One Party Rule in Cross River State?

Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River

By Nkrumah Bankong-Obi

It is not harmattan season yet. But gusty winds of manipulation are twirling on the farthest ends of Nigeria’s deep south. The rains are just setting in, not quite heavy. The condition, climate temperate. Men are at work: farmers hoe the ground just as women breach boundaries of jobs hitherto, the preserve of men. As the heat of the dry season retreats, tongues wag about the near comatose economy, of which Cross River is a federating unit. They decry the multifaceted insecurity nibbling on the radiant but fragile soul of country. A section of the bourgeoning rumour mill, populated mostly by those who have no access to verified information or itinerant tongue-twisters, continue to chew on the stale cud that, Nigeria is governed by a certain alien from Sudan. Some aggressive merchants of despoliation take up saw engines are dare nature – the forest reserves – to live a generation longer. In all, there is a beehive of activities going on there -some right of course and a lot are despicable.
As hard pounding ordinary folk busied themselves with eking a living from wretched conditions delivered by a section of the political elite, news filtered in that the subsisting governor of the beloved Cross River State, Ben Ayade, a professor of Environmental Science (?) has moved camp. He was elected in 2015 and then 2019 on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, the foundationless and blurry-vision that once prided itself as “largest Party in Africa”. Ayade’s swift, near nocturnal movement from his old Party to the new bride, the All Progressive Congress, APC, [that too is invested with all the vices afflicting the Nigerian governing elite], set tongues on fresh fire. Instantly, new breeds of commentators were born. Some old horses molted, many experienced a rebirth. The craving for space on the social media to pillory Ayade’s decision or find a garth in the empty umbrella preoccupied the attention of a large hub of Cross River’s unorganised intelligentsia, civil servants, claptrap troops, the so-called ‘food is ready appointees’ and indeed the rest of us who, as some stakeholders must do, insulated ourselves from the furnace so we can have clarity of the rambling whitenoise and echoes of impotent thunder.
The polar ends in the State currently hold that the battle line has been drawn between the two political Parties, namely; the PDP and APC. The conflict of the measly standard of living is therefore situated within the strengths or lack of it, of the gladiators who wheel the levers of these non-ideological associations which are set up, it seems, merely for the purpose of winning or better put, grabbing power. That is why, the incumbent in Cross River State always olds the aces in electoral contests. With Ayade moving the anchor levers, he has set the keels of Cross River State on a gradual imbalance that offers commentators like me, a space to speak to fellow Cross Riverians as we reflect on a journey to redemption or eternal captivity.
After the Ayade renegade dance, the presumed ‘owners’ of Cross River instantly ejected themselves out of their cocoons. It was time to reclaim the spectre that won them (s)elections. Donald Duke, the first beneficiary of the “governorate” since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999 was there at a makeshift venue to psyche their supporters. Liyel Imokem the man chiefly blamed for foisting Ayade on the State was there on the podium. Senators Gershom Bassey and Sandy Onor, Representatives Jarigbe Agom and Essien Ayade all made it in company of other intermediate and low class political battonholders. For those who took the stage, it was time to repudiate Ayade for deviating from the so-called foundation they laid.
Take Duke for instance, he has poked tirades at Ayade for abandoned his tourism initiatives in lieu of other manifestly impossible self-glorifying projects. Duke, whom some mutedly refer to as the Fineboy of the Corporate World, told his audience how his purposeful leadership nudged even defacto opponents from other Parties to join the PDP.

