Chief Utum Eteng, is a private legal practitioner and a stalwart of the All Progressives Congress, APC. He is a member of Hydroelectric Power Producing Areas Development Commission, HYPADEC and a former Secretary of the famous Atam Peoples Congress in Cross River State. In this interview with CHIEMEKA ADINDU, he expressed the belief that the governor of Cross River State, Professor Ben Ayade just found his bearing and his root by dumping the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP for the APC. He advised his party members to be loyal to the governor to enable him restructure the party. He also spoke on the issue of zoning in the state which he said, there is no written agreement of any kind in support of zoning the gubernatorial seat.
What do you make of the current political developments in the state?
Recent political events in Cross River state show a development in our democracy, development in our constitution. There is the right to freedom of association, it also includes the right to move from one political party formerly of one’s choice to another political party of one’s choice. So people are free to move from where they do not like to another place that they like. This is so because the governor of Cross River state, His Excellency Professor Ben Ayade who was formerly in the PDP has moved to the APC along with so many who believe in him, not only appointees, but those who believe in him across the state; they are many in their numbers and it is done in exercise of their rights.
Let us face facts, right from when Professor Ben Ayade was in the senate, if you go back to his antecedents you will notice that he was in PDP in error. Following his political achievements you will notice that he was a progressive right from the time he joined politics to become a member of the senate, he’s been a progressive and that’s the meaning of Ayade being in PDP, a conservative party, in error. Now he has traced his roots, woe unto the man that is alive and is unable to trace his roots and blessed is he who is alive and is able to trace his roots like Professor Ben Ayade.
I can’t remember any party like the APC when governor Ayade first became a senator, so what do you mean when you say he has been a progressive member from the onset?
No, when he was a senator, APC was not evoked but he was a member at heart, by his conducts; that is why I say so. From his conducts, his actions depict the mind of one who is a progressive. So from the beginning he has demonstrated that. I see him as a progressive, a progressive minded politician who in error or inadvertently found himself in the midst of conservatives. That is why when he became a governor he could not survive the onslaught of the conservatives and God had to make him find his level because when an act is not of God, it fails. So he being in PDP is an act that was not of God. That is why it failed and he had to trace his bearing to where God has designed him to be.
So are you saying that he failed all the years he was with the PDP?
I could not have said so, never on earth would I have said so because of all the governors we have had in Cross River state right from Donald Duke, Liyel Imoke, he has succeeded in terms of performance, project location and implementation, he has performed more than all of them put together.
But all these projects were done while he was a member of the PDP because I can’t remember any new project so far since he moved to the APC.
Yes, a progressive remains a progressive wherever he is, you’re your father’s son even if you leave your state to another state because the traits of your father will always manifest in wherever you go to, to show that you are your father’s son. So even if those things were done when he was in PDP, if you look at the traits, they’re the traits of a progressive; that is why those out gone PDP governors in my own estimation could not measure up with him, who came with the mind of a progressive.
So in what specific areas now are we looking at, both in terms of performance and measuring up with past governors?
Thank you very much, industrialization of Cross River state. Tell me the local government that has no industry, if they are commissioned and become functional in a week. Look, for instance, from 8 miles getting to Odukpani junction, look at what is on ground; if at the time it is completed, would that not double what Donald Duke did and the little by Imoke, it doubles that. Look at that critically, don’t be partisan, I try not to be partisan. Look at the nature of job going on from 8 miles that is a federal road, look at it, there is a fly over in contemplation which is almost nearing completion. Has it ever happened in the history of Cross River state, it’s a first of its kind. Take the garment industry, take the rice mill, and take the tooth-pick industry in Ekori in Yakuur and many other projects.
You have just mentioned the tooth-pick industry situated in Ekori, Yakurr which is your local government area, there is a recent report and photographs of that place being in a sorry state even after it has been commissioned. Are you aware of that?
