics when my father died. Governor Akpan Isemin, the then Governor of Akwa Ibom state who was at our house, made a public statement there that though I was young, I would grow up to be a leader in my community, that I would be a prominent person in the state. At that time I was in the secondary school. In trying to make me happy because I was sad over my father's death, the community urged me to get involved in politics, that they would support me. So I went in and became an officer of the party. I became an officer of the party. Unfortunately, that republic was truncated. Later during the time of Abdulsalam Abubakar and the formation of PDP, APP, GPM and the other parties, I became a member of the PDP where I contested as a Counselor in 1999.

There was an attempt to deny one of the leaders a ticket for the Chairmanship of PDP, so we all decamped to Grassroot Democratic Movement and we won the ticket of GDM and subsequently won the general election. I was Counsellor for Education, Youth and Sports. I became a Minority leader at the local government legislative council and the chairman of finance and appropriation. I was about 27 then. After that tenure I re-contested as a Counselor and I won and served for two-tenures. There, the chairman was subsequently removed and I was asked to resign as a counselor to take over as the Vice Chairman of the local council. That is because the Vice Chairman became the Chairman and the position of the Vice Chairman became vacant. The law said that one of the Councilors had to be picked to be the Vice Chairman. At the end of the term I decided to stay out of active politics but later went back and became the State Officer of the People’s Democratic Party and the Secretary too. From there I started nursing the ambition to contest for the House of Assembly.

That means you moved from the grassroots to the state Assembly?

Yes, the loss of my dad was heavy but helped politically for me. It catapulted to where I am today but not in one day, and it was not as easy as I'm saying it now. I was a legislator at the Council level and now I am a legislator at the State House of Assembly. The position I held as a Councilor is the same position that I am holding today at the State House of Assembly which is finance and appropriation. It has been a matter of experience which matters very much in politics. When you see someone who is not experienced in politics jump in, such a person is bound to make mistakes. And I am someone who learns the rope from the past to the present and then the future.

Why the love for the legislative arm of government?

Well, I am an activist to an extent. I love to work for the interest of the parliament, the less privileged, being concerned on how to put food on the table of the common man. Most of the time, the executive may not have the opportunity to tell the government that they serve that it has failed in some aspect of things. That is because as a member of the executive, you will be thinking of protecting your principal, protecting the government that you serve. So I love being in the legislature because when I go around the state, I see things that do not augur well, I come back to the House, lobby my colleagues to support me on either to make a resolution or amend a certain law or make a new law.

And we can do that freely without anyone telling us that we are witch-hunting the government. At the legislature one is at liberty to make contribution to government in a modest way. I prefer to be in the legislature because the legislature is the advocate of the masses. The law that we make is derived hundred percent from the voices of the members of the public. It is the opinion of the members of the public that influences our articulation and level of advocacy, and contribution on the floor of the House and even at the committee level.

And when we make any law in the House, that law is subject to public scrutiny even at the committee level. Our laws pass through members of the public because the public is called for a public hearing for all the laws including the appropriation laws. And they can complain and raise issues. The most important aspect for me is that, as a legislature, one is representing a people. So when you rise to speak on the floor of the House, you are not speaking for yourself alone but for all the people in that constituency. If there are one million people there, then you are speaking for one million people. The representation is for everybody in the constituency not even based on party lines but for everybody there.

Who influenced you most, your dad or mom?

I lost my mom when I was four years old. And just when I was trying to learn the things that my dad stood for, I lost him too. My mom was Ekaette Akpanusoh, she was an entrepreneur who died during child birth according to what I was told. But my dad died when I was in secondary school. He was a strong politician, one of those that agitated for the creation of our local government and even funded the creation of Esit Eket local government. He was a business man an entrepreneur. He owned lots of 911 trucks and tippers, which used to transport people and goods to and fro my community to Aba. We used to go and bring cement from Aba. Then it was that, if you do not use his truck to go to Aba, you may not have food. He was a strong politician and that was why the governor of the day, came during his burial rites to pay his official condolence. My dad was a supporter of NRC.

Can one say that you stepped into your father's shoes?

