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CROSS RIVER: IT'LL BE A GREAT UPSET IF IMOKE LOSES

By NBF News
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A former vice-chancellor of the University of Calabar, Prof. Emmanuel Ayandele, once described Cross River State as ' an atomistic society perpetually at war with itself.' He was referring to the different language groups and political principalities that always contend for the control of the soul of the state.

Expatiating, an analyst, Bassey Inyang, said: 'underlying this conclusion is the fact that the state is seriously polarized and balkanized along ethnic lines and, therefore, its politics has been seriously ethnicized over the years.

This occurrence is rather historical and derives from the times of the old South Eastern State of the pre-February 3, 1976, when it was re-christened Cross River State by the regime of the late General Murtala Ramat Mohammed. Then, the Ibibio held sway over other ethnic groups both politically and economically, by the very sake of their numerical strength and habitual adventurism.

Therefore, when ex-president Ibrahim Babangida's regime was about creating additional states in 1987, the cry in most parts of Cross River was 'Ibibio must go'. Indeed, the propagators of the anti-Ibibio sentiments were oblivious of, or deliberately chose to ignore the fact that their outcry was not just against Ibibio but other ethnic groups such as Anang, Oron, Ijaw and a host of others that today make up Akwa Ibom State…The excision of other groups to Akwa Ibom has not brought an end to the politics of clannishness among the various ethnic groups in the present Cross River State.'

Indeed, these expressions define the content and character of the politics of Cross River State in the Fourth Republic. At the dawn of the present dispensation, politics of ethnicity had played out freely as politicians from three senatorial zones in the state – North, South and Central- squared up against one another. It was a contest of gargantuan proportion, where betrayal, intimidation and winner- takes- all syndrome pervaded.

The politics of the Fourth Republic assumed a new hue with the emergence of new breed politicians, young and upwardly mobile men with aristocratic tendencies with which they subdued the old order. The new class of leaders included Donald Duke, Victor Ndoma Egba, Liyel Imoke, Bassey Eyo Ndem, Florence Ita Giwa, Gershon Bassey, Ekpo Okon, Kanu Agabi, Ben Ayade, Venatius Ikem, Paulinus Ukpo and Walter Enegi, among others.

Considering the ethnic rivalry and primordial sentiments that characterize the politics of the Peoples' Paradise state, the emergence of Duke as the flagbearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and his eventual election as governor in 1999 was, to an extent, reminiscent of the Barack Obama magic in the United States of America. Born into the family of a former customs top shot from the southern part of the state, Duke could be said to be disadvantaged. To start with, he was relatively unknown when he threw his hat into the political ring because he was more or less a Lagos boy.

Again, the Atam people in central and northern Cross River had constituted themselves into a formidable challenge by forming the Atam Congress with a view to throwing up one of their own as governor. The challenge was so profound that the then PDP presidential candidate, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, visited Calabar, the state capital, at least three times to persuade the likes of Agabi to drop their ambition and support Duke and, by extension, himself. The PDP was said to be in dire straits at the time. Apart from the Obasanjo fence mending visits to Calabar, another factor that contributed to the electoral success of Duke was the fact that some Atam politicians, apparently blinded by their personal ambition, refused to pick a consensus candidate. Some of them contested the election on the platform of different parties.

At that time, the politics of the state could be described as robust and competitive. It was not smooth sailing for any of the parties. For instance, while the Independent National Electoral Commission, ( INEC) returned Duke as governor in 1999, the state House of Assembly and the National Assembly seats were shared between the PDP and the the All Peoples Party (APP), now ANPP.

But the political arithmetic of the state has since changed. The PDP has virtually swallowed the other parties. What is left is nothing to write home. And as someone noted, 'it is either the opposition has been intimidated out of town or has taken the turn of political events in the state in good faith, or probably surrendered the state to the PDP.' Take this: While Duke's successor, Senator Liyel Imoke, scored a whopping 836,207 votes in the 2007 governorship elections, his closest opponent, Dr. Eyo Etim Nyong of the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP), was only able to garner 14,067 votes.

