The line-up of aspirants seeking the southern senatorial district ticket in Cross River State ahead of the 2019 election include some of the well-known political juggernauts in the zone. Among those aspiring are Ntufam Ekpo Okon, Hilliard Eta, Prince Bassey Otu and the incumbent senator, Gershom Bassey.
As has been the case, only members of the two dominant parties in the state, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC), have indicated interest to contest. Aspirants in the other political parties may still be biding their time but they will have to make up for the lost ground in terms of preparations for the polls when they eventually join the fray.
Ntufam Ekpo Okon
One of the aspirants, Ekpo Okon, wants to run on the platform of his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He is a former chairman of PDP in the state. He wields enormous political influence in Odukpani where he hails from and in Calabar where he resides. He is expected to put it to good use in his quest to grab the senatorial ticket from the incumbent Senator Gershom Bassey.
Although this journalist turned politician has not officially announced his decision to join the race, campaign stickers announcing his entry into the race can be found on cars on the streets of Calabar.
He has to fight the political battle of his life to get the ticket, considering the desire of the incumbent senator to return. It is being speculated that he is being persuaded to forget about his ambition and allow the incumbent senator go for a second term. That may or may not be true but in the end, whether he will accede to the party's request is another matter entirely.
But Okon is not someone to toy with in the game. As a former party chairman, he knows the political arithmetic that can make or mar an aspirant in a contest of this nature. He is close to both former governors-Donald Duke and Liyel Imoke. Under Duke, he was works commissioner and then when it was time for Imoke to come on board, he was in charge of the campaign organisation. So, he knows the game by its name.
Hilliard Eta is another formidable aspirant under the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) vying for the ticket. He is the National Vice Chairman, South-south of APC. He also has not declared his ambition officially but he is believed to be interested in dislodging the incumbent senator.
He hails from Calabar Municipality, while the incumbent senator is from Calabar South. In the past, he had contested for the state house of assembly seat against Prince Bassey Otu and lost. He also fought for the position of state chairman of APC against Usani Uguru Usani. Both of them are like sworn enemies as they do not see eye to eye even after the job went to Usani while he was picked as the National Vice Chairman, south-south. Usani was later appointed as Minister of Niger Delta Affairs in 2015. It is not clear if he will pick his party's ticket. If he does, then he will have another hurdle to cross-the PDP.
Prince Bassey Otu
He is of the All Progressives Congress and he is someone to watch out for. He and Gershom have gone through this path before. Gershom managed to survive it, albeit with the help of the government in power at that time. But he knows that the battle was fierce. Otu, is what Ayo Fayose is, in Ekiti State- a grassroots gadfly. You toy with him at your own risk.
He was a serving senator but lost the PDP return ticket in 2015 and defected to Labour Party.
He eventually contested under the Labour Party platform that year but lost. He then moved to APC on whose platform he wants to contest for the senate in 2019. He is from Creek Town in Odukpani LGA, just as Ekpo Okon. His entry into the race has allegedly put his life on the line. His lawyer, Utum Eteng, had alleged in a petition to the police that his
client's life was being threatened by some unidentified people after Otu indicated his interest to join the race. Does it mean he is seen as a political threat to other aspirants or unknown forces that were rattled by his decision to contest? If he succeeds in getting his party's ticket, then the senatorial district should get ready for another interesting battle of titans.
In the race also is Gershom Bassey who currently occupies the senate seat he won in 2015 under the platform of PDP. He was chairman of the state water board for almost 10 years before he contested for the senatorial seat in 2015.
He is one of the three musketeers that used to call the shots in the state; that is himself, Duke and Imoke. The trio are suspected to have gone their separate ways, at least not as close as they used to be.
In 2015, he enjoyed tremendous support of the system. he was hated and pilloried for two reason-the influence his
group had on the state and the allegation that he is not very free with money.
It is not clear if he has changed in that direction. But there are reports that he has undertaken some empowerment programmes in the senatorial district. Only recently, some of his followers started advertising his telephone numbers on social media. But that came after he had been accused of not being accessible.
He is tipped to get a return ticket of his party for the 2019 race because some believe correctly or otherwise, that he has the blessing of the stakeholders of the party. But he has to fight hard to get the nomination considering the big names gearing up to fight him for the job. It is believed his antecedents will speak for him during the main election if he eventually gets his party's ticket. He is said to be politically savvy and enjoys reasonable following. But whether that will translate to victory for him will be seen in a matter of months.