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Gershom Can't Claim To Be PDP Candidate For C'River South - Ekpo Okon

Ntufam Ekpo Okon, a former chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Cross River State and immediate past chairman of the state's water board spoke with David Odey, our correspondent in Calabar, about the botched PDP Southern Senatorial primaries, the impunity in PDP, the options open to him as one of the aspirants as well as other thorny issues. Excerpts:

 

What went wrong with the PDP Southern Senatorial primaries?

Well, the facts are very clear. The event was originally scheduled for the 2nd of October but the panel arrived quite late that day. So we expected that on Wednesday, the 4th, it was going to hold. Delegates were already in town and most of them were ready and started to move to the venue (UJ Esuene stadium) expecting to go for accreditation. At about 10 O'clock when nothing had happened, I went to Transcorp hotel and I was informed that the chairman of the panel was in Room 811. I went up there and found the state chairman of the party, Ntufam Edim Inok, the former state chairman Ntufam John Okon and a number of other aspirants were there. One of them is Bassey Eko Ewa who was a senatorial aspirant for the Central Senatorial ticket. And when I arrived there, I found there were arguments. The state chairman was questioning the approach to the panel, that after they arrived, they did not make contact with them. At that time, it became obvious that the secretary to the panel had gone out. He had already left for the central, supposedly, let me say so, with the materials meant for the conduct of the central senatorial primaries. And the chairman and other aspirants were questioning how? I have been a former chairman of the party and I know that the normal procedure is that when the panel arrives, you meet the state exco of the party. And thereafter you have a meeting with the stakeholders, especially the aspirants. There you have the briefings and thereafter materials are distributed. But in this case, materials were distributed before any meeting with them. They were actually quarreling with that when it was finally agreed that the rest of us who were aspirants should leave so that he and members of his panel can have a meeting with the state chairman of the party. So we left.

So, what happened thereafter?

By about 11:30, I noticed a bus that was leaving and I was informed that they were leaving for the north. At that point, I just believed that everything had been resolved so we were supposed to go in and actually it was only that of the south that was left. But unknown to us, while the state chairman was still there, the former chairman, John Okon also moved in. The chairman, to our consternation said the materials for the south had been released through one of the members, Azubuike Femi Nwuke. And the question was, how? We were still here, so how did you surreptitiously release the materials to him? So, we insisted that he called him because we needed to see what he had and then we can go to the stadium. For some of us while the state chairman was still arguing with the chairman, I decided to go to the venue which was the stadium. Nothing was happening there and there was nobody there. The concern was where would this man have gone with the materials? When after about an hour a number of delegates and other party members became aware that materials for the primaries were missing or were with the man who was supposed to be the returning officer, at that point, a lot of them started moving towards the Transcorp hotel from the stadium. So, that was exactly what happened.

I understand Transcorp became rowdy…

Yes, tension started building up. Then I was now informed that the chairman had spoken with Azubuike and that he was coming back to the hotel. Not long after, because I had met him in the room earlier before we were asked to leave so that they can have a meeting, I could remember the face. I didn't know his name, but I could remember his face. It was not long after, we now noticed at about 12 or so a black Camry car drove in and a young man came out and it was him. He had one envelope. Naturally, the party members went after him, asking 'where did you go?' They struggled with him and along the line seized the envelope. But what we now noticed was that the envelope contained scanned copies of result sheets, not the original. So they became a bit confrontational with him. And at that point I even helped with some security men to take him to the hotel. When we took him to the hotel, we went straight to the room. Argument started. Where is the original copy? Where are the ballot papers? He was not forthcoming until when people started showing anger and it became obvious that the way things were going they could become violent, he now agreed and mentioned that inside that car, the materials were there. The security men who were there, one of them a captain, I don't know how he became involved, I think the chairman of the panel was a retired colonel, I think he made contacts and the captain now came, but he was in mufti. He chose to come down and carry out the search. But I warned that if they searched that vehicle  and found the materials in the milieu of that crowd, with their anger that car could be vandalized, that we should drive it out. And I said I need to be with them. So, we went to the police station at State Housing where we searched. We didn't find it immediately. Then we now had to place a call to him and he specifically mentioned that it was under the driver's seat. So, the driver knew obviously but refused to cooperate. At that point we asked the driver to open the door and we searched and found the materials. That was how we found four bundles of the ballot papers only. The original result sheets were not there. The ballot papers were not complete, because we had an estimated number of 783 delegates and each bundle contained a hundred leaflets. So, what they had there were only four. So I assumed appropriately eight bundles should have been given to take care of 783 and whatever was left was like what couldn't be used.

