Calabar — Zoning and performance have once against taken the front burner in political discourse in Cross River State as the incumbent governor, Senator Ben Ayade, continues his search for a second term in office. Different interest groups are making frantic efforts to justify their positions regarding how best to resolve the voting preferences in next year’s general election in the state, with some postulating different arguments for and against zoning and performance.
However, one thing is clear, besides the Calabar-Ogoja accord of the seventies which has since crumbled like packs of cards, the state has never had any written agreement or an understanding that the governorship position should be zoned to any particular senatorial zone in the state.
Ayade is from Obudu in the Northern Senatorial and he is seeking a second term despite all intrigues and scheming by some stakeholders in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to stop him at the primaries. They plotted to stop him from getting the PDP ticket and even the last effort to put a candidate against him failed as the screening committee disqualified them all except Emma Ibeshi who was cleared but was dropped at the last minute to the September 29 primaries leaving Ayade standing as the sole candidate.
As a result, Ibeshi who is also from Obudu with Ayade, has dragged PDP, Ayade and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to court in a N2billion suit, FHC/ABJ/CS/1268/2018 at the Federal High Court, Abuja challenging his disqualification. He is seeking among other things, an order restraining the INEC from accepting Ayade as the governorship candidate of the party.
But gladiators are continuing political alignments and realignments. Elites from the Cross River South Senatorial district are aligning with Ayade to ensure he succeeds in his second term bid so that by 2013, Ayade and his supporters will in turn throw their weight for a southern candidate. Attempt to drop his current deputy, Prof Ivara Esu, was botched due to pressures from some Efik stakeholders from southern senatorial who believe in the 2023 agenda.
Part of the strong support Ayade is getting from the south is from the Seven-Alive group led by a business mogul and an astute banker, Chief Asuquo Ekpenyong whose son is the Commissioner for Finance in the state, Ekpenyong jnr and may likely take a shot at governorship in 2023. But within the group there is a strong divide over the Efik interest come 2019 and the three major governorship candidates (Ayade of PDP, Senator John Owan-Enoh of the All Progressive Congress (APC) and Eyo Ekpo of Social Democratic Party). The division even led into a fisticuff among some of the top members in a recent meeting at the instance of Senator Florence Ita-Giwa.
Some believe in Ayade and see him as an achiever; some others believe in Owan-Enoh and see him as a more purposeful and visionary leader and besides the Efik interest is more protected with the former Chairman of PDP, Ntufam Ekpo Okon as his deputy while the third group want Ekpo of SDP, a core Efik son but he is seen as an underdog.
Ayade is said to be banking hope on the zoning arrangement and his said performance and one of the leading members of the Seven-Alive group, and a former Commissioner for Lands in Donald Duke’s government, Chief Bassey Ndem said the zoning arrangement has not collapsed.
“The zoning arrangement the recent one was a PDP affair and PDP has maintained it”, he said adding, “If another party feels zoning is bad and your weaker brothers do not deserve your support, that might is right, then let them experiment it and see how they will be received by the general populace whom I know are their brothers keeper and I have seen the benefit of zoning. It does not mean that because you have might, money, your poorer cousin should not be given a shot at leadership.”
Public opinion may not favour Ayade in terms of performance and governance style but Ndem, a shrewd businessman who is suspected to be eying the governorship seat in 2023 has this to say. “My response to this issue of governance is that, a lot of our people have what I will call a messiah complex and that explains the euphoria that made us to do what we did in 2015 and is likely to make us do the same thing in 2019 where all of a sudden a leader is seen in Godlike characteristics and we expect him or her to solve every problem.
“We see him as super human and leave the burden of leadership on him. We are a critical part of that whole arrangement call government… This bad government is seen by only two individuals from a particular zone, no any other person has seen it. Let us not be naïve.”The Chief Press Secretary and Senior Special Assistant Media to the Governor, Mr. Christian Ita, was reported to have said, Ayade’s performance in office, together with the zoning arrangement which favours’ the Governors senatorial district, would ensure his victory.
