Monday, June 20, 2022 11:26 am
By Nkrumah Bankong-Obi
The harmattan season has bade us goodbye. But gusty winds of manipulation twirl on the farthest ends of Nigeria’s deep south. The rains are just setting in, not quite heavy. The condition, climate-wise, is 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 recedes, tongues wag about the near comatose Nigerian economy, of which Cross River is a federating unit. Citizens decry the multifaceted insecurity nibbling on the restless but fragile soul of country. A section of the bourgeoning rumour mill, populated mostly by those who have no access to verified information and 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 and 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 again in 2019 on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, the colourless and blurry-vision political clearing house that once prided itself as “the 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 infested with all the vices afflicting the Nigerian governing elite], set tongues on fresh fire. Instantly, new breeds of commentators berthed on the Cross River political shore. Some old horses were moulted, and many experienced a rebirth. The craving for space on the social media to pillory Ayades decision or find a garth on the right side of posterity preoccupied the attention of a large hub of Cross River’s poorly organised 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 swelling white noise and echoes of thunder.
The polar ends in the State currently hold that the battleline has been drawn between the two political parties, namely; the PDP and APC. The conflict of the measly standard of living foisted on the citizens is therefore situated within the strength or lack of it, of the gladiators who wheel the levers of these non-ideological associations, setup, it seems, merely to grab power. That is why the incumbent in Cross River State always holds the aces in electoral contests. With Ayade moving the levers, he has tilted the keels of Cross River State politics to 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 chalice. 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 Imoke the man chiefly blamed for foisting Ayade on the State was there on the podium. Senators Gershom Bassey and Sandy Onor, Representatives Jarigbe Agom, Dan Asuquo and Essien Ayi all made it in the company of other intermediate and low-class political baton holders to the rostrum. For those who took the stage, it was such an opportune time to repudiate Ayade for deviating from the so-called foundation they laid.
Take Duke, for instance, he hauled tirades at Ayade for abandoning his tourism initiatives instead 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. Akparawa Duke, however, forgot to add that he waged relentless wars against dissent and hunkered opponents in the State between 1999 and 2007, to surrender. He polarized the House of Assembly and got many suspended indefinitely. Duke didn’t mention that by the 2003 election, his opponent, Ambassador Akpang Obi Odu of the All People’s Party, could garner only a few votes in his polling unit in his hometown, Mbube because Duke had given marching orders to his goons to deny Odu a win. He never mentioned how the quest for control led him to unjustly remove Rev. Ben Ikobi as Party chair and John Okpa as deputy governor. 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 tells the story.
I need not talk about Imoke and some of the others who have been sufficiently rattled by Ayade’s latest moves. As the result of the dented democratic credentials, he and his adviser’s parade is settling in. It is 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 anathema.
If others had done badly, Ayade had the chance to airbrush their blemish. No. He had no such motive. Here is a man on whom power was thrust. Rather than develop the State in the real sense of the word, he set about beautifying, through tons of MoUs, a legacy that can never take 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. In 2021, it didt hold at all. 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 Ayade’s fiercest critics in APC now singing the praise of his messianic governance. Horrible doublespeak! Ayade has been accused of land grabbing and nonchalance to illicit deforestation of virgin forests in Central Cross River State. No governor has been known to be so lethargic towards protecting nature as Prof. Ayade. It is awkwardly sad to begin to analyse his budgetary system and how he has managed State coffers. In my section of the commentariat, 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 on him, a super management expertise 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 patch of Nigeria. When I read how young people attack one another on 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 to study in any institution of repute in the world? Who is doing the real thinking for Cross River? Where are the NGOs that the government partners with or funds to save her populace from the shackles of illiteracy, disease and hunger? Where are the tangible projects executed to make us fit for description as 21st-century global citizens? I can’t see any. Do you know 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 falsehoods 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 admiration of anyone and everyone who has made appreciable strides in his or her vocation. I consider some people, and I stress some, 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, unfortunately, in the 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 pretences at benevolence or empowerment. 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, as they have done with Sandy Onor, I will support that candidate. If the APC puts up someone with better general credentials, as controversially done with Prince Basse, I will go with her or him. If any of the other parties organise themselves and throws up a potential statesman in the real sense of the word, someone with superior attributes, such group can claim the copyright to my vote. Anyone who fields a wolf again vanquishes and decapitates 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 collective 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 should’t. The terrible fate of a missed one-time opportunity should not be allowed to happen.
***This piece was written in late 2021 but the has been updated and now published because the circumstances that ignited the thoughts then still prevail
***Bankong-Obi, journalist and poet is the author of The First Shot, Ogoja Province and the Untold Story of The Nigeria/Biafra War. He is reachable via [email protected]