There are not too many people who could truly say they do not like Donald Duke. The former Cross River state governor has such a warm and likeable personality that you’re not likely to leave his presence and not desire to be his friend for life. That is how strong and overwhelming the aura around this incredibly intelligent man is. And of course, he is an undeniably good looking man as well.
Yet, despite his accomplishments, both as a former public office holder and a private person, this easy-to-talk –to gentleman still carries himself with such simplicity that leaves you with the impression that he probably has no idea he is any of the aforementioned. But those who know would tell you that is the Donald Duke they’ve always known – easy going, humble, fun to be with. And if by any chance he still hasn’t earned your admiration via any of these attributes, then wait till you get to meet Onari, his gorgeous looking wife of 34 years. Onari Duke is not just an adorable woman, she is also just as brilliant as her husband. She is the type of woman every man would be proud to have by his side. Her charm, grace, beauty and brilliance all combine to make her one of the most enchanting women on the planet. And this woman is the mother of Donald’s three daughters… you still don’t admire him?
At THISDAY’s 25 years anniversary held last week at the Eko Hotel and Suites in Lagos, City People’s Senior Editor, WALE LAWAL (08037209290) asked Donald Duke for a chat and he was gracious enough to give us his time. And he talked just about everything. Enjoy the excerpts.
I’ve been dying to ask you this question, sir, how do you, along with Madam, continue to look cute and ageless all the time?
(Smiles) She packages me well. Really, it’s all about good living, healthy living, eat right and exercise and above all, do everything in moderation. You must realize that the older you get, the more your body begins to wear out. But she’s in better shape than I am.
You are one of the few former governors who were able to transit seamlessly from public life to private life, how were you able to do this, sir? What part of your background shaped you into who you are?
You know, I left private life for public life, so it shouldn’t have been difficult to go back to private life. But some of us behave as if we’ve always been into public life. Like Prince Harry, it’s a big transition. He’s always been in public glare now going into private life, leaving the royal family. We were always into private life, then we had a brief stint in public life, but you must realize there’s tenure, so it’s going to end at some point. But the important thing is this, and this is very important, how you comport yourself while in office will determine your life thereafter. You come out and you’ll never be the same. If you comport yourself in a way that was haughty or egoistic, it becomes a challenge for you to reintegrate into society. Above all, just do what is right. The best politics is doing the right thing. And remember that it’s an incredible opportunity that the almighty has afforded you. Rather than being haughty be humble. In science, they say the higher you go, the cooler it becomes. In life, the more elevated society makes you, the more humble you should become.
What were the most fulfilling moments for you while you were in office?
In one word, Hope. I found that I afforded the people of my state, and the people of Nigeria largely, hope, that their circumstance will be better than it presently is. Because, let’s face it, we have gotten to a point in our national life where we feel we’re doomed as a people. So, we’re losing hope as a people. I think, my greatest achievement, along with my team, is that we were able to rekindle hope among the people of my state. Now, they look forward to a tomorrow that’s better than today or yesterday. There were many things we did like infrastructure, education, etc, but our impact in government is we raised the bar and ever since then we made the government accountable to the people. People now ask questions, if these people did this, why can’t you do it? If the roads were made better, why can’t you do the same? See, our public servants are too arrogant. They believe society owes them. No, you must account for the opportunity you have been given.
What gave you the most joy at the point you were leaving office?
You know, the day I handed over, at the stadium, people were weeping. And you know there’s a Chinese saying that the day you come into the world, we are crying, but the people around us are laughing and happy, then when we’re leaving, the people around us will be weeping and we’ll be smiling. In other words, our life was impactful. I experienced it. It was so emotional at the stadium. When I took over the office, my predecessor did not want to hand over to me at the stadium because he was afraid he will be booed. My successor and I don’t like saying this, refused to hand over at the stadium and instead, he used a hall like this and it was strictly by invitation. We had ours at the stadium and people were visibly weeping and I was smiling. For me, it was very emotional. I must’ve done something right. But it’s a humbling experience.
Would you say you are pleased with the state of things in your state, Cross River, at the moment?
We can do much better. But my responsibility is to constantly encourage the governor. He is a good man. He has a good heart, but sometimes people are not in sync with what he’s doing. My responsibility as a former governor and as a friend is to tell him the truth and encourage him because if he fails, it’s our failure and it’s gonna drive us back. If he succeeds, we will move forward too. As long as he’s willing to listen, I’ll keep on encouraging him. He’s a good man, he has a good heart. He means well, but he has a style that sometimes, I will say, leaves us breathless (laughs).
You happen to be one of the country’s brightest prospects, sir, when it comes to people who can change the narrative of this country in terms of what leadership should be all about, is there still some chance that we can have someone like you take another shot at the presidency?
You know, the presidency is a power in the sky. Make yourself available. If the stars align in your favour you will get it, but make yourself available. If you have the passion, you have the skills and you don’t make yourself available, then you are shortchanging your nation and invariably your future. So, if the opportunity presents itself, I will make myself available. But you must recognize that in a nation of 200 million people, to get all of them to support one person is a feat. But make yourself available if you think you can make a difference. That’s how I look at it, I’m very open-minded about it.
Candidly, sir, do you sincerely think there’s hope for this country? Is there hope that we can turn things around and move to the next level, candidly?
In every cycle of 4 years, hope is created, but not long after, it dissipates. But we need to keep that hope alive. I know we have the potential to be a great nation. I’ve seen it. I mean, I ran one of the poorest states in the country and we did a lot. So, it’s not the money you have, it’s the people, the ideas, the passion, the energy you bring into it. Unfortunately, we have not been able to bring our full potential to bear. Though, as long as there’s life, I’m hoping that we’ll have that administration. We’ve had a few that could’ve made it happen, but in the course of it, something went wrong. Babangida was one of them. He could’ve made that happen. And Obasanjo as well. His first term, he was trying to get into grasp. His second term, he got a grip of it. And our nation made tremendous progress in the second term. But that momentum was not sustained and that’s a big challenge we have, which is continuity. Continuity is a very big challenge because leadership in Nigeria can sometimes be very selfish. You know, building a country is like building a house, you can’t start and then stop. If I build to the first deck and you’re the next in your shift, you build from the deck upwards because we in government, we’re like shift workers. A shift can last for four years, eight years, but it’s a shift, and at the end of that shift you go. If the next man comes and says I’m abandoning this house, then you will never finish it. We need to realize that it’s not about us, it’s about our nation. You look at it, how many nations can abandon Ajaokuta? Today, that would cost you $20 billion to build. When people talk of TINAPA, I say TINAPA is a pittance compared to Ajaokuta. We have a shipping company and that shipping company… Okay, listen, one of the biggest organizations in Malaysia is MISC (Malaysia International Shipping Corporation). They ship all over the world. They even came to Nigeria to help us ship our crude oil. But they started after Nigeria National Shipping Line (NNSL). Beyond that, we had a national airline. You know each time we travel abroad, we are transferring money out of the country. There are so many things we’re doing wrong. We need to recalibrate ourselves and put an end to this.