I read with some bemusement Hon. Patrick Okon’s diatribe in the aftermath of the recent Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, governorship primary. If Hon. Okon is to be believed, Cross River State’s ‘Back To South’ movement is the property of the PDP and its members/supporters from the Efik ethnic group only and therefore Senator Gershom Bassey’s loss in the PDP primary is a blow to the entire Cross River South Senatorial District (SSD) and a loss for the Efik people. I was puzzled when I read this from him: “The back-to-South advocacy became very loud and even deafening! But that is where it all began and ended. We, in the South, lacked the will, the tenacity and the sincerity to drive it to a logical and successful conclusion.” This is the kind of unsubstantiated arrogance that upsets other Cross Riverians without whom no indigene whether or not from the SSD, speak less of an Efik indigene, can win an election. It is also, of course, an egregious untruth that must be immediately and resoundingly called out.
Senator Bassey’s loss is his and that of his partisan supporters like Hon. Okon. It is not the loss of the SSD. SSD and Efik are not synonymous. If Hon. Okon and Senator Bassey have no one to tell them these basic truths, I will do so now. It would have been nice to have both major parties present candidates from the SSD but if PDP that has “rotation and zoning” written into its constitution failed to produce an SSD candidate at the primary, it is clearly for the 5 PDP aspirants from the SSD – Senator Gershom Henshaw, Hon. Daniel Asuquo, Chief Arthur Jarvis Archibong, Mrs. Nkoyo Toyo and Mrs. Ima Adegoke – who refused, despite repeated entreaties, to step down for each other, to explain how they collectively snatched an embarrassing defeat from the jaws of an almost certain historic victory. They faced a single aspirant from the entire old Ogoja Province. How on Earth could any of them have expected to win? So, leaving aside for now the implicit insult to the other ethnic groups that make up the SSD in general and to APC’s Senator Bassey Otu in particular, let me also address the other matter arising from Hon. Okon’s misguided missiles.
Hon. Patrick Okon, understandably upset, perhaps even bitter, at his principal’s entirely predictable loss at the PDP Governorship primary, now seeks to make Governor Donald Duke the scapegoat for his principal’s failure. He needs to calm down and recall a little history. The seeds of this historical loss were sown in 2007 when Liyel Imoke, with the passive-active assistance of Gershom Bassey turned his back on and ran Donald Duke out of the PDP and almost out of Cross River State. Between 2007 and 2015, the PDP “family” built with huge effort, sweat, tears, blood and even precious lives fell apart. The resultant schism was solidified with the advent in 2015 of Governor “Professor” Ben Ayade who knew nothing about that “family” and had no qualms, and no problems, with scattering the family to the four winds and bribing the youth of that family to his side with his clearly unsustainable food-on-the-table agenda. If not for that falling apart how could Cross River have become a State that has given rich pickings to the APC? So much so that the APC now looks set to retain Peregrino Lodge come 2023?
Fast forward to May 2021. I sat one evening in Donald Duke’s home and saw Senator Gershom Bassey and Governor Liyel Imoke saunter in to join a get together of the great and good of Calabar following the burial obsequies of the late AVM Emmanuel Osim. So, these two still knew the way to Donald’s house? They could actually come there, sit together, laugh, drink, eat, listen to good music and relax? The last time I beheld such a sight was 28th May 2007 when Donald held a music jam session in honour of Liyel Imoke at the Governor’s Lodge. That night, 15 years ago to the day, life was good and the future of Cross River State looked rosy and assured. Little did I know that it would take 14 very long and harrowing years before such a sight was re-enacted. Fourteen very long lost years. In that period, friendships formed in childhood and young adulthood were betrayed for momentary political expediency, a powerful political triumvirate was rendered asunder, harsh words were uttered, terrible things were done, a veritable political family was uprooted, a usurper arrived and the succession pipeline was ruptured beyond any form of repair.
That 2021 re-appearance at Donald’s house happened only because the defection of Ben Ayade to the APC was recognised as a direct threat to Senator Gershom Bassey’s long-standing ambition to succeed to the tenancy of Peregrino Lodge, Calabar.
Unfortunately, after 14 years it proved impossible to push back the huge deluge of water that had already gone under the bridge and glue the broken pieces of what was once an admirable and seemingly unbreakable political partnership. If Senator Bassey really thinks about it, and I am pretty sure he has, he would admit to his conscience that he could have held that partnership together and if he had done so events would certainly have turned out differently and for the better for Cross River State…and indeed for him too.
