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In Cross River, zoning arguments herald 2019 governor poll


Cross River State Governor, Ben Ayade

The unwritten code of zoning has always been visible in Cross River State since 1999 but with 2019 approaching, the issue is taking a fresh dimension as various groups view it from different perspectives.

The politics of zoning has resurfaced again in Cross River State. In 1999 when former governor Donald Duke contested and won, the catch phrase then was “Atam Congress versus the Efiks” or the Calabar-Ogoja accord of the seventies.

This arrangement was to allow for power sharing between the three senatorial districts.

However this gentleman’s accord was not respected as candidates from both sides entered the race with all seriousness. Eventually, Duke from the South won.

In 2003 when Duke aspired for a second term, the same argument was put up that since Duke had done one term, the next tenure should go to Central or North irrespective of his achievement.

Same scenario played out when Senator Liyel Imoke from the central district contested in 2007 and 2011. Today the argument for or against zoning has resurfaced again.

Some schools of thoughts believe that there is nothing like zoning in the state and that if there was zoning, other senatorial districts should not have presented candidates when South and Central contested and won at different times?

Another school of thought said since 1999 the state had maintained zoning in principle and that is why candidates from other zones lost because the party in power had, in principle zoned it and it registered in the mind of the people.

The third school of thought opined that the issue of zoning has to do with first term in office whereas second term is earned through the incumbent’s achievement. This group argued that second term is open to all because each particular district has gotten its turn through the first term.

The fourth group said yes, there is zoning but it should be on the Calabar-Ogoja accord of North and Central versus South. In this regard, they said each senatorial district has gotten its turn and going by the accord, both North and Central would have served for 12 years in 2019 so the south should fly the next flag.

In October 2013, during the build up to 2015 same argument popped up as the people of the southern district at a meeting convened by then Deputy Governor, Mr. Efiok Cobham, resolved that power shift in the state should be based on the Calabar-Ogoja accord.

The seven point communiqué which was signed by Cobham, Senator Florence Ita Giwa, former Federal Minister (now Deputy Governor), Professor Ivara Esu and 197 others said, “the need for equity, accommodation and interest of each of the districts, suggests that the spirit and essence of the Calabar-Ogoja accord which formed the basis of coming together of Cross River State must always be respected in balancing and sharing of positions and opportunities.”

However, the people of the North led by the former Second Republic Deputy Governor, late Dr. Mathias Ofobeche, quickly reacted at a press conference that there was nothing like the Calabar-Ogoja accord as the creation of Akwa Ibom State had nullified that. They vowed to resist any attempt by any group to stop them from also producing the state governor in 2015.

For 2019 similar alliances and counter alliances are taking place. The Seven Alive group comprising the seven local governments of southern district led by a top PDP chieftain and business mogul, Chief Asuquo Ekpenyong are rooting for Senator Ayade’s second term in 2019 and the group’s calculation is that by 2023, the North through the support of Ayade, will produce the governor.

But politicians from Central are not leaving any stone unturned, as they believe that all zones have taken their turn and now it is a free for all or survival of the fittest.

This argument is coming from mainly the All Progressives Congress (APC) camp which has maintained that there is nothing like zoning in the state and most likely the Central may float either the Minister of Niger Delta, Pastor Usani Usani or Senator Owan Enoh in 2019.

Outside this, some APC members in the North like a former member in the House of Representatives, Mr. Paul Adah, a former National publicity Secretary of PDP, Mr. Venatious Ikem and a banking tycoon, Mr. John Odey all from Obudu, the incumbent’s area of origin, are insisting that the governor from their area has not done well and to avoid the North losing the second term bid in 2019, they are throwing their hats into the ring.

Some of them like Ada have even declared that if given the mandate, they will do one term to complete the North’s second term and return power to the South in 2023 to start another leg of zoning.

Reliable sources have it that for Senator Ayade, second term is a settled issue because as he (Ayade) will always say, “I am too much, I am too much, I am too intelligent.”

It is speculated that the governor has what it takes to whip everybody into line as it was in 2015 and that his main concern is who will succeed him in 2023. Already some persons have fingered Mr. Chris Agara, the governor’s right hand man from Central who is said to be eying the Senate next year to emerge as his successor.

A chieftain of PDP from Biase council, Mr. Charles Eko said, “issue of zoning is in principle. Second term is earned and not given.

All zones have governed and the number of years that each zone must govern is beyond man and the arrangement of zoning. If we are using zoning of the mind, naturally, the South are 12 years away from governorship while central is just three years, so trying to take it to central will not fly.

If anything, the South should take it now because you cannot return position of deputy to them or the north should complete eight years and power comes back to South in 2023 in the spirit of zoning.”

The Cross River chapter of the Niger Delta Youth Network for Peace and Development (NDYNDP) has also called on all political parties to jettison any zoning arrangement saying it is unconstitutional.

Briefing newsmen in Calabar recently, the National Coordinator of the group, Mr. Okpo Sylvester said, “we have watched and analysed with keen interest, the political and administrative evolution in Cross River since 1999 and we have come to a conclusion that the problem bedeviling our growth and development is the error of always zoning the governorship position to a particular senatorial zone in every general election.

Zoning has sacrificed quality representation and administrative competence.”

But the Ayade’s Special Adviser on Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) affairs, Mr. Victor Effiom Ekpo insisted that Duke and Imoke are products of zoning even though other senatorial districts entered the race with them.

“If you can recall in 1999 when Donald Duke ran for the governor of Cross River State, the three senatorial districts ran alongside with him and he won the election. That was when zoning began.

“The leadership of then governor Duke and then Minister for Mines and Power, Senator Imoke and other prominent sons of Cross River saw it as a matter of urgency for them to extend the governorship to the people of the north, to change from the mind set of Calabar-Ogoja Accord.

The leadership of that time said if going by the accord some people would not produce governor, let the seat rotate among the three senatorial districts. South has gotten its’ own and they now threw it to central in 2007.”

He added, “When the time came for the northern people to run, we all witnessed that all the aspirants came from the five local governments in the north.

Somebody came from the south but was not recognized politically, the major players came from the north.

So come 2023, the Seven Alive will produce the next governor of Cross River. Other senatorial districts can run but I can assure anybody that is coming out that he will fail.

One will say it is unconstitutional but if you read the lips of Cross Riverians we know after Ben Ayade’s second term, governorship will come to the south. Anybody in North and Central can run but we know it is an understanding, an agreement, it is written in the constitution of Cross River state mind that 2023 governorship comes to the south.”

However an APC stalwart, Chief Sam Bassey said, “for me in Cross River state there have never been zoning especially the governorship position. I say so because in 1999 governor Donald Duke contested and he had my good friend, late Mark Ukpo as contender.

Donald contested on platform of PDP and Ukpo contested on platform of APP. When he tried second term he also had Ambassador Obi Odu, Emmanuel Ibeshi as candidates from the North.

“In 2007 when Imoke contested, he had Prof Eyo Etim Nyong from the South; he had Emmanuel Ibeshi from the North and Pastor Usani Usani from Central who contested. All these years we have never had a situation were one zone, be it South, Central or North was allowed to be the only zone to produce the candidate.

“So we cannot start now. As far as I am concerned, the governorship of Cross River should be thrown open to the three districts and let anybody who wants to contest come out.

We want the best candidate to come out and that we can only achieve by leaving it open as it has always been. I want somebody to contradict me, from 1999, Cross River has never left any zone alone to produce the candidate and we are not going to start in 2019.”

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