Donald Duke

Akparawa Duke however, forgot to add that he waged relentless war against dissent in the State between 1999 and 2007. He polarized the House of Assembly and got many suspended indefinitely. He didn’t mention that by 2007 election, his opponent, Ambassador Akpang Obi Odu couldn’t garner a single vote in his polling unit in his hometown because Duke had given clear marching orders to that effect. He never mentioned how the quest for control led him to unjustly remove Rev. Ben Ikom as party chair and John Okpa as deputy governor, respectively. He is indeed a leader…so strong that he brought the institutions of governance under his thumb. He achieved a lot, so much so that Cross River State is a successful public enterprise. The huge debt profile tell the story.
I need not talk about Imoke and some of the others who were rattled by Ayade’s latest moves. The result of the dented democratic credentials he and his advisers parade is settling in. It’s good they’re here to reap their relentless anti-people, primitive and extremely selfish approach to politics. Democracy is alien to their idea of governance. Mass consensus to them, is an anathema.
If others had done bad, Ayade had the chance to airbrush their blemish. No. He had no such motive. Here is a man on whom power was thrusted on. Rather than develop the State in the real sense of the word, he set out beautifying, through tons of MoUs, a legacy that hadn’t taken off. Under his watch, Calabar became a near wasteland. The much-acclaimed Calabar Carnival introduced and nurtured by the Duke administration suffered grave discomfort and was only bailed out by the dreaded coronavirus pandemic. His new Party, the APC took these perceived anomalies to the heavens and back. They crowed and roared about the misrule. Now that he has moved to join them, the parroting has ended. Pseudo-democrats be praised! I read of Ayade’s fiercest critics in APC now singing praise of his messianic governance. Horrible. Ayade has been accused of land grabbing, nonchalance to illicit deforestation of virgin forests in Central Cross River State. No governor has been known to be so lethargic towards protecting nature like Mr. Ayade. It is awkwardly sad to begin to analyse his budgetary system and how he has managed State coffers. In my section of the comenmtatriat, we wait daily for news about a proposed summit, conference or seminar that can bring people together to chart a 21st century course for our State. This academic at the Peregrino House, Calabar doesn’t believe in wholesome discussions and collective reasoning. I think he believes that the governorship confers a super management brain and a toga of knowledge that is unequalled.
Here is why, there is no single Party governance in our dear State. It’s all been the semi-masterful mafia establishment that runs that beautiful State. When I read how young people attack one another behalf of these people, I shudder and fear for the future. I always ask, how many Cross Riverian youths have benefitted from any known scholarship scheme in that Date to study in any institution of repute in the world? Who is doing the real thinking for Cross River? Where is the NGO that government partners or funds to save her populace from the shackles of illiteracy, disease and hunger? Where are the tangible project executed to make us fit for description as 21st century global citizens? I can’t see any. Do you know if one?
At the moment, a section of the elite is at war. The political Party cloak is fitting as a new shelter. Ayade has taken a stand, others are out of hiding to re-inherit the floating stool. The masses feed on the inaccuracies and falsehood the ‘big men’ spew out. Eternal serfs have been handed fibs to bawl about in market squares. The gullible are buying. Only the discerning can see that a morbidly selfish elite class is at arms against itself. This fight has only given us an opportunity and we must take it. It must be clear that I subscribe to the definition of everyone or anyone who has made appreciable strides in his or he vocation. I consider some people in our State ‘elite’, only to the degree that such have stolen their way up there in dirty politics and crowned themselves as princes. Such characters are rogue-elites and they belong there, unwittingly, in same class with the great guys who have earned their sparkling reputations, honestly.
As the next elections approach, Cross Riverians need to show that political Parties aren’t the challenge but the people congregated on such platforms. We must begin to choose wisely. Anyone with a tinge of fascist elitism and a mismanaged ego should be jettisoned. We can elect people of integrity not the felons who make pretense at benevolence. We must elect people we can fire, not the cronies decreed into office by a select few. In the next cycle of elections, if the PDP presents a great, ambitious and intelligent mind, I will support that candidate. If the APC puts up someone with better general credentials, I will go with her or him. If any the other Parties organises themselves and throw up a potential statesman in the real sense of the word, someone with superior attributes, such group has the copyright of my vote. Anyone who fields a wolf to, again, vanquish our collective treasury should be rejected outright. That is how to show that Cross River State isn’t a one Party State.
The problem with Cross River State lies in our misreading of the use of power. Certain things need to be redefined. One of which is how much latitude we grant a failed and covetous elite to determine our joint destiny. Unless we do this, the window offered to take our destiny on our brains by Ayade’s defection from the PDP to the APC will be missed. It shouldn’t. This terrible fate should not be allowed to happen.
***Bankong-Obi is the author of the forthcoming poetry collection, Burning Skies. He’s reachable via