THE ROAD CROSS RIVER SHOULD NOT TRAVEL
For eight years running, Cross River State has become a symbol and a reference point for all that is noble, including peace and security. In fact, the state was not too long ago rated as the most peaceful in the country by the nation's police high command based on the fact that it had the lowest crime rate in the country.
In deed, these positive attributes were not happenstances. There were a product of deliberate and consistent policy thrust of the state governor, Senator Liyel Imoke to make peace and security a sine qua non, an essential element of his governance process.
It was one of the legacies he vowed at inception of his administration to bequeath to the state. Until Imoke's assumption of office in 2007, acts of extreme violence were a staple diet and a daily occurrence in the state.
But Governor Imoke toiled tirelessly to ensure these vestiges were completely exorcised.
However, recent events in the build-up to the general elections, appear to be not only eroding this legacy, but tend to suggest a ghostly apparition of the gone by vices.
A once very peaceful state, now appears to be gripped in an orgy of violence, which keen observers believe is the handiwork of opposition parties and desperate politicians in the state, particularly the Labour Party who are blazing the path of criminality to realise their inordinate political ambition.
And it is very easy to arrive at this conclusion.
Tension was high in Calabar in the build-up to the PDP primaries for the Cross River South Senatorial District. And this is understandable given the caliber of persons that contested the ticket.
The incumbent senator, Prince Bassey Otu, a political leader in the state, Mr Gershom Bassey and Ntufam Ekpo Okon were the three people who fought for the ticket.
Violence, however erupted on the day of the primaries when Prince Otu's supporters unleashed hell on those they suspected of not supporting their benefactor. They assaulted people and prevented many delegates from entering the Cultural Center venue of the primary election.
The state Deputy Governor, Barr Efiok Cobham was also assaulted and prevented from entering the venue. The windshield of his car was smashed. Even Gershom Bassey was prevented from gaining access to the venue.
The electoral officers were left with no other choice but to move the primaries to another day. The exercise was also moved from the Cultural Center to the U.J. Esuene Stadium to allow for proper security.
At the end of what many in the state hailed as a transparent and credible exercise, Gershom Bassey emerged the winner. One of the three aspirants, Ntufam Ekpo Okon conceded defeat and is today the Director General of the PDP Campaign Organisation in the state while the incumbent senator crossed to Labor Party.
Since he pitched tent with the Labor Party, Otu's supporters, using various faceless groups, have been engaging in hate campaigns through advertorials in the newspapers and bulk sms.
As the hate campaign intensifies, so has violence found accommodation in the state. First, Imoke's steward was shot dead at his home in Calabar. A development that left residence of the town reeling in shock.
Just when it seemed that life was returning to normal in the city, some unknown gunmen stormed the residence of Mr Gershom Bassey, the Peoples Democratic Party ( PDP) senatorial candidate for the Southern Senatorial District. They shot a policeman and a Civil Defence personnel who were on duty, and made away with the policeman's riffle.
That Gershom Bassey is alive today is because he wasn't home when the gunmen stormed his residence.
Before then he and his campaign team were viciously attacked in Bakassi by suspected Labour Party thugs during his campaign tour of the area.
When all these were happening, the Labour Party, predominantly populated by politicians who just left the PDP after being severely worsted in the PDP primaries, maintained a conspiratorial silence.
Indeed, the much the party leadership did, was to insinuate that the various attacks on PDP members were orchestrated by the victims; members of the PDP. There was not a single word of condemnation from them.
Not long after that incident, a violent clash erupted in Ekori between supporters of the PDP and the Labour Party. Four people, including a cousin of Hon. Bassey Ewa, a PDP member of the House of Representatives, were killed in the fracas.
Typical of Labor Party in the state, it sought to exploit that incident for political gains. It issued a statement claiming that the state police command, was using that incident as a guise, to clamp down on its leaders and candidates in that area, and throw them into jail. Not a single word did they mention of the fact that Hon. Ewa, a member of the PDP and incumbent member of the House of Representatives, was also a guest of the police in the state.
As if it is now a case of one day one trouble, the Labor Party House of Representatives candidate for Akpabuyo/Calabar South/Bakassi Federal Constituency, Mr Dominic Edem was kidnapped by unknown gunmen. Few hours after the incident, Labor Party again went to town, accusing the PDP-led state government of sponsoring the kidnap.
Nevertheless, emerging scenario seems to suggest a simulated kidnap by some members of the Labour Party in order to tar the ruling PDP and also create a false sense of insecurity in the state.
As part of the Labour Party's scheme to stoke the embers of confusion in order to precipitate violence in the state, there were media reports recently, to the effect that members of the party had staged a protest claiming that there was a plot by the PDP to rig the forthcoming elections in the state. But findings, however, revealed that the so-called protesting Labour Party members were indeed hired thugs.
Over time, this has become the stock in trade of the Labour Party in Cross River, always forging a crisis and invariably stoking tension in the polity.
Yet for eight years, the same PDP-led government in the state had ensured that the state buried its spectre of violent tendencies to become the most peaceful in the country.
In those eight years, several elections have been held, including three governorship elections, which Imoke contested, without a single incidence of violence.
It is an established fact that the personality of a leader has direct bearing on his or her style of leadership. Imoke's humility, calm disposition and accommodation of dissenting views, have been the defining attributes of his administration.
Above all, he has anchored his administration on the fear of God.
When he took over in 2007, Cross River was in the grip of cultists, with the attendant clashes by rival groups.
To discourage this culture, no known cultist was appointed to the state executive council.
But since in the words of Shakespeare, there is no art to read the mind's construction in the face, every appointee into the state executive council is made to swear an oath renouncing cultism.
Apart from this, the governor has also used advocacy campaigns to dissuade the people of the state, especially the young ones, from violence, particularly during election times.
During the recent state-wide campaign tour by his party, the governor used every opportunity to preach against violence, pleading with the youth not to allow themselves to be used to perpetrate evil.
For instance, when the PDP campaign train made a stop in Akpabuyo, Imoke lamented the action of a few politicians who have elected to be enemies of democracy by desperately seeking political offices by any means necessary, and damming its attendant consequences on ordinary citizens.
Imoke said the act was criminal and must be resisted by all.
He regretted that typical of Nigeria politicians, they tend to create a divide and rule tactic so as to remain relevant in their respective enclaves.
His words: “As they (politicians) continue to fight themselves, the division is played up in order to keep the ordinary people apart so that they can see themselves as enemies.”
While vowing to fight vigorously any form of violence, thuggery and divisive tendencies before, during and after the general elections, Imoke urged the youth to refuse to yield themselves as tools in the hands of politicians.
He stressed that his vision, since assumption of office was to build a peaceful, harmonious and politically stable state, pointing out that those who left the PDP after a keenly contested primaries did so out of their selfish interest and that all effort to reconcile them back to the fold has not yielded any positive result.
So, as the opposition seeks to play politics with violence or politics of violence, they should realise that the interest of the state supercedes any individual interest.
The people of the state also know the character of the present administration in the state. So the jaded tactics of using violence for political gains isn't working.
***Efefiom NSA, a member of the Cross River Youth Vanguard.