In this interview, Cross River State Chairman, Young Progressive Party, YPP who doubles as the State Chairman, Inter Party Advisory Council, IPAC, Anthony Bisong Attah says the state governor, Professor Ben Ayade’s food on the table approach to governance has done more harm than good to the state. He told CHIEMEKA ADINDU that the governor has succeeded in initiating projects beyond his capacity.
As the IPAC chairman in the state, what is your position on the current events unfolding in the politics of Cross River State, especially as regards the defection of the state governor from the PDP to the APC?
For us, especially in Young Progressive Party, I call it a blessing in disguise, a blessing in the sense that it has opened the flood gate of political opportunities, so to say. To an extent, it’s a gain to the APC because for the first time in the history of Cross River state, APC or an opposition party now has a governor in their fold via defection, then for the fact that the PDP has been uprooted, you know the PDP has been rooted in the state. So it has been uprooted now and they’re staggering, they’re grapping for survival; that throws up a number of opportunities for other parties and don’t forget, the Young Progressive Party is supposedly the biggest party in the state but, because of government of the day, the initiative by the government of the day, food on the table by government of the day that has divided the rank and file of the youths. So the ruling party seems to have some level of advantage over others but, like I said, basically, the defection of the governor opens a fresh vista, a fresh opportunity for other political parties to spring up. So the issue of ruling party in the state, the dominance of the PDP has been challenged after about 22 years now.
So in what specific ways do you think other parties in the state will benefit from this move by the governor?
Very fine, as I speak with you, there are people in APC that will not want to be with the governor and most of them are not also comfortable with the PDP, and Young Progressive Party is a most credible alternative in Cross River state. As I speak, I sleep less these days because of the pressure on me, the pressure is about the new people we’re welcoming to the party on daily basis; we’re receiving an aggressive number of young people especially, coming from APC and PDP who are looking for accommodation in our party. Don’t forget, these two parties are known to have owners so to speak, now that the governor has moved to APC, he has become the owner of APC and to a far extent, it’s like an acquisition of the party, it’s unconstitutional but, that’s what is happening. Then they have also realized that PDP has owners too because former governor Liyel Imoke from almost nowhere has woken up now to assume leadership of the party firmly and you know that before you become a candidate of that party you must have his endorsement. So our party is that open party that you don’t need anybody to lead in our party, so that’s the opportunity I’m talking about.
You mentioned ‘food on the table’ government. In what ways do you think food on the table leadership affects economic, political and social development of a nation?
In a system or environment where the means of livelihood is in the hands of a very minute few and in an economy like today’s economy driven by hunger because if you go around the city you will see a lot of people living on despondency, living in mere abject poverty, the normal thing to do is to look for who to offer you food and that’s what the government of the day has taken advantage of. Because hunger has been weaponised, being the biggest weapon now left in the hands of our rulers because we really don’t have leaders. As I speak with you, I have young ones who come to me to say I like your party, I will like to belong and all that, we even give them a reasonable political position but the government of the day keeps coaching on our parties. You see a few people in the party they will come and tell you take appointment and the moment you take appointment we can’t accommodate you again. As I sit here in all humility, I’ve received not less than five offers of appointment from the government. The idea is to exchange food for my voice and I say no. Now there are other people who are hungry, not as if I’m not hungry but, I have decided to leave above the ordinary. I’m contented with what I do for a living; I’m a business person too. But there are so many other young people who have no vision, who are idle, I’m not saying that everybody that have appointment belong to that class, but there are a number of people who will quickly hasten to your call when you offer them food.
Specifically, how do you think this food on the table phenomenon has affected governance and performance in Cross River State?
