TENSION, UNCERTAINTY IN CROSS RIVER PDP OVER THIRD TERM
The phrase, 'tenure elongation,' 'continuity' became popular in the past military era. But they reared their ugly heads up duirng the Obasanjo administration, which tried effortlessly to institutionalize it.
Since then, it has become a 'catch phrase' in our political lexicon as every elected officer wants to go back to office as many times as possible.
As we journey into another tortuous march towards installing democratic institutions through elections in 2011, echoes of 'Third Term' and 'continuity' have started reverberating across the country.
Cross River is not an exception as incumbents, especially lawmakers, have been traversing the nooks and crannies of the state canvassing for continuity. In the last couple of months, there had been war of words by politicians and their supporters within the three Senatorial districts aspirants in the 2011 general elections have come up with propaganda advancing reasons why they should serve.
While incumbents are insisting on legislative experience and continuity, new entrants into the race are saying eight years is enough for anybody to have met his targets and give way to another. Indeed, in times like this, we don't expect less.
From Calabar South, to Yala, the issue of continuity has as usual become quite explosive and capable of tearing the political class into shreds, considering the avalanche of political heavyweights that abound in all the zones as well as the caliber of educated personalities that have signaled their interest to contest. Their idiosyncrasies would have shaped the politics of the zones and made the political class to apply wisdom, tact and high level of consultations in taking a decision.
But that has not been the game. Rather, caution had been thrown to the winds, as intrigues, vituperations, mudslinging and character assassination have been used directly and indirectly.
Jostling for Third Term tickets
As the new electoral law comes into force and with party guidelines for primaries released, those jostling for positions at the legislative arm of government have set the machinery in place to secure the ruling party's tickets to fly the flags in the 2011 National Assembly elections.
As at the last count, there are over 40 aspirants hankering after the slots at the National Assembly. Out of this, 10 including Senators Bassey Ewah Henshaw (Southern Senatorial District, Victor Ndoma Egba, Deputy Senate Leader, representing Central District, Greg Ngaji, Northern Senatorial District, Honourables Essien Ayi, Calabar South/Akpabuyo/Bakassi Federal Constituency, Bassey Otu, Odukpani/Municipality, Alex Ukam, Akamkpa/Biase, Bassey Ewah, Yakurr/Abi, John Eno Owan, Obubra/Etung, Chris Etta, Boki/Ikom, Paul Adah, Obudu/Obanliku/Bekwarra and Gabriel Edi, Ogoja/Yala are sitting National Assembly members seeking for return tickets, with 30 new aspirants.
Prominent amongst the new senatorial aspirants are Prof.Eyo Etim Nyong, High Chief Edem Duke, Dr.(Mrs.) Stella Attoe, Jimmy Aniyom, Edem Ekong, for Southern Senatorial seat; Patrick Iwara and Edor Obi for Central senatorial seat, while Paul Adah is for Northern senatorial seat. It is noteworthy that while the likes of Senators Bassey Ewah Henshaw, Ndoma Egba and Greg Ngaji, Hons. Bassey Otu, Paul Adah and Essien Ayi have been there since 2003, others such as Hons. Alex Ukam, John Eno Owan, Gabriel Edi and Bassey Ewah have been at the state House of Assembly between 1999 and 2003 before going to the National Assembly.
The incumbent lawmakers seeking for Third Term return tickets have stated unequivocally that besides having the constitutional backing to go as many times as possible, they have acquired enough legislative experience as added value. Senator Ndoma Egba, one of the proponents of legislative experience told reporters in Calabar during the PDP local government primaries that, 'For now, those of us who have been there for eight years running have gathered enough in terms of legislative practice and procedures. Besides, it costs a great deal to train a legislator. So, it would be preposterous to lose them at this auspicious time.'
According to the Deputy Senate Leader, in an advanced democracy like USA, legislators can go as many times as possible. He cited an example of a Senator in America who had been there for about 40 years, and therefore sees no reason why those of them with just eight years at the National Assembly should be stampeded out.
Lending support to Ndoma Egba's argument, Prof. Nyong, one of the leading aspirants for Southern senatorial district, said the incumbent legislators have the constitutional right to contest as many times as possible, and the only way to stop them is to vote them out when it is time for election.
Nyong, who was a former governorship aspirant and is Commissioner at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) said that the hue and cry against those seeking Third Term tickets are not necessary since the same Constitution has provided a proviso on how the electorate can checkmate those performing below expectation through recall processes.
According to him, 'all we need now is a credible election, and voter education to flush all anti-democratic forces from office; we don't need debates over term elongation or not. We need not fear anything once the political actors allow one man one vote to stand, else our cry for fairness and justice to all segments will be a mirage.'
