Ntufam Gabe Odu Oji, a former commissioner and foremost political leader in Cross River State, speaks to TNN on the zoning controversy, introducing new dimensions to the debate and also accusing southern leaders of being hypocritical, refusing to zone senate seat to benefit the Ejagham people, yet, insisting that the governorship seat must move to their zone.
The zoning issue is assuming fresh dimensions in Cross River. There are people who have reasoned that there was a certain Calabar-Ogoja Accord on power sharing in the state and that one of those who signed it was Ukpo. There is also the angle that if the governorship seat is to be zoned to the south, the Ejagham people should also be considered. What does these mean to you as one of those who started this zoning discourse in recent times?
It is a very simple matter. Truth is always very simple. It is when you want to tell lies that you go about in circles, trying to see how can justify your lies. I can assure you that many of the people who are talking about the power sharing formula, the Calabar-Ogoja accord, are not even part of history. They were not part of the processes. I was part of it. In 1980 when we gathered at the African hall in Calabar with our founding fathers such as Senator Ansa, Senator Joseph Wayas, Chief M.T.Mbu etc. I was a student activist at the University of Calabar and I was present with a banner for the creation of the new Cross River State and then we moved to the African hall and our founding fathers addressed us. That was the revolution that triggered the Calabar-Ogoja accord. It was predicated on the demand for the creation of a new Cross River State, which today has come to pass, with the creation of Akwa Ibom State in 1987. It was a gentleman’s agreement on power sharing and it was predicated on the principle of live and let’s live. There were no specifics, to say governor should move from here to there, or to say the speaker will move from here to there, or the SSG will move from here to there; even the chief judge of the state. But come to think of it, why won’t the chief judge of the state be encapsulated in a power sharing equation? The judiciary is an arm of government, just like the executive and the legislature. So, when we are talking about power sharing, why should it be restricted to the executive? The present chief judge of the state, is she not from the south?
So, why have they not captured that as part of the power sharing equation? When there was a tussle about the appointment of a chief judge, it was so protracted. Was it not because of the realisation that the office is an arm of government, equivalent to the executive and the judiciary? That is also part of the power sharing.
You see how people tell lies? When people brought in the name of Lt. Gen. Ukpo, they said Ukpo signed the Calabar-Ogoja accord. Have you seen a blatant lie? People are spewing lies. Ukpo, as at 1980, was just a major or so, in the Army. The Calabar-Ogoja accord was purely a civilian affair. That is about that.
I have mentioned a new dimension on this zoning matter. As it is today, the judiciary is controlled by the south. So, why are they still thinking of controlling the executive? If the judiciary were not very important as an independent arm of government, why was there so much heat when the new chief judge was to be appointed? The chief judge has powers over the executive because the decision of the judiciary cannot be overruled by the executive unless by a superior court, which cannot also be overruled by the executive.
Back to the issue of power sharing on the governorship seat. There was no mention of that specifically in the Calabar-Ogoja accord. And mind you, at that time, Cross River was just two senatorial districts; now it is three. How many federal constituencies did we have at that time and now how many do we have?
So, are you suggesting that the Calabar-Ogoja accord can no longer be relied upon or that the document that is flying around is fake?
The document is fake. I have given you an instance to show why it is fake. You cannot bring in Gen Ukpo into it as a signatory because he was not part and parcel of anything. The Calabar-Ogoja accord was purely a civilian affair, dating back to 1980. I have said it in various platforms, that the document is the figment of the imagination of those spreading it, it is not genuine. Who among them was a part and parcel of the struggle of the new Cross River State? None.
How do we resolve this impasse?
I have told you that the matter is over. I just feel I should respond to you. I was a part and parcel of those who fought for the creation of the new Cross River. Most of our leaders, past and present, have spoken on this zoning matter. Donald Duke has spoken. Senator Jarigbe has spoken. Usani Usani has spoken. Even Senator Gershom Bassey has said that he is ready to contest with anybody from any part of the state. When he made that statement, my response to him was that ‘at last, you have conceded, based on historical and political antecedents in the Peoples Democratic Party in particular, and Cross River State politics in general, that at this evolutionary juncture of our politics, anybody from any senatorial district can run the 2023 governorship election. With Donald Duke having earlier spoken in this vein and you corroborating, this put paid, with finality to the zoning and rotation controversy as far as the 2023 governorship election in Cross River State is concerned! We commend your political objectivity and true spirit of sportsmanship in this regard. We furthermore commend your preparedness to run the gubernatorial election (primaries and main Election) as meets Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) expectations and the expectations of the general public! Warmest welcome as we meet in the political battle field!’
