Despite swirling insinuations that the Cross River State Governor, Liyel Imoke has a choice successor and the strident denial from the Government House, the alleged zoning of the governorship to the Northern part of the state remains the real issue in the state's battle of succession. Bassey Inyang writes
The Northern Senatorial District of Cross River State is made up of five local government areas out of the 18 that constitute the councils in the state. They are Bekwarra, Obanliku, Ogoja, Obudu and Yala.
The political history of the state shows that no person from that part of the state has been governor.
This dates back to May 27, 1967 when the State known then as South Eastern State was created by the administration of General Yakubu Gowon. On February 3, 1976, the state was renamed Cross River by the short-lived regime of the late Nigeria’s Head of State, General Murtala Ramat Mohammed, who was assassinated on February 13, 1976.
Even in the post-Gowon era of the various military regimes in the country, prior to the current 4th Republic, nobody indigenous to the areas that make up the northern zone, led the state either as military governor or administrator, let alone civilian.
In the old Cross River State before the Creation of Akwa Ibom State on September 23, 1987, Brigadier Uduokaha Jacob Esuene of blessed memory; Navy Captain Edet Akpan Archibong, now retired; and Brigadier Daniel Patrick Archibong, also of blessed memory, who led the state as military governors were certainly not from any of the areas within the geopolitical landscape that constitute the Northern axis.
Esuene and Navy Captain Archibong were from communities that are now in Akwa Ibom State while Brigadier Archibong hailed from the Southern zone.
In the ill-fated 3rd Republic, Cross River had Mr. Clement Ebri, from the Central Senatorial District as Governor from January 1992 to November 17, 1993 when the then General Sani Abacha-led coup swept off the civilian regime from the corridors of power.
Within the political transition period that ushered in the current civilian dispensation in 1999, politicians from the north; among them Godwin Kanu Agabi (SAN), Senator Mark Ukpo, and Retired Major Akpang Obi-Odu, had on several occasions made spirited, but unsuccessful attempts, to become governor of the state.
It is against the backdrop of this beleaguered political history of the north, in its quest to produce the next governor for the state that apparently informed the decision of the incumbent Governor, Senator Liyel Imoke, who is from the Central to declare that his successor would emerge from the North.
Imoke’s predecessor, Mr. Donald Duke, who governed the state from May 1999 to May, 2007 is from the Southern zone. And Imoke has stated it, over and again, that it would amount to injustice of the highest order to deny the north the governorship position in 2015. Imoke’s stance on where his successor should come from has long been endorsed by the caucus of the PDP in the state.
This development has brought palpable excitement and great expectation among politicians from the area in particular, especially those harbouring the aspiration to succeed Imoke in 2015.
Obviously emboldened by the stance of Imoke and the PDP caucus, some politicians from the area have cast their hats in the arena to contest the governorship election on the platform of the PDP. It is an open secret that no fewer than 20 politicians from the area are nursing the ambition of contesting the PDP primary election, billed to hold later in the year.
While a few of the aspirants have declared their intention to run, at least in the media, others who are yet to declare have commenced consultations within the party members across the state to curry support for their aspiration.
Among the governorship aspirants are the Secretary of National Planning Commission, Mr. Fidelis Ugbo; former General Manager Crude, NNPC, Mr. Godwin Jedy Agba; Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Mr. Larry Odey; former Legal Adviser NEMA, Mr Tanko Ashang; Mr. Joe Agi (SAN), Deputy Chairman, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Fidel Egoro and one time Commissioner for Environment in the state, Dr. Julius Okputu.
Although a banker and financial expert, Chief Francis Bullem; Commissioner for Works, Mr. Legor Idagbo and Commissioner for Youths and Sports, Mr. Patrick Ugbe have not declared their interest in the plum job, there is the strong feeling among some political observers that they would enlist for the governorship race on the platform of the PDP, which is the ruling party in the state.
It is expected that more politicians from the North, on the stable of the PDP, would declare for the governorship race given the promise of the governor and the party caucus.
Perhaps, it was in apparent display of sensitivity to the promise he has made and the likely challenges that needed to be surmounted for his promise to materialise, that Imoke advised the numerous aspirants from the north to put their acts together.
At a meeting held recently in Obudu Ranch Resort, Imoke told the aspirants and other stakeholders from the north that contrary to the expectation of some of them, he would not anoint anybody to succeed him.
He tasked them to work in unity and present one person from the pack of aspirants to feature in the governorship primary election as the party’s possible candidate for the election.
In Imoke’s words, “Anyone who is waiting for anointment is not prepared to be a governor because he is not part of the process. You need to manage and conduct yourselves because there is no need for you to destroy yourselves to succeed.
