Christopher Ekpo is a pioneer member of the Cross River State House of Assembly Ekpo is also one of the first five conveners of the PDP in Calabar Municipality.
In this interview with CHIEMEKA ADINDU, Ekpo expressed disappointment in what he called the sad developments in the state chapter of the PDP in the recent past.
A whole lot has taken place in your party in the state this period and it has led to the postponement of the party’s congress twice. What is your take on the whole drama?
It is unfortunate that we who are the founding fathers of the PDP have found ourselves in this present situation as regards to intra party organization. We have never had it this bad; we’ve never got it this wrong right from the party’s formation in 1998 till date. Until recently there has never been a time we agree and a time table is set for either ward congress or chapter congress or even state congress is fixed and It’s changed, and changed, and changes. It has never happened. Why, because in the time past the people use to sit down and agree on the modalities and more often, consensus. And how do we arrive at this consensus? The people must be involved. In fact, more often, the governor will never even be a party to those agreements, especially from the ward and chapter levels. The governor has never been a party to it. He will allow the various wards to go, organize themselves and come out with a workable team. Now is consensus at the ward level.
We now move to the chapter, at the chapter level, we involve the various stakeholders in the chapter, that is at the local government who will equally sit down among themselves, agree on who takes what and who does not take what. More often, zoning is always used. And again emphasis will always be laid on making sure that every position goes round. All the various wards must be represented at the chapter level. Even at the ward level, all the regions of the ward must be involved. For example, ward 10 in Calabar Municipal is very vast. We have a situation here where there is a Hausa community. There was a time a Hausa man was a chairman in this ward. As I’m talking to you, a Hausa man is the ward deputy chairman. In this ward, we have had several times when a Hausa man is nominated as a caucus member in the caucus of Calabar Municipality. What I’m saying is that all the arrangements will always come into play from the ward level. I’m talking to you as a leader of the party in ward 10. We will sit down and agree what each of the zones will take. More often we rotate it, we make sure that all the various zones are taken care of and it makes the job during election very easy because it will lessen acrimony and fighting. But the moment a particular zone feels short-changed or not being carried along in the scheme of things; definitely you will have problems.
From your explanation, this is the first time in the history of the PDP in the state for factions to emerge. What could be the problem? And where did the governor get it wrong?
This is the very first time. It is the governor who has caused it because the governor wants to have dominant control of the party from the ward to the state level. But it’s never used to be like this. Donald Duke never had his hands on who emerges as the ward chairman but the present governor wants to know who is even the ward chairman somewhere; Donald Duke never wanted to know who the chapter chairman is, but the present governor wants to know who the chapter chairman is. It is when you get to the state level that the governor will sit with every stakeholder across the three senatorial districts and see what each of the zones will take. And more often, it is expected that the governor being the leader, makes sacrifices but the truth is that the present governor insists on having virtually all the key positions in the party right from the ward to the state level. That is the problem.
Could there be any hidden agenda?
There is. The governor from hindsight, we are hearing, is going to alter the arrangement because all these things are geared towards 2023 and from the hindsight, we are aware and we have heard that the governor wants to shift… ordinarily, the governorship started from the southern senatorial district. From there it came to the central, from central, it moved to the north. After that it ought to return to the south, but the information we are hearing is that the governor is saying that the three senatorial districts have had it and then it can start anywhere. If it is so, then why doesn’t it start from the north? So it is because the governor has this intention that he wants to control the basic organs of the party in order to facilitate the return of governance of this state back to central. He is insisting on controlling the basic structures of the party from ward. We are aware that he is saying that he wants up to 70% of the ward exco, 70% of the chapter exco in the state which has never ever happened. No governor has ever made such a demand. No governor has ever done that. Every governor we have had from Donald Duke to Imoke is always at the state level. When it comes to the state congress, all of them will sit down and zone. And it is not zoned to somebody; it’s always zoned to an area. But the governor in this dispensation is zoning to somebody, already carrying somebody around that that is his chairman even before the zoning. He has not even sat down with the people to do the zoning. We don’t zone to somebody, we zone to an area and the people in that area will now look and pick out somebody.
The party has from now till September 5 to come up with the final decision. Do you think that the governor and the national assembly will arrive at a consensus before then?
The state we are in and because of the demand of the governor; except the governor abandons his initial demand which is having 70percent of the ward exco which has already been concluded long time ago since September. Chapter congress has long been concluded. The National Working Committee, NWC of the party had endorsed what was done in Cross River state and sent it to INEC. But where we are now, the governor is saying that the exercise has to be revisited and in wanting it to be revisited, he wants to be given 70 percent of the entire ward exco in the state and 70 percent of the entire chapter exco of the state and the people, the national assembly members are saying no; this matter has already been concluded.
So are there signs that they will arrive at a consensus?
I am not foreseeing it because; except the governor abandons that request and interest and talks about the state congress, the state exco which is the issue at stake. If he does not abandon the request, the party at the national level has discretion of what to do.
The governor has had it going well with him. He has been a senator under the PDP, he has been two-term governor under the PDP, so he is even the one expected to make sacrifices because the party has been fair to him. That is it! To my reckoning, it is madness to demand for an exercise that has been concluded about 6 months ago to be revisited; it does not show responsibility, it does not show leadership. And again, I noticed that there is no consultation from the side of the governor. The governor only consults with himself and when he does that, he does not even listen to alternative opinions. Otherwise, let me give you an example. I am in court challenging the selection of candidates for the local government elections, because there were no primaries, especially the chairmanship candidate. I am in court because due process was not followed and the party has not obeyed its rules. I am in court challenging the process. We used to have primaries before now, but this is the first time we’ve not had it. Somebody just sat in his house and wrote names and announced it.
As I am talking to you, when the announcement was made for the expression of interest, I expressed interest by paying six hundred thousand and I’ve been preparing and consulting all along; but as I’m talking to you, that primaries did not hold. It was just somebody somewhere writing names of people and this ward is one of the wards that have never produced a chairman for Calabar Municipal council and the area he has gone to bring the chairman is the area that has produced chairman before. The immediate past chairman is from there and the current chairman is from there. The entire system of the party is nothing to write home about that is why I called the founding fathers of the party to wake up that it has never been done like this before. Otherwise this party is beginning to run aground and most of them have seen the need to rise up, because if they don’t rise up, this party will go aground.
How do you see the decision of the panel to postpone the congress for two consecutive times?
The entire process would have been bad because he is the chief security officer of the state and I’ve just heard some police reports that people were planning violence and to cause confusion, kill people that day. So it was a timely intervention to salvage a situation. The postponement of that congress was proactive to guard against unforeseen circumstances. So that was a good thing for that to happen. But the main issue is; is the National Executive Committee, NEC going back to an issue that has been long concluded? You can’t do that. What will be your reason for going back to an exercise that has been concluded about 6 months ago? No; you can’t do that. The person at the helm of affairs of leadership is expected to make sacrifices. The governor is the leader of the party and at that level, is expected to make sacrifices. And I will say it and say it again, there’s no governor in this state that has ever demanded to have control of ward and chapter exco and the governor is insisting he must have 70 percent control of the ward and chapter structures. Why should it be so for one person? What of the rest of the people? The problem we are having is that people are not always willing to say it out the way it is. I wasn’t brought up like that. I was trained to say it and say it the way it is.