In search of a new generation President for Nigeria: Is Duke the real deal?

By Nasir Agbalaya

The countdown is on for the 2019 geneeral elections so also is the race to elect a new occupant in Aso Rock or retain Muhammadu Buhari in the Presidential Villa. And with 46 Political parties, it has become more crowded than ever.

This time around, Nigerians have commonly agreed that there is a need to try out a much younger element among those aspiring for the nation’s biggest political seat, given that most of Nigeria’s democratically elected leaders in particular the Presidents, have been well above 50 years of age.

For instance, Shehu Shagari became president at 54 in 1979,while Olusegun Obasanjo was in his 60’s in 1999 when he became President and ruled for two terms. President Muhammadu Buhari had already passed 70 when he won the election in 2015.

Nigerians have over the years expressed misgivings at the faces of leadership at the nation’s number one seat. For them, it appears that the same set of people, same face of a coin otherwise same of same, are turning up whenever the issue of Presidency comes into play. They are tired of the spent forces and their decaying ideas which does Nigeria no good and continue to push it down the road of retrogression.

This had led to the call for new ideas and different outlook and to give younger leaders an opportunity. After all, even the old ones started they were relatively  younger either as activist, then fighting colonial oppression, which they handed over to their protege (also younger than themselves) or as Military leaders leading revolutions against the corrupt political elite.

The issue of health challenges has also become a major focus of attention for Nigerians desirous of a change in the direction of a younger element as President. They pointed out that Nigeria has lost so much to the health crisis confronting President Buhari for the better part of his first term in office. A nation without a healthy President according to them, is as good  as dead. This they added could impede his capability to deliver when called upon especially at a critical level.

The #NotTooYoungToRun had gain attention of lawmakers across the country and led to the National Assembly  supporting this with  a promise to consider the Bill  for deliberations. The development has opened the door for younger generations of  Nigerians to take the bull by the horn and thus set the agenda for the new thinking.

So who among the many Nigerians in this category readily fits the picture. Of recent, a former Cross River governor has revealed  interest in becoming Nigeria’s President in 2019 even though he has not stated which political party he will use to achieve his ambition. He is Donald Duke. But, who is Donald Duke? A look into his background, will tell us more.

Donald Etim Duke was born on 30th September, 1961 at 16 Annesley Street, Calabar, Cross River state to the family of Henry Etim Duke and Genevieve Etim Duke. He was the fourth child in the family of five children.

His father, Henry Duke, was the Chairman of the Board of Customs and Excise (now The Nigerian Customs Service) from 1967 to 1975, the longest serving officer in that capacity till date.

His early academics started in Lagos. Duke attended primary education at Corona and Saint Mary’s School, both in Lagos, then proceeded to the Federal Government Colleges at Sokoto and Ilorin. He came back to Lagos to the Federal School of Arts and Science for his ‘A’ Levels. He then attended Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, Kaduna to study law. There, he ran for Office in the Students’ Association of the Institute of Administration, marking his entrance into politics.

He successfully completed his professional training at the Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos and was called to the Bar in 1983. Shortly, afterwards he went to the Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia where he obtained Master of Law(LLM) Degree of the University with specialisation in International Business Law and Admiralty. On completion, he became an Associate at Baker & Hosteler, Law firm in Washington D.C., in the United States.

Having acquired sufficient knowledge and exposure in academics, business and law practice in the United States, Duke returned to Nigeria and teamed up with some colleagues to establish the highbrow Lagos based Law partnership of Onyia & Duke. The experience obtained from active practice, propelled him to full management of the family’s shipping business where he became Chief Executive of Hegeds International Limited.

Duke’s first entry into public governance was in 1991 when he was first appointed as a member of the Board of Directors of Voice of Nigeria. This was quickly followed by another appointment in 1992 when Governor Clement  Ebri made him a member of the Cross River State Executive Council and Commissioner for Finance, Budget and Planning, during which tenure he chaired the Federation Account Allocation Committee meeting of September, 1993. His appointment as Commissioner was ‘unfortunately’ short-lived due to the abrupt change in government in November, 1993.

He returned to private life in the course of which he, among other things, became chairman of Allied Merchants Brokers Limited, a sole Africa Franchisee for US-based Uncle Ben’s Rice.

As would be expected of any shining star that does not easily dim, Duke in 1996 emerged at the national scene when he was appointed as a member of the National Economic Intelligence Committee as well as the Federal Economic Council. He later served as a member of the Federal Budget Monitoring Committee and Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee for the Privatisation of the National Fertilizer Company Limited (NAFCON). In all of these public assignments, Duke exhibited a capacity for hard work, an experience which will later stand him in good stead.