So, what happened to the other four bundles?

It became obvious that the other four may have been given with the result sheets to my opponent. It was then we now realized that the Camry vehicle belonged to Senator Gershom Bassey. The driver was his. So, how did the panel member find himself in Senator Gershom Bassey's vehicle? How did electoral materials get stuck under the seat of the driver of Senator Gershom Bassey's car? So, we came back and insisted Azubuike must bring those materials. But it became so obvious that he had already handed over those materials to Senator Gershom Bassey. That was how tension built up. More delegates and members of the party moved to Transcorp hotel. That was what happened. So, by the time senior police officers got involved, they took over the vehicle and the four bundles of ballot papers we found were handed over to the police at the police station. But the DPO insisted he wanted the matter to be moved to the state CID. And that was how those items were moved there. The driver surreptitiously handed over the key of the car to one of the aides of Senator Bassey who now found his way to the police station. So, even when they asked him to drive the vehicle to the police station, the key wasn't found. So they had to tow the vehicle to the police station, to the state police command headquarters. That was the kind of scenario that we found ourselves. They now said there should be a meeting between me, the panel chairman and Senator Gershom Bassey. I said I didn't have any problem provided it was going to lead to a proper conduct of the primaries. When he came, rather than address this anomaly, he came to attack me physically. But that is not an issue anyway. We sat down and he was insisting we go to the stadium to conduct the primaries. At this time it was already 6pm.So, I wondered, what were you going to conduct with? There are no result sheets, the ballot papers were not complete, you had 783 delegates and then you want to take 400 ballot papers into the election. How? Who will be allowed to vote and who will not vote? That was the scenario and it was agreed that the election should be postponed and the chairman of the panel was going to get contact with Abuja to get fresh materials so that primaries could be conducted.  Up till now we are still waiting. For the attention of INEC, I am aware of the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended that every party's candidate must be produced through a democratic process monitored by INEC. For the attention of INEC, there has been no primaries in Cross River Southern PDP. The party has not conducted any primaries. And therefore if the PDP fails to conduct one, it should be clear that PDP does not have a candidate. PDP is not ready to field a candidate.

How come Gershom Bassey was declared a winner?

I am not aware that he has been declared a winner.

But that is the news everywhere….

I say whatever news it should be fake news. You and I know that there was no primaries conducted in Cross River south. So, if he smuggled or connived with electoral officials to divert result sheets and possibly write results for himself, was that primaries? That was not primaries. So, we've not had a democratic process to select a candidate. And INEC must know this. Unless INEC was in his house to supervise the filling of the result, then INEC should be able to act as an agency that is responsible and is ready to do its work.

Where does the chairman of the panel come in, since you postponed the election?

The last time I spoke with the chairman of the panel, he told me he was going to Abuja to collect the materials.

But the deadline for the primaries would have expired by the time a fresh primary is conducted. So, what happens?

That is why I am saying that our party does not intend to field a candidate for Cross River south because that is the requirement of the law. INEC did not witness any primaries in Cross River south PDP. And therefore, no candidate could have emerged. Let that be taken note of.

You were chairman of PDP in the state. What has changed about the party considering the events that have played out over the primaries?

I have never seen any situation in our party whereby we get this low. It has never been. I know that in the past, it used to be people in authority will put in words for certain preferred candidates, with delegates given a direction that this is a preferred candidate maybe they go and vote. Gershom knows that even if the national chairman says he is the preferred candidate, the delegates would vote against him because the man has not performed. The delegates are people who are his constituents. And his constituents are the ones to give judgement. So, he knows that of course no matter what happens if he comes to the field, he will fail.

