It is rare to find an elder statesman, someone that can pass for one of the midwives that helped delivered the baby called Cross River State and also contributed to the famous Calabar-Ogoja Accord, that is as passionate about the state like Chief D.J.Ogar. Engaging him in an interview can be very revealing and mind-blowing. And that was what happened when TNN spoke with him over the telephone on the state of the state, ahead of the 2019 elections. The interview was processed by DAVID ODEY.
What is your assessment of what has happened in the lives of Cross Riverians in the last three years?
I am of the Second Republic. That is, 1979 to 1983. I was a member of the Cross River State House of Assembly. I later became chairman of Yala Local Government Council. After that I have been resting, away from the bright light of politics. But that has not stopped me from observing, looking at what is happening. So long as I am still around, I think I will continue to watch and see what is happening around me. Apart from the brief things I have said about myself, I have been actively engaged all my life in trying to ensure that we have a Cross River State. Right from the time of Justice Irikefe down to the time of the maximum ruler, Abacha, I have been a signatory to all the requests for the creation of Cross River State. Our first attempt went in favour of the creation of Akwa Ibom. Later, they gave us what they called the real Cross River State. But before we entered the era of New Cross River State, the elders of the new state gathered and signed a kind of memorandum which was tagged Calabar/Ogoja Accord. I am one of the 10 signatories to that accord from the northern part of the state which was what used to be Ogoja Senatorial District. At a time, only two senatorial districts existed, that is, Calabar and Ogoja senatorial districts. That accord was to spell out in detail, how the administration would be run in order to guarantee fairness, stability and cohesion. So, that was the accord in which the main officials of the administration, that is the governorship, the secretary to government and the deputy governor, were all to be distributed in such a manner that would guarantee some form of stability. There were 20 signatories altogether, 10 from the Calabar district and 10 from the Ogoja district. That accord has not been properly fulfilled particularly as regards the distribution of positions so far, particularly that of the governor. The first shot was to be taken by the Central Senatorial district, which was created out of Ogoja Senatorial district anyway. I had said earlier, that there were only two senatorial districts then, Calabar and Ogoja. Later, another senatorial district was created out of Ogoja senatorial district, which is now Central Senatorial district. On the eve of civil rule (in 1990), it was proposed that the first shot at the governorship position would be taken by the people of the Central Senatorial District. That brought in Ebri (Clement). Ebri was there for only two years (1990-1992). The military people took over the reins and we continued in their style until we came to 1999. In the Second Republic, I was not only a member of the House but also the party treasurer, that is NPN (National Party of Nigeria). And I was the state party treasurer. In my capacity as party treasurer, I was privy to most of the decisions taken at the party and had close interaction with the administration, the state government. There was nothing to rule me out of the party position even though I was a member of the House. I enjoyed the privilege of being both a member of the House and also playing the role of party treasurer in the state. So, I saw through many things and after the 1979-1983 when the military came again, through the present president (Buhari),who took over in 1983. After the series of military interregnums, from his own time to Babangida, to Abacha, I have quietly been resting in my house. I didn't participate in politics, although I enjoyed the privilege of being appointed chairman of council at a point. But when politics resumed after Abacha's era, I made sure I did not make myself available for any political position.
From this background and considering your role in the creation of Cross River State, the way the state is now, would you say you have seen the Cross River State of your dream?
No. No. No. I said the accord was designed to ensure even sharing of positions to ensure that no part of the state enjoys more than the other in order that there would be peace and stability in the state. But as I was saying, the first shot was taken by Ebri who was there for two years. Then the army intervened again. But after the Abacha era, we came to enjoy another era of civilian rule. It was the south that got the position of governor. And the governor was there for eight years. When the seat was vacated after eight years, it came to central again where Ebri was for two years. And then Imoke governed for eight years. Now, if you take the two years plus those eight years, the central has held the position for 10 years. The south has held the position for eight years. It is the north that has its current position which ought to terminate after eight years. Already, there is a strong clamour based on- I don't know whether it is real or imagined- many people are complaining that the current governor is saying more than he can do.
Are the complaints genuine?
For me it is too early to say. Three years is too early for anybody to pass judgement. You understand the point I am making? The way people in government interpret the second term is very amazing. What will qualify you for another term is if you did well. And that should be a decision of the voters who will come forward and say 'well, after four years, this man has done well, let us give him another opportunity to do another term.' The voters will determine whether he has done well or not. But now, everyone claims that once you are there for four years, you are entitled to another term. I don't know whether it is anywhere in the constitution that you must do eight years even if you didn't do well in your first term. For me, it is rather premature to say the present governor has not done well, especially the fact that if we go by the accord which we put together at the beginning of the time the state was created. If we go by that accord, if the south has done eight years and the central has done ten years and the north has done only three years, I think it will be a breach of that accord if we begin to think of terminating the tenure of the person coming from the north based on speculation that Ayade is not performing. That is my take on that.
What I am asking is this, are you saying that because the north has done a lesser number of years than the central, and so in the spirit of Calabar/Ogoja accord, the current governor, whether he has done well or not, should be allowed to do full two terms?
I have spoken on that. The idea of two terms, I don't know whether it is part of the law or the book. Does the book say once you are elected the governor, you must be there for eight years? Is that what the book says? If that is not what the book says, and it should be based on performance, everybody who has become a governor should be allowed at least to complete his first four years. Then a decision will be taken by the voters.
From benefit of insight, and as a critical stakeholder from Cross River, from what you have seen in the last three years, do you think the current governor has done well, by your own assessment?
For me personally, I will not say he has done very well. Well, he has made some efforts but hopefully if he is able to complete some of the projects he has put together, that is when a decision will be made. That is when I can clearly say whether he has done well or not.
Let's look at some of the endorsements. A lot of people in the south, central and even the north have all endorsed him for a second term. What is your take on this?
Well, this endorsement thing, I don't attach too much importance to endorsement or place much emphasis on endorsement because you know we are running a multi-party situation. And the governor is on the platform of a political party. There are other parties available and others may want to run for governorship. You never know where the next governor could come from. As I have said earlier, you will be judged on the basis of your performance. And if that is so, you never know whether the judgement would be in favour of the person who is there now, or somebody who is coming from another platform who may become a governor. I don't place too much emphasis on endorsement. I rather place emphasis on performance. If the current governor has done well and the people say so, I am sure he can win another term.
Do you think the endorsements are a reflection of the acceptability of the governor?
You know how these things are done. It is just like a political rally. Anyone who goes there takes advantage of the person who brought him to the square. But when the time comes for the real election, the result could be different.
Would it be correct to say that the crowds that we see everywhere are deceiving the governor?
You can as well provide an answer to that question. Does a crowd make a president or a governor?
If you meet the governor today, what would you tell him as an elder statesman?
I will tell him to move as fast as he can to accomplish some of the things he said he is doing or that he wants to do in the next four years so that people will be convinced that he is out to do what he has set out to do.
In other words, before you give your vote, you must be sure those promises are fulfilled?
Of course. What is my business if you are somebody who has come to tell stories about what you can do without doing those things? Do you think a person in my capacity will go and vote for that kind of person? Would it be right if you as a person go and vote for a person who promised heaven and earth but did little or nothing, then you go and give him another vote? Would you do that?a