Three wise men
It could hardly have been otherwise anyway. On assumption of office, Duke made it clear that the political destiny of the state would be in the hands of a triumvirate made up of himself, Imoke and Gershom Bassey for 24 years. While Imoke was in the senate, Bassey was a very inportant part of Duke's government. What Duke's assertion meant was that the trio would rule the state for eight years each before handing over to another set of leaders.

According to Duke, their mission, among others, include 'transforming Cross River by bringing back the lost glory of the state which once served as the nation's first federal capital, reviving the old cultural heritage and developing it into tourism potentials and making the state number one tourism destination point in Nigeria, and harnessing the agricultural endowments and taking governance to the people that need it.'

The 'Duke of Calabar' as he is fondly called, further said that the three of them had 'a mission to rescue Cross Riverians from the shackles of poverty by sitting in Lagos and drawing up the economic blueprint for the state and that the vision for now could only be driven by the trio of himself, Imoke and Gershom.

Maintaining that never again would the 'three wise men,' as they were nicknamed, allow power slip away from their hands in their quest to rewrite the history of the state, Duke reportedly boasted at a stakeholders meeting at the State Library Complex, Calabar, prior to a council election: 'As the Catholics go into the conclave to elect their pope, so shall we go into our conclave and elect our leaders at all levels of government in the state.'

Crack in the house
After spending eight years in office, Duke handed over the reins of power to Imoke. However, the baton was not handed over on a platter of gold. Imoke had to scale some hurdles to realize his gubernatorial ambition. To start with, the north had allegedly ganged up over what they termed 'undue marginalization' of their area. To this end, they mobilized men and materials in an attempt to thwart Imoke's candidature.

Among top politicians said to be against Imoke then were Florence Ita Giwa, Emmanuel Nsan, Chief Tony Ani, Mr. Julius Bassey, Venatius Ikem, Emmanuel Elechi, Hon. Obeten Okon Obeten and Hon. Cletus Obum.

Anyhow, Imoke won the 2007 governorship election. But the battle line had also been drawn between him and his predecessor. The two former friends had become arch- enemies, thereby reinforcing the axiom that there are no permanent friends in politics but permanent interests.

It is difficult to say when the bad blood started between Imoke and Duke. But an impeccable source said 'Imoke complained bitterly to close aides that his friend from their days in the defunct Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN) was just setting him against his brothers from the North.' As the war between Imoke and Duke boiled over, the former took control of the structure, even as boys loyal to the latter got relegated to the background in the scheme of things. For instance, Duke's boys who wanted to contest the 2007 council elections could not go through the primaries successfully let alone stand for the election proper.

The frosty relationship between Duke and Imoke reached a crescendo when, via a letter dated April 29, 2010, the former governor resigned from the PDP and made uncharitable remarks about his predecessor and the PDP.

Describing the PDP as dysfunctional, unable to articulate a road map and not leading Nigerians on a clear and concise path to national renewal, Duke explained: 'When in 1998 we came together and forged a vehicle destined (as we thought at the time) to carry forward our beloved country's hopes and dreams, there was a sense of being on the cusp of something that would endure. That has not proved to be the case. What has endured has been a lack of commitment to the purpose and focus of the founding fathers of the party and our country, which has emasculated the PDP. Faithfulness and favour have been dissipated by a seamless stream of internecine factional warfare.'

Duke, a lawyer, remarked that by leaving the PDP, he would leave behind friends, many with whom he shared sincerity of purpose but, regrettably, no longer shared commonality of purpose. According to him, 'they shall in future be friends outside the party rather than friends within it, but always friends first. Our politics must be big enough for us to differ as we can cohabitate.'

Whereas Imoke maintained a stoic silence over the development, the party leadership termed Duke's action an act of betrayal, adding that it was a manifestation of his over- ambitious nature. A statement signed by Ntufam Ekpo Okon, the state party chairman, said: 'Mr. Donald Duke has made the party and humanity in general to understand that friendship is perhaps a relative term.' He added that ' to be a friend in and out of friendship creates doubts in absence of shared sincerity of purpose and we take consolation in the fact that Brutus in the book, Julius Caeser, and Judas in the Bible displayed a deep sense of ingratitude just as he has done.'

