Bassey Eko Ewa is a former Speaker of the Cross River State House of Assembly, CRSHA, and a two-term member of the House of Reps. He recently got the PDP’s nod to contest as her candidate for the CR Central Senatorial District position. But a video, currently trending, is casting him in bad light before his people. In this interview with www.calitown.com, Ewa, bares his mind on the trending video and makes a few notable revelations that appear intended to set the records straight. Excerpts;
Walk us through that video.
I was invited by my Ekori people residing in Abuja to a meeting, one I have not been disposed to attend in a long while. First they sought to know why I do not attend their meetings before congratulating me on winning the Cross River Central Senatorial district primaries of my party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. It was an opportunity to interact with my people, in a politically non-partisan manner. I will say it was quite a good outing that dovetailed into a questions and answers session, as the meeting progressed. You know normally when you appear before your brothers and sisters in such an informal manner, they will expect to hear your reaction(s) to issues, contemporary or not, things that may have subtly occupied their minds. In the replies I gave to questions thrown at me, I tried to educate them on the need for unity among the communities in Yakurr LGA, drawing examples from Ugep. I brought up the issue of one Ugep lady, Tina Ofem, who sells roasted plantain and fish in Abuja. I explained that what she has exquisitely done is demonstrate that you don’t have to exclusively be doing a white collar job to make it in life. I brought up too, the story of another Ugep girl, who sells garri on demand to people, demonstrating the enterprising nature of what this two exàmples represent.
I again drew their attention to the fact that, until recently, the average Ugep man builds his first house in Ugep, before building anywhere else. I clearly sounded out to the gathering that I like this kind of spirit and the love the Ugep people have for their community. I encouraged my people to take a cue from the Ugep man and work at improving our own community. I emphatically told them that there is a reason why you cannot effectively play politics in Yakurr LGA and the Central Senatorial District, without Ugep. Ugep has a population that cannot be ignored and the people are buoyant with their ideas and level of political participation. I considered before them the commonalities Ekori and Ugep share and then for the simple and clear fact that I have represented Yakurr I State Constituency, comprising Ugep, Ekori and Idomi, in the Cross River State House of Assembly, why then should I demean or try to belittle Ugep? I am not that type of person. Anyone who has related with me knows for certain that I grew up in Ugep as a young man, played football extensively for the now defunct Tama FC of Ugep. While they were football teams in Ekori, I didn’t play for them, but choose to play for an Ugep-based football team that even played against football teams from Ekori.
You can therefore imagine my shock when the video was edited and circulated, elevating falsehood and casting me in bad light. I felt awful and called up my press team to respectfully reply and clearly state that I made no such demeaning statement and didn’t intend to either do so, now or in the future. I understand that we are in the season of politics where everything must be painfully misrepresented in the media space so cheap political points can be scored, but I am different and know the dire consequences that can trail this kind of ugly enterprise.
It was alluded in your media response that the video was edited to portray you in bad light before the Ugep people. Considering that those of us who have watched this video are not convinced that the video was edited to malign you, what is your immediate response?
That video was edited to suit an ignoble cause. Why didn’t those behind the video play the whole video of the meeting instead of just pick one moment at the meeting, doctor and circulate it. Let me be fair in saying that, Ugep primarily came up at that meeting when I was asked to comment on why the road network in Ugep is better than the one in Ekori. They even pointed out to me that after representing the people for 20 years, it is appalling to them that a company was awarded the contract for the construction of the roads in Ekori. They were even insistent that I brought the company, but the road wasn’t done. They also added that I collected the money for the contract and refused to fix the roads. Sincerely, I was shocked and openly told them that I am not a contractor, I don’t own any company in construction. I tried to explain to them that people will say things like this especially during an election period, but they should please reason that if I had collected money for that purpose, this APC government in CRS, would have surely made me account for this money and even taken me to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, for prosecution. But then, let me reiterate that l did not at that meeting or any other one, attempt to run down Ugep and her people. Let me even add that it is on record that I was in the Cross River State House of Assembly, CRSHA, when the law was amended for the Ugep urban status. I had to go down history and saw that Ugep first had that status since 1954 or so and to update it, I supported legislation during my stay in the House, in that direction. If I didn’t support that legislation, perhaps someone would have had a field day spreading all the flying figments of their imagination.
Going forward, what was said, what was not said and how what was said, was said, also touched on comments regarding the International New Yam Festival, celebrated centrally in Ugep. Let us hear your angle on this one please.
I am humbled that you are listening to my own side of the story; this is credible journalism. Now, I travelled to Trinidad & Tobago, in 2003, with then governor of CRS, Donald Duke, to understudy their internationally recognized carnival. The aim was to see how we can replicate that carnival in CRS. When we got there, I looked at the uniqueness of what was on display and quickly noticed that the relevant elevation of the Yakurr culture was only lavishly found back home in Ugep; where the traditional institution has clearly spelt out things and placed them in their proper perspectives. I reasoned and convinced the governor that we can replicate the elevated celebration of the Yakurr culture, centrally, in Ugep, like they have done in Trinidad & Tobago. The governor quickly insisted that we should concentrate on the carnival for now and probably apply deep thinking to the idea I just brought up. When we got back to Nigeria, I quickly went to the late Obol Lopon of Ugep, Obol Ubi Ujong Inah, had a meeting with him and his council of chiefs on this idea. We put our heads together, brought all Yakurr chiefs into the mix and had an agreement that we will celebrate an internationally recognized LEBOKU festival in the headquarters of Yakurr LGA, (Ugep), which is centrally located. Let me be detailed in pointing out that, it was clearly spelt out from the beginning that, each Yakurr community will perculiarly celebrate her new yam festival, but we will all take part in a one day event that converges all Yakurr communities in one place for an international new yam celebration.
