Elder Ntufam John Achot Okon is a former clerk, Cross River State House of Assembly and the immediate past state chairman, Peoples Democratic Party. In this interview with SOLOMON UGO in Calabar, he bears his mind on the successes of his party at the just concluded polls.
What is your impression of the gubernatorial and state houses of assembly elections in Cross River State?
I thank God that the elections were conducted with minimal crisis, different from what we hear from other states. I know there were challenges, which are normal in elections but ours was adjudged peaceful and orderly. I also appreciate God that PDP maintained its supremacy in the state in spite of the defections. Most importantly, we were able to maintain the culture of zoning in which governors rotate from one senatorial district to the other. The highlight is that the north would be able to see out its 2nd term. That means eventually power would be returned to the south for peace, equity and justice.
The PDP is so entrenched in the state that even the federal might could not uproot the sitting government. Any possible reasons?
One thing you must admire about our governor, Senator Ben Ayade is that he played the politics of respect. In all he did, you never heard him have challenges with the president of the country. He respected The Presidency, exhibited high level of humility and cordial relationship with the federal government. He believes governance is different from politics. It made the federal government not to see the state governor as a threat to which made them not to muscle us like they did in other states.
Are you saying FG was not interested in Cross River State?
No! It was not that the federal government was not interested but the attitude of our governor who is the leader of the party showed that FG had no reason to fight him. We have to give Ayade kudos. Many people misunderstood him by saying he is going to the APC probably because he respected the president and I agree with him that he must respect the president. That indeed mellowed down the so called ‘federal might” that would have been unleashed on us. I commend him for that.
The opposition alleges that thumb printing was done in Government House a day to the election.?
Let me first commend the opposition especially Senator John Owan Enoh. I think his emergence as opposition candidate in the APC deepened democracy in the state. He really fought hard, but elections were done in the field where card readers were used. Many areas where card readers were not used were cancelled by INEC. It is not true, nobody could have thumb printed before elections. I was in my local government Area, Akamkpa during the elections, we had a tough elections as it was free and fair.
According to the APC, there were incidences of brazen manipulation, particularly in Obudu and Yala LGAs in Cross River North.
If you look at the size of Yala, they have always come out enmasse for votes. It is a massive LGA with Ukelle, Okpoma and Yache. You know it’s a very big LGA. You cannot compare it to Etung or any other LGA. For Obudu, I went to a rally at Obudu as chairman with the governor. You need to see the crowd that came out; he commands a lot of respect as son of the soil. You expect people to come out more than any other place to vote for him. The pride to have a governor and to make sure their son goes for a second term meant a massive turnout to vote. It is natural that Obudu people would vote massively. This is certainly not a good excuse for opposition.
In terms of the voters register, Calabar South and Calabar Municipality were the LGAs with most registered voters. In your opinion, what could be responsible for voter’s apathy?
You must know that most of the Calabar South voters are made up of a lot of people who are not from Cross River State. The elite mostly don’t have time for elections like the rural folks. We have never had results commensurate to the registered voters because most of them are not indigenes of the state and travel during election or they are indifferent in most cases.
One expect APC to sweep its stronghold particularly Central Senatorial District particularly Ikom and Etung
Let me say this, most of the people that populate APC from the central were members of the Peoples Democratic Party. When a leader leaves a party, you find out how many of his followers have followed him. Anybody who leaves a party he is popular because of his followers. We still had many people who didn’t defect with them.
Do you think court cases among the APC arrow heads like Pastor Usani Usani and Senator John Owan Enoh could be responsible for your landslide victory?
No. In political calculation, they had advantage over Senator Ayade. Imagine if Usani is taking Yakurr votes and Owan takes Ikom axis. In fact, we were at a disadvantage because two people struggling in the same APC, it’s the APC symbol that is on the ballot, not the two individuals.
The opposition believes that the state REC worked in synergy with the PDP to rig in its favour?
It is always the accusation when somebody is losing elections. Opposition looks for what to hold on. We know when Mike Igini was here, people were laying accusation because he was very strict. There is no way a Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) can dictate where votes would come from. In fact, he is so detached in that most of the people that did the elections were lecturers. He was merely a supervisor
Saying he was so detached yet he made a pronouncement delisting all APC candidates on the eve of election on national television. How detached was he in this context?
If the court does not recognize anybody, he would make such a statement. He was talking about court decisions not his own. INEC always say whatever the court says, it will obey the rule of law. He cannot be held responsible for court decisions.
It is in principle that power would rotate between Cross South, Central and Northern Senatorial Districts for eight years. Do you think it played a key role in your party’s victory?
Yes! It played a major role. I am the chairman of 7Alive, we in the southern senatorial district. It started long about three years ago to preach that the north is going to have their eight years. We had discussions with our leaders across the state passing a resolution on rotation of power in a peaceful and harmonious atmosphere.
May you please expatiate on 7 Alive?
It is an organization that has been there for long to ensure that the interest of the south is aligned with the entire state. It believes the governor had performed well within the limits of its resources. We believe mainly that for social justice and fairness, the north must complete its term for that power would come back to the south.
What is your expectation from Governor Ayade in his 2nd term?
We expect the state government to consolidate on what he has done. He has set up industries, it is to equip them so that there would be more employment. The super highway is a very capital intensive project and the deep seaport as an evacuating corridor up to Chad and other parts of Central Africa. We are praying that he should complete all these projects in order to bring Cross River to limelight