Well, even if that is the case, when a man has tried to build a house and he puts in tenants or his children to live in the house they will have to maintain it because he’s a busy father, he has many houses. What is the problem? Common raw materials that are everywhere cannot be sourced for by those who have collected money to do those things. There’s a limit to which you can stress government and again, I tell you, my experience in the north has exposed me to the reality of the success of part of some areas in the north. The people where industries are sited, outside government show their own interest in what has been sited in their place but, the lackadaisical attitude of some of our people could make industry sited in my own community to go moribund without the people protesting. Ayade is only one man, one person, one head and there’s a limit to which he can spread his eyes.
Since we’re talking of government established industries here, don’t you think that if the government meant business, adequate measures of supervision to see that these industries are working would have been put in place to ensure that the aim of establishing such industries is not defeated?
The industries are working, it may not be to the optimum capacity and that is natural and normal in every business venture. It will take off like a vehicle in motion, it takes off, gradually it gathers momentum and off it goes, so that’s what the position is. The government is involved in getting these things, it started and the supervision; go to the industrial park, if that place is developed finally, would that not look like another country in Nigeria? So I think in terms of project location, implementation, he has tried, Ayade as a person has tried, the government of Ayade has tried despite the criticism of detractors, particularly the criticisms coming from the PDP angle out of anger which is not objective, out of anger that he left.
Now that he’s in APC, what will you make of the political dynamics and terrain of the state?
The dynamics has changed, let nobody deny that. Professor Ben Ayade as a politician is an institution, he is an institution. Look for instance, a man who has brought food on the table for more than a thousand people in Cross River state, it has never been so. The dynamics are such that he who pays the piper dictates the tune. Those he has paid or is paying will follow him wherever he goes, it will bring about the change in the political climate, in the political reasoning of the people who have benefitted from government assistance and patronage. It definitely will not be business as usual when it comes to election because truly speaking, PDP as a party has not won an election. It has always been government winning election and giving it to PDP. If PDP is to contest any election in cross River state, it will be the 2023 election where PDP is to contest as a political party outside government. Yes, the dynamics will change. Go out and check, almost all the political caterpillars in Cross River state are now in the APC. Before they were there and now they are more and better coordinated because the APC in spite of its factionalization now has a leader and the leader will not look at anybody’s face but will look at the future to see that the state APC is galvanized in such a manner that they can face any other political party when the election comes. By what has happened, you know that as a fact, whether anybody likes it or not, Ayade has navigated Cross River state to the central focus of Nigerian politics; yes he has done it.
Just immediately after he decamped to the APC, the governor converted the PDP Secretariat in the state to APC, do you think that was fair enough, socially, legally and otherwise? And now APC seems to have more than one secretariat. (cuts in)
I would say, from a general perspective, he who pays the piper dictates the tune. Who has paid the rent of the secretariat all along? Ayade has paid.
Did he not make the payment while he was in the PDP and with government funds? (cuts in)
I’m coming, I’m coming. Who has been paying the rents? Ayade has been paying the rents. Whether he paid the rents while in government or not, government did not pay the rent, Ayade paid the rents.
With his personal funds?
Sure! It would be out of place for there to appear a voucher where government funds which is meant for APC, PDP, YPP, or all the political parties, bearing the name of a political party to take the funds like that. Ayade is too intelligent, he will not do that. PDP for 16 years, if they were a serious minded political party led by serious minded persons, PDP with all the noise would have established, would have built a property of their own. So they’re not serious. So if Ayade feels in his wisdom that what he paid for, he should retain it, there are no issues. And if the people are not satisfied, they challenge the action, but thank God I’m told they now have a secretariat along Mary Slessor road or street; thereby suggesting that we should allow sleeping dog to lie, and that should not distract either of the party.
So what happens to the previous APC Secretariat at Marian road?
