by crossriverwatch admin
Chief Okoi Obono Obla is a lawyer and human rights activist. He is also the National Assistant Secretary of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC and a governorship candidate of the party in the last governorship election in Cross River State. In this exclusive interview with crossriverwatch in Abuja, Chief Obla spoke about the level of preparedness of the opposition for the forthcoming local government elections as well as the role of the former governor, Mr. Donald Duke in the emasculation of the opposition in the State.
Chief Obla, the forth coming local government elections in Cross River state will be the initial test case for APC in the State. You are a member of the merger committee of the APC, will the party be ready for the elections in August?
Point of correction! I am not a member of the APC Merger Committee. There is nothing whatsoever like merger committee of APC. I am Secretary/Member of the Congress for Progressive Change. The Political Parties involved in the merger talks are the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN; All Nigerian Peoples Party, ANPP; Congress for Progressive Change, CPC and APGA. Recently the Democratic Peoples Party wrote to Inter Party Joint Merger Committee indicating the resolve of the DPP to join the merger talks. So these are the Parties that formed the Inter Party Joint Merger Committee that is coordinating the talks. The merging Parties have given Notice to the Independent National Electoral Commission that they intend to merge to form the All Progressives Congress, APC.
I don’t know when the Local Government Council Elections are taking place in Cross River State. The Cross River State Independent Electoral Commission has not given any notice when it intends to conduct the election. However, the All Progressives Congress is not yet registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission. It has merely commenced the process for registration and except it is registered it is not yet a political party. The procedure for merger of political parties in the country is provided for by Section 84 of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended).
The process has not yet been complied with. We are in the process of complying. The INEC/Constitutional/Legal Compliance sub Committee which was set up to (1) determine and examine all legal issues related to the process of Merger of Political Parties (2) to provide guidelines to all the parties involved in the merger, which will ensure full compliance with all relevant laws by all the parties (3) to liaise with INEC and all other relevant agencies to ensure a smooth consummation of the merger (4) to document all understanding and /or agreements among the merging parties submitted it Report to the Inter Party Joint Merger Committee only on the 6th March, 2013. I was a member of this Sub-Committee. In the Report we have advised the merging Parties to immediately set in motion the processes for complying with the requirement of Section 84 subsections 1, 2,3,4,5 & 6 of the Electoral Act. As I am talking to you, the merging Parties have written to INEC giving it notice of their intention to merge.
So from the table drawn up by the Sub-Committee, the All Progressives Congress would become a registered Political Party latest by July, 2013 by which time the merging political parties must have held their National Convention approving the merger and all necessary documentation submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission. The merging political parties have been requested to hold their National Conventions to pass special resolutions approving the proposed merger latest by May, 2012.
It follows that if the Local Government Council elections are held before July, 2013, the APC cannot present candidates because it is not a registered political party.
The opposition in Cross River is generally perceived to be weak because there is no unifying figure or structure to harness the pockets of effort scattered around, how do you think the APC will change that situation
The opposition in Cross River State was weakened by the shenanigans and oppression unleashed by former Governor Donald Duke. Governor Donald Duke was intolerant of opposition. So he used the apparatuses of the State to emasculate the opposition. Donald Duke did not even tolerate any dissent in his Party-PDP. You see, at the inception of democratic civil rule in 1999 the opposition was very formidable. Let me illustrate. The All Peoples Party (APP) which later changed to the All Nigerian Peoples Party was very strong in the State. It won 12 seats out of 25 in the Cross River State House of Assembly. It had 11 Local Government Chairmen. It had a Senator and members in the House of Representatives. The Speaker of the House of Assembly, Dr. Gabriel Ada was an ANPP member. John Odey was an ANPP member. Senator Florence Ita Giwa was an ANPP Senator.
The opposition was strong and formidable. Then Governor Donald Duke became Governor under PDP. Donald Duke started the process of emasculation of the opposition. He started what I call “Poaching” and “wooing” leading opposition figures to join the PDP. He used financial inducements. He used the patronage system. He appointed leading opposition figures into his government. Those who refused to be induced or accept appointment were subject to repression, harassment and intimidation using the police and other law enforcement agencies. They were hounded and dealt with.
A militia and secret cult groups were encouraged and sponsored to deal with political detractors and opponents by government. You remember how a leading opposition figure, the Chairman of Akpabuyo Local Government Area Council, Prince Eyo Okon Eyo died under suspicious circumstances. He was a formidable member of the opposition. You recall how a posh Hotel belonging to Ambassador Obi Akpang Odu was razed to the ground by thugs believed to have been sponsored by some elements in Donald Duke’s government. You recall how late John Okpa, the Deputy Governor under Donald Duke was impeached because he disagreed politically with Donald Duke. Chief John Okpa decamped to the ANPP and contested the 2003 governorship election. Thereafter he was hounded and harassed and indeed chased out of the State. He later died in a suspicious motor accident. This is the genesis of how the opposition became weakened and disoriented in Cross River State. The culture of electoral roguery and impunity became institutionalized.
This culture of electoral arbitrariness and capriciousness as perpetrated by elements of the PDP in collaboration with the Police and corrupt staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission foisted a one Party system in Cross River State through blatant election rigging perpetrated on the opposition. The judiciary was not spared. I know how Donald Duke used to threatened judges who were perceived to be independent minded. Donald Duke petitioned many judges who were firm and independent minded to intimidate and cow them. A Chief Magistrate, Mrs. Theresa Maria Nsa was murdered in cold blood in her bed room because she refused to grant bail to some political thugs who were arraigned in her Court on the allegation that they had committed murder. After she was murdered her son was arrested and charged to Court on a trumped charge just to divert attention. It was a dark period in the State. A lot of people were killed.