It has affected performance a lot especially when they’re looking at it as an opportunity to get people to themselves. So what they simply do is to look for people, especially in our state where young people have left their villages, they have left our agrarian local environment where local businesses and agriculture was booming, they’re now in town because of the food on the table appointment. Now it has affected food production. I recall growing up, we saw a good number of young people who have almost nothing to do with the city, let me tell you the truth; it’s not everybody that is supposed to be in the city. You come to the city only when you have something strategic to offer the city life, because life in the city is very expensive. So if you don’t have the wherewithal to live in the city and you also don’t have the value to offer in that environment, you’re supposed to be in the village. Don’t forget that agriculture normally accounted for the 50 per cent of the people. Today, you see about 30 per cent, even the 30 per cent are doing trial and error. So what do you think when you hear about food shortage? It’s because of the massive drift to urban environment by people who have almost nothing to do in the urban. There is nothing that should stop you from even going to your village after graduation since you don’t have a job to start working. As I speak with you even as I’m in town, I have a farm and I go occasionally to my place to do my farm work. But, young men, because of free food, have departed from the culture of hard work and industry and now they rely on government for almost everything. So if at the end of the month you don’t receive alert you start shouting and all of that. That also has affected the area of social development, you see the issue of crime rate and most of these young men that almost have nothing to do but, because of appointment and food on the table, they run here, their colleagues are copying them, they’re moving from the villages and when they come they have nothing to do, what do you expect, they join different gangs of kidnappers, cultists and all manner of nuisance in the society so the idea of food on the table to me, even though it has assisted a few persons but, is a every terrible one.
What is your assessment of the current government in Cross River State? How will you rate the current administration?
Well, I have been often accused of criticizing the governor, His Excellency, Professor Ben Ayade. While that is both true and false, the truth of the matter is that all is not well with Cross River state. It’s true in the sense that often time, I muster the courage to call the governor out, like today I just posted it on my Facebook page; but also false because I don’t talk the governor out of context. I differ largely from people that go to abuse the government, there’s a difference between abusing and criticizing the governor. People say Ayade is a thief, Ayade is a criminal, it’s not true; it is only when he leaves office, when immunity clause leaves him and he’s tried in a competent court of jurisdiction and found wanting before you can classify him as such. Having said that, Cross River state in the past six years has been gasping for relevance. We are blessed with the governor that has good initiative but, I think he lacks the capacity to accomplish his initiatives; that’s the reason we have over 30 on-going projects. You can’t have projects ongoing for six years when you know you have less than 2 years to complete. A reasonable government should concentrate on the limited resources available to initiate projects that you know you can deliver within time limit, we don’t have the whole time to deliver and no governor is a Monarch, you have eight years maximum to stay, some less than that occasioned by different natural and constitutional reasons. So the governor has tried his best but his best is not what the state wants at the moment. We need him to take away most of the elephant projects, in fact, he should just discontinue a number of his elephant projects and pick a few that will have direct bearing, direct benefit on the people.
How do you balance your capacity as both the state chairman of YPP and IPAC where you have to deal and interfere with matters affecting other political parties, wouldn’t you have bias over YPP?
One thing people should know about IPAC is that IPAC is an organization of all political parties registered by INEC. We don’t have any particular focus on anybody, IPAC is not funded by anybody both, state or federal, so as I sit here IPAC has not received resources from anybody even the state government for me to say we can be bias. So all party chairmen are responsible for the daily running of their parties, IPAC is an amalgam of these parties where we relate with government and relate with INEC like now we have voter registration, we enlighten the people on behalf of INEC and government so we don’t have anything to struggle within parties, we hold our meetings from time to time and we initiate issues that would be to the progress of the society not a political party. So there’s no conflict of interest anywhere.
Let’s talk about zoning in Cross River State. What is your take on this?
Normally, I’m constrained each time the question of zoning comes up; I talk very little about zoning. Before now I used to consider zoning because, especially, it brings about peace; it brings about peaceful allocation of offices. But again, when I looked around and also discovered that we’ve zone away leadership, we’ve zoned away quality, right now as I speak, what I want as the next governor of Cross River state, is somebody that understands the peculiar challenges of our state and has a requisite solution to those challenges, now by the time we get such people from all the zones, we can now look at which zone has not handled power and then we consider to give them power at that point. But I will not vote any misfit in the next election in the name of zoning, even my party will not give its ticket to any misfit in the name of zoning so that even though technically speaking power should be zoned to the south, if at the end of the day my party does not find a suitable material from the south, we’re going to give the ticket to any other person in as much as the person is a Cross Riverian who is qualified to run.