The Man Striving to Revive the Soul of Cross River

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Edem-Duke

Methodical and selfless, Edem Duke, a former Minister of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation between 2011 and 2015, is a man of the people. Devoted and dependable, he sees himself as the one that can turn the fortunes of Cross River State around. Demola Ojo writes, following an interview with Duke, that it is for this reason he is aspiring to be the state’s governor in 2019 using the platform of the All Progressives Congress

Successful and shrewd, Edem Duke is a man of the people. His calm mien betrays his capacity to listen and ability to swing into action in the twinkling of an eye. Stately in an understated way, the former Minister of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation between 2011 and 2015 understands the link between governance and the grassroots. His ambition is to make progress in every endeavour he has embarked upon. It is little wonder that his eyes are set on being the next governor of Cross River State.

That aspiration to be the state’s next governor has made him to pitch his tent with the All Progressives Congress. He is confident that come the governorship primaries in the state, he will emerge the governorship candidate of the party.

The problem-solver and progressive politician sheds more light on his ambition, saying: “I want to be the governor of Cross River State because currently there isn’t a government in the actual sense of it. We, unfortunately, have people in position playing roles and interpreting such roles at their own discretion and not strictly in consonance with the tenets of democratic practice, good governance, and a shared aspiration with the people.”

Therefore, Duke is convinced that the state needs somebody who has the history and pedigree of active involvement in the lives of people in Cross River; and who providence has prepared for the role.

“That person,” the former minister points out, “must have a depth of knowledge and appreciation of the critical challenge of a state with lean resources like Cross River.”

Who else does the cap fit? Is it the incumbent governor? Or, is it any of the other governorship aspirants? Duke believes he is that person as he talks about his local and national appeal, as well as global connections. What that means is that he can – with little effort – pull these assets together for the good of the state.

“We need somebody who can restore the paradise that Cross River had always been in the past,” Duke points out.

Duke was born and bred in Lagos, attended CMS Grammar School Lagos, Comprehensive High School Aiyetoro (in what is now Ogun State) and the University of Lagos.

While he spent the nineties at NNPC where he was the general manager, group public affairs, a large part of his career was spent working in Cross River State in different capacities, starting from the Cross River Broadcasting Corporation and later as press secretary to the governor.

Many may think his passion to become the next governor is about fame and fortune. He already has that. “My umbilical cord, spiritually, is in the fertile soil of Cross River State,” he asserts. Thus, Duke sees it as his responsibility to step out “courageously” because it is easy to sit back and complain.

“I take the chance because when I meet my creator, he will ask me that having endowed me with certain talents, why I didn’t rise up to seek to utilise those talents to rescue my people,” Duke explains, waxing spiritual about his ambition.

Crossing the Divide

Duke joined the APC from the PDP in May 2017. He sheds more light on the reason behind his defection.

“While in the PDP, I made concerted efforts to contribute in terms of ideas and creativity both locally and nationally. But it was a bit frustrating that those efforts were not appreciated, talk less of being reciprocated. I am a passionate tourism enthusiast and professional. But I worked with people who would never include the word tourism in their economic lexicon.

“For me, that was frustrating. There were situations where my intellectual and cerebral contributions, though respected in my own sector, were actually downplayed,“ Duke says referring to his time as a minister.

In Cross River, he found out that “within the same party, even in the same local government where you should have similar aspirations for the party, there was a deliberate effort to sabotage your contributions, so that your eminence or prominence will be downplayed which would ordinarily lead to embarrassment. But somehow, providence was always round the corner to rescue one.”

He believes in politics of ideas. The former tourism minister explains: “I prefer to play the politics of economic, socio-cultural development. Not money politics. I found that people thought that the quality of your participation or contribution must necessarily be measured by the quantum of money you spend or share. For me, no matter what you have in the midst of relatively unequal people, playing up your resources is a very cheap way of playing politics.”

A usually suave individual, Duke does not hide his disdain for duplicity, especially when it comes to his name and image.

“I was working with people who know that you bring a certain level of maturity and capacity but rather than consider that to be an asset to the party, they thought it would diminish them as individual members of the party in leadership positions, so it was important to try to cage you.