Well, I am not the spokesman of the APC; the spokesman of the APC is in position to answer that. But again, PDP said what they opened in Mary Slessor is an annex, you heard it. If it’s an annex, it’s supposedly they have a secretariat somewhere, they have two secretariats, that’s only an annex. And should that stop a ruling party from having more than two secretariats if they have the convenience to maintain that? There’s nothing wrong with that.
Let’s talk about the gubernatorial seat in the state. So far it has gone round to all the three senatorial zones and there are permutations on where it should go in 2023 and that brings the issue of zoning in Cross River. What is your take on this? And do know of any established protocol to zoning in the state?
There is no established law concerning zoning in the state. By that I mean, there’s no legislation that says “A” this time and “B” this time. It’s a kind of a social, moral contract that has been consummated and a contract you know is subject to modifications if the parties so agree, they modify it. The fact that it started in the south with Donald Duke is not conclusive of the fact that it has to start there because it has gone round to the three senatorial districts. Principally, it means, any of the three can start or can take it and when it takes it, it starts from there. The fact that it started here does not mean that it will always start here. But if politicians in their wisdom see to it that it has to start from where it started first, and provided there’s an agreement, it will go but, the three senatorial districts are in the same position as far as gubernatorial seat is concerned.
In essence, you’re saying there’s not been any formal agreement at any time in the history of Cross River State supporting zoning.
There wasn’t any formal agreement that I know, I speak from the authority of my old position as the secretary of the famous former Atam congress because the gladiators of the time, Donald Duke, Liyel Imoke were not easily given to the governorship slot. I was involved and we said no, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. If the south via Donald Duke took it for eight years, the Central, Liyel Imoke took it for eight years, it is only proper and just that the north should take it; that is why up to the second term ambition of Professor Ben Ayade, I stood my ground firmly, openly to the knowledge of APC, to the knowledge of everybody that the north must complete its term, it must go the eight years because all the senatorial districts are of equal standing. You will recall, people like Liyel had their own projections but we were boxed into a tight corner when I was in the Atam congress, very tight corner that there was an official pronouncement of where the governorship should go after Liyel Imoke. I was physically present, I was in the podium, I have the cassette here to show you what happened at that meeting, at that public rally called the grand finale rally for Liyel Imoke to be adopted as the candidate of the PDP, there was a public pronouncement by His Excellency Ambassador Sunny Abang, then as the chairman of the PDP. That public pronouncement was made that whoever will succeed Liyel Imoke will come from the north, that was the only time I can tell you there was that kind of political agreement and for convenience sake, it was reached to show that A, B haven taken, C being part of the circle should take. That was exactly why when the luck fell on Ayade some of us insisted, I personally insisted as against the thoughts of some gladiators in the APC, that His Excellency Professor Ben Ayade should go for a second tenure. If we allow a fresh hand to go for second tenure, there will be that political disharmony in the state because should that person insist after going for the first term, you know that we’re never satisfied now, it has altered the equation. But today, I have personally been vindicated because he has crossed over to the APC, all the 18 local government chairmen are all in the APC. So if the governor is APC, 18 local government chairmen in APC, majority of the members of the house of assembly, APC, it was not by magic, they were not forced, it’s because they have evaluated the performance of Ayade and they have found it that his performance is enough to be associated with. It will be more in the next few months to come and by this alone, I make a very humble appeal to the APC that we should, having been in that faction for long, having got nothing from those factions, we should all subsume our rights to governor Ben Ayade to rearrange the APC in the way it is suitable because he is not an emperor like some of the emperors in the PDP, it’s going to be an inclusive one.
So what will be your least expectations from him in next two years as the leader of the APC in the state?
Simple, because he started well, he did well, he initiated many projects which are gradually leading him to political stardom, my personal expectation is to say to him, Your Excellency, you have done well before, in order to maintain the tempo, don’t go into any new project. The projects you’ve established in the state are enough to take you to the political height God has designed for you if they are finished, by the time they are finished and completed you will see the difference. So let him not go into new projects, let him concentrate on the ones he has started and finish those ones, then posterity will judge him rightly if that is done.