The All Progressive’s Congress (APC), which now holds sway in Cross River State following the defection of the state governor, Prof Ben Ayade, into its fold has been described as the party to beat in 2023 by many in the state.
Until the recent defection of Governor Ayade, the PDP has firmly controlled the politics of the state since the return to democratic rule in 1999, as elections in Cross River have always been a household affair.
In this interview, Governor Ayade’s representative at the Federal House of Representatives, Hon. Legon Idagbo gives a clearer insight into the intricacies that informed the governor’s decision to ditch the party.
Legon, a representative of Obanliku, Obudu and Bekwarra Federal constituencies at the Green Chambers, dismissed insinuations that the return of Donald Duke to the PDP and subsequent reconciliation with former Governor Liyel Imoke will dislodge the APC in 2023.
The lawmaker also spoke on the contentious issue of the three per cent equity shareholding for oil-bearing communities in the Niger Delta.
On electoral matters, Legon who is also a legal practitioner, shared his views on the voting of the National Assembly which denied the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the power to solely transmit electoral results.
The House of Representatives Chairman on Local Content also canvassed Cross River South Senatorial District producing the next governor of the state in 2023, among other issues. Excerpt:
Will it be safe to conclude that you defected to the APC because of your governor, Prof Ben Ayade defected to the party?
Pretty much so, it will be safe to conclude so, you know politics is local. I happen to come from the same federal constituency with my governor. I represent three local governments in the National Assembly. They are Bekwara, Obudu and Obanliku. I come from Bekwara Local Government and the governor comes from Obudu Local Government and the third local government is Obanliku, so the combination of these three LGAs formed my federal constituency. And my governor is a major political factor in the federal constituency. We have always looked up to him for leadership and we believe he has done quite well. Still work in progress, but we believe he has done substantively well. And when he made a decision to defect to the APC, he consulted widely and we were all part of the build up to the decision he took and it wasn’t just a decision he woke up and said he was moving to the APC. There were few things that played out and he spoke with all the stakeholders in the federal constituency and we looked at things and said if things stay the way they are then it will be a good thing to move to the APC. So, it was an easy decision to move with him. Like I said, politics is local, then in my locality, my people welcomed the movement to the APC.
What do you think informed the decision of your governor to move to APC knowing full that the PDP has a firm grip of the state?
Well I think that the two things that informed the governor moving to the APC was that Cross River State is one of the poorest states in the country and the governor has a couple of projects that he’s embarking on which of course he needed some federal support and he’s been wooing in quite sometime. The APC has been wooing him for quite sometime. He played it on the fence, he related very well with them and still stayed with the PDP. At some point in time the pressure was on him to cross over and, of course, he needed the support of the Federal Government. So he made that decision to move. That’s one and then secondly the PDP where we were before, there were a lot of things that were not going the way they were supposed to go. The leadership of the PDP was taking decisions that did not reflect what we expected especially from the governor perspective. We did a congress in Cross River State and the congress at some point even though people claimed that the governor did not consult widely, I leave that for another day, but eventually the congress was hijacked by a few of our colleagues in the National Assembly. They hijacked the congresses and changed the structure. Even the structure in my own LGA were changed and people that were antagonistic to me were put as chapter chairmen, ward chairmen and so on and so forth. So when we came back to the party we expected that the party would say okey no victor, no vanquished. If it’s a party that wants to win the election in 2023, it will say why don’t we all sit at the table and go back to this issue of congresses. Your Excellency, what do you want, you take this, and you can’t take it all. You are also a stakeholder, what do you want? Okay take this. We expected the party to sit down and look at all of that, bring everybody to the table, harmonize the congress and come up with a structure that would help the party win elections in 2023, but that was not done. We wrote series of letters, we called on the party and the party failed to address the issues and the issue lingered so long that at some point it was expedient for the governor to take a decision to move to the APC which I think is a good thing.
The APC just concluded its ward congress last week Saturday which I believe you also travelled down to participate in the exercise. How would you describe the APC congresses in your state, especially the decision to adopt consensus candidates, do you think it was a good one both in your state and at national level?