“But when the leadership in the state desires to do big things, they try very much to associate you with it, whereas there was no sincerity in actually using your competencies to actualise such dreams. These were replicated in very many areas. I decided I would rather not be a pawn on the political chessboard of certain people,” the APC governorship aspirant says.

This prompted his move to a party that is in the opposition in the state. He did so “in order to join the building blocks for restoration.” Speaking further he says, “It so happens that this party is in government at the federal level. For me, that is coincidental.”

With time though, he has realised that his ideas are in consonance with that of his new party.

Duke explains: “I see the federal government talking about growing the creative industry and a digital economy and a vice president who goes out to meet investors in the creative and entertainment sectors internationally. And during the 25th Annual General Meeting of the Afreximbank, the President actually stated that this government is interested in growing entertainment as an economic sector. I was blown out of my mind. Because I worked in a federal government that even a president in four years will never attend your event.”

Continuing, he adds: “However, creative people were led to believe there was critical interest in their sector while their popularity was being harnessed in order to promote the government.”

Cross River and Tourism

Cross River State is a leader when it comes to tourism in Nigeria. But its potential in this aspect is considered underdeveloped. Considering Duke’s background in the sector – especially as a former federal minister – what did he achieve and how does he plan to bring it to bear on the economy of the state?

“As the minister of culture and tourism, nobody believed in tourism as a critical contributor to the economy of Nigeria until they started to see the contributions of the creative sector to GDP. And even then, there was no fiscal policy to back it up.

“But within that contraption, I found that I was able to regenerate confidence in the sector, for them to begin to see that what we have in us is actually something of value; to rekindle in their minds that a nation is nothing without its culture, nothing without its history,” Duke replies.

The APC governorship aspirant speaks about how during a Federal Executive Council meeting, he had to stand up to some foreign experts from the UK who had come to make a presentation on enhancing the infrastructure deficit in Nigeria without talking about the “intangible infrastructure embedded in our culture and capable of generating humongous income.”

Arguing that tourism is a sector where people spend foreign exchange and only take away the experience, he says further, “Even those who contest to be Prime Minister of Britain propagate travel, comfort and safety of people as a major contributor to the economy.”

He is motivated to be governor of a state “the name of which when you mention, the imagery that resonates in your mind’s eye is one naturally endowed and blessed by God…that makes it, potentially, a jewel in the crown of Nigeria.”

Also, Duke promises to “lend all of the networks and experiences I have gathered from my days of travel as a member of top management of NNPC; as the chairman of the Calabar Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture; as a former president of Nigerian tourism (the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria); and as a pioneer investor in people, infrastructure and enterprise that promoted culture and tourism in Cross River.”

For him, “It is time to galvanise all of this, to turn around the very disheartening circumstance and situation of Cross River State today.”

Pressed on his specific plan for the state, Duke explains that he does not want to give too much away.

“You must understand that we operate in a state where people are wont to latch on to ideas. We have several months to go to the general election. You can give away a couple of ideas and before you know it, you start seeing things happening around Calabar,” he says.

Yet, he is ready to give an indication of his strategy which hints at a return to plans hatched in the past.

“There’s a letter that former Governor Donald Duke wrote to me and some others in 2006 in which he articulated a vision of utilising tourism and agriculture to propel the economy. While he was doing that as the head of the government, I was doing that as the head of the private sector under the ambit of the Cross River Tourism Development Initiative which I founded to drive the sector,” Duke discloses.

Apart from reigniting that agenda, he wants to look again at the tourism plan of former Governor Liyel Imoke which he had the privileged of writing “with a few other compatriots.”

Duke says: “I will then bring on board creative, imaginative ideas that can stimulate labour-intensive micro enterprises around tourism, culture, manufacturing as well as agriculture.

“I will use everything within my authority and power to allow the youths and women of Cross River to be the driving force in this regeneration and renaissance of Cross River State.”

Duke means business, development and prosperity. With his credentials, he is a strong candidate to help actualise the plan to transform Cross River to a paradise.