In this interview, Chairman of the APC in Cross River State, Alphonsus Eba speaks on the just concluded primaries of his party and other matters concerning the forthcoming general elections in the state, and also reacted to last week’s statements by the PDP gubernatorial candidate on certain decisions of the state government. The interview was conducted over the telephone and processed by EDITH CHUKU.
Let me start by talking about the just concluded APC primaries that produced Prince Otu as candidate.
There is a court case; John Owan-Enoh has gone to court. How does this bother the party?
The issue of John going to court is his right. However, I think there is a code of conduct for every member of the party and I’m sure when he procured his nomination form, that was clearly stated. The party is concerned about its unity because that is what I came on board to preach, that there must be peace, there must be love, there must be unity and that is what will grow the party.
My evangelism was centered on that core PLUG- Peace, Love, Unity and Growth. Yes it bothers the party that the approach Senator John Owan-Enoh has taken might create disunity in the party, might undermine the peace and the love that we are all in agreement with. So I am concerned, not because it has any capacity to change anything. The case is as good as dead on arrival, but I am interested in him not going astray. Now that I have been reliably informed, that he has served the party in Abuja, I will get the process, look at it. I will do my best to visit him and advise him accordingly, I am sure from there we will know what to do.
Apart from Owan-Enoh, other contenders, for example Obono-Obla in Central is also seriously aggrieved and he has said here and there that he is going to leave the party. What it means is that there are cracks within the party, what it means is that the APC wasn’t able to organize a popular and widely accepted primary which is why perhaps, the members are aggrieved and giving signals that they want to leave.
You see, at this point I don’t want to use any word that will appear as if I don’t want to respect the feelings of a defeated aspirant. Any child that is beaten must definitely cry and so it is with every contest. Defeat in electoral contest is like beating a child and so you must expect that child to cry. What a good father does is to call the child back and cuddle that child. That is what I am doing at this point as the father of the party, I have read some negative comments by Barr. Okoi Obono-Obla and all I tried to do was to put a call across to him to say I want to meet with you and we have agreed. Like when I spoke with him yesterday, he told me that he was in Ugep and that he will be in town on Wednesday. I am supposed to be in Calabar on Wednesday. I have now suspended my flight to make sure I use this period to meet with all of them. I tell you the truth, I have been following actively. Since 1991, there is no primaries of any political party, from when I became actively involved, that was as transparent, with integrity filled process as what I conducted in this election. It is not for me to praise myself, but I stand to challenge anybody, anywhere. This is the first time that I know of, that few weeks to election, I came up with a timetable and I can forward these things back to you, the party returned the powers to the people, and said go to your polling units in compliance with the relevant article of the party’s constitution, meet on the 29th of April and put your polling unit structure, put your women wing structure, your youth wing structure, your people living with disability structure. The next day, go to your ward, elect your caucus members, nominate your members that will act as delegates, be sure that the caucus ratifies that, hold another meeting again at the local government level the next day. This was supposed to take place on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, hold these meetings and let the local government caucus ratify the nomination from each ward, uninfluenced.
You see, it was not meant to end there, we gave a caveat that only registered members of the party, who are up to date financially must be nominated. However, if you are a registered member and you are not financially up to date, do not forget that article 9(1,2,3) of our constitution, the combined effect is that you need to pay one thousand naira dues every month but if by 31st day of March you have not paid your dues, it means you are in arrears. Normally, they will tell you pay three years dues, do three years tax. I said the times are hard, pay only one year dues, which you are in arrears, that is N12,000. But when it came to the penalty, because we did not want to disenfranchise anybody, article 9(3) of our party’s constitution gives us the power to charge 50 per cent of the dues you were supposed to pay as penalty and I said the penalty will be for three years, that is N30,000. That is what people were expected to pay to become delegates. Then, the national said if you want to be a state delegate, or local government delegate, you will pay N2500. If you are a woman or physically challenged, but if you are not you will pay N5,000, then for national delegates N10,000, but if you are a woman for national delegate, N5,000, if you are physically challenged for national delegate, N5,000.