As it is, if they insist that Gershom is the candidate of your party, will you defect to APC or the SDP?

The issue of defection has not arisen yet. The issue I am saying here is this: The law is clear. It is not something that if they choose. You cannot choose above the law. He cannot choose above the law. The Electoral Act wasn't meant for PDP alone. It was meant for all the parties. PDP must learn to comply with the law. So, if PDP is not ready to comply with the law, INEC must ensure that PDP complies with the law by insisting on a candidate who has gone through a process as prescribed by the law.

Where do we go from here?

If INEC know what to do they should come and conduct the primaries and if they cannot conduct it, they should know that they have made up their mind not to field a candidate. If you field a candidate, we all know that there was no primary and therefore the party does not have a candidate.

Will you seek redress in court if they insist Gershom is the PDP candidate?

Well, even the opposition parties know that PDP did not field a candidate because PDP did not conduct a primary to pick a candidate. So, it may not only be me because I know the opposition parties know and he knows the position of the law. INEC should not even wait for anybody to say it. INEC should be able to act as a proper agency that is law abiding and is insisting on the position of the law being respected.

Do you think PDP has learnt from the impunity that led to its downfall in 2015?

My experience in this particular one is worse. It has never been this low.

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Why I want To Return To The Senate-Ndoma Egba

 Former Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma Egba fielded questions from journalists, including TNN Correspondent, David Odey, in Calabar on various issues ranging from his desire to return to the senate, his relationship with Senator Owan Enoh, the issue of zoning in the state, the rancour in APC, among others

We heard that nomination forms were bought for you to return to the Senate. Is it true?

Let me once again welcome you. I prefer to refer to you as my colleagues even though I am a failed journalist. But whether a failed journalist or a successful journalist, a journalist is a journalist. Let me thank you for this time out. I was here with the Vice President a few days ago and we left from here to Port Harcourt. While in Port Harcourt, I got information from the national headquarters of the APC that some people had purchased nomination forms in my name. Hitherto my position was that I was done with elections. I had had too many elections in one's lifetime. My attitude was whoever it was that was buying the form I would have to see the forms. The forms were returned. Last Saturday I was screened. So, as it were, I have my hands on the plough. And what does the Bible say, when you have your hands on the plough, you don't look back.

There is the clamour by Old Obubra in the central Senatorial district to produce the next senator. What is your view about zoning?

Let me start with the rumour that the presidency is returning me to the senate to make me senate president. I have no evidence of that. As far as I am concerned, it is just a rumour. This is political season so everybody is free to peddle the kind of stories or rumour he or she wants to peddle. The one about the zoning arrangement, yes I agree that it should be respected. But what is the situation that we have on ground? In old Obubra, where in my view and I think the senate should now go to, we have a candidate running for governor from Yakurr, not so? You have two candidates running for senate from Yakurr. There is a possibility of a situation where you will have a governor from Yakurr and a senator from Yakurr. And Yakurr has produced a governor before. Then you take Etung. You have somebody running for governor from Etung. And you have somebody from Etung also in APC running for senate. And you have another one in PDP running for senate. So you also have a possibility of having a governor and a senator from the same local government. I think these details complicate their entitlements. If they were all running for senate, yes it makes sense. But when you are running for senate and governor, it waters down the argument.

There is rancour in APC with some court cases still pending. How is your party going to win when you are going into an election with a divided house?

