The incisive piece by a Thisday reporter, Mr Jude Okwe, titled “2015: Whither Calabar Ogoja Accord?”, (ThisDay, June 9th, 2013, dwelt on a fundamental issue that may determine the political direction of CrossRiverState in the next general election. It also has wider ramifications for how PDP is able to equitably manage the contending interests, forces, and tension. And in particular, it will significantly define the legacy of the present Governor, Senator Liyel Imoke.
The question Mr Jude Okwe posed was whether the Calabar-Ogoja pact conceived in the SecondRepublic for political cooperation in the face of Ibibio domination is still tenable in present day CrossRiverState? This is against the background of the political hegemony of the people of Ibibio of the then “Main land” (now AkwaIbomState), whereby the marginalised Calabar – Ogoja people contrived an accord of strategic cooperation to resist the oppression of the Ibibio.
There was an inherent inequity in the Second Republic Calabar-Ogoja Accord that assumed that Ogoja is a monolithic unit comprising of two Senatorial zones as it were. When an Efik person reigns as Governor, the mantel passes on to a person of “Ogoja” zone (regardless of whether they are from the North or Central Senatorial district), and vice versa. While Calabar people are a monolithic linguistic and cultural group of the South Senatorial district, the Ogoja people are multi-cultural, diverse, and comprising of two Senatorial zones, the North and Central. Whereas that arithmetical equation of combining Ogoja (comprising of two Senatorial districts) as one zone, and entering an accord with the Efiks (with one Senatorial district) against the domineering Ibibio in the Second Republic, may have been necessarily strategic, in the Seventh Republic, the accord is simply an inequitable, unfair an unacceptable anachronism.
As Dr Donclemz Enamhe (aka DC) eloquently observed in the said piece, the Calabar-Ogoja Accord of the SecondRepublic is a last century political fabrication. It may have been relevant at the time. However, with the passage of time, and the radically altered political landscape, the accord is now dead. It died with the SecondRepublic and was buried when AkwaIbomState was carved out of CrossRiverState in 1987. DC noted the press address by High Chief Achibong Omon in 2003, saying, following the creation of AkwaIbomState, “the Calabar Ogoja accord no more holds.”
However, the likes of Dr Ambrose Akpanika from Efik are now excavating that dead accord as a premise to argue that the next Governor should be from Efik. To contradict that regressive assertion, DC also pointed out that, when the High Chief Archibong Omon was declaring the obituary of the accord, “that time, it suited the Efiks because their son was in power. Now they want the accord respected. But who are they fooling?
Besides the Calabar – Ogoja Accord, another dubious hypothesis that is being used to pull the wool over the eyes of the people of CrossRiverState, is the alleged secret blood oath sworn by three friends, to each succeed one another as Governors.
THE THREE MUSKETEERS
Once upon a time, there (was ) the incredible mythology of former Governor Donald Duke, Senator Liyel Imoke and Mr Gershom Bassey, the so called Musketeers of Cross River State politics. As the myth goes, these three amigos, before 1999, arrogated to themselves the supreme role of ruling the state as Governors in consecutive turns. That is for 24 years, without bothering with how undemocratic such a sectarian and cabalistic machination may be.
If the desire of the Musketeers of Cross River State is stretched to its logical conclusion, that would mean that since two of them have had it as governors, the third one should also be allowed to succeed his friends. It has become necessary to address this possibility because of the asphyxiating consequence on the psyche of CrossRiverState it portends.
The other day, a Senior National Assembly Legislative Aide and I were critically examining the politics of CrossRiverState with a former Minister who insisted that the Musketeers cannot be wished away. No, we are not wishing them away, we are insisting on a correct and intellectually honest interpretation of Alexandre Dumas’ classic. The true story was not just about the Musketeers but, above all, the fourth person who succeeded in joining the Musketeers. Any other interpretation is a local mystification, propaganda or falsification of the legend of Monsieur d’Artagnan – the fourth Musketeer.
