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2011: GREATER CALABAR COMMUNITIES AT WAR OVER SENATORIAL SEAT

By NBF News
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The Greater Calabar, now the Southern Senatorial Zone, is made up of three major groups comprising the Efik and old Akampka local government areas of Cross River state. While the Efik have five local governments incuding Calabar South, Municipal, Akpabuyo, Bakassi and Odukpani, the old Akamkpa has only Akamkpa and Biase local government areas.

It is an axiomatic fact that these 'three brothers' (Efiks, Akamkpa and Bisae) shared a lot of historical and cultural affinities together during the colonial era. Besides, they have co-existed without minding the population strength of the Efik, who see themselves as 'big brother' in the Greater Calabar project.

And as 'big brother' has taken a greater chunk of what ought to have been shared among them especially when it comes to political appointments and elective positions. The age-long aphorism of live-and-let-live or be your brothers' keeper seems to have given way to a new master-servant relationship as the Efik have taken over whatever political position meant for the duo.

To lend credence to this, of all the political appointments due the Southern Senatorial Zone (the Greater Calabar), the Efik have over 95 per cent while the remaining is shared between Akampka and Biase. For instance, Daily Sun gathered that under Imoke administration, Biase has only Dr. Iyam ugoht, Special Adviser to the Governor on Roll Back Malaria, as a member of the state executive council(exco); Akamkpa has Deputy Chief of Staff, Joe Edet and Special Adviser to the Governor on Information and Communication Technology, ICT, Mr Odo Effiong, as the only two members of the exco while their Efik brothers have the Deputy Governor, PDP state Chairman/Commissioner NDDC and over 10 appointed commissioners and Special Advisers.

But what is generating bad blood among brothers is the senatorial seat allegedly hijacked by the Efik. Investigations revealed that since independence, the old Akampka has never produced a senator ostensibly because of their small population and voting strength.

It was learnt that the agitation to produce a senator got to a head in 2003 general elections when the old Akampka insisted that it was their turn to go to Senate at least for the first time. But an inside source said it took the intervention of the former Chief of Staff to ex-Governor Donald Duke, Mr. Jimmy Aniyom, to placate his people to allow the Efik go for a second term.

In 2003, the senatorial battle in the ruling PDP was between Dr. Stella Attoe , a PDP Board of Trustees member from Biase, and a new comer, Senator Bassey Ewah Henshaw, an Efik aristocrat and a business mogul. During campaigns, political heavy weights of old Akamkpa were said to have threatened to dump the party and cast protest votes against their candidate. This disposition caused the leadership of the two warring factions to enter into an agreement that after 2003, the old Akamkpa will then take their turn at the Upper House of the National Assembly.

Sources close to the screening committee confided in Daily Sun that those said to be present when the gentleman's agreement was entered into included the late former Deputy Governor during Chief Clement Ebri's tenure, Mrs. Cecilia Ekpenyong, the late Chief Victor Eta (a.k.a Vetas), Chief Ogbodom Ogbodom and Chief Asuquo Ekpenyong, Chief Executiev/Chairman, Dave Andy Group.

But this agreement may have been thrown into the trash can of history as Senator Henshaw sought for a re-election into the Upper Chamber in 2007 and won without recourse to the interest of the old Akamkpa. Not minding whose ox is gored, the incumbent Senator is seeking a third term ticket. Besides Henshaw, four other aspirants from the Efik stock have equally declared their ambition to run for the 2011 seat. They include Professor Eyo Etim Nyong, High Chief Edem Duke, Bar. Edem Ekon, incumbent Commissioner for Local Government Affairs and Hon. Bassey Henshaw, an incumbent representing Odukpani/Municipality federal constituency.

Not relenting in their fight for what they described as their turn, three senatorial aspirants have emerged from the old Akamkpa including Dr. Stella Attoe, current board chairman of VON, Mr. Jimmy Aniyom, the powerful Chief of Staff in the Duke's administration and Hon. Alex Ukam, a two-time lawmaker representing Biase/Akamkpa federal constituency. These aspirants are said to be mobilizing all their sons and daughters to join the fray for the zoning of the Senate seat to them as that is the only way they can have a feel of the national cake.

The aspirants, who have been traversing the length and breadth of the zone canvassing for support, are said to be lobbying some influential Efik politicians to prevail on their sons to give them a chance for once, contending that if they go into primaries with their low voting strength, the Efik will always carry the day and give the impression that after all, the election was free and fair.

