The Cross River State chapter of the APC appears to be breathing some fresh air after the governor, Prof Ben Ayade joined the party from the PDP. Things have not remained the same since then and Dr Chris Ojikpong, a former treasurer in the state chapter believes the best is yet to come. He said in this interview that the party has become very organised and that if supported to become the next chairman of the party, a lot more will happen.
He told TNN that he was already consulting critical stakeholders over his ambition.
How has it been with the APC since the governor crossed over to join you people?
The governor’s entry into APC can only be described as earth shaking. Really massive. The governor socketed the state to the center, that is, national government while APC in Cross River State, by the entry of His Excellency, also socketed to the center of state government, in Diamond Hill. APC is now properly placed and in total control of the state politics. Massive and beautiful. As a journalist, you may have been aware of the lingering leadership crises that rocked the APC in Cross River State and made it difficult to organise elections, not to talk of winning. The party was divided from the leadership right down to the village unit. By reason of the entry of His Excellency, Sen. Prof. (Sir) Ben Ayade (KSJI), Governor of Cross River State, the party now has a natural leadership and so naturally solved the lingering crisis in the party. We are all happy. Old things have passed away. The new is here. We have a breath of freshness. Finally we have stability and now properly primed for winning. The sky is our limit in Cross River State today. The progressive family in Nigeria will soon begin to reap the full value of one more family member.
There have been reports that the governor and his men that came from the PDP to the APC are trying to unsettle those of you that have been there. How is this being handled?
Well, I can’t deny such reports and such feelings among the rank of the party. However, I think His Excellency, going by his steps so far, has created much confidence within the party. During the last ward congresses the governor, as leader of the party in the state, gave clear directives for a consensus process conducted in the most transparent manner possible. To my knowledge, this was applied and the process monitored by the state exco of the party led by the very distinguished Sen. Matthew Mbu jnr. Information reaching me is that the unique Cross River model is being studied for adoption by other states. As usual with every human endeavour, they may exist pockets of complaints here and there but it was largely successful, peaceful and satisfactory. Don’t forget, the governor promised some appointments to the older members of the party. Some have been released. I am sure more will come in the coming days.
Having said that, I like to add that a few of the party men and women who joined the APC with the governor are yet to catch his spirit of unifying the party quickly. We can’t deny the fact that some are hiding behind their appointments or government positions to impose themselves or their views in an overwhelming manner, thereby attracting resistance and maybe rebellion from the older members. This is clearly at variance with the posture and even body language of the governor who in his magnanimity, expects everyone to be taken along and treated accordingly and fairly. One thing is sure though, we are fine and will get stronger and better together under the leadership of His Excellency, Governor Ayade.
But there have been bickering by the old APC members concerning the ward congress that just ended. Some have openly accused the governor of moving to displace the old members. Take for instance his decision to move the party secretariat to the old PDP secretariat, shunning the existing party secretariat.
As I said earlier, in every human endeavour, there must be errors or some level of exhibition of human failures in whatever way. But I do not agree that the governor had or has anything to do with it. Yes, some complaints are there, I am not sure it is usual for an event of such magnitude. Don’t forget this is politics. Some complaints are genuine and I can assure you that going by the pronouncements, actions and even the body language of the governor, he is committed to a fair process. Though the governor left his former party to key to the center of Nigerian politics but we also saw the level of injustice and unfair treatment the then state PDP suffered in the hands of their leadership. I know that with that experience, the meaning and effect of injustice or unfair treatment, in any manner, will not be lost on him. Remember, the governor, beside being a former distinguished senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is also a renowned academic and professor. He is deep and analytical, from my reading of him.
Now, on the issue of the party secretariat, don’t forget that the APC in Cross River State was not in government. This had impact on our activities. I speak to you as an insider, as immediate past state treasurer of the party from 2018 – 2020 when the excos were dissolved nationally for a caretaker committee arrangement currently in place across the country. So I can tell you that due to paucity of funds, we could not get comfortable office accommodation that could sit all officers and staff of the secretariat. When I was in office, only about three or four state officers had offices. Mine was not more than an average room for convenience, barely enough space for me to function. My personal assistant had to be hanging outside around the building and I will have to always call him from outside for any assignment. Even the present secretariat cannot accommodate all officers. I know how the struggle for office space created tension there. So, the governor acted on good thinking and reality on the ground. The party is now bigger with a higher status so there was need for a more expansive and befitting accommodation. In fact, I like many others, would have been disappointed if His Excellency did not act on the matter of office accommodation as a matter of extreme importance and priority that needed urgent attention. Therefore, by his decision to immediately secure a befitting office accommodation for the party as quickly as he did, he did not disappoint us. I must thank His Excellency for the prompt action.
What future do you see for the APC in your state? I’m asking with particular reference to the remaining congresses at the LG and state levels?