Yes, as a matter of fact, people say that what I am doing today is what my father used to do in terms of philanthropy, caring for the less privilege and keeping what you have for all to eat. That was what my father stood for. So it is true, I have stepped into his shoes. It is a privileged pair of shoes. I was a ‘nobody’ when I lost my mother and then my father. I went into petty trading. But I was very industrious. One benefit of my father’s trucks was that I became a conductor following the trucks to Aba, I bought machetes, sharpened them in Aba and when I was free, I used it to work in bush, clearing farmlands for cultivation. i was also being hired to do this for payment. I was fetching palm products from palm trees in Nsit Ubiom. I was being hired to do that too and from there I paid my school fees to send myself to school. Even then I had to stop at a point because of lack of money.

What was the turning point in your life?

I came in contact with Sir Bassey Dan Abia. I saw in him a selfless community philanthropist, a strong husband and strong father in the house whose influence is positive on his family and his community even when under strained situations. He inspired me. He has been an epitome of humility. He became my determination to be a better person, though I was an adult, I chose him as a father. It is not only father's that adopt sons; a son can also adopt a father. And I have never had any cause to regret adopting him as my father. Loyalty has strengthened our relationship.

Right now I’m doing my PHD in Public Administration in University of Uyo, my first course was Political Science and Public Administration, the second was Public Administration

How were you to be able to put things together after your parent’s death?

It was tough because I am the first born. What I did was to seek out my father’s friends, one of them was Chief Bassey Dan Abia and another was Elder Ben Udobia. I learnt from them the fatherhood training and tapped from their knowledge. I was too young to even manage the things that my father left behind. Moreover, coming from a very large family, people came to struggle with me, some said it was not only my father that owned all the trucks and tippers, that it was family property. Sometimes when the trucks wanted to go out for work, they came round and disturbed them. And when the trucks went out, they would all wait for the return to share the money. It became a serious problem so I called my younger ones and told them that it would be better we sell off the trucks so the trucks does not kill us. The wisdom of people like Dr J.J Udoffa, the then MD of Cooperative Development Bank who also took me as his own child helped me. I understudied them. I also realized that I am not supposed to depend on any man. These men mentored me. Before I met them, I used to take so much alcohol; I used to have accidents in the small car that I was using then.

What has been the discipline that has kept you going?

What has kept me going today has been knowledge. I don't look down on people because I don't know who will help me or help my children in future. There was a student who used to be hated by his teacher, even when he passed exams he used to fail him. One day the child had become a pilot who saw the teacher come into the plane. He decided to go and meet him. He left the cockpit and went to meet him. He reminded him that he used to fail him to the extent that the Senate would call for his papers. He told his teacher what if he decided to crash the plane at that point? But he assured him he won't do it, because of the lives of other people. So we have to be careful about life.

When did marriage set in?

My mentors also influenced me to marry early. My son is 15 years now. Though then the trend was not to marry early as marriage was considered a burden. It was my mentors who made me to understand that to marry early will enable me to use the strength of my youth to raise children. So I got married to a beautiful lady. We have three children presently. I was also mentored to toe the path of leadership for the future. It was not just leadership in government, but leadership of my family too. As you know some marriages come to an end few months after it is contracted.

What has sustained your marriage?

I have been married for 17 years now. I see my wife as a helper, a sister, wife and mother. I see her as a trust, if anything happens to me; the first person who I believe can respond positively towards my interest is my wife. I see her strengths. She is a banker, she advices me on how to go about my transactions. She gives me advice to disengage from businesses peacefully. My wife has been a source of inspiration and a source of encouragement enabling me to get to where I am today.

How did you meet?

We met in a bank. When I was a Councilor I used to bank at the branch where she works. She used to see me as responsible and intelligent. One day, while we were discussing inside the bank, she told me she is from Ikot Ekpene. She mentioned the name of her uncle, somebody who happened to be my close friend and an adviser, an uncle who also shares my first name. I was surprised. Again when she mentioned her mother's name, I was shocked because her mother was someone I knew so well, a colonel in the army.

As a child I used to watch out to see her mother who used to cruise around in a Peugeot 504 painted in army colour with a Nigerian flag balanced at the tip of cars. After that, the courtship did not take long and we got married, because I was also trying to listen to the advice of my mentors. Luckily for me, she was ready for marriage. It was a big, beautiful wedding. The prelate of Methodist Church, Rev Sunday Mbang, came in from Lagos, to conduct the wedding. Sometimes I go back to see our wedding photographs and I get awed by the beauty that was on display.

You have a beautiful wife; you are a comfortable man, a politician who cannot help having women around because of the nature of your work. How do you handle the advances of ladies who refuse to accept that you are married?