Confirming the earlier agreement, Chief Ogbodom Ogbodom, the Biase Chapter chairman of PDP, said 'there was an accord between the Efiks and the Bisae people including Akampka at late victor Eta's House that after 2003, my people should be allowed to take a shot at senate; the late Mma Cecilia Ekpenyong including Chief Asuquo Ekpenyoug of channel view were all party to this agreement and it was done in good faith to reduce brotherly acrimony and allay the fears of the minority within the Southern Senatorial district.'

Analysts are, however, worried that in 2011 as usual the old Akamkpa may lose the coveted ticket for the umpteenth time in spite of the mutual trust and understanding between the Efiks and old Akamkpa. According to them this will be the height of political betrayal, fuelling speculation that the era of master-servant relation is back. Speaking at the declaration of Dr. Stella Attoe for Senate in Calabar, Chief Ogbodum, maintained that posterity would not forgive them if they fail to secure the ticket for Biase people this in 2011 election and challenged the people to rise up to the occasion as this is the moment of decision.

Equally lending his voice to the cry of marginalization at Dr. Attoe's declaration venue, the former Minister of State for Tourism and caucus leader of Biase, Professor Ivara Esu, stated that common sense demands that the Biase people should be given an opportunity to vie for Senate as their turn is now.

Ivara, who is the immediate past Vice-Chancellor of the University of Calabar and a member of the ruling PDP, expressed dismay at the treatment meted out to Biase when it comes to election. He said 'we have been used as cannon fodder and therefore this is the time to settle us if they still believe we are brothers as they claim.'

In spite of the alleged marginalization of the old Akamkpa, for instance, some communities in Biase Local Government Area still went ahead to dissociate themselves from the planned-INEC arrangements of excising it from the present Southern Senatorial district to Central Senatorial District.

In a petition sent to the National Assembly and signed by prominent sons and daughters from all the 13 council wards under the aegis of the Biase people, the group stated that such moves by INEC and any other body to restructure the three senatorial districts with the aim of putting Biase in Central would not be welcome. The wards that signed include Adim, Apket/Abini, Abayong, Biakpan, Agwagwune/Okurike, Ehom, Erei South, Erei North, Ikun/Etono, Umon North and Umon South.

The petition titled, 'Let Biase Remain in the Southern Senatorial District of Cross River State' and dated January 26, 2010 read in parts: 'our attention has been drawn to the proposal by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) now before the National Assembly to the effect the Biase local government area should be excised from the present Cross River Southern Senatorial District and join her with the Central District of Cross River State.'

It said: 'We do not know by whose initiatives this proposals have emerged, but whatever the good intention of the persons or group of persons such a move does not receive the support of the majority of Biase people. The people of Biase are peace loving, law abiding, well-informed and courageous; we know what we want.

'Certainly, the overwhelming majority of the Biase people are comfortable with the present geo-political arrangement as it concerns the structure of the Senatorial districts.

We are not complaining because we are not unwanted by the rest of Cross River Southern Senatorial District and since no one divorces a happy marriage, we find it unacceptable to be forced out of the present Southern district,' the group maintained.

Recalling how the present Biase local government was carved out of Akamkpa in 1991, it stated that 'during the Second Republic when there were five Senatorial Districts including Ogoja, Calabar, Uyo, Eket and Ikot Ekpene, Biase was still in Calabar Senatorial District, now in Southern Senatorial of Cross River, and without prejudice to any arrangement made by INEC would still want to remain within the Southern zone.'

Worried by this ugly development, some powerful groups have started lobbying the National Assembly to carve out Biase from Southern District to Central District at the on-going proposal for the delineation of federal constituencies across the country.

The group led by a community leader from Adim, Chief Emmanuel Ekpe, wondered why the prominent people from Biase are being hypocritical about the whole arrangement when they have consistently complained about the marginalization of Biase in the Senatorial seat. Chief Ekpe, who said it is better for his people to join the Central District, argued that from ' the outset when Biase was created and moved to Southern District to date the Efiks from old Calabar comprising Calabar South, Municipal, Bakassi, Akpabuyo and Odukpani, have hijacked the senatorial seat to the detriment of Biase people who are treated as second class citizens as they have made futile attempts to occupy the exalted position.'

According to him, it is in the best interest of Biase to move to central where they would be given a sense of belonging and protection since they have been used and dumped by their brothers from south rather than being sentimental and hypocritically clamouring to remain they have no stakes.'