I mentioned earlier, the sky is now our limit in Cross River State. We are no more a multi-headed snake or should I say, a headless snake. We now have a direction. We have a focused leadership and stable. Our future, God willing, is assured. Our leader, His Excellency the governor is a leader with passion. You see him dancing on each stage he mounts; this shows you his passion for what he does, his inner peace and stability. This robs on all he does and whatever he touches. APC in Cross River and beyond will reap maximally from his passion. So we are fine going forward.
With reference to the remaining congresses, well, I believe we have all seen and heard the disposition of our leader, the governor, towards equity, inclusiveness, fairness and balance. I think we as followers have no choice than to key to the leader’s disposition and vision. When we do, I am sure we will still have a near rancour free exercises as we did in the ward congresses. Even the minor issues that emanated due to the overzealousness of some functionaries and the resentment that followed, can only serve as useful lessons, going forward. I learnt that when an adult is brought down by an obstacle along his path, he looks back to note the obstacle so as to either remove it or avoid it subsequently. We are all adults. I think the message of our leader for justice and fairness in all our process will continue to guide us. I am also sure and I do know that the leader has the full capacity to address any arising issue that may threaten the stability of the party. My advice is that the local government and state congress reflect the true realities on ground.
How ready are you to be involved in shaping the future of your party and giving it the direction it needs?
Since I attained adulthood, I set my mind to be ready for service to humanity generally whenever called upon and at any capacity. That explains why I got involved in politics and leadership right from my secondary education level. Therefore, I have always been ready and I stand ready for any level of involvement that will shape the future of my party, the APC in Cross River State and beyond. I have been involved in the affairs of the party in the state since inception, having joined from one of the legacy parties that formed the APC. I, like many leaders out there, made enormous sacrifices to keep the party alive in our state even from the very meagre resources at our disposal. I served severally as collation agent at various levels for the party. I managed campaigns of some candidates and I served at various levels in the party at a time that sometimes our personal resources were used to run those offices in supplement to what party leaders were providing. So, I have always been there for the party and ready to be involved whenever called upon or opportunity presents itself. I am trusting God that I will be involved in shaping the future of my party at this time so as to join hands with our leader the governor and his brothers and sisters in party leadership, to realize the long term ambition of the party. The direction the party needs is to be stable and win elections. This I am ready for. Very ready. My readiness has been further fuelled by the infectious passion of Sen. Prof. (Sir) Ben Ayade (KSJI). I love his passion. I wish to partner with such positive passion. I am ready.
You recently served as treasurer of the party. So, what is the next level of service you have in mind or that you would have loved to be involved in?
Yes I served as state treasurer of the party in Cross River State until we were dissolved nationally. Currently, with all humility and sense of duty, I have declared my aspiration to serve as state chairman of the party. Consultation is still on-going but, so far so good, by the grace of God. I have tried to get across to as many party leaders as possible and efforts are on to reach many others. My ambition is borne out of my knowledge of the party and experience. Beginning from the legacy parties I served under three different state chairmen; Hon. Cletus Mbia Obun, Dr. Matthew Ojong Achigbe (of blessed memory) and Sir John Ataje Ochala. I observed from close range the styles of these gentlemen, their successes and challenges, etc. As state treasurer in then ACN and later APC, I know how party finances are organized. I can tell you for free, that the soul of a party is finances, not only in terms of generation but in management of the finances. Like in every human setting, finances can most easily disintegrate an otherwise well built organization. Let me tell you, the knowledge of party administration is not what you pick on the streets. A typical party secretariat is like a ‘republic’ of its own. The tendencies within a political party require dexterity to manage. I remember a former state chairman who was very successful as an administrator in the civil service, had a beautiful career with an impressive academic credentials. One day in the secretariat, he had a meeting with guests but did not formally invite other state officers to the meeting. At the end of the meeting, he was livid with anger and you know the reason? According to him, ”how can I be in meeting and my staff were not around while meeting was going on…” The then state secretary, my good friend, Arch. Bishop Victor Ebong had to follow the then state chairman to his office and calmly explained the difference between staff and colleagues in the secretariat of a party. Sounds funny but, it is an eye opener. So being in civil service, business or even in government positions for several years may not prepare one for the job of party administration especially at the top level. It requires experience garnered over years of party administration. I also know for a fact that tact moderate temperament and most importantly, transparent behaviour are necessary for a chairman material. I believe that a state chairman is a bridge between the party and government so the chairman must work harmoniously with government to avoid distracting the governor and the government from the task of governance and the delivery of the democracy dividends to the electorate. This is my nature. This is what our leader the governor needs at this time. I stand to provide a solid, stable and credible bridge between the party and government as well as all the contending tendencies, if any or whenever such arises, within the party. So, my ambition is founded on good intentions for our party and our beloved leader, His Excellency the governor. My ambition is to foster cooperation and development.
Is the governor and critical part leaders among those you have consulted? What is your relationship with them and how willing are they to buy into your dream of becoming the next chairman?