Ita stated, “over a hundred pressure groups across the state have endorsed His Excellency and are working assiduously to ensure he returns. Senator Owan Enoh or any other person is of no threat whatsoever. Senator Owan-Enoh’s followership is in the central and the south but let me state that His Excellency has fellowship from all the three senatorial districts’ based on what he has done positively on Cross River people.
“By the time we do elections early next year, Senator Owan-Enoh would have spent four years in the senate, but so far, how many bill has he sponsored? Governor Ayade was in the senate for four years same as Owan-Enoh and he sponsored 47 bills and was given an award as the best senator of the 7th senate. Popularity is based on your antecedent. The economy of Cross River today does not require someone that has no knowledge of how to create the necessary business environment because Cross River is not Akwa Ibom and not Rivers in terms of federal allocation.
“The Government has started massive renovation works on all roads network in Calabar. Things are gradually falling into place. Today, you go through length and breathe of the state, there are many projects scattered all over Cross River State. “A lot of work is going on in the first phase of the superhighway. We would have gone far with that project if not for the Federal Government and some Cross Riverians who played politics with the project. There were several petitions and even the Federal Government took us to court. Two weeks ago, the Federal Government steering committee and implementation committee were on ground over the Bakassi Deep Seaport project. Under three years, we have got more approvals and done more work in Bakassi deep seaport than Ibaka deep seaport in Akwa Ibom which started about 10 years ago.”
On zoning, he said, “the political amity we are enjoying in Cross River is that we have a zoning arrangement in which every zone knows that after every eight years the Governorship must come to them but Owan-Enoh came out to scuttle that understanding. Do you think those in the North, whose right he is trying to take away, would vote for him? I do not think so; he does not constitute a threat to us at all.”
But one of the APC stalwarts, Chief Sam Bassey said, “for me in Cross River state there have never been zoning especially the governorship position. I say so because in 1999 governor Donald Duke contested and he had my good friend, late Mark Ukpo as contender. Donald contested on platform of PDP and Ukpo contested on platform of APP (defunct All Progressive Party)… When he tried second term he also had Ambassador Obi Odu, Emmanuel Ibeshi as candidates from the North. In 2007 when Senator Liyel Imoke contested, he had Prof Eyo Etim Nyong from the South who contested; he had Emmanuel Ibeshi from the North, Pastor Usani Usani from Central who contested.
“All these years we have never had a situation were one zone, be it South, Central or North was allowed to be the only zone to produce the candidate. All other zones have been having a foray into the contest, so we cannot start now.”A businessman and politician from Ogoja in North senatorial, Mr. Peter Ogar said, “second term is not a right, it is earned through good performance and Ayade has not performed well. If we give him another term he will kill the state. Some of those speaking for him today are his aides who depend on ‘alert’ and few elites from the South who are eying the governorship seat in 2023 for their own personal interest. Let them show us one single road Ayade has started and completed!
“This 2019, anyone from any senatorial district can contest and win. What we want is performance and good governance and not Ayade’s failed promises, poor governance, bogus, high sounding and unrealistic projects that remain a mirage like the super highway, deep seaport, Calasvegas, Northrodam, Centricut, Calachika, Tinapa to Odukpani dual carriage way and others which are seen as deceptive strategy for something else.
“Imagine the superhighway, so much spent on clearing yet no result, no compensation and all the failed timbers allegedly carted away by government agents. The governor talks of intellectual money and over 100 Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) signed yet nothing on ground except the beautiful private estates and edifices that dot choice areas like Afi-ekong estate, State Housing, MCC road, Diamond hill and few others. Perhaps these are the alerts and intellectual money?”