So, in the politics of Cross River State, let us never absolutise the Musketeers as the overriding logic of that classic is about the fourth of the Musketeers, who triumphed over poverty, monarchical intrigues, provincial discrimination, political and military saboteurs and prospered in Paris as the fourth of a Musketeer. The Musketeers may historically be a specialised military brigade in its day, but quite frankly, any well trained and disciplined person can ascend to that position and excel. And that is why the legendary story of Monsieur d’Artagan – a peasant boy from Gacony, succeeding as a Musketeer continues to inspire the human spirit.
In the Vanguard of November 19th 2010, Mr John Ighodalo, writing on “Duke, Imoke and Gershom: The Three Musketeers of Power in CrossRiver”, espoused a conclusion that is in consonance with the general mood of the people of the state. Mr Ighodalo noted that Mr Duke has ruled the state for eight years, and Senator Imoke is now in the saddle of his second term, while Mr Bassey is waiting in the queue. And he aptly noted; “… as for the third man among the Three Musketeers, Mr. Gershom Bassey, in a private chat he didn’t appear keen on taking over after Governor Liyel Imoke. He said a new understanding was brewing in CrossRiver which seems to embrace the idea that any governor after Imoke should come from the North of the state and he and Donald Duke happen to come from the same area of the state. Talk about zoning.”
THE EQUITABLE NOTION OF ZONING
The Calabar-Ogoja Accord of the last century SecondRepublic derives its raison d’etre from the equity embedded in the rotation of power and the imperatives of equal opportunity. As DC noted in his interview with Mr Jude Okwe, that concept is enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution. The CrossState has three Senatorial zones, and it stands to reason, that each zone should present a suitably qualified candidate for the position of the Governor.
In a related conversation with DC, he reminded me of the constitutional provision regarding the governorship is basically that they are of good character and have their Secondary School Certificate. The last time I checked, some of the aspirants from the North Senatorial district duly passed their O-Level examinations. I should know, as we were contemporaries at Mary Knoll College Ogoja, including Senator Liyel Imoke. There you have it, Mary Knoll College Ogoja is a veritable breeding ground for Musketeers too. And Senator Liyel Imoke’s short stint in Mary Knoll Ogoja is a glittering example. Imagine if Imoke were in Mary Knoll for much longer. He would be challenging his Musketeer friend Donald Duke for presidency by now.
On a serious note, what maybe the cornerstone of Senator Liyel Imoke’s legacy was articulated in This Day Live of 9th September 2012, by Jude Okwe, in a brilliant piece, “Ahead of 2015, Imoke Names Successor Constituency”. In the said report, Mr Okwe posited that “In defiance of any inner circle political arrangement, Governor Liyel Imoke has pronounced Cross River North Senatorial district as the constituency of his successor, thus seeking to end the dream of a 24-year hold on power by the triumvirate that emerged on the political scene of the state in 1999. But can this hold sway in three years time?” And furthermore, that, “the sensitive political chord that binds former Governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke, his successor, Liyel Imoke, and Gershom Bassey is gradually sputtering to a halt. It’s by no means a sign of distrust or disintegration but a response to pressure on the issue of rotation of power among the three senatorial districts of the state.”
Still on This Day Live’s report of 9th September 2012, Mr Okwe writes, “How the Cat Was Let Out. A question by the Guardian Correspondent in Calabar Anietie Akpan on whether the governor was going to keep faith with the agreement with the North on his successor was all that led the cat out of the bag. Imoke left no journalist in doubt that he was in control of the state and leader of the PDP. For the first time, he spoke authoritatively and fearlessly on such a sensitive political issue.”
Hear him: “In CrossRiverState we have three senatorial districts. Two have produced governors for the state. Will it be fair not to allow another senatorial district produce a governor? In my political career so far, I’ve stood for fairness and equity. I was one of those who opposed some persons whom in 1999 said an Efik man cannot be governor of CrossRiverState. I fought against it and thank God an Efik man emerged as governor finally.
“The argument for rotation of office of governor among the three senatorial districts of the state is the same like that of the presidency at the national level. The north, south-west and now south-south have produced presidents for our country. The same should apply here. It’s a natural sequence. The final seal on this position is that the next governor of our dear state would come from the northern senatorial district”.
