>Venatius Ikem became a politician at a young age in life. Just after graduating from the university of Jos, he became the Obudu Local Government Chairman under the defunct Social Democratic Party SDP, only at 26 years of age. Since then he has had a bag of mixed fortunes in his meteoric rise in the politics of the “people’s paradise”. He has been National Director of Publicity for the ruling PDP, Director of Publicity of the Babangida Campaign Organisation as well as two times Commissioner in Cross River State. In this exclusive interview with crossiverwatch, Mr. Venatius Ikem simply called Vena, bared his mind on sundry issues.
CRW: The State Governor Liyel Imoke recently said his successor will come from the Northern Senatorial District of the state. Your name is also been rumoured as one of the contenders. How did you receive the Governor’s comment?
Vena: The Governor’s comment, welcomed as it is, was actually a reaffirmation of what he has been saying privately to those close enough and even publicly whenever the opportunity offers itself for almost two years now. And like he said, it is the right thing to do. The challenge though is how to manage the process of picking a candidate. For one there should not be too much expectation from other Senatorial Districts. Certainly, to think that the Northern Senatorial District will alone ‘select’ a candidate for the rest of the state is to expect too much. I dare say such a candidate will be more appropriately picked by the two senatorial districts that should not be contesting because they will be more objective about what serves the collective interest of the state. And also in order that we do not reduce the choice of a governor of the entire state to that of a senator. Of rumours, well, there is always enough of that in politics.
CRW: Ben Ayade your political rival has also been named by some sources as the favoured candidate from the north. That he’s the most likely person the Governor will pick for the party. How do you view that speculation?
Vena: I do not consider Senator Ben Ayade my rival at all although I am not about to declare for the election in any case. I see him falling into the infamous long line of those I have assisted into office who typically exert all their energies to undo me. Usually they fail because you cannot succeed when you return evil for good. And that is not peculiar to me. It is all over the country. It’s a natural process. On being favoured, well, I am not inside the Governor’s mind so I cannot say. If antecedents will count, then I will say, his tenure as Senator will be a good measure and the jury is still out there. One thing I know for certain though is that it is easy to win your first election when no one knows you because you can escape with that innocence. But once elected, your flanks are wide open and you lose the innocence of fables. Scrutiny is thorough. Most of the time you only play the Ostrich but the public will see you for who you are.
CRW: Don’t you think that the fact of your ongoing trial and the events that preceded the trial has diminished your chances of becoming the Governor of the State both constitutionally and in terms of public perception?
Vena: I have said before that I am not about to throw my hat into the ring as it were. Having said that, I’m not on ‘trial’. The unfortunate incidence is regrettable but I am sure that, that cannot forever define who I am. I think I have moved beyond that now. It is true that without it the speculation about my interest would have been stronger but I am sure my reaction would still have been the same at this stage. From my past experience, I know that the race is not for the swift.
CRW: You were part of this administration, handling a very critical ministry. Looking back, would you say the state government has achieved its target in rural transformation and the MDGs?
Vena: I think there is no doubt on my mind that the Imoke administration has performed above average in rural transformation. Providing basic infrastructure like roads, medicare, electricity, water, schools and I think that will be the Governor’s defining legacy. I don’t believe that only urban structures should define achievements. His vision has remained clear and consistent: to take government to those who need it the most. I laugh at those who chide him for lack of ‘performance’. You need to speak to typical rural dwellers to appreciate the enormity of what he has done. Government after all is for the good of the greatest number. But I believe that the Governor would have done even more if his resource base had been better. So to that extent I will say there is room for more work. I believe, however, that if more states achieve what we have achieved quietly in CRS then Nigeria would have taken a giant step forward indeed.
CRW: How do you perceive the role that the opposition is playing in Cross River Politics?
Vena: There is hardly any opposition in the first place. What you have are pockets of unfulfilled ambitions that fell out of the PDP. They are disgruntled, angry and uncoordinated. The social media has thankfully provided them an avenue to have a voice. To ventilate their anger and abuse and insult everyone. Hopefully that will assuage their anger. It might have been more dangerous if it remained bottled up. Having said that, I think a credible opposition is essential to the success of any democracy indeed any government. If you are surrounded by yeah-sayers only, you will not be challenged to bring out the best in you. I only wish we could have a credible opposition that is not looking to get invited into the government but that looks to providing alternative platforms for debate and improvement in government and governance.
CRW: What are your plans for 2015?
Vena: My plans for 2015 remain to continue to be an active player in the politics of the state and by extension the country. Participation remains key to me. Not what position I will be holding. That is usually the icing on my cake not the cake itself. I love politics passionately. Hopefully, after 2015, I will start working on my memoirs. I am bustling with so much I want to say about my experience in politics spanning 21 years now. But I need a stable atmosphere to write which will be distracted by 2015 activities. I want to be very active indeed.
CRW: Thank you.
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