The press was compromised to look the other way. The social media was not yet in the vogue then. So freedom of information was seriously curtailed. A lot of atrocities were perpetrated under the cover of government. Recall the incarceration of Honourable Daniel Asuquo by Donald Duke for almost two years for daring to challenge him when he went to Akamkpa to campaign for the 2003 general election. Honourable Daniel Asuquo was a leading member of the ANPP. This is how the one party state dictatorship was foisted in Cross River State of Nigeria.
It is superficial. You recall the famous confession made by former Governor Donald Duke in 2008 or so when he told a startled audience in a public event in Lagos how he use to compromised the Independent National Electoral Commission in the State to give advantage to the PDP. The Cross River State Electoral Commission is just an appendage of the PDP. All members of the Commission are well known supporters and members of the PDP. So how do you expect the opposition to thrive in such circumstances? However the coming together of all opposition political parties and progressive civil society organizations under the canopy of the APC will change the situation. It would make the opposition stronger and capable of facing the PDP challenge.
So this is how the opposition became weakened. I disagree with you that it was because there is no “unifying figure”. The atmosphere was not conducive for opposition to thrive. I also disagree with you that there were no structures in the opposition camp. There had always been structures but the ground was not just fertile for the opposition to thrive. The opposition was oppressed and hounded.
Do you think it will be possible for the opposition figures in the State to work under the new APC without rancor?
The opposition political parties have already merged. The question is therefore irrelevant. The opposition have no choice. They have to coalesce to be able to give PDP a challenge. The opposition must harness resources. That is the idea behind the decision to merge in the first place.
What alternative is the APC promising Cross Riverians or is it just all about grabbing the power from PDP and business continues as usual?
The idea behind the formation of APC is not just to grab power. The APC wants to restructure the country; entrench democratic culture anchored on respect for the rule of law and human rights. The APC would guarantee a totally independent judiciary. The APC would eradicate corruption. The APC would restore values such as integrity, honesty, discipline, hard work, industry. The APC would reflect on the social, economic and political situation prevailing in the country, on the plight of the generality of our people, urban and rural alike, youth and women, embark on a massive program which will address the needs, yearnings and concerns of our people. Fundamentally, under the APC, Governments at all levels would be restricted to acting as a regulator, which will create the enabling environment for wealth creation and employment generation.
Social Services such as Education, Health Services, Water Supply, Electricity, Clean Environment and Food Supply would enjoy government support wholesomely while industrialization, agriculture and poverty alleviation would be tackled and promoted through the creation of an enabling environment. Agriculture would be given priority of place. Central Government should mainly be concerned with regulation in the agricultural sector. The APC would take definite steps towards a credible process of diversifying our national revenue sources as well as ensuring an acceptable balance between the Recurrent and Capital Expenditures in our budgeting. The APC would work out sound methods for job creation including particularly mass housing and agriculture.
The security architecture of the country would be completely over hauled. The APC would design specific and generic policy options on Youth and Women as strong change agents in our country. Women constitute approximately 50 % or more of Nigeria’s population. The APC would work out clearly defined policies and programs on how to integrate those critical mass of our population into the National development process.
Address the issue of sport development and the care of senior citizens. Provide clear commitment to ensuring a very healthy environment for the healthy development of all our people. Establish crystal clear cardinal points as our core commitments to our people.
So the APC is surely an alternative to the bad governance which PDP has institutionalized in the country. APC government would not seize local government allocation. APC government will give more powers to the Local Governments. APC would not waste money organizing carnivals. The money would be channeled into establishing first class primary and secondary schools. APC would turn the State into an agricultural and knowledge based economy.
What do you think are some of the laudable things the ruling PDP is doing that the APC will want to build on?
Nothing absolutely! The APC would make a clean, total break from the PDP. The APC is ideologically opposite to the PDP. The APC is anchored on democratic socialism. The PDP is an ultra conservative platform devoted to looting of the public treasury. The PDP has messed up the country. The country is on the brink of a civil war. The country is failing. So the APC would carry out a surgical operation. So they cannot be a question of APC building on anything the PDP has done. Is it the grinding and scandalous poverty? Is it corruption? Is it crumbling infrastructure? Is it stealing of pension funds? Is it the fuel subsidy scam? Is it the humungous stealing going on in NNPC? Is it the anarchy going on in the country? Is it the archaic and corrupt infested Police Force? Is it the bloated federal bureaucracy that thrives on patronage and graft?
With the volumes of allocation that has come into LGs in CRS as evident in documents you obtained from Accountant General of the Federation, do you think the LGs have judiciously utilized the allocations?
This is a good question. The Local Government Councils in the State since 2003 have collected billions from the federation accounts. But in the period between 2003 and 2007 when Donald Duke was Governor, about 80 percent of these allocations were seized by the State Government under the guise of investment in Tinapa even when we were deceived that Tinapa was private sector driven. We were also deceived that these allocations to Local Government Councils seized by the State Government were used to buy shares in Tinapa. However, I have found this was a big fraud. I have found also that since 2007 to the present, billions allocated to Local Government Councils have not been judiciously managed. I cannot even say with confidence if these monies eventually got to the Local Government Councils.
The issue of Joint State/Local Government Councils must be looked into. You know by the Constitution, allocations from the Federation Accounts to the Local Government Councils must first be paid into the Joint State/Local Government Councils account which is managed by the State Government. So this presents the opportunity to seize funds allocated to the Local Government Councils. So what actually gets to the Local Government Councils is less than what is given to them in the books. This is why I have requested the EFCC to investigate allocation of revenue to Local Government Councils in the State to ascertain whether what we have on ground is commensurate with these huge allocations. I cannot see why our Local Councils cannot construct roads? I cannot see why our Local Government Councils cannot create jobs? With all the huge amount of allocations, our Councils should be centers of growth and prosperity.
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