We struck a chord with our people on this one and in recognition of their acceptance of this idea, the governor and I were honoured with chieftaincy titles by the traditional rulers of Yakurr. Let me please be properly quoted; I have at no point denied the existence of Ugep new yam festival and the accompanying display of her rich cultural heritage…no sane person can attempt such folly. What should however not be lost on us all is that, there is an administrative creation in place for a one day event to be called the Yakurr International New Yam festival. If we are changing it, we can now say the original idea isn’t working again so we don’t need it. For me however, we shouldn’t do that because the administrative festival is another way of uniting Yakurr communities, because we are one. Can we doubt that in the next ten years, as development stamps her feet, it will not be difficult to show land boundaries between Ugep and Ekori communities? Right now, because of development, can you easily point out the boundaries between Calabar South and Calabar Municipality? Can’t we all see that Eight Miles in Calabar and Odukpani are becoming impossible to tell apart? What then would be the basis for me to work against this kind of development driven integration of our people?
Your media team appears to be doing you more harm than good, some professional assessors of her operations are maintaining. Their responses to some critical engagements appear to be fanning the embers of discord and more confusion, when simple explanations should have done you good. Are you aware of this assessment?
If somebody is in my media team but puts out a post in his name and not as the media team, shouldn’t we be charitable enough to make an informed separation of the individual from the team? At this point, writing as an individual, has nothing to do with me. But if you read the response to that video from my media team, you will agree with me that, word for word, everything was carefully and clearly stated. I am concerned and must plead; an expression of a person’s opinion, because he is on my media team, shouldn’t be ascribed to me. I love Ugep and her people, especially because they are industrious, proud of where they come from, and have aggressively developed their town through systematic self help. My emphasis in that video, was on the need for the people gathered in that meeting to work at emulating the Ugep spirit, that has seen them develop their community to very enviable heights. Those who have refused to see this message for what it is, I think should be prayed for.
You referred to the content of that video as “moderated infraction”. Going forward, how do you think this kind of “moderated infraction” can be thrown aside?
In a season like this when all Yakurr communities are using the new yam festival to preach peace, we must go back, talk to ourselves and see how we can throw away this kind of infraction, moderated to tear us apart, I will make an appeal too, the day I travel home to see my parents. I will beg the custodians of our traditional institutions that when something like this video episode happens, I should be summoned as a subject, to offer explanations instead of us taking addresses, no matter how well written, to social media. You know of course that I cannot turn down that kind of summons. However, if we all see ourselves as one, the fact that I am from Ekori, should not extricate me from saying that I am from Ugep, considering very importantly that Ugep is the headquarters of Yakurr LGA and of course that is where I grew up.
Do you have demonstrable capacity to represent CR Central Senatorial District in Nigeria’s Senate?
Of course I do. See, the first time I went to the CRSHA, I was elected the Majority Leader of the House. When I returned to the House for a second term, I was elected the Speaker. Being elected into this two offices was performance based, it wasn’t to elevate mediocrity. Don’t forget too that I was the youngest lawyer in that House and the first to serve two uninterrupted terms in the House. I went to the House of Reps from there and had so many motions passed in my name. I have projects across the length and breadth of Abi/Yakurr Federal Constituency; this is capacity, I must say. Let me add again that I was carefully selected to be a House Committee Chairman, from 360 members, based on performance. Then we had only 92 committees in the HORs, so if you are appointed a committee chairman like I was, it is based on merit and capacity. So, going to the Senate for me is going back to a system I am used to. Don’t forget that for 20 productive years, I have been a legislator…what else demonstrates capacity?
Are you chasing a record or chasing a dream to bring democratic dividends to the people you hope to represent?
The opportunity in the past that I have had, I brought dividends to my people. I am not chasing a record, I want to go there and use my network of legislative contacts to attract development to where I come from; Cross River’s Central Senatorial District. Let me tell you why. I left for the House of Reps as a Speaker of the CRSHA. In my first term in the HORs, I was not even a committee chairman, I wasn’t even considered a deputy chairman of a committee. What is the importance of being a committee chairman? See, if you are a chairman of a committee, you are going to be in the league of chairmen who sit to consider the national budget. If for instance I am the Agric Committee Chairman, they are Basin Development Authorities all over the federation. If the Basin Authority people want me to help them in my committee, I can equally plead that my district be captured in their projects for that year. At the end of every budget year, calculate and see how many projects can be attracted to my constituency. That is the importance of ranking in the parliament, especially in my instance where I have been there for 12 years and about 56 of today’s senators were my colleagues in the HORs. Some may have served under me as a committee chairman or I have served under some as a committee member. You can’t fault the experience I will bring to bear on the job if elected.
PDP use to be the ‘bread and butter’ of politics in CRS. For people like you who are some sort of sign post for the party, how does it feel to be in opposition now?
If you put your ears to the ground, you will know that the PDP is not actually in opposition in CRS. Yes, Government House is controlled by the APC and we have a non-performing governor operating from there. Or you can’t see that the APC man sitting in that Government House has turned CRS into a refuse dump and even gubernatorial candidates are mounting billboards on top of refuse dumps? PDP tasted governance under Donald Duke and Liyel Imoke and we can tell you for free that food on the table cannot amount to good governance. It is the reason why we have brought out a man with visible capacity, very exposed, a man who knows that what makes you tick, is being there for the people. Our party is poised to bring back the glory days and restore governance to CRS.
Thank you for your time.
Thank you too for this opportunity.
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