By Max Ogar
Lawyer, public commentator and politician, Max Ogar pens this piece from Abuja, Nigeria.
There is a popular saying that ‘it is dissent that brings about change and, eventually, development’. Without conflicts, we become stereotypes.
Since 2003 after the return of democracy in 1999, the politics of Cross River State has been tepid, unenthusiastic and unexciting; there has been less competitiveness and dissent. What is democracy without opposition and dissent?
The State politics started on a sound footing at the dawn of the 4th Republic in 1999. The two major political parties in the State were the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Peoples Party (APP) which transmuted into the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and later fused with other political parties in 2013 (or thereabout) to become All Progressives Congress (APC).
In the January 9, 1999 governorship election, the Peoples Democratic Party (which presented Donald Duke) pulled 529, 335 votes to defeat the All Peoples Party (with Mark Ukpo as its candidate) which garnered 457, 660 votes. The margin was 71,675 votes.
In the twenty five member State House of Assembly, the PDP had thirteen members and the then APP twelve even though the APP (with the aid of Orok Otu Duke) produced the Speaker of the House with Duke himself returning as Deputy Speaker; a position he held in the still-born Third Republic when he was elected under the Social Democratic Party.
In the National Assembly elections, the PDP had two Senators (Kanu Agabi, North and Matthew Mbu, Central) while the APP produced Florence Ita-Giwa for Cross River South. For the House of Representatives’ eight seats, the APP took five seats (all the three from the Southern Senatorial District in addition to the two from the Northern Senatorial District) leaving only three seats (all in the Central Senatorial District) for the PDP. Out of the eighteen Local Government Council Chairmen, the APP kept ten and left the PDP with only 8.
There was competition and vibrancy thus throwing up enthusiasm and keenness particularly in the State House of Assembly where the foursome of Orok Otu Duke (PDP, Deputy Speaker), John Owan Enoh (APP, Minority Leader), Cletus Mbia Obun (PDP) and late Emperor Owa (PDP) were a delight to listen to during plenary. Because of the intellectuality and sagaciousness of the four, they were fondly referred to as the four wise men. The ‘threat’ they constituted caused the State Governor to move against them; all four of them were suspended indefinitely by the House. John Owan Enoh had to defect to the PDP and was recalled to the House from where he stepped up to the House of Representatives in 2003. I am not sure of the fate of Orok Duke, but certainly, Cletus Obun and Emperor Owa never returned to the House.
It was at the dusk of the 4th Assembly (in 2002) that the instrumentalities of coercion and arm-twisting were deployed to whip people into line; the APP/ANPP literally emptied into the PDP in the State. Even a State Chairman of the APP/ANPP from Bekwarra LGA dumped his position and party and transmogrified into a PDP member. Ebuta Ojong Ayuk stepped in at this point as State Chairman and suffered a lot of persecution in the process.
From 2003, the opposition in Cross River State became fully hemorrhaged and completely annihilated not for want of the zeal and zest for competition, but because of manipulations by the then State Governor (Mbakara Duke). The cases involving Akpang Ade Obi-Odu (Obi-Odu V. Duke) and Cletus Obun (Obun V. Ebu) reported in Femi Falana’s Weekly Reports of Nigeria (WRN) are still very fresh in my memory. With the benefit of hindsight, I recall the crisis between Governor Duke and Daniel Asuquo; then Chair of Akamkpa LGA. The persecution of Usani Usani is also well known by Cross Riverians.
Because nature abhours vacuum, opposition started mounting within the rampaging PDP in the State. In 2014, there was a big fight over the congresses that threw up delegates; the Gody Jedy-Agbas, the Victor Ndoma-Egbas, the Sandy Onors and the Jones Tangbans were on one side against the Liyel Imoke ‘machine’. The Imoke group muscled out their opponents and reversed the result of the congresses/ the delegates’ list. The same issue of delegates’ congresses emerged in 2020 and spiked during the primaries for the Cross River North Senatorial by/re-run election this time with Jarigbe Agom as the face of the opposition against Governor Ayade. The eventual outcome was what happened in Calabar on Thursday, 21st May, 2021; the defection of Ben Ayade.
Take it or leave it, the politics of Cross River is now undergoing a reset; we are back to the pre-2003 days – the days of competitiveness with associated checks and balances. By the time the dust settles, the Cross River House of Assembly will again, after a long time, have a Minority Leader, a Minority Whip, a Minority Caucus and a Public Accounts Committee Chair who, statutorily, must come from the opposition party.
I am excited about the unfolding events in Cross River State; my State of origin, for the singular reason that party members across board (in particular) and the electorate (in general) will no longer be taken for granted. The change has started taking place; stakeholders’ meetings are now taking place and our almighty NASS Lawmakers are now visiting home and reaching out to their constituents.
While I support the ongoing ‘fight’, it is a NO for me that the PDP in the State implodes. An implosion of the PDP will remove the element of competitiveness and stifle our evolving democracy.
“I am grateful to the key dissenters, may posterity reward them.”
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