I don't have details of the court matter in Abuja, neither do I have the details of the court matter that was instituted here in Calabar. Remember there were some earlier court orders. There was a court order in Abuja. So, there were two court orders as it were. At some point these court orders needed to be resolved. But I do know for certain that those orders were made ex-parte without putting the other party on notice. So, it cannot be a final judgement. So, both sides still have a long way to go in these cases. It is a pre-election matter and not an election matter. So, it's going to drag up to the Supreme Court and before you know it, four years have come and gone. Having said so, if you recall, I was secretary of the national convention that produced the current national executive. So, I was part of the process that led to the emergence of the current executive. So I recognize the national executive, including the national chairman that emerged from the process I was secretary of. So, I recognize them. They are legitimate. And if they have directed lawfully that we could have direct primaries in Cross River, the reason is simple, because we have litigations in Cross River. So, in order to navigate through these litigations, we have to go directly to members of the party for them to vote. It becomes a problem doing indirect primaries and the court eventually rules that it is one faction or one group that is legitimate and the candidate that emerged from the process by the other group then it means that you have no candidate. But this one, the national working committee of the party insisted and decided to avoid the issue of factions and go straight to the members of the party and said, look, go and choose your candidates. So, I don't see how the outcome of either litigations will impact on the outcome of this exercise. I hear one group is going by the directives of national, they are going for direct primaries and the other group are going for indirect primaries. I don't know where they will be submitting the outcome of the primaries. Who will they submit to? Because by law, it is the national chairman and the national secretary that can communicate the names of candidates of the party to INEC. So, that resolves the issue that it is only the group that are complying with the directives of the national working committee of the party that will be recognized in the field.

What is your view about the feud between Donald Duke and Liyel Imoke?

Friends must quarrel. Friends must disagree. There is a saying amongst the Yoruba that twenty children cannot play for 20 years together. For me, I think those disclosures are even healthy so that Cross Riverians can even know the details of what took place. It will help our future conduct in public office.

You said there was a directive from the party's NWC that there should be direct primaries. We had a chat with one of the governorship aspirants and minister for Niger Delta and he said that the NWC also provided a proviso,that states can go back, looking at their peculiarities and either take direct primaries, indirect primaries or consensus. And they have looked at Cross River and discovered that they do not have an authentic membership register that would call for direct primaries. And at the stakeholders' meeting, they all agreed that they should adopt indirect primaries. I don't know how you will look at that?

Well, I have told you that I was part of the process that produced Adams Oshiomhole as national chairman. In law you cannot approbate and reprobate. I approbated by taking part in the process at the national convention and it produced a national executive for the APC and that national executive is led by Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. So, it is the directives from Comrade Adams Oshiomhole that I take as authentic. And what came out from Comrade Adams Oshiomhole-led national working committee was that Cross River state was to do direct primaries.

Do you really subscribe to what the national working committee directed?

Well, you know the June 12, 1993 election has remained a watershed in not only our electoral but also our political history as a country. Why was June 12 a watershed? For those who were around, I was around, every member of the party voted and it produced that most authentic election that we still talk about till today. The biggest problem with our politics in this country is that political parties are supposed to be the vehicles to political power but those vehicles have been appropriated by big men. If you recall, when I was in PDP I said at a point that you no longer have government of the people by the people for the people but government of governors by governors for governors. So they appropriate the political parties. That is the biggest challenge of party politics today. The challenge of party politics is ownership of the party. Do political parties belong to individuals or they belong to members of the party? Direct primaries confirm that the ordinary members of the party are the true owners of the party. So, it addresses that fundamental question of ownership of political parties and the political process rather than allow the big man appropriate the parties and the process on our behalf against our personal wishes and desires. Let the common man be the one to decide the direction of the party and I think that is the benefit of direct primaries.

What will you be telling the central senatorial district, that as chairman of NDDC, you have been able to do? The second question is, having been part of the present APC administration, what is your view about the  administration in Cross River state. Are you happy that once there is a road being constructed, the next thing you see is a signboard “Ayade is Working”?

I think at my age and my level, I should be discussing national and international issues. The younger ones are the ones who should have views about Cross River. When I was young, for those of you who were here, I had very strong views about issues of governance in this state. And if you recall, as chairman of NBA, I took on military regimes and even got a military governor changed in this state. But you get to a certain age where you yield ground for younger people. So let the younger people be discussing Cross River state. For NDDC, I think in less than two years that I have been there I have done quite a lot. If you remember, when we just went in, Calabar/Itu and Calabar/Ikom roads were virtually impassable. We intervened and they are so many things we have done and soon we will commission projects we have done so that people can see what we have done in less than two years.