If you comply with these and you fill the form and those accounts were displayed, we made sure that those press releases were made on time to enable our people comply. Some of them read and thought it meant nothing. I came from due process and I was following due process. In fact, there are most people that were running this election that told me that when they read, they did not know the party was serious. How can you be running election and you will not be concerned about the electoral college that was going to produce people? In fact, some people told me that it was going to be direct primary.
Some people told me that after all the party was going to do consensus, so they were not bothered. Don’t forget, I held a meeting for one week, doing consensus building, 526 persons came to run for house of assembly, I advised them, 17 persons came to run for governorship, I called a meeting that was attended by almost all the aspirants and I told them, the party is charging N50 million for governorship form; we don’t have money in Cross River State, we are going to charge you 10 per cent admin charges, that will be N55 million. Multiply this by 17, it will be close to one billion naira. This money will go to Abuja, it will amount to capital flight from the state, if you know that Mr. A is better off and more acceptable than you, can we collapse structures? We did this consensus building to the point where finally we arrived at consensus for governorship, we also did this for house of assembly. When the total number of 526 dropped to only 93 or 96, we did this for the senatorial district where the entire south said please we have submitted ourselves for consensus, the north said we have surrendered for consensus. It was only the central senatorial district that they said no, we want to meet in the field and we left the right of every constituency and senatorial district to be decided by their whims and caprices, by their desires, we did not impose our views on anybody. The delegates were known b y themselves, they came from the field. So, if you could not influence delegates, if you had no money, because money played a vital role in this whole thing. Some of the aspirants, when they saw the names of delegates that have emerged, they went and were paying their registration for them, they went and were paying their dues for them, uninfluenced by the party and I will challenge any member of the party that says that this thing was manipulated against them to come and stand and talk. You see, people will always talk but like I said I must be sympathetic at this point with every member of our party who feels aggrieved and be at the point of appealing to them that we have come to build a united party, we must not behave like our opponent, who beforehand had a premeditated choice on their governorship candidate. In our own case we did not exclude anybody, we came out open.
Today the same Okoi Obono-Obla is accusing us that those that came in 2021 have taken over the party, but Prince Otu has been there since ten years or so now and he is the one that is the governorship candidate of the party. How do you accuse us of that? Alex Egbona is an old member of the APC, he is there, Jude Ngaji is an old member of the APC, he got the ticket, Mature is an old member of the APC, he got the ticket. Most house of assembly members, almost about 30 to 40 per cent are old members of APC. If you go to Calabar South one and two, old member, if you go to Biase, old member, a whole lot of areas. Only the fact that you lost senate seat, you did not even come second, you did not even come third, people that were on ground, Akin Rickett was on ground and I commend that man. He came to me, he told me, ‘if there is any preferred choice, tell me to walk away’ and I told him the governor has not anointed anybody. At best, I told him you all were accusing the governor of supporting his brother in-law, the governor had to advise his brother in-law and said your choice in this race is giving me problem, please, if you don’t mind, can you pull out of the race and the man respected the governor and pulled out. Small time, they said the governor was supporting Mary Ekpere and that the governor gave Mary Ekpere support. The governor did not deny, saying that yes, Mary asked for support and most of them also asked for support, financial support. Governor gave across board to most of them and they must understand that some of them ran election during the national convention and said they needed support to cover for what they did, like Mary and the governor supported her. Okoi Obono-Obla was bereaved, he asked for support, governor gave him support but you don’t take this to mean that it is support for you to go and win election because the field was very, very open, very open for everybody.
Last Saturday the PDP candidate, Professor Sandy Onor addressed the press and he raised a few issue which I will like you to talk about.
Number one, he talked about the loan that the state governor wants to take, regardless of the fact that there is already a 329 billion loan standing on the head of the state. He has also said that the house of assembly as it stands now whatever they do that carries the imprimatur of the assembly is null and void because the assembly itself does not exist. He also talked about the fact that the house of assembly cannot and does not have the powers to approve the appointment of members of CROSIEC because, of course they do not exist in the eyes of the law and so the local government elections that are scheduled to hold next year, just a few days to the hand over date of the current governor cannot stand. I like you to take all these together.