On 9th January, 1999 Duke was elected Governor of Cross River state under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party.

Among Governor Duke’s notable achievements was the upgrading of the Cattle Ranch in Obanliku into a Ranch Resort, the transformation of Cross River State into a world tourism destination, real investment inflow, job creation, reform of the State Civil Service, computerisation of the nominal and payroll system for the Public Service and cultivation of banking culture for Public/Civil Servants, etc. Agriculture took centre-stage with the establishment of export-oriented agricultural projects for the cultivation of such crops lines as pineapple, cashew and oil palm.

Education, Healthcare, Administration of Justice and inter-communal relations recorded significant strides. Described glowingly as the champion of development politics, Duke was overwhelmingly re-elected for another four-year term (2003-2007) on April 19, 2003.

Although, a number of achievements in education, health and infrasture development was recored in his first term. These were boosted with other milestones in his second term. For instance, the Calabar Carnival commonly called “Africa’s Biggest Street Party” began in 2004, and had since become an attraction for tourists in Nigeria and outside. Other instance of developmental strides in Cross River state was the Obudu Ranch International Mountain Race in 2005 and the Tinapa Resort project in 2007.

Donald Duke was among the five governors not under investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, a feat that was mentioned by the BBC in September 2006. on May 30, 2010 did a piece on Duke, titled; “I wasn’t arrested by Donald Duke.” Here it detailed the arrest of Duke at the commissioning of a hospital after allegedly flaunting a court order from Akamkpa High Court which ordered him not to commission the hospital. According to the publication, one James Ebri confirmed that Duke was actually arrested and whisked away in a Police Car after his entreaties to the Police that he should be allowed to report to the Commissioner Of Police in his own car was politely turned down by the Assistant Commissioner of Police who led the team.”

After more search, stumbled upon where more instances of unsavoury revelations emerged concerning Duke. The site, mentioned that Duke lost the chance to become Presdident after Obasanjo due to, quote “various actionable reports from the intelligence community combined to shatter Duke’s carefully scripted image as Nigeria’s Mr. Integrity.”

And further probe into the past brought out some findings attributed to where it claimed that an initial investigation revealed that, “Duke benefited heavily from the reviewed cost of actualisation fund from the well promoted Tinapa project. From the initial project cost of N25 Billion, Duke successfully cajoled and convinced the powers that be to upwardly review the cost to N65 Billion. It was said that the actual construction cost was incongruous with the final financial commitment obtained from the financiers.”

The unearthed materials pointed back to lagos. And the specifics narrowed it to real estate, “Admiralty Towers now being leased to net-worth clientele such as Shell Petroleum and other blue chip multi-nationals. The monthly on this three luxury apartment located at 9A Gerard Avenue, Ikoyi, Lagos goes for as much as $5,000.00 monthly rent. Duke is reaping in multiple folds his financial stakes on politics and other personal business initiatives funded with money suspected to have been embezzled while he was governor of Cross River state.”

Another investigative outcome obtained from thewestandothers.blogspot stated that, “Duke may have propped up and cultivated many cronies and family members whom he used as channels for taking away close to N1,291, 000,000.00 Billion realised from the sales of companies that used to be owned by the State Government. Apart from the fact that the properties were under-priced, the meager proceeds”

It went further to add more alleged transgression even involving his wife, Onari who “collected money totaling N480 million for her private NGO, Enterprise Nigeria. This fund was not appropriated for by the State House of Assembly. The sum of N18 Million was allegedly paid to the same NGO with Guaranty Trust Bank cheque number: 00000714 for the month of November 2005.”

These obviously are some plus and minus which though cannot be taken for granted, cut across mainstream Nigerian politicians.

In an interview popular columnist, Dele Momodu, Duke elaborated extensively on his vision for Nigeria. He said rebuilding Nigeria is not going to take rocket science but vision, passion and total commitment to the ideals of civilisation.

According to him, “this cannot be achieved if we keep Nigeria perpetually in the hands of those who play Nigeria like Russian Roulette. For such leaders, there is no hurry or any sense of urgency to develop. Theirs is to attain power by crooked means, warm the seats and quit without any tangible achievement. Nigerians seem comfortable in this ‘game of thrones’ that forces them to accept their bizarre existence as if it were God-ordained. We all complain but still do nothing to correct these foolish anomalies.”

While Duke may have captured in that interview, the present reality of the politics and intrigues noticed in Nigeria, it remains to be seen if he is the right man for the nation’s number one job.

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