By Aplefe Ojong
Cross River State as a political entity among the comity of States in the Federation of Nigeria was created in 1967 as South Eastern state under the regime of Gen. Yakubu Gowon and later re-christened as Cross River state in 1976 by the Late Murtala Muhammed/Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo regime.
In September 1987, what is known today as Akwa Ibom State was carved out from Cross River State into a separate state, leaving behind some part of the old Calabar province to continue the marriage with an area that make up the entire old Ogoja province (with the exception of Abakiliki and Afikpo, now in Ebonyi State), which stretches from Gakem and the Belegete hills up to some parts of Biase Local Government area of Cross River state. Cross River state covers an area of 20,156 square kilometers with several languages and dialects, making a mini-Nigeria.
As a political entity, Cross River has come a long way, being one of the 12 States created in 1967, but had remained in the back burner in the scheme of things in Nigeria’s political equation, until the ushering in of the fourth republic in 1999 when Mr. Donald Duke emerged as governor, though in an election that was heavily rigged using the Boki vote.
The administration of Duke consciously worked to reasonably give the state a voice in the Nigerian political arena. Through the heavy emphasis placed on the tourism industry with the development of the Obudu Ranch Resort, the Buanchor canopy walk way, the Tinapa Business Resort, Urban development, among others, the state earned some appreciable level of respect and recognition as the state became the flagship of Nigeria’s tourism.
The present administration in the state led by Senator Liyel Imoke, a close ally of Duke, has continued in the direction of his friend but with added emphasis on the development of rural access roads, urban roads, International Conference Center under construction, Institute of Management and Technology, Ugep, among others.
Though the administrations of the two out of the three so-called wise men might have leveraged the political standing in the eyes of the rest of the country, it still does not remove the loud reality that they were all products of a system heavily skewed in rigging right from the so-called party primaries to the main elections, with a little exception of the 2012 Imoke’s comeback after the Supreme Court nullified his election.
This was understandable because Cross Riverians and other Nigerians resident in the state voted in sympathy, and preferring the evil they had known to those they did not know and were not serious.
The regimes, especially that of Mr. Donald Duke did not only leave Cross Riverians politically irrelevant in terms of political decision on who leads them using their franchise during the elections but equally left them financially bereft and devoid of information.
Events in the political arena of the state in the past one to two years are lucidly beginning to indicate that Cross Riverians of all shades, political, socio-economic, religious and cultural colorations are steadily crawling out of decades of being tactically caged in a political dungeon and accurate information starvation.
Data in our disposal is indicative of the undisputable reality that never in the history of the state since its creation in 1967 to its re-christening in 1976 had the state ever witnessed such a large number of gubernatorial aspirants, especially from a single senatorial district of the state as we are currently experiencing in the build-up to the 2015 general elections in the state.
As at the time of this political analysis, the state had already counted 23 aspirants from the northern senatorial District where the governorship position has been zoned to, who want to occupy the number one political seat in the state come May 29, 2015.
For record purpose, the following are presently queing up for the state number one political position. They are: Ntufam Fidelis Ugbo, Prince Goddy Jeddy Agba, Hon. Larry Odey, Barr. Legor Idagbo, Mr. Gerald Adah, Dr. Peter A, Oti, Senator Ben Ayade, Chief Francis Bulem, Barr. Joe Agi (SAN), Barr. Mike Aniah, Dr. Julius Okputu, Hon. Emmanuel Ibeshi, Barr. Tanko Ashang and Mr. Patrick Ugbe.
Also in the race for the governorship position for 2015 in Cross River are, Chief Peter Ojie, Rev. Francis Eworo, Mr. Fidel Egoro, Mr. John Odey, Hon. Frank Adah, Alice Achi, Emmanuel Ubi, King I.I. Morphy, Odey Ochicha, and Barr. Lazarus Agla Undie.
