‘#EndSARS: Cross River State govt should talk less, listen more’
October 23 and 24, 2020 has gone down in history as a disaster in Calabar. Not less than 100 property were looted, destroyed or touched by irate youths in the name of EndSARS protest. Men, women, boys and girls were affected in a mayhem that the City of Calabar has never witnessed before. A social critic and former member, Calabar/Odukpani Federal Constituency, Mrs. Nkoyo Toyo in an interview with ANIETIE AKPAN, Deputy Bureau Chief South, South, spoke on a wide range of issues and the way forward to avoid future recurrence.
Calabar is known for its peaceful nature but the incident of October 23 and 24, 2020 has sent a dangerous signal, what is your reaction?
It was indeed a disaster of unimaginable magnitude that we have never seen in the history of the state and city. What went wrong and how those young people masterminded an attack of that size with huge criminal and vengeful intent is something that must keep all of us in leadership awake and challenged. Could all of these be brewing underneath and nobody heard the murmurs. Why was security completely taken off its guard? Many questions are begging for answers and I would suggest that in addition to the #EndSARS panel, we need a number of other investigative operations which will lay bear the immediate and remote causes of what happened on those two days.
What do you think were the immediate and remote causes? Was it political?
I still think we need a formal investigation including a formal report by an organ of the state to give us the full story. What we hear from unconfirmed sources is that some criminal elements had started infiltrating the peaceful EndSARS protest a day before all of this happened. I am not sure whether these persons tried out something else to dispel the growing popularity of the EndSARS protest amongst the youth of the state. Whatever the case, it assumed a different dimension when some groups copied what was happening elsewhere and broke into the palliative warehouse and were “shocked” to see what was available for the public which they believed was being hoarded by some interests within govternment. These are some of the views that are making the round and they need to be tested and there are simple and effective ways of doing so.
On whether or not it was political, it did assume a political dimension when homes of a number of outstanding political figures were targeted for destruction. What motivated the choice, the intensity of action, the fact that it was carried out unabated are all questions to be answered. Why did the security forces after what happened on the 23rd sit back and do nothing the next day? Who told them that their primary duty to protect lives and property had seized in this case? Why did it look like the entire security architecture in the state had collapsed and in fact it did collapse.
I think it is important we ask questions. Where was the Navy with its eastern headquarters in Calabar? Where are all the other federal agencies like FRSC, Civil Defence, Army, Police, Immigration, Customs….all those who are visible on a daily basis on the streets of Calabar.
Why did they fail us so badly?
What is your take on the claim that the mayhem was masterminded to prevent the South from producing the next governor in 2023?
I have heard that too and in the aftermath you can see the intense dispute around an article written by a certain Orokawan Duke and how there has been a deliberate attempt to link it to many prominent Efik sons and daughters. I do not think the political class in Cross River State will renegotiate the position of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on zoning to the South. I think other parties may want to do so, but it is unlikely that it will change inside the PDP. I was present in 2018 when leaders from the North and South met and agreed to the rotational arrangements. If that must change, I think Governor Ayade will be held accountable along with these leaders who witnessed this landmark agreement. The leaders of the North approached the leaders of the South on behalf of Governor Ayade to negotiate for his second term and in what was a gentleman or woman agreement that concession was made. If Governor Ayade having benefited from that arrangement decides to renege on its terms, it will be a sad commentary on where the state stands. When Imoke (former governor Liyel Imoke) approached the PDP State caucus in 2014 to request that we zoned the governorship to the North, it was discussed and adopted by the PDP. A motion to that effect was moved in the meeting by Hon. Chris Etta and I called for an amendment to the motion that it be included in the records that after the turn of the North it will return to the South. That position was seconded by Ntufam Ekpo Okon and it received full endorsement. Ntufam John Archort Okon presided as Chairman of the PDP. So, whichever way you look at it, this was a condition precedent and for Governor Ayade and the PDP to deny the South the zoning agreement, it will be smart of bad faith and I have every reason to believe that Ayade will stay committed to his vows.
I would urge those seeking to revisit the issue to address the why of it. Are they saying the South has no candidates of worth? My position is simple; the politics of the three senatorial districts are very different. When Governor Imoke invited the North to contest, 17 commissioners, advisers, etc resigned and participated. The South is yet to come up with those who will contest so I do not see why there is a question as to where it should go, should someone succeed in planting discord in the South or whatever motives are behind the rampage of October 23 and 24 on the capital city. How will that help to deny candidates of the south from emerging as governor? I think the picture will be clearer with time and we need to be patient with each other.
The Obong of Calabar blamed the October 23 and 24 crisis on poor security and ineptitude in governance, as a subject and leading light in the palace, do you subscribe to this?
Well Obong is our revered monarch and I will not join issues with him. Also, he is someone I personally hold in high esteem. I have been privileged to work closely with him through the Niger Delta Dialogue and found him to be someone of firm belief, a devout Christian and a believer in the establishment of systems and institutions. When the youth attacked Tinapa he told us how helpless he felt and how they were going to pounce on his family home but for the quick intervention of the Adiabo vigilantes. My position is that weighty statements were made
by a father and it behooves on the political class to deal with it. It is a challenge and we can prove him wrong through our actions.
In all these, what is the way forward?
The governor has come up with a budget of blush and bliss, we must help him stay on course and guide the direction of governance toward healing the people of the state and our city Calabar.
We must rebuild what was destroyed but this is also an opportunity to build better society. We need to bring back a strong economic team to help the government review its options. Resources are lean and yet the challenges are huge. How should the government navigate? It is time for the state economic team to provide leadership. There are key sectors like the social investment sector which can deal with the human empowerment components. Governor Ayade has referred to that in his budget speech and we need to work on that. I believe that the 10-point Declaration of several civil society organisations needs to be given effect. I think it is time for the government to speak less and listen more.
Some of the 10 point declaration for immediate attention include to address the collapse of the security architecture of the state, arrest the unprecedented decline in the quality of governance and aim for slim, efficient and manageable government, enforce the autonomy of Local Governments and the state legislature, appoint Justice Akon Ikpeme as the substantive Chief Judge and desist from interference with the judiciary and others.
I don’t think the verdict on Ayade is fully out. He has about two and half years to go. The events of October 23 and 24 has thrown a dark cloud over his years in office, but we may have to give him another chance. Strong statements have been made about his leadership style and I would strongly hope that in the time he has left, we will work a thin line towards redeeming the state.