Cross River 2015: Sleepwalking to Government House, By Awassam Bassey

Months away from elections, Cross River’s prospective candidates are all quiet, biding time for outgoing Gov. Imoke to declare his preferences.

The alternate title of this piece is: “Breathing Life into the Cross River Polity Ahead 2015 Polls”. The reason is simply because, usually, very few political activities take place in Cross River State before elections, no matter the importance associated with it – presidential, governorship, National Assembly, State Assembly or local government.

The truth is, Cross Riverians are a peace-loving people. It’s not for nothing that Cross River State is known as “The Peoples Paradise”. And this love for peace actually permeates every sphere of the life of Cross Riverians so much that even politics is played in a very brotherly manner, reminding one of the “politics without bitterness” doctrine of the late Waziri Ibrahim of the defunct Great Nigeria Peoples Party, GNPP.

To lend credence to the quiet and brotherly way politics is played in the state, a keen observer will not miss the fact that there is little or no political activity going on in the state to suggest that a few months from now, political parties and the electorate would be required to elect a new governor, three senators, eight House of Representatives members, and 28 members of the State Assembly.

A school of thought says the inactivity might be linked with the directive by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, that political parties should wait for the official flag-off date of October 1, 2014 to kick-start politicking. Even so, it is also true that even the seemingly harmless “war of the billboards” already prevalent in other states is absent in Cross River.

Some pundits suggest that could be explained by the fact that all the rumoured aspirants, especially for the office of governor, are currently civil or public servants. This, they say, isn’t the case in other states where aspirants are mostly wealthy business men, oil tycoons or industrialists and entrepreneurs with access to funds which they deploy at will to fund their political activities.

In Cross River State, apart from a couple of media mentions of a protest letter to the national headquarters of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, by a group – Friends of Jeddy Agba; all is relatively quiet in the media about who’s aspiring for what office in the state and who’s not. Even when speculations about those aspiring for elective office are made in a few newspapers and on social media, very little on the ground supports the rumours – no campaign offices, billboards, branded vehicles, town-hall meetings etc.

For instance, stories have it that nearly 20 Cross Riverians from the Cross River North (Ogoja) Senatorial district are aspiring to take over from Senator Liyel Imoke in 2015 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, but these rumoured aspirations can hardly be substantiated as only a negligible few, if any, have had a direct media chat with any reputable national daily to announce their ambitions.

Yes, third-party spokespersons have employed their social media accounts –especially Facebook and Twitter – to say a couple of things that only succeed in announcing or betraying where their sympathies lie, but these comments can hardly replace sound bites from the people aspiring to seek the votes of the electorate. If an individual is desirous enough to govern, such a person should be bold enough to come out and say so openly.

When INEC warned political parties against campaigning before it officially lifts the embargo, it did not stop individual politicians from making public their aspirations to allow the electorate properly evaluate their choices before going to the polls in February 2015. It is common knowledge that some folks tapped into the usual Christmas celebrations last year to undertake some “empowerment” programmes in villages and communities across the state with the usual mini-bags of rice and tins of vegetable oil, but even this does not replace the need for these contenders to speak directly to the electorate and in the media about their aspirations and the programmes they intend to implement to allow for proper assimilation.

Recently, stories  have gained currency that the state is currently divided between those waiting on Governor Liyel Imoke to appoint his successor from a “family” within the ruling Peoples Democratic Party called “The Cross River Development Agenda”. The opposing group considered “anti-family” is led by Senate Majority Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba.

As these stories go, the pro-Imoke group has a long list of loyalists waiting to be anointed governor by outgoing incumbent, Imoke. They include the Secretary of the National Planning Commission, Fidelis Ugbo; all serving and many past cabinet members of the Imoke government from the northern senatorial district of the state where the office of governor has been zoned to by the PDP. The cabinet members said to be waiting for this anointing include Peter Ojie (Local Government Affairs), Attah Ochinke (Justice), Patrick Ugbe (Sports), Legor Idagbo (Works), and former commissioner, Julius Oputu, among others.

On the other hand, the pro-Ndoma-Egba group is said to be built around the governorship ambition of Godwin Jedy Agba, currently General Manager (Crude) at the Pipelines and Products Marketing Company, PPMC, who is also said to be the sole financier of this group. Statements credited to the PDP chairman in the state to the effect that Mr. Agba is not a PDP member, let alone a member of the “family” that would produce Imoke’s successor, is the subject of a petition sent to the PDP national chairman, Adamu Mu’azu.

An interesting aspect of this dogfight is that it is all happening within the PDP. Some have suggested the possibility that the “mega” opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, might be waiting for the state PDP to implode so it can be the beneficiary of the exodus that would follow.

Maybe now that a Cross Riverian, Iliad Atagbo, has been elected National Vice Chairman (South-South) of the APC, the party might start moving to lure “non-family” members of the PDP into its fold. This might do something to change the status of Cross River State as a one-party state (though opposition politics hasn’t simply held enough attraction for Cross River politicians in the past).

But, rather than wait for the APC to come wooing, it might be a great idea for the PDP members who are considered “non-family” members, specifically the Agba group, to reach out to the new party, APC, and be integrated early on. That way, they could undertake a microscopic view of the activities of the “pro-family” camp and carry out a forensic assessment of the achievements of their principal (Governor Liyel Imoke) in the past seven plus years of his administration.

The way it is panning out, whoever emerges governorship candidate of the pro-Imoke group would have to run on the achievements of Governor Imoke. The task of those running against Imoke’s loyalists would be to demystify these achievements. So, rather than wait to be outwitted or disqualified by the PDP on grounds that their leader – Goddy Jedy Agba – is not a registered PDP member, isn’t it a wiser step for this anti-Imoke group to accept the obvious and start their campaign from the other party?

Continued insistence by the Agba group that they remain PDP members in the face of the reality denies them the early start that they would have if they stepped out now and hit the ground running. The caucus system which the PDP in the state employs to select candidates for various offices and, especially the office of the governor, is so effective that only members of the “family” can possibly win the party’s primary election which, according to INEC’s time table, should hold between October 2, 2014 and December 11, 2014.

From the pro-Imoke group, it’s been said that every member of the Imoke cabinet (present and past) from the north senatorial district wants to succeed their boss. And, since Imoke has yet to name the family member to succeed him, each of these family members believes they stand a chance to be governor in 2015.

The problem is: none of these Imoke family members has publicly declared they want to run. Cross Riverians expect that at least one of these members ought to host their fellow cabinet members to dinner and announce to them their aspiration. If this were to happen, it would elicit two possible outcomes: (a) the courage to act this way would earn such a fellow respect and discourage others from running, and (b) it would make the job easier for Imoke who would no doubt get wind of such a meeting instantaneously and get feedback on how cabinet members react to it.

To wait indefinitely for Imoke to call everyone to a classroom and announce the choice of his successor is to wait in vain. Yes, Imoke has confirmed that the next Cross River State governor will be selected from the PDP “family”, meaning those that have, one way or the other, been part of government from the Donald Duke days (and who are still loyal to his government), but we need these family members to force the governor to an early decision while those labelled anti-family should go start their campaign from the other party. That way, the winner will sweat it out and not sleepwalk his way to Government House, Calabar.


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