And in what appears as an endorsement of continuity, Governor Liyel Imoke during a media parley to mark Democracy Day in Calabar said it is proper and beneficial for the state to send back the incumbents to continue at the National Assembly, as this would afford the state the opportunity of getting a better position and recognition.
The governor had distanced himself from the growing general feeling that after one or two terms, one should be changed. 'Please go and look at those states and see the impact of that on them.
Then compare it to a four-year, eight-year or 12 year National Assembly member like the current Senate President. So rank is very important, especially for those who are performing. A high ranking senator or member for a state legislative in Cross River means so much. For other states that have a lot of revenue, it does not mean anything. But for a state like Cross River, a high ranking member can summon a Minister of Finance. Even a governor cannot do it,' he averred.
'When you continually send in fresh men legislators, what happens?
'For us in the presidential system we are practising, let us learn a lesson. When you hear that a man is Chairman of the Defence Committee in the United States Senate, I assure you, he is not a first, second or third term senator. That may be the sixth term. In Nigeria, we equate the office with benefits that would accrue to the individuals, saying old boy, you don't chop now, do make another person follow chop.'
Clamour against Third Term
The clamour against third term legislators in Cross River State, especially those seeking for a return to National Assembly, has continued to gather momentum as youth groups, pressure and party stalwarts have raised eye-brows against such moves describing the action as not only selfish but a calculated attempt to perpetuate themselves in office without recourse to the communal system where power is shared among the composite communities.
Describing the argument advanced as untenable which can only be advanced by desperate politicians that want to hang on to power. Patrick Hyacinth Iwara, who has signaled his intention to run for the Central Senatorial District currently occupied by Ndoma-Egba, said the sit-tight syndrome attitude of elected political office holders is capable of not only generating more tension, but truncating our democracy.
Iwara, one of the heavyweights and founding fathers of PDP, said: 'I am even amazed at the way and manner elected officers go about guarding their positions jealously and do not want anybody else to contest against them, even when they have served about three terms in office. It smacks of political crudity for somebody to think that once elected into office, it becomes a birth right. This type of arrangement breeds political violence and disharmony among the communities.
According to the retired technocrat, who hails from Ugep in Yakurr local government area, 'democracy is all about power sharing among the constituencies or aggregate groups, because we are still an evolving society, where everybody sees politicking as the only way their people can be heard and fully represented. Therefore, it is absolutely wrong for anybody to think or compare his political office with that of clan head which sometimes is for life. We are all seasoned politicians who have served in various fields.
'We should go into the game of politics to serve, add glamour and make it competitive at all times rather than see it as a-do-or-die-affair. It is antithetical to tag anybody who signifies intention to run for any elective post as an enemy of the state.
'What is the rationale behind some elected representatives to think that only those of them who have been privileged to hold offices should arrogate power of 3rd term tenure to themselves without recourse to the people that sent them there? Why should it not rotate to everybody, because all of us were involved in baking the cake and therefore we should be equally involved in sharing the cake? The political class should ensure that the people are allowed to choose their representatives in the pending 2011 elections is that are the only way we can entrench internal democracy, restore confidence into the electoral system and evolve an enduring new democratic culture,' he queried.
Equally protesting against continuity, Otu, who represents Calabar/Odukpani Federal Constituency in the National Assembly, said, 'as far as I am concerned, it is undemocratic for a man not to be given equal opportunity; my belief is that once our society develops to that level, it will be alright for a man to remain and contest for a long time.'
Otu, who is a top contender to Southern senatorial district seat, maintains that 'we can be good where we are, but their might be better because you can never know the potential of others? Any society that does not give equal opportunity to others is not a democratic society. I believe that whatever experiences you gather, you can pass it on.'
He said whatever experience he has gotten in the lower House, he will pass it on to his successor, and 'for me we do have joint meetings with the Senate and we already know ourselves very well. So, for one to say, if I go to the Senate, I am going to be a new man, I don't believe so.' The federal lawmaker further said if after 6 months, he was not given a position in the Senate Committee as Chairman, such a Senate President will have himself to blame, and you will see him joggle the House (Senate) positions and give me a proper position.'
Again, a socio-cultural and political organization with membership from the six local government areas of the Central senatorial district have kicked against the intentions of the Ndoma-Egba (SAN) to run for the position in 2011. The group, 'Friends of Equity, Unity and Political Stability', said should Ndoma-Egba be returned to the Senate in 2011, other local government areas would have been denied the opportunity to benefit from the rotational clause contained in the constitution of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the political arrangement that has subsisted since the advent of the Fourth Republic.