“The candidate you will present should be a formidable candidate that will get majority number of votes from the eighteen local government areas in the primary, which will be very peaceful and involving all from the family.
“I have the interest of the state as governor of the state, and whoever that takes over from me should be a governor of the whole state and not that of the north. Therefore, the person should be one who understands the politics of the state because it is dynamic.
“Whoever that will succeed me, must have the capacity to surpass me. He must understand the most difficult political situations of our state and that the person so chosen by you the leaders should be supported by the majority as well as the whole state,” he charged.
The governor’s task to the north, expectedly, has generated diverse reactions as to the import and essence of the comments about the consensus process, through which he wants his successor to emerge.
One of the governorship aspirants Ashang opines that it would be difficult to arrive at the choice of only one aspirant before the primary election to nominate a governorship candidate for the party.
“I don’t think it is feasible at this point to come out with one person. What are the parameters to be used in selecting such a person? The Northern Senatorial District has people in various strata who are contesting for this job, so I would feel that naturally, it is fair to look at two to three persons and if that is not okay, the number can be expanded to make it five so that you can bring them together and re-examine them and if possible, cut down the number and finally present those ones before the delegates in a primary election,” Ashang said in an interview, reacting to Imoke’s suggestion on the consensus idea for the north.
While Ashang does not doubt the governor’s promise to support the north to produce his successor, there are those who do not believe that a politician from the north will succeed Imoke.
Those who belong to the group of “Doubting Thomases” believe that Imoke’s bossom friend, Mr. Gershom Bassey, the Chairman of the Cross River State Water Board who hails from the Southern Senatorial District of the state will enlist for the governorship race, in defiance of the stance of his friend and the party’s decision which has zoned the governorship to the north.
Perhaps, the fear of this latter group of people is that, if Bassey runs as the only aspirant from the south and the north is unable to present a consensus aspirant for the PDP governorship primary election, there is the possibility that Bassey would clinch the ticket, using the advantage of being the only one from the south against many aspirants from the north.
One of those who have expressed this sentiment is Okoi Obono-Obla, a politician and human rights activist. He is of the view that, if the north is waiting for Imoke to nominate his successor from the zone, then they better look elsewhere outside the PDP for their dream of producing the governor of the state in 2015 to materialise.
Obono-Obla , a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who does not shy away from prying into the affairs of the PDP, said the thought of picking a single candidate from the north from the many that have signified their interest to contest the governorship primaries is a ploy, carefully crafted, to deceive the people of the area.
“I pity the people of Cross River North. I support their aspiration, yearnings and expectation for the seat of the Governor of Cross River State of Nigeria come 2015, but I bet they will never realise their dream under the umbrella of the PDP.
“The PDP is undeniably double speaking. The game plan is that there will be confusion and implosion in the North so much so that Gershom Bassey will take advantage to win the PDP Governorship Primary Election,” Obono-Obla said in reaction to Imoke’s appeal and the pro-northern governor stance of the PDP.
But Imoke has dispelled such doubts as expressed by Obono-Obla. At the Obudu meeting, Imoke buttressed his support for a politician from the north to succeed him.
“Even when my successor from the North is sworn in 2015, they are still those who will doubt that I handed over to one of you. They will say is this Imoke sincere? Will he not cause the (Election) Tribunal to quash the election? This is the kind of thing you will hear from the doubters. But my advice to you is to remain focused, committed and steadfast to the party and speak with one voice.
“We had since 1999 spoken and the whole state had decided that my successor should come from the northern part of the state and that any candidate who is not from the area will not be recognised by the party. Please do not allow the process to divide you because everyone from the northern part, irrespective of sex, age or occupation has the right to contest. The candidate will come from one of the five local government areas and not Old Ogoja or Old Obudu,” Imoke said.
For the Chairman of the PDP in the state, Ntufam John Okon, there should be no doubts as to the zone the next governor will emerge from. In Okon’s submission, Imoke is not alone in his resolve that the next governor will come from the north because the party has long adopted the governor’s position as to the zone his successor will emerge from in 2015.
However, supporting Imoke’s position, Okon recently said: “What I can assure you by the grace of God is that the party has zoned the position to the north, and the party will follow democratic process to achieve that goal.
“Even if we were to say the south wants to contest, there are five local governments in the north, there are six local governments in the central. We keep talking as if the north is standing apart, there.
“People will come and tell you issues. But for zoning, I can certainly tell you that by the grace of God, the leader of this party, the chairman of this party, has told you that the position of the governorship has been zoned to the north. There is no dispute about that.”