On the watch
In Cross River State, some young men have indicated their intention to succeed Governor Liyel Imoke in 2015. Jude Okwe unveils some of these emerging leaders
Gradually, the coast is becoming clearer. Like the morning dew that disappears at the appearance of sun ray, rumours over their ambition have turned into evident truth. Aspirants to the office of Governor of Cross River State are no longer hiding in their cocoons. They have emerged on the scene and gone into the field soliciting support.
Naturally, it was expected. The decision by the PDP in the state to zone the number one office to the northern senatorial district means more gubernatorial aspirants will emerge from that axis. Thus, none of the five Local Government Areas of the district lacks a governorship hopeful. More will come up, especially now that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has released the timetable for the 2015 general election.
No doubt, the race for Cross River State Government is on with a behive of famous names and intriguing oddballs – including the rumoured ambition of the Southern Senatorial District to take another shot at the office to the detriment of the north despite the power rotation agreement.
But steadily, the field of serious contenders for the office has contracted. The party now parades a tightly packed troika of aspirants, and no one can hazard a guess on who will pick the PDP ticket finally. Those in the race so far include, Ntufam Fidelis Ugbo, Mr. Ishang Tanko (Obanliku); Mr. Godwin Jeddy-Agba (Obudu); Dr. Julius Okputu, Mr. Mr. John Odey, Hon. Larry Odey (Yala); Mr. Legor Idagbo (Bekwarra); Chief Francis Bullem, Mr. Joe Abang (Ogoja) and Chief Gershom Bassey, the lone aspirant from Cross River South Senatorial District.
Bassey, despite the zoning and repeated assurance by Imoke that his successor will come from the north, is in the race and not mincing words about it. Stickers embossed with his pictures adorn cars and vehicles of his supporters especially those from his senatorial district.
Not less than five support groups have printed the stickers each with a different message. But the commonest among them is â€˜â€™Money Wey Work No Go Chop? Gershom Bassey 2015.â€
These stickers, according to findings, were not printed overnight. Each group was said to have gone to him for approval. That he did not dissuade them, many thought, meant he authorised their printing.
A reliable politician of Efik ethnic stock in the south told THISDAY that Gershom was very much in the race, adding that he was just bidding his time, watching events unfold in the polity. He might be using the stickers to fly a kite as well as gauge the opinion and reaction of the public.
Another source said if Bassey was not in the race, he would not have put in place a campaign organisation that has been into consultation across the state since 2013. He went further to appoint local government coordinators who have been working underground for him.
Bassey has in the last one year been oiling his structures and sees himself as Imokeâ€™s rightful successor given that they belong to the same triumvirate and have a 24-year governorship agenda for the state.
Basseyâ€™s aspiration has brought to the fore, the tug of war between the south and north over the PDP ticket. The battle is further made fierce by the fact that his senatorial district took its turn in his kinsman, Mr. Donald Duke (1999-2007), yet he does not see to reckon with the zoning that conceded to the north to fulfill the 24 years governorship agenda. Imoke is from the Central Senatorial District. But Bassey has an uphill task. The Central and North (Atam) have closed ranks over this project. Can the south alone make him governor? Are the Ejagham speaking people of the south with the Efiks?
Opposition parties in the state like APC, LP, APGA and PPA are also looking towards the north for their candidates but so far none has emerged on any of these platforms.
The APC which appears to be the most formidable of the parties in the opposition is still busy with membership drive. The party is said to be consulting at the same time. Once it gets a credible aspirant, the person will take to the salesmanship for votes at once, it was gathered. But below are some of those who want to succeed Imoke in 2015.
He hails from Calabar South Local Government Area and one of those young men who took Cross River State politics by storm in 1999. In league with Imoke and Duke, the trio became a force in the politics of the state and envisioned a new Cross River anchored on tourism development, agriculture and infrastructure revolution. Since 1999, heâ€™s been the chairman of the Cross River State Water Board Ltd.
Bassey holds no cabinet position but sits in cabinet meetings. He is also the chairman of the Stateâ€™s Strategic Planning Commission. With these key appointments that put him in a pole position, he has been understudying governance and generally seen as the heir apparent.
He is a leach on Imoke. Bassey wields enormous influence and is more of a de facto deputy governor. His ambition may not be more than the fact that he belongs to the clique of the â€œthree wise menâ€ that introduced â€œConclave Politicsâ€ to Cross River and which must govern the state in turn.
His support base is mostly among his Efik people as the growing consciousness in the Central and North for power shift has shot him out. His believes that the many aspirants from the north will cause a vote split to his advantage as Cross River Northern Coalition is working towards having one credible aspirant for the PDP ticket if he dares to contest. But the race might be open if he does not.
