By Ekpenyong Attah
There has been a lot of hoopla in Cross River politics in recent times as the gubernatorial contest heats up. The hoopla has been about the formula for the selection of the eventual gubernatorial candidate in the state. The conundrum, which really should not be, is about whether there exists a zoning arrangement or not. In the past few months, a lot has been said about what is truth and what is not. All sides cling to what they believe is their truth.
It makes one think of the real truth. What is the real truth? The Indian icon and Mahatma Gandhi is quoted as saying: “Truth never damages a cause that is just.” So, the next question is, what is just?
The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, says: “At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.” Invariably, if truth and justice are removed from the equation, the political situation in Cross River State could then degenerate to a ‘S… show’ (excuse my French). Heaven forbid!
Right from 2015 when zoning was said to have come into full effect in the Cross River PDP, with the South and Central having done their turns, the expectations by Cross Riverians had been that after the North had done into its own turn, the seat would then come down to the South. But things have been unravelling so quickly. Only in December 2021, did one of the gubernatorial aspirants, Professor Sandy Onor, declare his intention to contest for the gubernatorial seat. Making the declaration with the State Chairman, PDP, Venatius Ikem, by his side, he rubbished the zoning arrangement, arguing, “If Cross Riverians are to go by ‘Osusulogy’, it is the North that should give us Governor. Because, in Osusuwe, if South collect, Central Collect and North collect, the next one should come from North.” He then declared his interest, calling himself, the ‘original caterpillar’. His campaign has since been tagged the caterpillar movement.
Onor’s declaration did not take anyone by surprise. He had been jostling for quite a while for the gubernatorial seat. And bolstered by the support of his friend in Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, he became confident by the day. His supporters have been ecstatic. It would lend to the cliché that where ‘money talks, B…S… walks.’
But was there not a zoning arrangement? And why was Onor not honouring this party understanding? The State PDP Chairman, Venatus Ikem, when he made a pronouncement on the zoning arrangement said, “I am sorry to say that whenever I decide to do what Ayade is doing, accept that the party under me has failed.” Ikem was alluding to Ayade’s declaration that the next governor must come from the South. But Ayade is from the other party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). It is indeed amusing that the pronouncements and actions of the other party should directly affect the PDP. So, what did the PDP really agree upon?
Former Governor, Donald Duke tried out the issue when Sandy Onor visited him at his Calabar residence. “There was never zoning in Cross River State,” he said. “I fought a titanic battle with Kanu Agabi.” But Duke could not have been speaking with authority. He was referring to his time with the PDP between 1999 and 2007. Duke left the PDP in 2011. He only returned formally in 2020. Every discerning Cross Riverian needs to read between the lines as Duke warns against, “the lie becoming the truth.”
Duke did not lie. But his truth seemed not to be complete. Silent all the while, the senator representing the Southern senatorial district, Gershom Bassey, obviously feeling the need to step in before issues begin to digress, issued a press statement to clarify the issues. In it, he stated: “In 2015, when my brother, Donald Duke, was not in the party, there was a caucus meeting which zoned this Governorship to the Northern Senatorial District, with the understanding that after the North, the rotation would continue with the South.”
At the beginning of the year 2022, the CRS PDP caucus met in Abuja to resolve the imbroglio in the state chapter of the party. The meeting convened by former governors, Donald Duke and Liyel Imoke, resolved to allow the ex-governors to chart a path forward for the party. Theirs is a dicey undertaking. As any decision that the two elder statesmen take will be ominous for all interests. Albeit their job has been made easier with the statement issued by the Central Caucus of the PDP. In it the caucus stated: “The Central Senatorial District has provided leadership, direction and strength vital for the consistent success of PDP in the state and resolved that this role has become even more imperative given the desire of the people of Cross River State to return PDP to power in 2023.
“The Central Senatorial District supports the principle of zoning and rotation of political responsibility in the state, and particularly supports the sustenance of the rotation of the governorship of Cross River State following the already established sequence amongst the various senatorial districts.
“That the governorship of Cross River State in 2023, following the established sequence of rotation, should be zoned to the Southern Senatorial District of Cross River State; this position is taken in the unshaken confidence that there are members of the party from the Southern Senatorial District with capacity, competence and commitment to lead the state and restore the developmental strides the state was hitherto known for.” The statement was witnessed by 37 of the attendees.
Sadly, Onor was not part of the Central meeting. He is from the Central Senatorial Zone of which he is the senator. Riled by the contents of the resolution by the Central caucus, his ‘Caterpillar Movement’ issued a counterstatement. Throwing shade on the caucus, he called them ‘self-seeking politicians.’
“We shall not be tempted at this point to join issues and glorify this group of self-seeking politicians with any response whatsoever. We call on all aspirants to meet us in the field and let our party members and by extension, Cross Riverians decide.”
And this is where the cookie has begun to crumble. The Caterpillar statement has conjured a lot of mirth and mockery from Cross Riverians, all through the state North, Central, and South. Plainly, they should have awaited the outcome of the Duke-Imoke settlement. Or do they know already what the rest of us do not know?
Then, the big elephant in the room is the issue of money. The CRS PDP is always broke. So, whoever pays the piper dictates the tune. And this is why there is always intra-party crisis. It is common knowledge that the state PDP has had to be funded from beyond the coffers of the party’s stalwarts. It has been an issue in all the elections to the extent that it is a question of whoever can deliver the bigger war chest that gets the prize. And this is where honour takes a walk through the backdoor. Whatever is previously agreed takes a back seat. But for how much, really? A one-time big drop of cash and that is eight years down a pitiful line. The battle between money and honour is fought and won.
At the middle of this brouhaha is the poor fellow, Mr. Truth. If Truth were to be told, a lot of progress would be made if all sides calm down and allow Truth to prevail. Cross Riverians are known for integrity and trust. The legacy extends to the annals of our ancestors. The legendary missionary, Mary Slessor, as Native Court judge, knowing the propensity for the truth among the Efiks and their neighbours, allowed the use of Mbiam for oath-taking much to the consternation of her fellow missionaries. When confronted, she replied, “The people love to tell the truth. If Mbiam would keep them telling the truth, so be it.” So, let God be true and every man a liar. It is time to prove honour right.
Ekpenyong Attah is a businessman and lives in Calabar.
THE VIEWS EXPRESSED ARE ENTIRELY THE AUTHOR’S.
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