A statement made available to journalists in Calabar and signed by chairman of the organization, Edward U. Mgbang read in part: 'The intention of Senator Victor Ndoma -Egba to seek for a third term at the expiration of the second even if constitutionally legal is however politically immoral. One therefore, would like to advise him to drop the idea and thank the electorate of the zone or constituency for the trust that led to him representing them for 8 uninterrupted years of two terms.'
They argued that it would be unfair for any local government area to be favoured at the expense of others because such a practice would lead to political instability in the very near future, adding that Nigeria is not America where people can stay up to 50 years because there is too much hunger in the land, and political offices are now seen as poverty eradication programme.
'No one section is therefore encouraged to hold an office for a very long time when others are yet to have a taste of it. To go for three terms consecutively when other local government areas are yet to experience it is to attempt political suicide,' the statement further stressed.
PDP leadership in dilemma
The vaulting ambition of these lawmakers seems to have thrown the party into confusion as the state leadership is in quandary over what to do next at least to pacify every section and interest groups jostling for tickets.
Addressing PDP stakeholders during the sensitization tour of all the 18 local government areas in April this year, the state Chairman, Ntufam Ekpo Okon, charged all party caucuses to adopt zoning arrangements and modalities that favour them to avoid unnecessary internal wrangling and intrigues. The essence is to accommodate all segments and sections that make up various communities.
'Though zoning is not in the nation's constitution, but PDP acknowledges zoning of existing political offices especially where it has been in an existence. All beneficiaries of zoning are expected to encourage it, because we want to ensure harmony, peace and unity among party members and faithfuls.'
According to him, all aspirants must respect zoning in the locality while the leaders at all levels of the party must be passionate about it. 'When you chose to belong to a group or party as this, you know that you have surrendered some of your rights for the collective interest of all. At this point, the interest of the group becomes very paramount. We enjoin all and sundry to be patient and upright in this business for the interest of the community and party.'
It was learnt that the zoning arrangement propagated by the PDP in the state might be jettisoned to favour these powerful lawmakers bent on going back. There are palpable fears that any attempt to go on with zoning might lead to stepping on the toes of some of them already seen as the favoured sons even when the Governor had denied endorsing any candidate.
Assuring all aspirants that the party has not ordained anyone, the party Chairman stated that all aspirants have equal rights and privileges, no ticket has given to anybody, so aspirants should go and canvass for votes.
Said he: 'The era of 'carry go' has come and gone. We are now reforming and transiting to a new era of transparency and keeping election on ground for all aspirants to contest for it.
No aspirants should allow anybody or group of persons intimidate him or her in the name of any leader. Communities must chose their representatives. Such representatives must be credible, and have the ability to deliver the party at elections; chose candidates that can bring honour and glory to the party and your community. We should learn from the old generation of politicians where ideals, tolerance, glamour and respect for all were the order of the day. Learn to play according to the rule of the game.'
A cabal at work
Daily Sun has it on good authority that Imoke's statement at the last media parley has torn the party hierarchy apart as it is being seen by the incumbent legislators as a tacit endorsement; consequently they have been going about telling people that they have already been given a go ahead to return and continue their good works for the state. A highly dependable source told Daily Sun that from the way things are going, it will be a herculean task to displace the present set of lawmakers, because they have constituted themselves into a powerful cabal that will be difficult to uproot.
Investigations have revealed that during the just-concluded PDP primaries, the new cabal, made up of some party stalwarts, members of the state executive council, the National Assembly lawmakers and party executive officers, all had their candidates returned as chairmen and councilors in spite of, protest against them. In some cases, their opponents were forced to step down or intimidated out of the race just because 'ogas' are involved.
The cabal ensured that nobody was disqualified on any flimsy excuse of cultism or cult-related activities as the Dr. Sandi Onor-led electoral committee was arm twisted into softpedalling on some sensitive issues that would have rid the system of electoral malpractices including imposition of candidates.
A member of the screening committee, who pleaded anonymity told Daily Sun that all that took place at the screening exercise was a complete contrast to the messages preached by the party leadership as they, (committee members) were instructed by some of these members of the cabal not to disqualify their candidates, even where there were overwhelming incriminating evidences against some of them.
The committee member revealed that in cases where some of these powerful legislators' candidates lose, there are plans to compensate them by giving them automatic tickets back to the National Assembly to avoid their crossing over to another party, thereby creating room for a formidable opposition in the state.
Another party source hinted that some incumbent House of Representatives members seeking for senatorial tickets have been told to softpedal to give room for all to return, and cage new aspirants from breaking into their ranks.
For now, uncertainty seem to be the mother of all politicking as everybody is watching out to see the outcome.
This, indeed, has made the game quite uninteresting as aspirants and their supporters seem to have lost faith in the system. The only way out according to Nyong, total implementation of the newly-signed electoral law and mass education and mobilization of electorate.