The Atlantic Reporter carries a revealing story on their website, that “2015: Plot To Thwart Imoke’s Promise Thickens”. They reported that, indications had emerged that there were conspiracies to frustrate or subvert the promise made by Governor Liyel Imoke that his successor would emerge from the Northern Senatorial District of the state. On two occasions; one in Ogoja and Calabar, Governor Liyel Imoke made the promise against the backdrop of the fact that no person from the Northern Senatorial District has ruled the state, either as military or civilian personnel. Though the argument supporting the stance of Governor Liyel Imoke on the issue has some good measure of support, especially in the Northern Senatorial District, some politicians outside the Zone have commenced moves to succeed him on the platform of the People Democratic Party. Atlantic Reporter investigation revealed that one of the likely contestant in 2015, governorship election is Mr. Gershom Bassey , who is one of the trio usually referred to as the “Three Musketeers” in the politics of the state.
Be that as it may, Mr Bassey can wait for the fourth Musketeer from the North Senatorial District – Monsieur d’Artagnan – which actually rhymes with the local parlance the North is referred to by the Efiks – as “Atam.” For the avoidance of doubt, it is the turn of the next Musketeer Monsieur “Atam”. And by the way, it was him that famously coined the motto – “all for one, one for all” – by which the Musketeers are famous for.
Addressing a town hall meeting in Ogoja, the headquarters of the Northern Senatorial District, sometime in 2010, the governor said there would be sense of equity in the state if the politician who would succeed him is from the Northern Senatorial District. “I believe very strongly, and I say it publicly that after me the next governor of Cross River state must come from the Northern Senatorial District. It is fair. It is right. It is just. It has to be and for me as a politician, that will be the greatest thing that I would have been able to achieve. I want to see that happen where we will now produce a governor from the Northern Senatorial District, a governor for the people of CrossRiver state, with or without Ogoja state. When we do that there will be much sense of belonging and equity and that sense of being cheated will be reduced significantly. That to my mind is my own vision and I pray that we work together to make it happen”.
The Daily Independent article of 19th December 2012 “ CrossRiver2015: Waiting on Imoke” suggests an interesting perspective. That, many pundits argue that, Imoke’s pronouncement is completely at variance with his body language for obvious reasons. One, he is yet to go beyond rhetoric to encourage the people of the district in his party to look inward for a capable and experienced hand to be on standby… The question is, is it Imoke’s responsibility to tell the people of the zone who should take their turn? Certainly no, it is the people’s responsibility that should not be transferred to Imoke who may have limitations now.
Secondly, that he has continued to patronize, elevate and empower his [Amigo Musketeer] mate smacks of double standard and hypocrisy… It is only time that will give answers to those theories.
In summary, it is agreed, that the Calabar – Ogoja Accord is a 20th Century anachronism, that’s now dead and buried. The Three Musketeer is actually a literary classic about the Fourth Musketeer. And it will not hurt Mr Bassey to take his turn after the Musketeer from the North. As for His Excellency Senator Liyel Imoke’s legacy regarding fairness, equity, sustainable development, the peaceful transition of power, and honouring his words, the jury is still out on that one. Thus, in the months ahead, the likelihood as to whether the Northern Senatorial District would produce the next governor would become clearer based largely on Imoke’s actions, omissions, pronouncements and body language. And how we the people respond to his reasoning, reaction and rhythm. It is a dialectical relationship – the politicians versus the people – that we hope should be symbiotic.
The main democratic poser remains, whether it is the demised Calabar Ogoja Accord, the Governor, the Conclave of Musketeers, the People of Cross River State, or a combination of other factors that will make the call, as to who succeeds Imoke in 2015? For now, let the Governor have his say. We the people of CrossRiverState are listening and shall speak with one united voice in due season. We hope the Governor continues to speak from the same script with the people, on fairness, equity, peace, and progressive sustainable transformation.
Barrister Ochugboju is an Attorney at Law at Ochugboju & Co, Trinity House, Plot 431 Mabushi
Abuja. He is reachable at [email protected]