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‘Voters should hold those in govt accountable’

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Bishop Josef Bassey

Bishop Josef Bassey, the Chairman of Cross River State Christian Leaders Forum, is also the General Overseer of God’s Heritage Center, Gloryland, Calabar. In this interview with Kehinde Olatunji, the fiery cleric, who describes himself as a stakeholder in the Cross River State project, examines the state of affairs in the state, especially the second term bid of Governor Ben Ayade and activities of The Forever Cross River.

Why has the Forum and by extension the Church, decided to speak out now?
It was a thing of joy three years ago, when the current administration was inaugurated and the governor, Professor Ben Ayade, spoke eloquently and passionately about the need to transform the state, his signature project and how he would give his eyes or a part of his body to ensure the projects were executed.

But after the first year, the governor gave the excuse that he was trying to settle in. The second year, as fathers we were not quick to talk or pass judgment. We hoped and believed that he would correct his mistakes, since he was likely to seek re-election and spend the next two years righting the wrongs.

However, it is more than three years and we are still singing the same tune, thing are still the same way they were two years ago in the same. It is not our style as a church to confront or engage the government, because we believe there are structures and institutions, like the legislature and other stakeholders that can keep government on its toes. Obviously, those have either failed or not yielded fruits and we need to intervene. The state is sinking and we owe God and the people the sacred duty to talk now.

Have you tried to engage with the governor these past three years to discuss these issues and is the church trying to put a candidate for the governorship in 2019?
We have a way of relating. An unsolicited counsel is often despised. We are stakeholders in this state and I must tell you that other former governors like Donald Duke, Senator Liyel Imoke and even Clement Ebri, were accessible. But with Ayade is a different thing. He is not accessible.

The church is not sponsoring any candidate, but churches should be interested in those who govern the people and also hold them accountable. Moreover, people come crying to us and we feel the pulse. I can tell you that the Cross River project is sinking.

Are you suggesting that the governor does not deserve a second term, if so why?
In my opinion, no! It could not be worse than what we have and this is where it gets a little worrisome for me. Usually, governors perform excellently in their first term while some go to sleep in the second term. Ayade’s first term is a disaster. If I wake up at night, even around 3am and think about his second term, I get nightmare. If we go through this for another four years, it would be disastrous, because he has failed in all areas of governance, especially security, education, economy and tourism.

In security, on a scale of 0 to 10, I give him two or three. The fear of being bullied, intimidated or being killed pervades in Cross River State now. But, if everybody is being cowed, the church of Jesus Christ cannot be cowed, because God holds His church accountable at every point in time for what is going on.

People took vows not to be part of cultism during the Liyel Imoke administration, but now you find young men glorifying cultism. I am performing my role as a spiritual father and a stakeholder in Cross River State.

In education, West African Examinations Council (WAEC) rated this state number three before the advent of this administration, but in three years we have moved backwards to rank number 22. It is ridiculous and unbelievable and I am sure his predecessors who toiled and labored to get the state to No 3 would be disappointed. So, like everything in Cross River State, we are not going forward, but backwards.

But the governor has the stakes in tourism…
I wish we do not talk about tourism. We taught Nigeria tourism, but now, the state is a shadow of itself, because tourism is non-existent.  The state that used to be known as Clean and Green is now dirty, filthy and unkempt.  I am sure you all know how it was during the Donald Duke and Senator Liyel Imoke era.

This administration has frittered that away too. So, tell me, what is Cross River State without Tourism? Most families look forward to December, because they might not earn such money in a year. Now, it is no longer possible.

Where do you think the state missed it?
Everything rises and falls on leadership.  Any institution no matter how robust and strong that has an inept leadership will crash. When you have a  government that is being run via WhatsApp and not memos, then something is wrong. When there is a government running and you say, EXCO meetings do not hold and when it eventually holds, instead of the meeting being a brainstorming session for ideas, it becomes a forum where you sing the praise of a particular player, who becomes the know-it-all and nobody can argue or say anything contrary, something is wrong.

But funding has been an issue, the government complains of low internal generated revenue and declining allocation from the federal account…
Before you can desire an economic architecture, you study the environment and look at the topography, because your aim is to create a design. You should understand what goes there before creating your own design. I think that problem is from the economic architecture. If you take over a system, the very first thing to do is do a study, understand what is working and what is not working. You need to know your strengths, weaknesses, but in a situation where businesses are collapsing and investors are taking flight out of the state, because of your actions, how can you grow the IGR?

Are you in league with a vibrant global youth group called The Forever Cross River that has expressed worry about the retrogression of the past three years?
I align with the group so long as it is committed to the project called Cross River State. I align with the group so long as it is determined to bring back the lost glory of the state. I align with the group and any one that can help salvage the state from the grip of this administration because we have never had it so bad in this state. The state is drowning and we need to join hands together to make this state great once again.


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