But Donald Duke has reversed himself on the zoning issue. Once, he had said in a television interview that he was against zoning. But at a function in Calabar some months ago, he was quoted as saying that zoning should be applied in choosing political leaders…..
You would have asked him to expatiate. He, was he a product of zoning? When he handed over to Imoke, did he believe in zoning? Did he not support Walter Eneji, his deputy? He sacked me from his cabinet for insisting that the central should produce the governor, that Liyel Imoke should be governor. He sacked me from the exco. Was there any zoning? He stood for the north and I stood for the central and he sacked me because of that. When Imoke came to run, was there any zoning? How can he come to make that statement, if he really made it? There is no basis. If Gershom who is an aspirant has said he is ready to run his election without zoning, who is there again to talk?
So, are you suggesting that the issue should be left open, just as the PDP has done at the federal level?
That is already taken for granted. This matter is over. We have come to the conclusion that anybody can run for the governorship, that the three senatorial districts have already taken their turn and now, it is open to any of the three senatorial districts and after that it can move. Here, what we have been practicing is zoning by elimination. So, if the south is coming now to say they want to produce the governor and every other person should leave it for them, it is otiose. I am sure you are also aware of the other dimension that Sandy Onor brought a few weeks ago, during a symposium to commemorate the death of Patrick Agbor, the paramount ruler of the Quas. He said that assuming, but not conceding, that the governorship is a southern matter, that he is eminently qualified to run, that his mother is biologically from Akamkpa local government and given that in Cross River State, inheritance is matrilineal, making the mother a supreme factor, he is qualified to run. This matter is already over. The position right now, eminent persons from the state have spoken on this matter. Anybody coming to talk about zoning now is coming to re-open a matter that has been over. No zone, before now, ran elections alone. The south can’t come to run election alone. I have said this before, the south, more than any other senatorial district, has always run every governorship election. Even after Donald’s eight years, the south still came out to run the election against Imoke. The south is always coming out. The south has always shown that there is nothing like zoning. Even in the last election, somebody from the south, Eyo Eko of the SDP, came out to run against Ayade from the north. Owan Enoh also came out to run against Ayade, from the central. So, what are we talking about?
For the south to come out now and say they must produce the next governor, do you see them as greedy or selfish people?
I will not say they are greedy or selfish. I will only say they are brow-beating the polity. In their heart of hearts, they know that this thing has been open to all senatorial districts and that zoning has been done by elimination. They know that this is what has been happening. They are just brow-beating the polity. Let us respect ourselves and behave accordingly. We must not limit powering sharing to the governorship seat. They want to domicile the head of judiciary and head of executive on the south. Why? In the geo-politics of the south, the Ejaghams of the south are located in Calabar Municipality, Akpabuyo, Odukpani, Bakassi and Akamkpa and even the name Bakassi, is Ejagham, meaning the place that roads did not get to. And those people have never tasted the senate seat. The senate seat, since 1999 has been occupied by the Efiks. Why can’t they zone the senate seat. Is it only the Efiks that own Cross River South?
But Ita Giwa is from Bakassi.
Yes, she is Bakassi but she is Efik. What I am saying is that there are two major ethnic groups in the south-the Efiks and the Ejaghams. The Efiks have been the ones taking all the juicy positions. Donald Duke is Efik, he was governor. Now, Gershom Bassey wants to come. Go to the senate, From Ita-Giwa, it moved to Bassey Ewa Henshaw, then moved to Senator Prince Otu, now it is with Gershom; all of them Efik. No Ejagham man has tasted it. Meanwhile, the Ejaghams are a very strong group in the south. They are not doing zoning there, they have not removed the speck from their eyes, they want to remove the mote in their brother’s eyes. Let them start the zoning from the south, let us see. Let them zone the senate seat to the Ejagham people, let them zone the governorship seat to the Ejagham people, let them zone the senate to the Biase people, let us see that truly, they believe in power sharing.
They are just brow-beating the polity. They know the truth but they are brow-beating the polity. The southern people are brow-beating the polity and they should stop it.