May 17, 2022

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If I Lose PDP Guber Ticket, I’ll Support Whoever Wins, Says Ex-C’River Dep Gov

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Effiok Cobham, a former deputy governor in Cross River State and one of the many aspirants for the ticket of the PDP ahead of the gubernatorial primaries of the party told GODWIN AJOM in this interview that as much as he is qualified and will fight for the PDP ticket, not on the basis of zoning, he would however accept defeat if he loses gallantly and would also support whoever emerges winner.

Excerpts:

 

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Are you in the race for the governorship of the state?

 

 

“Yes, I am running for the governor of Cross River State under my party the Peoples Democratic Party.

 

 

What are you bringing to the table?

 

 

 

I am bringing to the table first my level of experience and my knowledge of Cross River and I believe I am endowed with the capacity to get things done better than they are today. I am bringing to the table innovation in governance that will make Cross River State be what it used to be rather than what it is today. I will unfold my manifesto and in details you will see what the innovations are all about.

 

 

 

We are going to bring reforms into the civil service, reforms into our value system which is very critical, educational system, health and of course governance because looking at the way Cross River State is being governed today is a far cry from how government should be operated.  Government should be for the people and not just for a select few.  One of the levels of success of any government is the level of social inclusiveness I am bringing to the table a desire to remove the deficit of confidence that exists today between the governor and the populace. I am coming with a desire to stabilize our body polity and ensure growth and development of our state.

 

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You were the deputy governor of the state for eight years and not long ago you were the chairman of the caretaker committee of the PDP in the state. The issue of zoning has been at the front burner for some time now, are you standing for or against zoning and is it a product of the PDP constitution?

 

 

 

The PDP constitution recognises zoning even up to the national level. I will like zoning but I am not running basically because of zoning. I am not against zoning. I used to ask my colleagues in the south, what if the party remains mute about zoning? Is our region not capable to produce somebody to make the position of governor? There are more than enough materials in any region to run the position of governor of the state. Maybe because of our peculiar circumstances in our country, not just our state alone, we have come to bring in zoning. But definitely, it should not be the main thing. I am not running because of zoning but I stand firmly that zoning is right. I am a Cross Riverian first.

 

 

 

There is an argument that the non Efik speaking people of the south have never produced a governor and now you have come out to contest.

 

 

Who are the non Efik speaking part?

 

 

 

Biase, Akamkpa 

 

 

 

There are Efik settlements in those local governments. Biase local government alone can have up to 40% Efik settlements. So definitely, that issue should not even arise. The protagonists of zoning are talking about zoning to the south. Maybe when we get to the river we will know how to cross it but for now, I think that is a bit of a speculation, it’s speculative.

 

 

Assuming but not admitting that goes for another aspirant, will you still be in the PDP and help reconcile members of the party?

 

 

I am a party man and in every contest, there is bound to be a winner and a loser it’s not only bad and irritating when you are unjustly denied of the opportunity. Like now, we are now in the football era AFCON. Two teams will always play. As the players enter the pitch, within them they know they might win this match but at the end of the day the result comes, you take it. If by the end of the day I win I will also call my colleagues and say that’s the will of the people. If at the end of the day the baton passes from me and I know my best was not good enough, if you lose, lose gallantly and show sportsmanship by the end of the day it’s our party and it’s not just your aspiration. I have been the secretary of the party. I had to be drafted to take care of the party when the governor left and it was like the party was going down but because of my wealth of experience in the management of the party and the question you have asked, I have presided over several meetings like that where some candidates who have lost out expressed their anger and then we have to bring everybody together. It all depends on how we the leadership of the party can manage it, otherwise no one’s aspiration is bigger than the party. Our popular slogan has always been that the party is supreme. It should not be because the house cannot accommodate you, you burn the roof. No. If it can’t accommodate you, it can accommodate others. When you burn the roof, everybody stands outside. So definitely for me, the PDP is my party. I am a foundation member. Where will I go to? And like my friend (Nyesom) Wike will say, why should I leave malaria to go and get cancer when I know malaria is curable?

 

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One of the biggest challenges the next governor will face is the issue of debts and so how will you manage it? Secondly, you have been in politics for a long time now; the national assembly has introduced consensus option into the Electoral Act as a means of selecting candidates and several civil society organisations have kicked against this. How do you see the consensus option of choosing candidates?

 

 

 

I have not read the Electoral Act and all these issues came up with what they amended yesterday. I’ve not had time to look at them but I believe the word consensus is quite relative. So how do we put it? Let me not be exact because these are provisions of the law, I don’t know what the principal theme says there. First of all the law provides a general provision and then the sub sections. So you cannot read the subsections in isolation, you must read it in conjunction with the main portions of the law and I have not read it, so I will be very careful in answering it because the easiest way for you to show foolishness is to start talking about things you don’t understand. I have heard the issues of that consensus and then who will be the people to sit and determine that consensus? All those things are issues that I have to sit down and look at the law and then explain- could it be elected officials or members of the house of assembly, House of Representatives and the rest? That’s why I say relative because it’s a bit confusing for now. Maybe our lawmakers have looked at it and they have found sense in what they are doing. Until I read that, I will not be able to give you an exact answer because if not properly managed, it could lead to further confusion and problems within the party, not just our party alone because the Electoral Act governs all the parties. So, I don’t know the consensus issue. A while ago, I think I spoke on the issues of direct primaries and I said though it is desirable but the circumstances in the country today do not accommodate it. Out security architecture, say for Cross River State, can it accommodate? We have 196 wards, so you have 196 flashpoints within one day. Our security personnel, can they manage it? What is the level of manpower that we have in terms of security? Are you going to bring the army out, which is going to be worse because we are talking about democracy and you are bringing the army to come and conduct democracy? So to that extent, I said one of the few issues I agreed with the current president and then we all live together and you have seen the level of arms proliferation weapons proliferation machetes and all those things and these are things that could be used freely. There is hunger, poverty and these are things that limit the patience of an individual. It does not take long to snap and a hungry man does not take long to get angry. He is already angry because he is hungry and then you now perpetuate circumstances that will further trigger it, then the gun powder will explode. So we must manage it. When I think of 2023, I fear in terms of the security in our country I never thought that armed civilians could take over a police station. But now armed thugs enter a police station, break into the armoury and take arms away. Who would have thought that they will kidnap a police commissioner and they pay ransom? My father was a policeman and growing up, I used to think that there are some things that cannot happen. But they are happening before us. So definitely, we must try to manage it, given our own peculiar circumstances.

