Governor Liyel Imoke
In defiance of any inner circle political arrangement, Governor Liyel Imoke has pronounced Cross River North Senatorial district as the constituency of his successor, thus seeking to end the dream of a 24-year hold on power by the triumvirate that emerged on the political scene of the state in 1999. But can this hold sway in three years time, writes Jude Okwe in Calabar
The sensitive political chord that binds former Governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke, his successor, Liyel Imoke, and Gershom Bassey is gradually sputtering to a halt. It’s by no means a sign of distrust or disintegration but a response to pressure on the issue of rotation of power among the three senatorial districts of the state.
First, Governor Imoke who is a prominent member of this triumvirate won his re-election on February 25 this year and has three years left on his mandate. He is comfortably ensconced overseeing his administration sounding a relatively optimistic note about its achievements. Before now, he carefully avoided suggestions or any pointer to where his successor would come from in 2015. But at a recent interaction with journalists in Calabar, the governor in a rare feat and apparently demonstrating his political muscle, pronounced Cross River North Senatorial district as the zone to produce his successor.
Whether this pronouncement had the blessing of Duke and Bassey was not explained but it was obvious that Imoke, a self-styled apostle of equity and fairness in politics, had stirred up a real hornet’s nest. For quite some time now, the issue that had been agitating the minds of politically-conscious citizens of the state was where Imoke’s successor would come from.
Scuttling 24-year Agenda
Their fear was not unfounded. Duke while in power, boldly said the triumvirate had a 24-year agenda to govern the state one after another. To give vent to this agenda, Bassey became visible everywhere Imoke went. It seems Imoke and other associates in his cabal took a blood oath at high noon to dominate power for 24 years. Or how else do you explain the leash that was on him in the person of Bassey? He sits in cabinet meetings without any designated portfolio except being the Chairman of the State’s Strategic Planning Commission. Since 1999, he’s been the Chairman of the Cross River State Water Board Ltd.
But in the last three months, Bassey had been less visible in public functions involving Imoke. His reduced circulation, informed PDP sources said may not be unconnected with the stance by Imoke that the Northern Senatorial district which is yet to produce a governor be allowed to take a shot at the state’s Government House for the first time. While Bassey saw this as a betrayal, Imoke, it was gathered, insisted that he was not ready to overheat the system.
The loss of the 76 oil wells to Akwa Ibom State, ceding of Bakassi Peninsular to the Republic of Cameroon and the consequent drop in earnings were enough problems rather than adding to it and as such the governorship position should be allowed to go North, Imoke reportedly argued before his political allies. Since Duke and Bassey are of Efik ethnic stock in the Southern Senatorial district, it was unrealistic to deny the North tenancy at Government House. Imoke hails from the Central Senatorial district.
Besides, the PDP caucus in Cross River North Senatorial district deliberately barred its sons and daughters from challenging Imoke at the party’s primaries last year. The caucus issued a communiqué to state its position. The kernel of the resolutions adopted after an enlarged meeting in Ogoja in August and September 2011 was that Imoke would be given massive electoral support so the zone succeeds him in 2015. The agreement was documented and captured on video too.
Under this agreement, Imoke’s second term ambition was not challenged by any northerner. Only the former state Chairman of the PDP, Chief Soni Abang, made some pretension to contesting the gubernatorial race when he contested the PDP primary and lost woefully. Abang is an indigene of Boki Local Government Area in Cross River Central Senatorial district. The North showed its love and support for Imoke through mass votes. Thus, to the governor, a people with this rare political understanding cannot be shoved aside or underrated.
How the Cat Was Let Out
A question by the Guardian Correspondent in Calabar Anietie Akpan on whether the governor was going to keep faith with the agreement with the North on his successor was all that led the cat out of the bag. Imoke left no journalist in doubt that he was in control of the state and leader of the PDP. For the first time, he spoke authoritatively and fearlessly on such a sensitive political issue.
Hear him: “In Cross River State we have three senatorial districts. Two have produced governors for the state. Will it be fair not to allow another senatorial district produce a governor? In my political career so far, I’ve stood for fairness and equity. I was one of those who opposed some persons whom in 1999 said an Efik man cannot be governor of Cross River State. I fought against it and thank God an Efik man emerged as governor finally.
“The argument for rotation of office of governor among the three senatorial districts of the state is the same like that of the presidency at the national level. The north, south-west and now south-south have produced presidents for our country. The same should apply here. It’s a natural sequence. The final seal on this position is that the next governor of our dear state would come from the northern senatorial district”.