Hon. Patrick Okon wrote as if history is a dead letter that teaches us nothing. He is obviously unaware of Professor Jacob Burckhardt’s admonition that mankind must always study history “not so that we are clever for next time, but so that we are wise forever.” Cleverness and the cunning and scheming that always accompany it are good only for a short time but wisdom and the far-sighted vision it brings last forever and is eternally beneficial. It is short-term cleverness, scheming and the hubristic thinking that he and Governor Imoke were totally in charge of the PDP in Cross River State and so they could dispense with one leg of the political tripod that upheld PDP in Cross River State that created Senator Gershom Bassey’s situation. Not Donald Duke.
So, looking at Cross River’s contemporary political history, it is quite rich for Hon. Okon to hop on the “Back to South” train and claim that Donald Duke’s perceived support for Senator Sandy Onor is the cause of his principal’s failure at the governorship primary. If so, isn’t that all the more proof of his principal’s turning his back on Governor Duke? Hon. Okon should be reminded, and if he’s unaware he should be told, that Senator Gershom Bassey disdained the Back to South movement and declared that he did not need it to become the Governor of Cross River State. Instead, he stridently proclaimed, and it has gone down in history, that he would match Senator Onor Dollar for Dollar and win. He apparently substituted Dollars for strategy and assumed that would be enough to overwhelm his fellow SSD aspirants and Senator Onor. How wrong he was. Back to South is a non-partisan and non-ethnic movement that aligns with the political maturity of Cross River State at this point in time. It resonates across the State, even amongst Cross Riverians from outside the SSD. It is first and foremost a call for orderliness and equity in the determination of succession to the Governorship of the State. Yet, Senator Bassey distanced himself from it and at the summit in Calabar in November 2021 that led to the Calabar Back to South Declaration he was physically absent and maintained a silent watching brief via a Zoom link. So, it is disrespectful for Hon. Okon or anyone else to write as if PDP’s refusal to elect Gershom Bassey as its gubernatorial candidate is a failure for the SSD and the Back to South movement.
Far from such misconceived thinking, the numbers from the PDP governorship primary indicate that the Back to South movement is strong, alive and kicking seriously. If he looks closely, Hon. Okon will find that Senator Sandy Onor won the contest with 236 votes or 41%, a very clear minority of total valid votes cast. On the other hand, Senator Gershom Bassey and Hon. Daniel Asuquo together polled 322 or 57% of total valid votes cast. On the other hand, it is very instructive that Senator Bassey Otu won the APC primary with almost 90% of the vote. Were those votes from SSD alone? The APC results compel any intelligent observer to ask: Would the story have been different if Senator Bassey alone contended with Senator Onor? Probably. If indeed it is true that Senators Sandy Onor and Jarigbe Agom cobbled together a PDP alliance of the old Ogoja Province against the old Calabar Province, then that alliance did not work well; because if it did, the result of the primary would surely have been the other way round. If anything, Senator Sandy Onor may find that the result of the PDP governorship primary only gave him a Pyrrhic victory because if we look at the APC and PDP primaries as a pre-election poll or referendum, then it seems to me safe to say that the Back to South sentiment has considerable traction.
Back to the subject, Hon. Patrick Okon should be told that Governor Donald Duke met with all PDP aspirants and fervently pleaded with them not to buy nominations forms. Instead, 7 of them promptly coughed up =N=20m to buy forms. Was it Donald Duke that paid for each of them? He should also ask Senator Bassey, clearly the person he referred to in his diatribe as “Southern frontliner”, why, if indeed Donald Duke’s attempt at building a consensus behind a PDP aspirant from SSD was a ruse, he (Senator Bassey) walked out of the consensus meeting but failed to take the obvious step of forming an alliance with Hon. Daniel Asuquo that would see them support each other at the Governorship and Senatorial primaries respectively. That was a tactical move that every politically astute watcher of Cross River politics expected Senator Bassey to make and do so urgently and aggressively. Yet, instead of building a political coalition with Hon. Asuquo, Senator Bassey basked in his false sense of ownership and superiority. Clearly, the same arrogance and hubris that made Senator Bassey walk out on elders and leaders of the SSD at the abortive consensus meeting is also what prevented him from making the one move that would have assured his resounding victory at the governorship primary. Was it Donald Duke that told him to walk out on a gathering of SSD leaders and wait to ambush Senator Onor with his pile of Dollars?
Again, I recall the words of Jacob Burckhardt about history, cleverness and wisdom. The seeds of the loss suffered by Hon. Okon’s hero were sown in 2007 and fertilized and nurtured over the years with the ashes of failed brotherhood. It was made certain by arrogance, hubris, overreach and the underestimation that is often the consequence of those three afflictions. Hon. Patrick Ene Okon is definitely not a student of history. If he were, he would not have fired his misguided missile at Donald Duke. Rather, he would have kept his counsel, surveyed the political landscape since 1999 and recognised that the sundering of the 1999-2007 winning formula laid the foundation for his principal’s 2022 failure at Venetian Hall, Calabar.
Eyo O. Ekpo is a former CRS Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice.
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