Well, I think the congresses in Cross River State were very successful, I think Cross River State should be a model for some other states that want to conduct successful congresses. As a build up to the congresses, the governor had series of engagements. He called the stakeholders for series of meetings and he told them to go back to their various localities and call similar meetings so everybody was able to buy this in. We went back to our various wards, sat down with our ward leaders, and asked them how we might zone the positions of the party. The zoning took place at that level where it was zoned to, people came with the names of people we believe will represent us at that level. So that was done across the 18 local government areas of the state. Even before the congresses everybody knew who was going to emerge as the ward chairmen, ward secretary, deputy chairmen, no rancour and the only areas where there werrancour at our own levels as leaders we were able to address them. My local government, for instance, I have 10 wards and we have two wards they have rancour, where people did not agree; I had to call meetings in those two words prior to the congresses and I said to them where lies these disagreements, what are the issues and people complained that some said they were waiting to become party chairmen and they believe it should come to them, then we said, you take it now and when next the position comes we will make sure something comes to you. So, this is the model other states should emulate, kudos to the governor because he did very well in building that consensus before congress, so it was a very peaceful exercise in Cross River State.
You are aware of the Supreme Court judgment that invalidated the Mala Mai Buni-led caretaker committee chairman and ward congresses conducted by the same caretaker committee of the APC. What is your opinion on that? Do you think the judgment invalidates the Buni-led caretaker committee?
I don’t think so and neither did the judgment say so; some references were made that the national chairman signed some documents and sent the names to the INEC, that they will become invalid because you are not to hold the position as national chairman and as governor of a state; some people said it’s a constitutional breach, personally as a lawyer I don’t think it is and I don’t know if anyone has come to court to address that matter fair and square, he was just mentioned in a judgment and people are speculating that it is the position of the law; I don’t think the chairman is acting fully as national chairman, I think he is acting as a chairman of a congress committee to ensure that congresses are done that would lead to the emergence of a substantive national chairman, that is what I think, I don’t think it’s against the provision of the constitution.
Do you think your new party, APC, has the muscle to retain the governorship position come 2023 judging by the last congress both at the national level and your state?
Y,es I am 100 per cent confident about it, if you have been following events in the past few weeks in Cross River State as soon as the governor decamped to APC, you will see that there has been a mass movement of politicians to All Progressive Congress, it has never happened before from the history of Cross River, so many politicians, from Bakassi to Obanliku, there has been massive decamping. It’s almost like a contest for people to decamp in droves and in their numbers and politics is a game of numbers when the majority of the people link into political party positions you can begin to tell. You don’t need a soothsayer to tell you that this is where the elections will turn at the end of the day. So, I think that APC will be the party to beat in Cross River State in 2023. I also believe it’s a validation of how well the governor has done in terms of carrying the people along, the number of people he has appointed into his cabinet, the number of appointments he’s given, the number of people he reached out to and the number of projects he has done have touched the lives of Cross Riverians, so people he had endowed have validated and endorsed him in their numbers by decamping with him, yes you don’t expect a hundred per cent of the people to decamp.
So, in general, do you think the governor has performed well enough to earn the trust for the people to vote for APC in 2023?
I think he has, I think he is performing well enough, I think he has done well in terms of human capital development; for the first time in Cross River State we have a huge number of politicians in the payroll either being appointed as SAs, PAs, board members, chairman boards and commissioners. When he was doing it everybody was wondering what the governor was doing, he said he was expanding governance, he said he was putting food on the table, but this has paid off on the long run because so many politicians have identified with him, added to move with him in their numbers; don’t forget that politicians also have their people following them so there is a multiplier effect and as people move in their numbers the other people as well the grassroots also move with them. So like I said, if you count the numbers, the number seems to favour the governor in terms of numbers of Cross Riverians today. In the aspects of projects he has done so well, he has tried to industrialize the state, he has done a lot of factories, Karachika, power plants and couple of other projects he has done, you know like as I said work-in-progress project in Cally Airline, he is building cargo airport in Obudu, he’s dualizing the roads across the five local governments in the northern senatorial district. The last time I followed him to the teachers training college in Biase, I was awed, I have never seen a project by any administration so beautiful like that. It’s a lovely project. You need to look at what the governor has put on ground in the Biase local government in the southern senatorial district. So, sometimes I think he’s biting more than he can chew because he’s still making promises, still talking about a superhighway, the deep-sea port, but in summary, he means well and he has great lofty intentions for Cross River.
The defection of your governor, Prof. Ben Ayade saw the quick return of the former governor, Donald Duke back to the PDP and also reconciling with another former governor, Liyel Imoke, do you think that has made PDP more stronger?