Let me start from other critical party leaders you referred to and as I mentioned earlier, I have reached out to many of the leaders in one way or the other. Even those I am yet to meet is because they have not been able, for very understandable reasons, become disposed. However, they have become aware through other means. I hold critical leaders of the party in high esteem, all of them. I cannot become chairman without their critical inputs, one way or the other. They are the ones that support our state leader, His Excellency the governor in the affairs of the party in the state. Therefore, everything is being done to access them. How willing are they to buy into my dream of becoming state chairman? Only God can answer this question for certainty, with a stamp of finality. I am a mere mortal. I have put myself forward. I have consulted and continue the consultation process, as a human, by human assessment I will say I am humbled by the show of love so far, the commendations. I have been made to understand that I have tried my best to be humble in character and transparent or honourable in my dealings with others. These and more, were told me by most of the stakeholders. I felt like weeping for joy in front of most of the stakeholders. Most wished it were in their power to just point a finger and it is done. Unfortunately the process of making a state chairman is never a tea party. So, yes the critical stakeholders have been kind to me. I believe them because they have no reason to tell a ‘nobody’ like me what they do not intend. They are all responsible leaders. They seek the best for the party.
As for the state governor and leader of the party, His Excellency Sen. Prof. (Sir) Ben Ayade (KSJI), I have tried within a certain channel to reach him. I cannot tell for now how effective that was. I pray that level of contact got to him. Other processes to get to him are on-going. Don’t forget we just got together as members of same party. I am yet to get the privilege of meeting with him as I really desire to do. This is mandatory. I cannot seek to be chairman without reaching out to the party leader. The challenge is that I came from the older stock of the party and so had no encounter with the governor before now. His busy schedules for the good of Cross Riverians and the normal protocols around such high profile personality make it a little difficult to access him with ease, especially an unknown face like mine within the corridors of power.
But I tell you two stories; the first was an argument I had with some friends on the role of sycophancy in politics. While we all agreed that it has become a serious issue and solely responsible for the often insincere leadership we have all over the country today, I singled out Governor Ayade for discouraging and in a way providing a template for other leaders on how to address this malaise in our politics. This he did by the nature of his appointments. I had argued that most of his appointees were never known to him or may never be known to him so they did not or still may not need to be sycophantic to gain his favour. Also, being so numerous, the high competitive politics to be noticed, which often breeds sycophancy, was tremendously reduced. Therefore, the governor is intelligently and wisely creating genuine followers and leaders of tomorrow. Secondly, I went to consult a party stakeholder and a functionary of government who told me another interesting story. The governor was to decide on a matter of chapter chairmanship of a particular local government in his former party. There was a certain candidate that got all the ‘big men’ speak for him and also boasted of his direct links with the governor. But, to the surprise of all, the governor tilted his support to the side of the one who had no strong links with the mighty including the governor himself. He went for the one that could do the job not minding that he was not heavily connected or loaded with cash. I was not in that party but I have reason to believe this story having come to know him more now. Therefore, in the fullness of time, I know that His Excellency will in his usual very considerate disposition do the needful. I have been very impressed with how he has raised many unknown to known now. This is who he is. While doing everything possible to establish the much needed relationship with our leader and governor, I keep trusting God to open the channel.
If you see my campaign theme which is ”connecting to the socket” you will see that there is a spiritual connection already. I meditated deeply before arriving at this theme. His Excellency socketed to the center”, therefore, having provided the socket, I simply connected to that socket to draw from his enormous resources for the good of the party, etc. The governor is a man with a kind heart and deals with people on their content and his disposition and never on their high wired connections otherwise, we won’t have many in government today. Above all things, God rules in the affairs of men.
What will you do differently if you are supported to emerge chairman of the APC in Cross River?
With the experience I have gained over the years serving at various levels of the party from the chapter to the state level, as one time candidate for state house of Assembly and one time member of the Local Government Executive Council, I have all round experience in politics particularly in party administration. I have what it takes, by the grace of God, to run a stable party. I have what it takes to inspire confidence among the teeming party members in the state. I have what it takes to cause a mutually respectful relationship among the upper cadre and lower cadres of the party. I have what it takes to run an inclusive administration. I have what it takes to serve as a stable and unifying bridge between any potential tendencies in the party. I have what it takes to cause understanding of the situation or circumstances of government to the party and bring the views of party to government in every acceptable manner and with decorum. I have what it takes to support the governor and leader of the party in the delivery of the objectives of the party in government. I am a trained economist with a PhD (Economics) from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, therefore, I will be in a position to appreciate the economic direction of government at all times and all constraints, and bring this to the understanding of the party so as to give support to the success of our government and cause greater understanding of challenges faced by government. This will help party members and leaders at lower levels translate same to the populace. I seek to help in my own small way, sustain the passion of his Excellency the governor, in his determination to bring the greatest benefit to the greatest number of Cross Riverians.