Apparently put off with the false illusion of zoning, Ogar said, “What is our turn or his eight years? Is it turn or eight years of destruction? Is it turn or ethnicity that developed the Obudu Cattle Ranch! Is it ethnicity that promoted the Ranch and the people of Obanlikwu, Obudu and the state to the outside world through the famous Obudu mountain race?
“All these things were done by Duke a Calabar man from south and Imoke an Abi man from Central but the son of the soil, Ayade came and the Ranch is dead, the mountain race and its benefits gone, the celebrated Bekwara-Obudu road is now a death trap. The government said it has built power plant in Obudu and Calabar yet no light… this is the biggest opportunity to rescue the state through the ballot box because another four years of Ayade will be a disaster, Cross Riverians be wise.”
On his part, the Nigerian Ambassador to Uganda, Chief Eyoma Nya Asuquo quoting Hitler’s spokesman said, “if falsehood is peddled so many times it may become the truth. The position of zoning is absolute falsehood. Since 1999 the north has been challenging others for the sit. The position is not reserved for any zone but through contest. So they should show me any piece of paper that talks about zoning but there is nothing like that. It is just by convention that PDP has been ruling this state since 1999 so if their convention favoured that arrangement okay but others contested.
“If there was zoning nobody from any other zone will contest. Nobody should talk about zoning. We should not go down to mediocrity. Zoning does not necessarily bring development or personal benefits what we need is good leadership and that person that can give us is Senator John Owan-Enoh.”Equally reacting to the governor’s acclaimed performance and the issue of zoning, the APC deputy governorship candidate, Ntufam Okon said, “I hear people talk about zoning and all of that. I have been in the politics of the state for this while, there has never been a zoning. I was a very critical part of the campaign of Donald Duke in 1998 to 99, there was no zoning and Donald was able to win.
“And some people from my senatorial zone will be waiting for Ayade to hand over to them as if he is God. It does not happen that way. Anybody from the south who has capacity and is ready to work should work hard and you can become the governor. You don’t have to wait until one governor will sit down to look at your face and he will like your face and he will hand over to you. That is not it. I was here in 2003 when Donald fought for a second term, and there were candidates from across the state. Even in 2007, when Senator Imoke contested the first time, candidates came from the three senatorial districts, including the south. So when I hear all this skewed issue of zoning, I begin to wonder. Allow Cross Riverians to decide.
“But I am happy Cross Riverians would be able to speak at the ballot box. I am happy that his spokesperson (Ita) talks about his performance speaking for him, let us allow his performance speak for him. Because instead of people clinging on to the issue of zoning, let us allow his performance speak for him and then let us go to the poll and see how Cross Riverians would react to that.”
Okon said, “as far as I am concerned I don’t even want to look at ethnic issues in what I am doing. For me even if you bring a governor from my village and he does not perform well, it shows one thing, that we are all going to suffer. The same way the man in Yala will suffer is the same way a man from my village will suffer from poor governance. Ethnicity is one thing we must keep very far from the issues affecting Cross River today.
“If we must rescue Cross River, all hands must be on deck. And under such circumstance you must allow the ideal of rescue to drive you and as far as I am concerned, I must give it to Senator John Owan-Enoh. Cross River has never been reduced to this level. And you find people who ought to be leaders reduce themselves to the lowest levels of sycophancy. It is very unfortunate. The issue of who will become the next governor of Cross River State first is in the hands of God, the next one is the capacity of the person.”
On governance, the APC deputy governorship aspirant who was a one time chairman of the state Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) declared, “I believe that Cross River State is sick and needs urgent attention. I believe that we have to deliberately work hard to revive Cross River. I have offered myself as part of the medical team… First there is no governance in the state and for you to lead, there must be governance. If you go to any government office today, you will realize that there is no work that is going on. Nothing is happening. The materials to get the work done are never there. You go to the governor’s office, when the governor is not in office and there is disruption in public power supply, then there won’t be electricity. So those who are in the offices have no business coming to work when the governor is not in town.