Cross River Central Senatorial District: Who Wears The Crown? BY CORNELIUS MPANTOR OJONG

In Columnists, Opinion, Politics

ndoma egba and owan enoh graph

The central senatorial district of Cross River State is set to deliver one of the most telling political lessons in our contemporary politics if the feelers emanating from this district are anything to go by.

The seismic shock waves they form will reverberate across the nation and on the positive note would help in reshaping our body politics especially the relationship between the political class and the electorate.

For the first time, the sitting third term senator and Senate Leader Senator Victor Ndoma Egba SAN, will be facing real challenge from Rt. Hon. John Owan – Enoh, one of the most influential voices in the House of Representatives and the chairman, House committee on Appropriation.

Before now, His Excellency Governor Liyel Imoke had always deployed the party structure in the state to return the likes of Senator Ndoma Egba, a feat that had been achieved three consecutive terms that will terminate in 2015 with another round of elections.

Indeed many of the beneficiaries of the Governor’s patronage have over the years displayed unacceptable arrogance of power and have been contemptuous of the electorate who they pretended to represent.

This status quo is set to change not only in the central senatorial district but in the state as a whole, as governor Liyel Imoke, a consummate politician, visionary leader and change agent is set to entrench his legacy of service within the body politics of the state as he bows out next year having served the mandatory two terms as governor.

From the unfolding drama, the contest in the Central Senatorial District remains a mouth-watering clash of contrasting visions in representation.

Whereas Senator Victor Ndoma Egba is known on national stage, he is widely perceived at home as aloof, a politician who is not in touch with his people. Given this inclination, followers of the senator’s political journey thus far have agreed that his natural habitat is the national stage.

Will this be his albatross in the coming party primaries? Rt. Hon. John Owan Enoh, on the other hand is one of the leading political lights of his generation who has demonstrated thorough understanding of the inner workings of politics.

He epitomizes the qualities of a consummate politician: compassionate, humble, accessible and in touch with his people. On the national stage, he is highly respected not only for his deep knowledge, insight and understanding of budgetary processes but also for the profound work he has continued to pioneer in every committee he has chaired.

His strong and studied defense of Mr. President’s 2014 budget proposal in the floor of the House of Representatives when opposition law makers conspired to shoot it down at the second reading was both insightful and penetrating.

Given this objective political reality, when the chips are down, it is the people of the central senatorial district that will decide who will represent them in the senate in 2015.

The two gladiators are their prominent sons. They are conversant with their character, vision and politics and are therefore in the better position to know who will represent them.

For eleven years, Senator Ndoma Egba has been in the senate. The people believe that he has done his bit and needs to move on. He thinks otherwise and has set his political machinery in motion.

In view of his lack of grassroots appeal, many discerning observers believe that he has a mountain to climb to achieve his ambition. Firstly, there has always been this feeling that he holds the people in contempt and only comes to them at the end of every tenure for their votes. There is therefore the absence of any real connection between him and the people.

Given this criticism, which is like the sword of Damocles hanging around his neck, the senator is determined to make amends. Suddenly, the once inaccessible senator has thrown his doors wide open to the people.

As against his practice, he now attends occasions whenever he is invited and spares no effort to make his name and presence felt among the people. Also, senator Ndoma Egba has an appalling record when it comes to empowerment and critical intervention schemes with direct impact on the people.

For the past eleven years in the senate, he has hardly carried out any empowerment program. It was only recently that he carried out an empowerment program which was massively covered within the state and national media for maximum impact.

Many of his constituents who are the target of this scheme however, describe this latest offering from the embattled Senator as a publicity stunt designed to rebuild his battered public image in view of the upcoming primaries. Whether this image makeover will play well with the people remains to be seen.

On the other hand, Hon. John Owan Enoh through quality representation and several empowerment programs has endeared himself to the people. His relative modest family background and up bringing prepared him well for leadership.

Right from his days at the state House of Assembly, he developed a deep bond with his people and as the scope of his representation expanded, so also his compassion, commitment and love for his people.

His several empowerment schemes, which have now become an annual event, represent a genuine attempt to mitigate deprivation and suffering of his people through targeted intervention.

This high level of interest and commitment has made him one of the respected leaders of his generation. Students are not left out as his education scholarship program is entering its 5th year.

Also, widows, physically challenged, the indigent, artisans and the less privileged have been cardinal pillars of his vision in representation. Given his track record, analysts believe that he is not embarking on empowerment schemes because he wants to play politics but rather because of his genuine love for his people.

Governor Liyel Imoke is certainly a factor and will also play a pivotal role regarding who emerges the senatorial candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the central Senatorial District.

The reasons are threefold. As an incumbent chief executive of the state, his impressive record of achievements makes him arguably the best governor the state has ever produced.

Apart from the massive infrastructural development of the state, he has made the state an oasis of peace and the most attractive investment destination in the nation.

In the twilight of his second and last tenure as governor, he will certainly be interested in the caliber of leaders who will sustain the momentum of his impressive legacy of service at all levels of leadership.

More importantly, the governor is from the Central Senatorial district and so should have a more than passing interest in who emerges the party’s candidate.

Within the political family, he is highly regarded and commands the respect of the mainstream political elite enamoured by his record of achievements and his astute and sophisticated political pedigree.

As the leader of the party in the state, he controls the lever of political power and during this year of transition and elections, the structure he has put in place will work tirelessly to ensure not only the survival of his legacy but its continuation even after he has quit the office of governor.

It is an open secret that the Governor is not disposed to the 4th term tenure for any legislator from the state both at the Federal and state levels. He is more interested in the progression and emergence of a new cadre of leaders at all levels in order to give opportunity to loyal party members who have kept faith with the party.

This he has communicated in no unmistakable terms to all those concerned. Whether, they will heed the governor’s message remains to be seen. But in practical terms, those who are out of sync with the governor’s vision will meet him at the field to test their strength.

Senator Ndoma Egba’s fourth term gambit is in defiance of the governors well known position. Predictably, the senator’s political moves have set him on collision course with the governor.

What is playing out according to some political pundits is not just the struggle for the central senatorial seat but the battle for the soul of the state. The struggle had started many years ago and is only coming into the public domain.

Only recently, the advisers and handlers of Senator Ndoma Egba advised him to make peace with the governor. Whether this approach will yield the desired result remains to be seen, but observers see this latest change in tactics as a gambit by desperate political forces that are determined to grab power at all costs.

The convergence of opinion is that the governor is too sophisticated enough to fall prey to this change in tactics. Hon. John Owan-Enoh is without the enumerated baggage.

As a matter of fact, having acquitted himself creditably in the House of Assembly (1999 – 2003), House of Representatives (2003 – till date), there are strident calls for him to go to senate. His teaming supporters see his elevation to senate as reward for his quality representation of his people.

His aspiration is already generating excitement amongst the six (6) Local Governments Areas, which make up the central senatorial district. He is widely seen as a man of the people who will help redefine representation of the central senatorial district in the Senate.

More, critically, Owan-Enoh is seen as one of the die-hard loyalists of Governor Imoke, who is solidly in support of the Governor’s successful transition plan. In the coming days and weeks, the political terrain of the Central senatorial district will become even more interesting.

The people will deliver their verdict during the primaries. No matter where the pendulum swings, one thing is sure: never again will any politician take the people for granted.

Dr. Cornelius Mpantor Ojong is a lecturer in Department of Management Sciences, University of Calabar

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