 

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On the issue of debts, yes the debt is there. The point is, is it because there is debt and you will not run government? You must find a way out of the debts and one way is to renegotiate. So we will renegotiate the debts. The state is a living entity and individuals come and go. I don’t even think we have gotten to our borrowing limit, otherwise they will not be giving them further money. There will still be a window and it’s for us to evolve a robust plan of debt renegotiation and whatever money we have, we channel them into sectors that will generate funds for us to run the government and also meet the terms of the loan, that’s it. America is one of the world’s leading debtor nations but they will still give them money because they have a programme of repayment, otherwise even these banks they encourage you to take their money because it is those interests they use to do what they want and if they keep money in the bank and nobody takes them, then they are out of business. So I am not afraid of debts especially the debts that have been incurred. There is nothing you can do about it. That is why when I hear people say I came and met an empty treasury you knew from the beginning that the treasury was empty that is why the people voted you. They voted you so that you can convert that empty treasury into something positive. I am very conscious of the debt portfolio of the state and I am equally aware of the potentials of the state that with a proper team, you can restructure those debts and have a breather, run the government, pay the debts and if need be get further money to run your state, provided that the money you get is being put into things that will be beneficial to the people, that’s all. It’s just that in our country too, our banking system is terrible. Those state loans you shouldn’t charge the normal commercial bank rates. I was in the US for a while and one of my friends wanted a mortgage and they gave him 2.5 per cent. He is a Nigerian accountant and said no way can he pay 2.5 per cent and I told him I got a mortgage in Nigeria at 19.2 per cent and he screamed. When he finally got the mortgage, he said they reviewed it to one and a half per cent for 25 years. So that is it.  I was looking for money from my bank to do a farm and they were willing to give me from this central bank intervention and they said the loan is for five years and I said how can I get money to do oil palm and in five years I start repayment? That is why we are where we are. Facilities for agriculture mortgage, the minimum tenure should be 10 to 15 years and the interest rate should not be more than five per cent, otherwise you can’t break even.

 

 

 

Cross River State has over 30 industries and from my findings none of them is making money for the state how do you intend to build on that since government is a continuum?

 

 

Those industries were built with public funds and it is our money. It will be most irresponsible of any administration to allow them rot away but I am also a believer in the fact that government has no business doing business. For me, if elected, my focus will be to create an enabling environment whereby private sector can do their business, put proper infrastructure in the place, make sure it is secured for businesses, look at the level of taxation and other things that encourage ease of doing business and put them in place. We have a geographic information service here. If you want to get a land and have all the requirements, you should be able to get a C of O within 48 hours because it is all automated. So all those industries, of course, we have to get all of them working but they should be privately managed and transparently, so as to bring confidence in the system because once you build an industry, we have seen it even playing out in governance where hands that are not competent are out in places where they should not be. I don’t know the shareholding because all government companies, the ministry of finance incorporated should be the shareholder. I don’t know what shares ministry of finance incorporated have there, I have not looked at it basically because of my belief that government should not run enterprises. That could be done more efficiently by the private sector.

 

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 How will you end the issue of multiple taxation if elected and then secondly, you are going to run elections with very big guys especially the National Assembly members. Are you not afraid they may not give the ticket to you?

 

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Why should I be afraid of National Assembly members? Just 2019, I anchored a campaign that delivered all of them. Why? They are all my friends. Compare their pedigree with mine. We are talking about party politics here and not National Assembly politics. I have been the state secretary of the party. In 2003, I was the secretary of the campaign organization by virtue of my office as the state secretary. In 2006, 2007, I was running as the deputy governorship candidate, the same thing in 2011 as an incumbent deputy governor. In 2014, 2015, I was the deputy chairman of the campaign council. 2017, 2019,  I was the DG of the PDP campaign. So what are you talking about here? Do they make such money in the National Assembly? I don’t know. It’s not all about money. Look, the character of the individual, the integrity, what you are bringing to the table will all be the determining factor. People are not as gullible as they used to be; they are asking pertinent questions, asking questions they never used to ask. So people are beginning to look at the larger picture so when you say will they give it to you or will the National Assembly members give it to me or will the party give it to me, the mistake most people still make, we are no longer the party in power but the opposition; and when you are in opposition, you must look for a candidate that commands the respect and followership of the people. It is not the richest man that wins election. Money is a factor but not the overall factor.

 

 

Has your party given up on its secretariat that was taken over by the APC?

 

 

That tells you the character of the people that are in the administration; that tells you the irresponsibility of the leadership of that party. We live in an era where the culture of impunity has permeated the society. The matter is still in court and was even called up last week. That tells you the character of those people who want to lead us.

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