Asu Okang served under the Prof Ben Ayade government from 2015. He started as commissioner for youths and sports before he was moved to the ministry of information. But a few weeks ago, the governor dropped him when he refused to join him after he moved to the APC. In this interview, he narrates his experiences with the governor in the past six years. He spoke with CHIEMEKA ADINDU.
You have always been a strong fan and supporter of Governor Ben Ayade. At what point did you fall out with him?
Well, I have been a veritable member of his administration and you can’t talk of Ayade administration without mentioning Asu Okang and I have played a pivotal role in the administration and I have done my bid. I have contributed my own quota to the administration for six years and I move with my convictions. I chose not to continue with him because of a few things that were going wrong in the administration.
Kindly give us a full gist of the things that were wrong in his administration which we don’t know.
Well, it didn’t just start in a day. A lot of things have been going wrong and I think it’s basically political because at the course of time, the governor began to give ear to blackmail from those who thought I was becoming influential in the government. There was a general gang up against me both at the level of my local government and at the level of the state. It started just after I was nominated as a commissioner for the second term, some of my brothers at Etung Local government planned I wasn’t going to return as a commissioner and started sending false messages to the governor telling him that I was working against the governor. I mean somebody who has just finished working for the governor at the 2019 elections and we delivered his pulling unit and everything that was concerned, putting everything to ensure the governor’s victory during the elections. Unfortunately, those who taught that they deserved more started blackmailing me and saying a lot about me and the governor gave ear to it. And they tried to stop my screening at the house of assembly, it didn’t work. Of course the governor intervened and I returned as a commissioner for the second term. I did everything humanly possible at the ministry of information to revive the ministry and while all that was going on, they continued their bad politics; bad politics to the extent that when congresses came, I couldn’t produce my own ward excos. Some other people went and wrote the list and submitted and they took and when the list went back, they did the same to the National Assembly members. Nobody was able to make inputs to his or her local government; that was a bad politics and it was ill-advised because that’s not generally Ayade’s kind of politics. Unfortunately, they allowed that to happen. His brother, Frank Ayade and a few of them sat down in a conference room in Mega Hilton Hotel and wrote the list of 196 ward excos. That is not the kind of politics we need to play in our state. People were not consulted, stakeholders were not involved, they just sat down and wrote the list of 196 ward excos.
And when the list back fired, they expected me to go and start defending the list because I needed to show loyalty and I said no, I won’t defend any list that I know nothing about; I will not kick in defence of that list and I kept quiet and that didn’t go down well with the governor who thought whether it is good or bad, I was going to be speaking in favour of the list, so I couldn’t speak on a list that I didn’t have any input. And it was clearly on principle.
Councillorship and the election for local government chairmen came again and they did the same thing without getting any input from any of us, including myself, a sitting commissioner, that’s what happened.
It didn’t end there, I was serving in the ministry of information and orientation. for the 18 months, there was no discussion about my ministry, all my projections, all the inputs, all my efforts in the ministry to revive the ministry and drive information dissemination in the state did not have the bearing of the governor. No single support for the ministry, no single approval for any project. I mean the blackmail had already sounded so deep so I couldn’t have continued. So since October 2020, I stopped going to work and I left the ministry. I refused to resign because the circumstances surrounding my emergence as commissioner would have been very embarrassing for me to have resigned and I just couldn’t insult Governor Ayade because of what had happened by resigning and so I had to allow him do the needful, to relieve me at the appropriate time. Even when he was moving to the APC, he asked us, in his words, nobody will lose his job unless for those who will not go to the APC and clearly I said, I was not going to the APC. And so far nine of us have resigned on the grounds of principle that we were not going to the APC, including the SA on budget who is a member of the state executive council. I can tell you authoritatively, six more will be resigning very soon to make the number 15. Members of the house of assembly who refused to go are seven and three of them are still seeking, asking us and still waiting for us, they will join us. Still in PDP, we have up to eleven so far with us, 15 commissioners and we’re talking with some local government chairmen. We’re in touch with at least eight of them who said they are just waiting for a few things to be able to move to stay back in the party. It’s going to be a major exodus as we approach 2023. From 2021 till the end of this year, you will see a mass exodus of more commissioners, statutory board members, heads of agencies, heads of commissions, it’s going to be massive and we’re not joking about it, we’re very decisive, we’re definite about what we want.
The broom party is alien to Cross River state, our party is PDP for 22 years and so APC is alien to our people and therefore we cannot afford to carry the broom around like native doctors. Cross River state is known for tourism in sub-Saharan Africa, we can’t afford to go to the APC. I mean what’s there to tickle anyone to go to the APC, what’s the political scorecard of the APC? Are we going to join them to cause more insecurity? Governors who have moved to the APC in the south-south and south-east, Do you realize that all of them are having dangers in their states? They’re becoming danger specie. Governor Dave Umahi moved, a peaceful state like Ebonyi that is not known for any crime, he was a performing governor, doing all that; I think APC has a spirit, once you’re there, once you go to APC you will become an underperformer. Look at Governor Umahi with all his achievements as a PDP governor, all of a sudden as he moved to the APC, who hears about him again? All you hear about Ebonyi is insecurity, bomb blasts, explosions, all of those. Look at Imo state, the crisis that is going on there in Imo state, you can’t hear all of those, if you say you want to position the state. Recently, the president approved four deep seaports, three of the deep seaports are in PDP states, I mean there was really no reason for us to have moved to the APC. Cross River is PDP and we will ensure that we retain our PDP in Government House come 2023. That is the most important.
How were you able to manage these crises as a commissioner for 18 months? And did you ever dialogue with the governor to settle these disagreements?