Soon after Imoke’s pronouncement hit town, critics and observers of Cross River politics of new breed politicians came up to say the political alliance of the triumvirate was transitory after all given its imbalance in composition. With two members from the south and one central, the north had no provision in its political providence hence it was impossible that suspicion, distrust and complaints of marginalization would not set in. In politics, consensus is the drumbeat that holds a disparate people together. Aware of this, Imoke had to quickly re-align his forces to checkmate any backlash from his primary political camp. For one, being the sitting governor he has more political structures than Duke and Bassey put together. Secondly, the rural development programme of his administration which has resulted in the construction of 474 km Cross River Rural Access Mobility Project (RAMP) rural roads, electrification of over 1000 villages, provision of mini water schemes etc have all endeared the people to him. He can count on them any time for support. This means Bassey and Duke can do little or nothing to rock the boat.
Problems in North
But the major problem the PDP is likely to face in the north is that of compromise candidate. So many aspirants are likely to spring up with each talking tough. If Bassey from the south goes ahead to contest against a plethora of aspirants from the north, the possibility of votes split to his advantage cannot be ruled out. Should this happen, the office again would elude the zone. Elders and the PDP caucus have a lot of work to do ahead of the PDP gubernatorial primary in 2015.
It is this clamour for the position of governor of the state by every Tom, Dick and Harry that makes pundits like Chief Linus Okom to say the north is not ripe for the governance of the state. But he has forgotten that the beauty of democracy is in its plurality. Now that the governor has zoned the governorship position to the north, political gladiators from that axis need to put their acts together. It is expected that when the chips are down, many aspirants would make sacrifice.
However, the following are said to be nursing governorship ambition: former Minister of Environment, Mr. John Odey; Senator Ben Ayade; Executive Secretary National Planning Commission, Mr. Fidelis Ugbo; Lagos-based Lawyer, Mr. Joe Abang; former commissioner for Environment in the state, Dr. Julius Okputu; former member of the House Representatives, Hon. Paul Adah, and a serving commissioner in the state, Mr. Legor Idagbo. A dark horse may emerge as an alternative.
But one thing is certain-the prime movers of conclave politics would not handover the reins of power to someone they do not trust or cannot control. What matters to them is interest and the trio seem to have a common business interest. Those in the know told THISDAY that for the group to endorse an outsider to succeed it, such a person must have been tested and trusted in loyalty. It is opposed to anyone who is too rich, too intelligent and nationally-connected.
And since the triumvirate is hankering after loyalty so as not to completely lose its grip on power, only an aspirant who is ready to act its script would get its nod. Once accepted, everything would be done from 2013 to clear the coast for him, THISDAY gathered from informed PDP sources. When the governorship returns to the south in 2024, Gershom Bassey would be 61, an age not too old for that office.
Avalanche of Reactions
Reactions have been pouring in from all corners to the governor’s position on his successor. Executive Secretary of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) in the state, Pastors Sunday Michael, said Imoke only stated the obvious. To him, the statement was long overdue and should be applauded by all and sundry. “It will be unfair for anybody to say that after the south and central have produced governors, the north should be denied its due chance. His statement is a welcome development. At least it would ease the tension that was already building ahead of 2015. We only hope that what he said is not deceptive. We are aware that they are out to implement the agenda of the 3 wise men. If he means what he said, he should go ahead and implement it. Let him not cow in to pressure and reverse himself,” he said.
Director-General, Cross River Roads Maintenance Agency, Mr. Tom Agi, described Imoke’s pronouncement as “a statement of fact, a statement of a true leader. It is a just assessment. The other two senatorial districts have had it. This statement shows His Excellency as a true leader who is just, fair- minded and believes in equitable distribution on power and resources as evident in the spread of development projects across the state.
“It is a call on those of us from the north to close ranks as we have a big challenge before us. We should cooperate and grab this opportunity. It is wrong to say the north is not united. We are one united political family with visionary leaders”.
governorship candidate of the PPA in the last election, Mr. Goddie Akpama, explained that, “for the governor to have made that statement makes him outstanding. His statement should be put into action. The North is united, it is solid. If 15 to 20 aspirants emerge from there is no sign of disunity but how come it became united for Imoke’s re-election? It would unite for its own.
“The north was united yesterday, today and forever. Other candidates from the central senatorial district challenged Imoke’s re-election last February. This did not mean the central was not united. We in the opposition would mobilize and ensure that all gubernatorial candidates of political parties come from the North.
“As much as Imoke in his wisdom ensured that an Efik man became governor, he should do the same for the north. He should ensure that every unit of the state is given a sense of belonging. He should act his words. This will truly make him a leader.”