You see, Senator Sandy Onor, sometimes I try not to join issues with him because of my great knowledge of his ignorance of most issues about governance in the state. First and foremost, Cross River State cannot borrow and I want you to understand that the steps to borrow is guided and regulated by the Debt Management Office. He should feel ashamed that his party the PDP handed over an accumulated debt of over N400 billion to the present governor, that he has been battling since he came on board in 2015 to pay and every month, there is deduction from source between the tune of N1.8billion to N2.2billion. All the governor has tried to do creatively is to see how this debt can be reduced drastically and as it stands today that debt has been reduced by about one hundred and something billion from that amount and Governor Ayade has not borrowed one naira and I challenge him to come and prove me wrong. The best the governor has done is to approach financial institutions to do what we call bridge financing, within the purview of the little allocation or IGR of the state. You take an overdraft of two, three billion to make up to pay salaries, you take up little, little things to cover up and pay within the lifespan of your administration, that is all that has been done because the state cannot borrow; the ceiling of borrowing is at 40 per cent but because under Goodluck Jonathan, it was a PDP arrangement, they allowed Cross River State to over subscribe to the tune of about 46 per cent when the government of Liyel Imoke issued a bond of about 40 billion. That bond was not properly subscribed. That was what kept the state at about that 46 per cent and it has been on. All the state was trying to do that I know of before now was to see that the carryover that was not subscribed to is completed, it was not borrowing and he should feel guilty that like any of the liabilities they left for Governor Ayade, that is one of the liabilities.
Two, saying that the house of assembly does not have the powers to do whatever it says, that is a matter today that is in court and I am a lawyer, it is subjudice, I don’t talk about it, but because he is an illiterate when it comes to knowledge of law. He can make comments that are subjudice and I will not join in that direction.
Local government election again shows his complete wanton ignorance of the law. If you read the provision of the electoral act that has been amended which I am sure he has not been able to see a copy of, because if he has seen a copy of it, he will not talk the way he is talking, the state had commenced a process to be within the law which now makes provision for 360 days notice to be given and this process must be on and the notice has been issued, the issue of whether there is confirmation here and there is a question of law, not of truth but of fact and I am sure when we get to the bridge we will cross it. But let me also tell him and his failed party and cohorts that they do not have the power to decide how local government election can be held. It’s a matter of stakeholders within the entire political parties and as at the last count, when this meeting was called, I am aware that all the political parties, the registered political parties in Cross River State minus his own party, were in agreement for the holding of local government election.
Over time, PDP has tried to manipulate the electoral process in their favour. In the last election that is about to expire by June, don’t forget these present holders, their tenure will expire on June 2nd next year.
You must hold election before that time, in compliance with the provision of the electoral law, the CROSIEC law of Cross River State and then not to create a vacuum. So, for him to say that the government wants to conduct election shortly before the expiration of his administration, it is not strange, it has happened before. What is the illegality about it that is what should concern him. So whatever you do in compliance with the law should not be made a subject of discussion or radicle by a man who has no knowledge of the law or the processes that are involved. I am sure he had nothing to say; he wanted to just bamboozle the press. But the sweet thing is that we are going into election, it will be issue based, we will address issues, compartmentalize them one by one and Cross Riverians will know who they should follow. But I bring the issue very straight before you, the issue that is going to preoccupy the campaign of Cross River State is the burden that was brought by a particular cabal. We will also be looking at the issue of a pattern of governance, a zoning arrangement that has kept us in peace, in unity and amity, which their slave master has brought them in to destroy, which Cross Riverians are saying no. So he is already suffering from the hangover of that delusion, of that phantasmagoria and we are saying that Cross River State cannot have the next governor decided by an outsider, it will be decided by Cross Riverians. So let him just keep his gun powder or his gun dry, when we get down we will face the issue. I will be on this other side, he will be on the other side, his chairman will be on the other side, my governorship candidate will be on this side, we will speak truth to every issue one by one, let him not hurry and burn his gas, and energy.
When was the last time you lost sleep over the candidature of Sen. Sandy Onor?
