By Effiong Awatt
Anybody who is still talking about zoning at this time in Cross River State, nay People’s Democratic Party (PDP) politics, has been left stranded at the train station for the train has long taken off. The zoning argument has become a tired subject and no longer needs to be even considered. It is now a question of who can deliver and what the person is delivering. But one brings up the subject here because one of the PDP stalwarts and gubernatorial aspirant recently went on a rant regarding the subject, pouring vituperations on all zoning proponents because they dared mention it in the first place.
Sandy Onor, the Senator, is a PDP stalwart and a contender for the CRS gubernatorial position. He refers to himself as the Original Caterpillar. At one of his whistle stops, he chose to rant about zoning. Hear him: “Where is the zoning? 2007, Liyel Imoke came and jumped into it. He ran against Walter Eneji and Julius Okputu. He is from the Central, they are from the North. Where is the zoning? All through this period, people from the South ran. The only election year that people from the South did not run was 2015. Even 2019, Eyo Ekpo ran against Ayade. John Eno ran against Ayade. Where is the zoning? Lie lie leaders. If you want to aspire to be governor, say so. Don’t lie to the people. We are all going to school. Leaders like to lie for their own selfish interests. They have carried that zoning thing everywhere. Everywhere they go we defeat them. They say PDP constitution talks of zoning. The constitution also talks of rotation. The PDP constitution talks of zoning and rotation of offices. And in Cross River we have been practising rotation by elimination. People compete. Whoever emerges, that zone go leave am, give the other one. They compete again. Whoever emerges, the person go leave am, give the other one.”
It is not clear who Onor was ranting against as most of his opponents in PDP have formally declared their intention to run for the seat. But it can be clearly said that, after the initial brouhaha, that zoning is no longer the preoccupation of Onor’s opponents. Of course, there have been definitive statements by many party stalwarts, especially by Onor’s fellow Central Senatorial Zone party travellers that they were supporting the South. So, it is an internal party arrangement. But it has nothing to do with the arrangement by other parties as Onor had alluded to in his rant.
Both Eyo Ekpo and John Eno were running on the platform of other parties when they vied in 2019. The PDP zoning or rotation arrangement has always been in place. To deny it is to go against the very grain of the party’s essence – justice, fair play and equal opportunity. But since we are all, especially Onor, not privy, to all that was discussed in 2015, we cannot categorically say what is true or not.
But the question is not about zoning. It is about what is being brought to the table and who can deliver. Can Onor in good conscience say that he can deliver? If he were not depending on the funds of his friend, the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, could he confidently say he has the pedigree to win the people’s votes? He has openly boasted about this relationship. At a press conference in Calabar, earlier in the year, he admitted: “I cannot run away from such question. I know that it was coming. It is true that I have a close political friendship with Gov Wike. There’s no politician who has serious ambition at any time that would not have key persons to give him political support, and sometimes finance.”
Cross River State needs redemption. Chief among its issues are cross-border and inter-communal land conflicts, criminality, cult clashes, militancy and piracy, and kidnapping. But, most of all, it needs visionary leadership. Businesses are shutting down and, hitherto, well-heeled enterprises have trooped out of the state, leaving the state in an even worse-off situation than it ever was. The onset of the socio-economic decline that has attended the state, especially in the past seven years, has the state begging for real leadership; such leadership that can deal with all its attendant issues and overhaul the state’s economy so that security can be restored, and jobs can return and stay.
Zoning is not the state’s issue. The issue is who can deliver leadership. Can Sandy Onor deliver this kind of leadership? No doubt, he is a zealous and passionate man, who is bent on conquest. But he will have to navigate the labyrinth of hurdles he would need to cross, to get the PDP gubernatorial ticket. He needs to get the delegates from the different wards in North, Central, and South. Among his major hurdles are the likes of Dan Asuquo and Gershom Bassey.
As it stands, in a two-way race between him and Gershom Bassey, Bassey is looking rosy. Zoning should not be Onor’s issue. His main issue is Gershom Bassey, a Senator like himself, who is the man to beat.
Effiong Awatt is a public relations practitioner who lives in Lagos.
*The views expressed in this article are entirely the author’s.*
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