Four years ago, when you attempted to return to the senate for the fourth time, it appeared you were blocked. And it appeared you were unhappy. Now, no doubt it seems you have the confidence that this time around you will return to the senate. Knowing that there are other big wigs who are also aspiring for the senate, is it true that certainly you will get there?

Well, it's only God that can see the next minute. As we speak, I can't tell you what will happen the next minute. For me as a human being is to read the situation and take my chances. I am taking my chances. But I am confident that I will make it. What is the basis of the confidence? My records. When I was in the senate we were forever going round inspecting projects. Do you still inspect projects?

What is your relationship with Senator Owan Enoh who is running for governorship? Are you likely to work with him? What about your relationship with Liyel Imoke? Are you still close?

The second question I won't bother answering. Senator Owan Enoh is now in APC. We are now in the same party. We are working together to ensure the victory of the party at every level. And so we are obliged to work together. We want to ensure the victory of our party at every level. But let me say this, in spite of the very painful experience in 2014 I never made any public comment. I took it as God's will. You must have pain, sorrow and joy in life. Life is duality. It is not always that you will be happy. There are times you must be sad. And what makes you a man is your ability to accept things as they come. I am a man of very great faith. I have never had a gun in my life and I have never fired a gun in my life. My father was a lover of guns. There were guns all over the house but I avoided them. My weapon is my prayer. So I accepted everything I went through and it's in the past. And if it didn't happen, I lost six local government areas and got nine states.

You are aspiring to go back to the senate. What fresh ideas are you taking back there?

Let's go back to verified and verifiable history. I was in the senate for three terms. Out of those three terms, two terms I was in leadership, first as deputy senate leader and as senate leader. For the two terms, eight years that I was in leadership under the senate presidency of Senator David Mark, there wasn't a scandal in that senate if you remember. There was no rancour that became public. And at some point in the history of this country and the history of those two senates, the senate had to provide the needed stability in the country, especially when President Yar'Adua, may God bless his soul, was ill and was absent. We were on the precipice of a major constitutional crisis. It was the senate that held the balance. And historically that is the role of the senate. The senate is not supposed to descend into the arena. The senate is supposed to hold the balance for the country when the country is in crisis. Yes, the national assembly is an independent arm of government but it's still an arm of one government and the three arms need to work in synergy, with some cooperation, with checks and balances for certain things to happen. I think that to move the nation forward, the legislature and the executive must work out a system of promoting the interest of the nation. So, it's a delicate balance. But let me say this, the presidential system of government is designed with conflict inbuilt, because without the conflicts you cannot trigger off the checks and balances. So the answer is constant dialogue and finding ways round problems. So, what difference will I make? The senate oversights the executive but at the same time know when it needs to work with the executive. In any case, I have so many bills that were not passed. I will revisit them and introduce new ones.

What is your opinion about the attempt to change the leadership of the senate?

Where the leadership of either house of the national assembly is home grown, elected by the members themselves, it is difficult to change that leadership. It is easier to change the leadership that was foisted on the house by external forces. Secondly, having said that, the legislature in plenary is said to be a legislature on display. A legislature in committees is a legislature at work. The committees are actually where the work of parliament is done. Plenary is just the show part. Members of the legislature were sponsored to parliament by political parties. And one of the reasons why you have the stability you had in the eight years of David Mark is that caucuses were very strong. Then the PDP was in the majority. We used to have the PDP caucus meeting twice a month. It was a fixture of our calendar. The only person who didn't attend was the senate president because he ought to be seen as neutral. So, things were thrashed at that level. So by the time it came to the floor, all the frills would have been dealt with. I think one of the weaknesses I see now is that those caucuses have ceased to function. And even at the state level, we used to have a strong Cross River state national assembly caucus and we met regularly to discuss Cross River position, Cross River interest, what strategy to identify such interest and even at some point, the governor joined us. I remember Donald Duke attended and Senator Liyel Imoke attended a few. That was why while I was in the senate, there was no Cross Riverian that was brought for screening that was rejected, because we would have done the work first at that Cross River state caucus level and then take it to party level and appeal to your colleagues. I think the causes may be the key.

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