When James Iniama, an estate surveyor and valuer from Itu Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, secured the ticket of a major political party to contest the 2007 governorship election in Akwa Ibom, he had an incredible experience that changed his life – people, whom he says were agents of the Akwa Ibom State Government, went after him. Godswill Akpabio, now minister for Niger Delta Affairs, was governor of the state at the time.
He abandoned his thriving business in Uyo, the state capital, and fled with his family to Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.
In this first part of his interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Iniama, now a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), speaks on the events of 2007 and his interest in the 2023 governorship election in the state.
PT: You contested the 2007 governorship election in Akwa Ibom State under the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), what was the impact like?
INIAMA: Well, I can tell you it was really impactful….
PT: Did you win in any local government area?
INIAMA: Well, you cannot really lay claim to what you won and what you did not win, but we know that the results we had in our hands were evident that we won in some local government areas. We won sufficiently to have been declared the governor.
PT: Really? Was ACN really popular at that time?
INIAMA: We came with a clear agenda for the people of Akwa Ibom State. We didn’t just come with the political rhetoric, we came with a clear message of things we thought were the needs of the people and we were poised to address those needs.
PT: But after that election, you disappeared, people didn’t see nor hear from you anymore?
INIAMA: What did I have to do in Akwa Ibom State when the government of the time was bold enough to declare me an enemy of the state?
INIAMA: I wouldn’t know (whether it was publicly or not), it didn’t have to matter, but let’s get to the issue. From 2007, there is no street in Akwa Ibom State that was safe anymore for residents. There was no business place that was safe for business, the thing that became popular was kidnapping, assassinations, rape. So, that wasn’t anymore a society to live in, and for a wise person the best thing to do is get out of that environment. We have to stay alive. If I didn’t stay alive you wouldn’t be talking with me today. I can tell you I knew I was branded the first target for whatever evil that was in their mind.
PT: What happened to your supporters?
INIAMA: What does the Bible say? Smite the shepherd and the sheep of the flock would flee. My supporters were not the target. The target was the principal, the candidate. Bullets were shot into this house (his residence) almost every day. I had to relocate my family before the election because it wasn’t safe at all.
PT: Anyone who wanted you, could have still come after you in Abuja?
INIAMA: Anybody who came to Abuja was coming to a neutral ground, I’ll face you. If I remained in Uyo, the instrument of government was residing with the government, anything could happen. Government paid thugs to raid my office at 43 Aka Road, Uyo, from the ground floor to the last floor, my private property, with my private businesses. And when I confronted the governor then, he told me he was told my property is a government property. It was deliberate, it was to make sure I was wiped off the face of the earth.
PT: When you were going into the election, did you anticipate this was going to happen?
INIAMA: Democracy was not intended to be fraught with violence. At the time, the government of Akwa Ibom State took it beyond tolerable boundaries – violence everywhere.
You know the number of people who were kidnapped, you know how many of our mothers were murdered and stripped on the streets of Akwa Ibom State? It is something of which this state should be ashamed, we should go to God in repentance. How could you possibly strip my mother? Murder my mother, strip her and leave her on the street? My mother? Don’t forget, God had to tell Cain the blood of your brother is crying from the earth for vengeance. We are a Christian people, there are things that should not be heard of us.
I sued the Akwa Ibom State Government after all of that action, and from the High Court in Uyo, the court decided in my favour, to the Court of Appeal where the government appealed on those issues, the court decided in my favour. The Akwa Ibom State had to appeal on the matter to the Supreme Court. Thank God, I don’t know how it happened, it was Governor Udom Emmanuel who instructed that the matter should be settled out of court.
PT: Has that been done?
INIAMA: Oh yes, it was done.
PT: What did you want from the court?
INIAMA: I needed to be protected, I needed to be compensated for my assets that were looted.
PT: Have you been compensated?
INIAMA: It was a negotiated out-of-court settlement, so at that stage you don’t want to go too far.
PT: Do you think this horrible past (in Akwa Ibom) has been sufficiently dealt with?
INIAMA: We will not deal with it all in eight years, but I will give credit to Governor Udom Emmanuel, he has taken certain bold and very definite steps to discourage those things, speak against them, signed Executive Order to that effect.
He (Governor Emmanuel) has launched a programme he calls Maintain Peace Movement, intended to drive to the consciousness of Akwa Ibom State and the people the need for us to live together in peace and in harmony, if we intend that this state must continue to experience any kind of growth as we have experienced today. We will need a succession that will sustain it.
Definitely, the things we did in this state offended men, and I believe God himself was not happy with us. I wasn’t happy with this state, I felt my government came with arms against a harmless citizen, and a senior citizen for that matter, who has contributed to the state. And for what offence? He aspired to be the governor of the state. I am a priest of God, I didn’t need to cry on the street, but I cried before God. And can you imagine how many people were crying before God when their wives were kidnapped, when their mothers were assassinated on the street, when they were shot, when their brothers, their sons and daughters were shot and killed?
PT: This horrible past you are talking about, was it always like this or was it particular about that period?
INIAMA: No, Uyo was very peaceful, it was a place you would love to live in, you could walk out of your house and leave the doors open.
PT: Are you still scared today of what might happen to you?
INIAMA: By the grace of God, I am not a fearful person.
PT: Are you contesting for the governorship in 2023?
INIAMA: Without doubt, yes I am aspiring on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, that I will be approved of the Almighty God who makes kings and I will be found acceptable to members of my political party to become the PDP governorship candidate, building towards the election that would hold maybe next year when INEC has published the (election) timetable.
PT: Are you not afraid that what happened to you in 2007 might happen again?
INIAMA: I am not afraid of anything, I am not afraid of the risk, I don’t even see the dangers. As a Christian, I pray over the issues of my life, I do not step into matters that are not resolved in my spirit. I have always had the burden to serve my people, the people of Akwa Ibom State, and that is why I deliberately undertook to familiarise myself with this state.
I know my people, I know their history, I know their needs. I know them to the remotest part of the state.
To be continued
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