By Austin Oyibode
Born on September 30, 1961 in Calabar, Donald Duke was a former governor of Cross River state in Southern Nigeria. He was the governor of the state from 29 May 1999 to 29 May 2007, making a total of eight years.
Duke was born to Henry Etim Duke, a great fan of Walt Disney and the second indigenous after Ayodele Diyan and longest ever serving controller general then referred to as chairman board of Customs and excise duties of the Nigerian Customs service.
Donald Duke received his LLB degree in 1982 from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in Northern Nigeria, the B.L in 1983 from the Nigerian Law School, Lagos and an LLM in Business Law and Admiralty in 1984 from University of Pennsylvania.
Spearheading the incumbent debt of Nigeria, Duke pushed for democracy and against military control. He stated: “What got the military out of power was not democracy but the dreadful state of the economy. If we, the democratic government, cannot deliver food for the mass of people we can forget about democracy.”
Duke received praises for his contributions to the fields of agriculture, urban development, government, environment, information and communication, investment drive, and tourism and making Calabar the cleanest city in Nigeria when he was governor of Cross River state.
He initiated the Obudu Ranch International Mountain Race which attracted contestants and visitors from other countries of the world. In 2005, he created a special reserve fund for the state meant to ‘‘hedge against economic downturn, and the inevitable rainy day.’’
This was meant to cushion the effect of unforeseeable economic challenges that may occasion uncertainty in the state’s internally generated revenue, as well as monthly allocation from the federal government.
He also initiated the Calabar carnival which started in 2004 and is popularly referred to as “Africa’s biggest street party.”
Donald Duke initiated the Tinapa Resort project as a way to boost business and tourism in the state. Over $350million was spent on initial development before phase 1 opening in April 2007. BBC reported in September 2006 that Governor Duke was the only governor specifically mentioned as not being under investigation by the federal Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Donald Duke announced that he would run for the presidency in the 2007 presidential election, but stepped aside in favour of the eventual winner, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, a Northern candidate and preferred choice of then President Olusegun Obasanjo.
On 8th June 2018, Donald Duke declared interest in running for presidency in 2019 with media at the top of the decision publicity.
Duke who joined the race along former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, and a number of former governors from the north, declared his intentions at the annual law dinner of the University of Nigeria Nsukka in the Eastern fringe of Migeria.
His intention, though great and heavily people and development oriented, may be difficult to materialise as his platform, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), had zoned the office to the North. The zoning was done to battle incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari who is bent on returning to power amidst the heavy criticism that has trailed his government.
Duke said he was convinced that it was time to make a move towards addressing Nigeria’s problem. Listening to Duke speak, one will see a visionaire and a man passionate the wellbeing and development of the Nigeria people.
He stated that “will and strategy” are major components needed to ensure all-round national development. “I am putting myself forward for the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“I’m not going to sit back any longer and postulate. And I want each one of those young people out there to be part of it. That’s why I urge them to go and get their voter’s cards and be part of this society.
“Don’t be onlookers any longer, this is not a football match where you sit in the audience and cheer and grumble. Get unto the field and take part.
“I’m not going to sit back, I’m going to take part,” he asserted. Donald Duke asked Nigerians to defend their fatherland from those who seek to desecrate it and stand for the good of the nation.
Duke, however, said solution to diverse challenges confronting the country lied in the collective resolve of eligible voters to take Nigeria from clueless, visionless and directinless leaders in Nigeria.
He once visited the headquarters of Deeper Life Bible Church, Gbagada lagos during the church’s revival and evangelism training service where he bared his mind on his desire for the overall development and wellbeing of the Nigeria people.
At the service that attracted thousands of worshippers from different parts of Lagos state and transmitted to all branches of the church across the country, Duke observed that Nigeria is “presently at the lowest ebb.”
If not checked promptly, the former governor said this could lead the country into a situation where anger, anxiety and utmost distrust not only for the leadership, but fellow citizens could become prevalent.
Rhetorically, he asked what led the country to the point it was today, lamenting that almost all Nigerians “have the answers or at least, faint idea of it.”
He, therefore, urged Nigerians “to move beyond complaining and watching things go wrong, stop resigning ourselves to criticisms and forlorn hope, but rather stand up to those who wish to desecrate our future with fallen policies, strategies and crass ignorance.”
Duke noted that time had come “to stand up against all forms of inequalities and discrimination. Nigeria, as dire as the situation might be, is a land of grace and abundance, a biblical land of milk and honey.
“We cannot in such abundance live in penury like the children of Israel while in Egypt. The solution lies in our collective resolve to take back our destiny in our hands; reclaim our future and reassess the rules of engagement in all strata of our national life,” Duke explained.
He said the future “appears bleak for the youths who knew nothing about history. For my generation here today, it is a burden that is hanging on us. Posterity would be unkind to us if we do not do something about it.