All the aspirants are contesting under the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), except the last two who are eyeing the governorship seat under the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
It is true that the people of northern Cross River are egalitarian and republican in nature, which may have contributed to the increased number of governorship aspirants from the zone for the 2015 race, it is evidently clear that this is not the main reason, because the egalitarian and republican nature of these people has been there with them in all the past elections.
During the short-lived third republic, there were never as many aspirants as we have today, especially under one particular platform, where the former governor, Chief Clement Ebri and Chief Wilfred Inah were the arrowheads in the defunct National Republican Convention (NRC), while Dr. Matthew Ojong held sway in the equally defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP).
In 1999,Senator Kanu Agabi (SAN), Mr. Donald Duke, Mark Ukpo and High Chief Eyo Etim Nyong, were the most prominent contestants in the PDP and the then APP before its metamorphosis to ANPP, besides other few aspirants from parties with little or no political structures in the state them.
Yet, there were never as many aspirants as we presently have. During the 2003 governorship election, apart from Ambassador Akpang Obi Odu who almost sacked the incumbent, Mr. Donald Duke, all the aspirants from other political parties combined were not as numerous as the number in PDP alone today.
It was the same in 2007 when Senator Agabi (SAN), Dr. Walter Eneji, Barr. Venatius Ikem, Mr. Emmanuel Ibeshi, Chief Fidelis Ugbo, Dr. Julius Okputu, squared it out with Senator Imoke.
2011 elections and the 2012 re-election of Imoke were not different in terms of the number of aspirants as compared with the present.
The main fact behind the political awakening of Cross Riverians is the emergence of the online media with strong reportage of events and activities in Cross River state, which has indeed beamed the searchlight on activities of politicians and people with questionable intents are kept on their toes.
The advent of online/social media in the state in the past two years has steadily built confidence in our people with constant, truthful and insightful reportage of the state.
The online media has greatly helped in the creation of awareness among the people of the state including the very political class, most of who hitherto could not boldly assert themselves nor stand for what they believe.
Presently boasting of eleven Cross River dedicated websites, the online media in the state has so revolutionized information dissemination about Cross River state that today Cross Riverians at home and Diaspora now repose greater confidence that they can get accurate information about their state, not from the dictates of the outsiders but from the burning patriotism of media organizations owned by indigenes of the state.
With eleven online media establishments wholly owned by persons from Cross River state, and daily giving the people accurate information of the happenings in their state, including the politicians, there is no wonder the current political dispensation in the state has taken a different but encouraging dimension, with the political class now relying more on the online media dominating the air space, providing the people with information at the tip of their fingers.
What CrossRiverWatch in particular and other online platforms of the state origin have done is to bring the entire people of the state, both the leaders and the ordinary citizens from political and information obscurity to limelight.
CrossRiverWatch and indeed other online platforms owned by indigenes of the state have come to stay, to perform their passionate and patriotic duties of keeping the people of Cross River State at home and in the Diaspora timely informed about the happenings around them as well as to make those to whom we have entrusted our votes to be accountable to us, and not to their families or their bellies in what today is popularly referred to as “Stomach Infrastructure”.
We will continue to perform our duty of constantly reminding all, the Police, and other paramilitary establishments, members of the Armed Forces, politicians, farmers, mechanics, students, leaders at all levels of governance and even ourselves that an individual or a small group of persons interest cannot be larger and more important than the larger society, and that wrong, under any coloration cannot become right.
Today, gubernatorial aspirants in the state have agreed to meet with the eleven online media organizations making up the Association of Cross River Online Journalists (ACROJ), and other members of NUJ of Cross River origin in the state to present their manifestoes to the people, an action hitherto unthinkable in the state.
Gradually, ACROJ will in the near future organize governorship debates for the aspirants, a process which will commit leaders to be more accountable to the people.
CrossRiverWatch and indeed other ACROJ members have not only come to stay but to put in a right perspective the information that is churned out about Cross River state, and make the state one of the states in Nigeria with the highest information generation rate and a liberal press in the country. This is certainly our task and this task we must achieve.
Aplefe Ojong is a crossriverwatch correspondent and in-house political analyst.
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