Sandy has never been an issue to me. Let me tell you the truth, I prayed and fasted and said Sandy should emerge because that is one man that I am going to defeat wotowoto. Do you know what they call wotowoto? Before 12 o’clock on election day, you will be feeling result how Sandy will have been flogged and defeated, Sandy is a non-issue to me, God only answered my prayer by Sandy emerging. Let me tell you those I was afraid of, there is one young man and God is my witness, they call him Rt. Hon. Daniel Asuquo –Dansuki. I prayed and fasted and said that man should not emerge, if that man had emerged I was going to double my work by 40 per cent. If Gershom Bassey had emerged, I was going to do that by 20 per cent. With Sandy, I can go to sleep, but I am not a man that is known to sleep. So I will be awake working, but my energy will be saved a lot because he is the most unmatchable candidate that has emerged from the PDP and I will show you how, when I come on board, throughout my campaign.
But the two people you have called, Daniel Asuquo, Gershom Bassey, he defeated them.
No, no, no, you must understand what they call an electoral college election. It is quite different from a general election. I did a bye-election recently, there is what we call the new BIVAS machine, it is not like the card reader where you can manipulate and use the incident form, under a BIVAS arrangement, the biometric accreditation system, if you are not accredited, you cannot vote oh! And I am talking about a man that is not acceptable anywhere in the southern senatorial district, that today have said that there is an innocent cry for justice that power should come there, I am talking about a man that has no standing in the entire northern senatorial district, where we are saying that we are not doing the unpopular dead and buried Atam agenda which they are trying to resurrect. No, I am also talking about an issue where the people of Boki, where the people of Ikom, even his Etung, 40, 30 per cent are saying no, it is not our turn. The people of Obubra, the people of Yakurr, the people of Abi are saying no. A Governor Liyel Imoke today in his right senses cannot stand and go to the poll and support a Sandy. I am telling you, because he knows what is right and these are the issues that we will be facing in the field. So my dear brother, as I talk about this, I am speaking to issues that are very factual. He may have defeated either Gershom Bassey, Senator, or Rt. Hon. Daniel Asuquo but the combined effect of the votes of those two people outnumbered his and so you cannot say that he defeated both of them combined. Go and check the result and let me tell you something that will shock you; the vote Sandy got and the vote Wike got were the same. Have you ever taken your time to check that? 237 or something like that, have you ever taken your time to check? You are a journalist, go and check it. God was sending a message, that Wike, the emperor Wike that pain you brought on Cross River State thinking that you can create problem for us, that vote that your friend here got, that is what they will give you in the national, and he got it and failed wotowoto. Today, he is not only frustrated, today the entire people in PDP have failed. That should be the last man. In fact, at the national, he has been retired. Sandy his friend will be retired alongside. It is going to be an interesting time and I am happy that you are an active observer of the politics of the state. I know after this week, I will be free, you will have me like every day, I enjoy talking to the press and I want press engagement, I will flog them blue, black, yellow.
Let’s quickly talk about the speculations around the governor and his reported senatorial ambition. What is the truth, is he also going to take over the ticket from Martins Orim, his chief of staff or are you planning to retire him also?
The governor is not a man that can be retired, you know. Whether the governor goes to the senate or not, he is not one person that will be retired because now we have brought a presidential candidate on board that shows clearly that APC will continue. We brought a material in person of Governor Ayade and the whole world listened to him and said no, this would have been the best material but we felt that it was not the will of God and that’s why he did not get it, the man that is the will of God has emerged today.
On the issue of the senatorial district, as you and I speak today, Hon. Martins Orim’s name has been forwarded, who won the primaries of our party as a senatorial candidate of the party. I am not unaware that after the governor lost in the presidential primary, there have been pressures and calls on me, on the governor, on Martins Orim to say please now that presidency is in the south, there is every likelihood that senate presidency will be in the south- south or south east, and Governor Ayade stands to be a very ranking member, having been in the senate from 2011 to 2015. Going back and giving him the position of senate president which is what he will be having as a sole right over everybody from the south south and south east that will be going for the senate from APC. But as we speak, the governor is out of the country, these are not phone conversations, we will look at it. If the negotiation at the federal level works in that direction, we will be very happy to have him to become the senate president, number three man in the country will do a lot for Cross River State, will do a lot for the south south and Nigeria. So, we will be willing but until that is done, I can only tell you that at the moment it remains in the realm of speculation.
Okay, so which means he is likely to contest, which means he is likely to…
(cuts in) he is likely to contest; he is likely not to contest.