“We must defend our country, its vital interest, its image in the comity of nations and its message to the world. It is our obligation to defend our nation from all those who seek to desecrate it.
“Our civilisation is at stake, our way of living, of being free or promoting our values, our common enterprise, our hopes, our stake. And we cannot live it to chance any more – we must act and act now.
“We must come together to rebuild the link between our leadership and the led; between the state and its citizens and between Nigeria and the rest of the world. The essence of speaking to you is a clarion call to each and every one of us, particularly our young people here to recognise our strength in our diversity.
“This is to awaken our young generation to democratic activism and actualise the powers in building your right of democratic suffrage with the conscious realisation that skills, industry, productivity and competitiveness are determinant factors for national greatness.”
He said without doubt, industry and creativity, Nigeria would remain an overgrown, underfed and over-indulgent geographical description and not a nation.
He identified certain challenges that must be overcome if the country would achieve greatness, noting that the first was the challenge of social and economic dichotomies.
Duke said Nigeria painfully suffered the failure of common citizenship, as the failure was embedded in the fact that “we primarily define ourselves by our tribes rather than by our nation.
“We do not see Nigeria as our home but as a geographical entity where our primordial home, our tribe is located. Until we commonly go beyond tribal sentiment, we would always have the challenge of leadership. It should never matter where leadership comes from.
“What should matter is how capable leadership is. The next challenge to tackle was building institutions of democracy and development. One of the greatest problems of nation building today was the absence of institutions.”
He explained that whether nations were able to manage their political dispute peacefully without lapsing into conflict or sustained economic growth without creating huge inequalities, critically depended on the quality of their relevance national institutions.
He said: “We should not just set the rules. We must place the right people who have the expertise and moral competence to understand and implement the objectives of our institutions and ensure that these institutions inspire public confidence by being fair, transparent and steadfast.”
Duke dwelt on the challenge of leadership, arguing that unless the nation had leaders with ability, integrity, commitment, vision and the fear of God, Nigeria would continue “to falter and remain within the confines of mediocrity and sideline among its peers.
“Our nation is in great need of leaders who have a vision to leave it better than they met it, leaders who would lead by deed and not by words; leaders who believe that everyone matters, leaders who by their fruits we shall uphold them.
“Our experience in the past has been very disappointing. But we have every reason to believe that the future will be better, if we collectively agree to address these challenges that becloud our nation.”
“The enemies of Nigeria were not the many challenges destroying the land, but the people and institutional mechanisms that supported and enabled these challenges to persist. If you refuse to speak up, vote and participate or seek office you are eminently qualified because you feel, there is nothing you can do to make a difference.
“If you believe you do not count, then you are part of the problems. Indeed, a major part of it. You were born as a change agent and must resolve to play your part with humility, diligence, confidence and with the injunction of the Almighty to love our neighbours as ourselves.”
While speaking during an interview on Pulse Nigeria’s Loose Talk Podcast on Friday, July 13, 2018, Duke said Obasanjo didn’t anoint him as president in 2007 because he had his own views on whom he wanted as a successor.
He said: “Obasanjo had his own views. He probably had his own views of the folks he wanted to take over from him so he literally picked Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan.”
He noted that his failed run in 2007 made him sad because Yar’Adua wanted to work with him but the final decision was not up to the man himself, but Obasanjo.
He said: “I was sad, but I moved on. The circumstance was sadder still because Umaru really wanted to work with me. On three occasions, he came to me and said, ‘I hope you know we’re working together?’ I said, ‘Sure, but is it your decision to make?’ And he said, ‘Ah, don’t worry, he (Obasanjo) likes you.’ I said, ‘Okay, go (and) ask.”
Yar’Adua went on to win the 2007 presidential election before he tragically died in 2010, paving the way for Goodluck Jonathan to become president.
Despite Obasanjo’s apparent decision to overlook him for the presidency years ago, Duke said that he maintains a good relationship with the former president. However, Duke further noted that it is wrong to impose a candidate for a position as powerful as the president of Nigeria, explaining that a candidate has to be ready on so many levels.
According to him, the Nigerian presidency is too powerful that presidents are regarded as deity, an enormous amount of power he cautions against.
He said: “One thing about an office as serious as the presidency is you don’t conscript people to run because you must be mentally, physically, spiritually ready for the job.
“Mentally, you must have the vision for the job; spiritually, you must be strong, you must be of good faith, regardless of what your faith is; and physically, you must have the will, the desire to make it happen because you’re going to be constantly swimming against a wave.
“The president of Nigeria is so all-powerful; he is a deity. I hate to say this, but I’ve been where people say, ‘Oga, after God, na you o’.
“It may sound blasphemous but there’s truth in it. So the struggle for it is enormous. You see the man walking and sometimes you just look at him like, ‘This man is so powerful o’. It ought not be that way.”