I don’t think so and just as I said these names you mentioned are pre-leaders of Cross River State and I don’t want to say anything negative about them, particularly the immediate past governor, Senator Liyel Imoke who I respect very well and wouldn’t want to say anything negative about him, but politics now is with the people and not with the leaders. Power has been devolved with the people. So, the kind of people you see following a particular person, you see where the momentum is going now, not in recent days. Those days are gone when you mention a big name and all that. And I believe everything has its own season. Donald Duke had his own time, as governor of Cross River State, he did very well, Liyel Imoke did also very well, but now is the time of Ben Ayade and he’s doing well and I think the people are responding to him. Believe me come 2023 we will be able to validate what I am saying. I believe Ben Ayade will lead Cross River State to the APC. Donald Duke and Liyel Imoke will try their best, but at the end of the day, Ben Ayade will lead.
What is your take on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) now passed into law and the three per cent for the host communities considering the public outcry?
My take is that so far so good. I am a member of the PIB committee for House of Representatives. I’m also chair of the local content committee which is an integral part of the PIB when it comes to the host communities. When we talk about indigenous operators, I keep saying to people that it’s a good thing that we have passed the PIB because without the PIB you have so much uncertainty in the industry, but now with the PIB passed, it gives investors confidence, people coming to invest know what they are facing, they can look at the petroleum industry law and say okat, let me do my Mathematics, if I put in so much amount at the end of five years, this is how much I will benefit, this is what my profit would be and when you are able to do these calculations it makes you want to invest, but when you come into our country, Nigeria is the only major oil-producing country that does not have any PIB and it was embarrassing because people could not calculate, it was a guess work. You come and put in money, you may gain or lose, nothing was certain because there was no law stating how much your levies would be, how much your taxes will be, how much your return would be, but now we have passed the law, they are able to calculate what they stand to gain in their Investments. People complained that three per cent was too small, yes I agree that a host community should get a little more than three per cent, but I would want to say let’s start with that and eventually we always review that as the years go by; we can always look at it and say this per cent is not enough and we need to step it up, at least then we have a document that is working.
What’s the plan of the National Assembly to empower NCC to ensure that everything is in place because we cannot continue this way if there is a problem somewhere. Is the House of Representatives looking at ways of ensuring that every nook and cranny of Nigeria is covered by network, so that we will have a smooth transmission of results electronically?
That is a wonderful question, that was one of the issues in the House of Representatives and the Speaker himself made allegations, why don’t we give NCC more fund and ensure that they are able to provide network in every nook and cranny in Nigeria so that there would be effective network in those areas so that next time or maybe after 2023 we will not have any excuse. Then we can make it as a law that the election results must be transmitted electronically. Hopefully by then we would have gotten it right in terms of an effective network.
2023 is fast approaching and there has been a lot of talking and activities have started already, which zone do you think should produce the next governor of Cross River State?
I believe that there are three zones in Cross River State namely southern, central and northern senatorial districts. Liyel Imoke is from the Central Senatorial District and then Ben Ayade is from the Northern Senatorial District, so ideally the governorship should go back to the Southern Senatorial District for equity, let us see how things goes, it’s open to discussion, to listen to what leadership has to say, the governorship should be zoned to the Southern Senatorial District. As for the Nigeria presidency, we are hoping it will be zoned to the South. You have not enjoyed it. Naturally, after an issue comes to the South, it then goes back to the North. We are hoping any of the zones, be it Southwest, Southeast or South can produce the next president.
You come from an oil producing state and you are aware of the NDDC “Off the Mic” drama as a result of issues in that commission. Do you think NDDC should have a substantive board?
I think NDDC should have a substantive because if you look at the law that established NDDC it stipulates that it should always have a board to be running the activities of NDDC and also stipulates where members of the board should come from based on the various geopolitical zones in the country particularly in the Niger Delta. So, it’s not normal for NDDC to be without a board. Everybody from Niger Delta wants to see an effective development commission. We want to see a commission that is actually developing the region. So, my prayer is very soon the board should be constituted and NDDC should work with that.
Your message to your constituent, the three local governments?
My message is that of hope and appealing for continuous support. We have tried to do our best in the past couple of years. We represented our people in the second year running. We have done the little we could do. I want to assure my constituents that the coming years will be better. We appeal to them to continue to support us, to pray for us and continue to stand with us. The future is bright.
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