Once you are satisfied with your wife, you really do not need to see those other women. Every man had that opportunity before getting married. We all met and saw many ladies but chose to marry one particular one. After that I knew I must stop. My daughter is a big girl now, so what story will I tell her if I start jumping from one woman to another? People know my wife, so it is difficult for me to then go and start being naked before another woman. I have ladies who work close to me. My wife knows them too. The relationship is basically work-related. At this time in life, I focus on my marriage so that my wife too can stand tall in the society. It is not about me alone. There is beauty in the love of family. I am passionate about family. It is bad to have untrained children at old age.

If you were not a politician today what else would you have been?

I would have been a business man. I had to stop business because of my election into public office. My wife runs the businesses I had before going into public service. Before now I was managing some companies. If I leave public office, I hope to return to my businesses.

Why a Ph d programme at this time, how do you feel, a senior officer of the state, attending classes at a university campus as a student?

I am studying for a Ph d because, there is a point in future when I would want to give back to the society as a lecturer, to share the knowledge that I have been blessed with as a lecturer, even if it would be on part time basis. At that time I will also want to be doing public presentations, seminars and public lectures on how to be successful in life and have a good life.

How do the other students on campus relate with Rt Hon Dr Usoro Akpanusoh on campus, and how do you relate with them?

Oh no, I don't go to school carrying my shoulders up high in the air. I go there as a student without airs!

How do you do that?

I don't go to school with big cars or with my official cars. The driver drops me outside the campus and I go in for my lectures like the student that I am. If I go in with the official car, it will become a distraction which I do not need. There are students on campus that I am paying school fees for, who do not even know that I am the one doing so. If they know that I am the one doing so for them that would be a distraction for me. Some of them may then one to come and have a word with me. So I have to remain in the background in school so I can concentrate. Again the things that I have been mentored on concerning humility also come into practice. Anybody can be a member of the House; it is not a lifetime position. So that knowledge cautions me. I buy my books where every other student buys theirs. I go there and buy my pen just like anybody else. I buy gala and soft drink just like other students. Sometimes it is even a therapy for me to be around them to crash down my blood pressure and get happiness. The simple life on campus is good for me. But even then, I still make sure that I am well behaved to conduct myself as a public officer. And there are certain things I do not do at all.

What decides what you wear in a day?

Over the years, it has pleased some communities in different local governments in the state, to honour me with Chieftaincy titles. So what I do is whenever I am going for a social function, I wear the traditional attire of that particular place. It is good for bonding through culture and tradition. The event decides what I wear. I also dress to inspire the youths. I wear Jeans and T-shirts too at weekends.

How about sports?

I play squash every day.

Who are the people you play with?

I play with honourable commissioners who have interest in the game and with some other people too. If His Excellency the state governor comes around too, I play with him. Also I keep fit by doing exercises around the house.
You are 47 and in position of authority, how do you relate to those who are more elderly than you in the House, and how do they relate back to you?

I have been well mentored by elderly people, who are even the ones grooming me to leadership. I have not disappointed them and neither have I disappointed the youths. I receive text messages every day from many elderly people around the state commending my work. I do not allow being younger than those in the House to bother me. I relate in humility with them. But some other young men tell me when I go wrong too. And I note such. But sometimes it is political, one or two who are also eyeing my position could use one or another error that I have committed to blackmail me. So it is hard up here too. We try to be careful. I take my decisions. I have always been a very consistent politician. I don't succumb to political intimidation. I take my decisions.

What can you say about political leadership in the state for now?

I think the synergy among the arms of government has helped the development of the state. The past governments have worked well to synergies. The previous governments helped and Governor Godswill Akpabio the past governor built on the foundation. He brought in Governor Emmanuel Udom who was already in the system, who understood the development plan to consolidate on what is on ground. So there is a synergy in continuity taking into consideration the plight of the people of our state.

What about peace in the state?

What we are now looking for is to create a platform for our youths. That is Governor Udom is now laying a platform for industrialization to make the state an industrial hub.  However where there is no peace, there is no development. What will further help peace is that the oil producing local governments should also be given the opportunity to benefit from what they are producing. There should be a commission here like we have Niger Delta Development Commission for oil producing states, for the oil producing communities here. That will encourage peace because if Eket, Esit Eket, Onna Ibeno, Mbo, Nsit Obolo produces oil and you go there and there is no tangible development to show for it in those places, they won't be happy, there will be spontaneous reactions. So there is agitation for such a commission. It is because of them that we are benefiting from the percentage derivation today.

* Published yesterday in The Nation newspaper

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