The chairman stated: 'as one who seeks to lead, the admonition is for such a person to first serve and PDP has provided leadership in the state which Duke served as a flag ship; it is, therefore, unfortunate that he did not in his eight years of leadership allow himself to benefit from the ideals of the party. 'Rather than serve, he caused the party and the people of the state to serve him. The crux of the matter here is that the PDP in its liberal disposition allowed stalwarts to serve him thereby denying him the opportunity to acquire the rudiments of being a follower.'

Commending Duke for his boldness to throw in the towel instead of serving the party in deceit or manifesting as 'a green snake with ouster ambition that may be shielded in the green grass', Okon said: 'The party is aware that he has a tall ambition which he believed may not be realized given the systemic and institutional framework enunciated by the founding fathers and which has remained the guiding principle of the party.' Observers contend that since the rug had been pulled from under Duke's feet as it were, he chose to resign from the PDP so as to give Imoke a good fight. However, not much has been heard from the Duke camp since he resigned. Although he was said to be toying with the idea of joining the Labour Party (LP), that has not materialized.

A source, however, disclosed that Duke was forced to lie low because the other camp, which has a dossier of his activities while in office, had threatened to expose him if he dared them. But an aide of the former governor debunked the claim, saying that Duke will act at the right time. It was also alleged that the Imoke administration has abandoned projects started by the Duke government, particularly the TINAPA. However, the state commissioner for information, Barr Edet Okon Asim, dismissed the allegation as a lie from the pit of hell.

No opposition
There is virtually no opposition to the PDP government in Cross River led by Imoke. Although, about nine political parties have offices in Calabar, they exist more in name. Indeed, few months to the 2011 elections, only Imoke has publicly declared his intention to contest for the position of governor in the state. But the state chairman of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN)/ CNPP, Hon Cletus Obun gives hope of rennaisance. According to him, 'all parties have embarked on registration and mobilization to inject a new lease of life and there is a lot of excitement and anxiety among members.'

Commenting on the politics of the state, the LP chairman, Dr. Theo Onyeukwu, remarked that 'it is a sad development, really. I say this because the people have been held hostage. We are in a state of captivity.'

PDP: A divided house
Although the PDP bestrides the political landscape of Cross River like a colossus, all is not well within the party. Investigations revealed that many members are not happy with the happenings within the party but are not expressing their feelings openly. Indeed, it appears as if the party is enveloped in peace of the graveyard.

Efforts by the newspaper to speak with the party leadership during a recent visit to

the state was futile as they tacitly avoided appointments, all claiming to be out of town. It was gathered that one of the reasons for the crises of confidence rocking the PDP is that the party is no longer favourably disposed to the zoning arrangement because it might affect the political fortunes of some big wigs whose support and cooperation Imoke desperately craves. To this end, some of the representatives of the state in the National Assembly like Senator Ndoma-Egba are courted with third term term tickets. Therefore, some of the disgruntled members of the PDP whose cry of marginalisation has fallen on deaf ears are believed to be planning to decamp to other parties to seek their political salvation.

However, offering perspectives to the politics of the state, the Special Adviser to Imoke on Legislative and Political Affairs, Mr Simon Egbo Nkoro, said: 'There is a challenge in the new leadership that goes beyond opposition. Opposition can be within, which is constructive, which is engaging. That is, people engage themselves within the same political party to ensure that the right thing is done. And the party ensures that the proper people who have the desire to lead the people are given opportunity of service.

When you have the right people in place, the essence of opposition is defeated because the state is focused towards a direction. Opposition cannot just be for the sake of opposition, opposition should come when there are no development projects, when the lives of the people are not touched and changed by developmental process, when the needs of the people are not satisfied. The people who lead today's government, Senator Liyel Imoke and the PDP leadership are cohesive and desired to cause a change, to move Cross River from the stage it was 10 years ago to the new dimension where we can compete with any state in Nigeria and beyond.'

Imoke's masterstroke
Meanwhile, Imoke delivered what could be described as a political masterstroke recently. Speaking at a town hall meeting at Ogoja, he assured the people of the northern senatorial district, who though enjoy superior numerical strength, have not produced governor for decades, that after him the next governor must come from the area. The governor said: 'It is fair. It is right. It has to be and, for me as a politican, that will be the greatest thing that I would have been able to achieve.' He explained that when that is done, the people will have a sense of belonging.

Analysts contend that Imoke's promise will calm frayed nerves and ensure victory in 2011.