Indeed Bassey is in a big political dilemma. The second option of sending him to the senate as a soft-landing looks imagined than real. Incumbent Senator Bassey Edet Otu wants a second term. The senator is too popular in the south and can floor any other contender. Gershom is certainly no match. If he wants to govern Cross River, he may have to wait till 2023.
Mr. Godwin Jedy Agba
This son of the Paramount Ruler of Obudu Local Government Area, Uti Joseph Davies Agba, is the General Manager (Crude) of the NNPC. His entrance into the race has altered many political calculations in the state. Now, he is seen as the candidate to beat. He has everything going for him- connection at Aso Rock, national and international contacts, petrodollar and support across the state.
Agba is also a young man within an age bracket that is noted for vibrancy in government. Since 2013, heâ€™s been consulting with those that matter in the politics of the state. A good chunk of members of the Cross River Caucus at the National Assembly are with him. He is also into agriculture with his cassava and garri farm, offering employment to some citizens of the state. Those close to him said he has a heart of gold and loves identifying with any development cause.
But the snag against him, critics say is that he has surrounded himself with personages who have credibility crisis in public office in Cross River State. Such persons are seen as a liability to his aspiration. What is he doing with known serial assault specialists in his campaign team? People who fought themselves out of public office and by extension relevance of Cross River politics cannot take him anywhere. Who on earth will listen to them when they mount the rostrum to speak?
Whenever Agba resigns from his job to pursue his aspiration, Cross River politics will witness a new phase. Those who thought the state was their private political estate are uncomfortable as this blue blood is set to rattle them. Currently, on the lips of those afraid of him is â€œCross River Governorship is not for saleâ€. Certainly, the old order has changed.
Ntufam Fidelis Ugbo
He has the richest resume of all those in the race. Ugbo is ex-this ex-that. This economist, banker, management consultant, lawyer and administrator had distinguished himself as far as public office is concern. Now, he wants to cap it by being on the driverâ€™s seat. Ugbo comes from Obanliku Local Government Area where the famous Obudu Ranch Resort is located.
Ugbo has worked as a management staff with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN); served as Commissioner for Finance in the state; appointed Secretary to the State Government and currently, Executive Secretary, National Planning Commission. Ugbo has experience in the private and public sectors and sees himself as the right man to succeed Imoke, his erstwhile boss.
This gentleman who stepped down for Imoke in 2007 has worked closely with the State Government that he knows everything about the administration and can easily continue with its development programmes. Those uncomfortable with his aspiration said he is the candidate of the establishment, an indication that the â€œthree wise menâ€ whom they want to dislodge from power will still be in control if he wins.
This dashing young man who also gave up his ambition in 2007 for Imoke hails from Yala Local Government Area. Good luck is his second name. At a young age and with no experience in public administration, he was appointed chairman of the Cross River State Civil Service Commission. He distinguished himself in that portfolio that it became his launch pad into other appointments in the state.
His CV is well-off too given that he has held many other offices including commissioner in different ministries. Okputu, given his rich background in public office, knows much about ecology of administration. His experience gives him an edge which means he wonâ€™t falter if elected governor of the state. As a man with foresight, he used the offices held to build friendship and bridges across the state. This explains his support base.
Chief Francis Bullem
To listen to this ex-banker speak is a delight. To understand him is to savour the fruit of his intellect. With over 20 years experience in the banking sector, Bullem, a native of Idum, Mbube in Ogoja Local Government Area said he is coming with the private sector background into public administration to make a difference. He is the chairman of Cross River State Internal Revenue Service.
â€œI am eminently qualified to sustain what Governor Imoke is doing because where the state is now requires somebody with the mindset and capability to blend public and private sectors experience. I have been an insider all this while given my chairmanship of IRS. For us, we believe that continuity, capacity and good governance is the key.
â€œI have been consulting on my ambition since last year. I am not in the race because the ticket has been zoned to the north but because what Cross River needs now is a bridge builder who can guarantee peace, stability and development. And there has been tremendous goodwill and support for my aspiration across the three senatorial districts. I have the courage, humility and integrity to govern our dear state.
â€œI have maintained a wonderful relationship with all segments of society and political players which puts me on the pedestal to win the support of majority of the people in our party and the state,â€ he said.
Meanwhile the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Larry Odey; Mr. John Ode, Mr. Ishang Tanko, Mr. Legor Idagbo, Commissioner for Works and Joe Abang are still consulting and are yet to publicly make known their ambition. But the PDP has a big task in picking its gubernatorial ticket for next yearâ€™s election without ruffling feathers. All eyes are on the party.