Well, we have discussed with the governor. And I had spoken with him on the phone, we had chatted on WhatsApp and we have met at least on three or four occasions discussing these issues and I kept putting them on the table, I didn’t waver in my stance. I said ‘You Excellency, the crisis in the PDP is caused by some people who do not love you, who are just here to cause a crack because of their own selfish interests and political ambitions in 2023, who are making permutations and projections, perhaps they think will favour them and unless you get some people out of the way, those permutations and projections may not really go their way.’ They went a little further than the regular; they went further than the normal. Like I said, I wish Governor Ayade well and we wish all of us well. If we get to 2023, if they do win us, it’s fine, if we win them, it’s fine, it’s politics one must win.
You made mention of lack of provisions of fund for your ministry, information and orientation… (Cuts in)
I had no single approval for fund.
How were you able to run the ministry and do some renovation works at the ministry including Nigeria Chronicle and CRBC buildings?
When I came in, you know passion has a way of pushing you to do a lot of things, there was too much passion on my end and so every single kobo I had, I ploughed it into trying to get things work with the hope that I was going to get a refund later and all letters that we wrote asking for refund from the governor, even though that we had his direct verbal approval to say, don’t worry go ahead we will refund you; we never had refund till today including the furnishing and all the work that we did there, including the ministry and every other part trying to put CRBC in place and all of those, we didn’t have a single kobo refunded till this moment. But it’s okay, let’s considered that as our services to our fatherland, motherland and perhaps, another governor who will emerge will be able to return our money.
What is your assessment of the government of Governor Ben Ayade led administration over the six years?
In all fairness to Governor Ben Ayade, if you talk about performance, there are core indices for measuring performance; in healthcare, education, in agriculture, in social welfare and humanities, in infrastructure. Calabar used to be a green and clean city, is it still clean and green, in the environment? What’s the level of the management of refuse, how regularly do we maintain our potholes and basically, the depth of his vision. When I was serving there, I used to think that his intent was genuine, and I used to think that everything he’s set out to do he was going to do. Unfortunately, we have not really been able to say or point a finger at one core project that we can say has translated into core economic value. From the industries and all of those, I’m not sure you can clearly hold unto one particular thing to say this is what has been done and completed to add into the value chain. The rice seedling factory would have been an ingenuous project by my judgment, which could have been set up by a government like his. Unfortunately, we have not seen that translation, a few projections were made at the first instance but we didn’t hear about it again from the projections they made. There are other projects like the Calachika which I do not see the government having any business going into such business in the first instance. The toothpick factory in Ekori is yet to be working, the Garment factory is yet to be optimized; it’s still being run as a government enterprise, they pay them twenty thousand there about every month just to come and sit down and lazy about, they’re really not doing much and a few other things that are being done that are not really in tandem with what we thought. But, let’s say two years is enough time, the governor still has some reasonable time to redeem himself, to see if these industries can work, to see if they can translate into job opportunities for the young people; that is only when we can say that at least, for building of cottage industries, Governor Ayade has done well. In the interim, there is still a work in progress and I hope they end well.
What do you think could have been the major challenge to his administration not to have actualized his dreams in the past six years?
One of the critical things you would say would probably be money but, money is never enough. Money can only be enough when you are able to apply your resources, do your budgeting according to what you want or what is expected of you to do. You won’t be earning as a person, twenty thousand naira and put your children in Corona school that pays 2.5 million naira in a term, that would be out of place, that will be counter-productive, that would be suicidal because you will just develop high blood pressure and other ailments and you just die because you have not cut your coat according to your cloth. But he’s a man who knows how to challenge himself and let us see how that self imposed challenge translates in 2023.
What do you have to say about PDP Cross River, do you see the party gaining grounds again owing to the on-going massive defections from the party to the APC?
You cannot wish away the fact the governor left and left with a lot of value and some people are saying some value and I said no, the governor left the party with a lot of value. The power of incumbency first is there. As a state, this has never happened to us before, where an incumbent governor defected to another party. So this is the very first time. And if there is something Governor Ayade has going for him, it is the plurality of opportunities he has made available to young people by his food on the table appointments. You find mass engagements of young people in the administration, though not as massive as they sound. I’ve been a veritable part of this government so I understand, I think it is acutely over-rated, it is blown out of proportion. But, you can’t wish away the fact that the engagement of people, young people most importantly where people who have never earned money from government can now earn money and you generally expect that they will move with the governor. But the extent to which that can translate into winning elections defines the popularity of the PDP among the people from among the grassroots. We expect, like I told you there will be mass exodus back to the PDP even for those who are moving now because most of my colleagues who have moved are not just moving because they’re happy to move, they’re moving because they have not had the credible alternative for their living, so that food on the table is something that is keeping them. But, they forgot that Cross River state has not always been a food on the table state, many of them have always had food, even beggars have food on their table, and slaves have food on their table to be able to work for their master. I’m a student of history and we were taught that during the slave era, even while they were been transported, they would have had to provided food for them to eat because they have to stay alive anyway to be able to bring the economic value that they’re bringing. And so you cannot reduce Cross River state to this tautology of food on the table, I think it’s insulting to our demeanour, it is insulting to the people that we are, our civility and I do not think that basically that is the way to go.
If you have the opportunity of meeting governor Ayade today, what will be your advice to him considering all these political acrobatics in the state?
I will only say like I have always said to him, give less attention to blackmail, to tales. A leader cannot reduce himself just to WhatsApp gossips, WhatsApp messages; when someone sends a WhatsApp message to you, you just take it hook line and sinker, you cannot reduce the office of the governor to that point. You must be able to have your own time to investigate to know because anyone who listens to tales like that is bound to make mistakes and that’s what governor Ayade has done. He has done that mistake very gravely and I hope it doesn’t hunt him because he’s actually loosing value and not just losing value, he’s losing people who were actually his die hard.