Cross River: How PDP’ll wrest power from Ayade in 2023 –Senator Gershom Bassey

By Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye (SUN Newspaper)

Senator Gershom Bassey is representing Cross River South Senatorial District in the Senate.

The senator of the 8th and 9th National Assembly in this interview with Sunday Sun spoke on the Cross River State governor, Prof Ben Ayade’s May 20 dumping of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the All Progressives Congress (APC). He also spoke on the governor’s style of governance, insecurity, as well as the benefit of the Electoral Act if eventually passed. Excepts: \

With the defection of the governor of Cross River State, Ben Ayade, it is believed that the state is now an  APC state, do you agree?

That is just a pie in the sky. There is nothing like that. Cross River is a PDP state and remains so.

Why do you say so?  Remember, governors as chief security officers of their states wield a lot of power. And when it comes to elections, they are very strong to decide who gets what?

We are in a democracy. Just like you and I, he has just one vote. Are you saying as chief security officers of their states governors rig elections? If they have just one vote like you and I, how are they going to rig? Or you don’t have confidence in the electoral process?

But he has the federal might and supports?

What does federal might mean?

It means he has the full support of the centre?

Again you are saying he is going to rig elections.  Otherwise in a free and fair election, how does it work?

Are you saying the federal might has not worked in previous elections in some states?

Well, now you have moved away from Cross River State to the National Assembly and then to the Electoral Act and then the president consenting and signing off on the Electoral Act. You will recall that in the Eighth Assembly, the president did not sign off on the Electoral Act. But this time, we believe that the president will sign off on the Electoral Act and the Electoral Act that is coming through the Ninth Assembly will  plug a lot of loopholes that you would have said are opportunities for what you call state might or federal might, senate might or  something. It moves us closer to free and fair elections. The key issue is the issue of collation  of results. That is a key issue in any election. And the key issue in collation of results is where  you collate the results. The question is what happens at various collation centres. Now, you are  aware that at the polling units, if people vote and protect their votes, in other words, after you vote you  will remain at the polling centre and wait for the result to be announced. The next thing is for that result to be in the new INEC model, the INEC guideline which is for those results as we saw in Edo State, to be uploaded to the cloud. Once they are uploaded to the cloud, then you reduce what they call the opportunities for tempering. And with tempering comes rigging. So, we believe that in the type of Electoral Act that is going to come out of the National Assembly, we’re going to greatly reduce  opportunities for tampering with results.

So, what are the chances of PDP retaining power in Cross River come 2023?

Hundred per cent.  Why do I say so? Because it’s a PDP state. The other day, you saw what happened when the national chairman visited Cross River State, you saw the outpouring of people, and the outpouring of support at the airport, at the state secretariat and all over the state. You see what’s going on today, today people are spontaneously without prompting holding meetings in every ward in Cross River State, it’s all over the media and the social media. In my local government, for instance, almost all the 12 wards in every single ward have held meetings, rallies and these are spontaneous gestures, I have not given them any money because of the love that the people have for the PDP. It is the same  in all the 18 local governments. So, you can see that this is a PDP state. In fact, those crossing are being forced to cross to the APC, they are being coerced, including people who have medical bills to pay, who have children’s school fees to pay. They are being told that, if you don’t cross to APC, we will not give you the money that you have earned as an appointee to pay your medical bills, to pay your children’s school fees. Do you think those people are truly APC members? Of course, they’re not APC members, they are being forced like a gun to your head, you’re being forced to do something against your will. So you find that half of the new appointees, new people moving into APC, are being coerced, but all these things will play out in 2023.

Knowing the role that the local government plays being close to the grassroots and with most of the chairmen crossing over to the APC, don’t you think it will affect the party in 2023?

Well, of course, you know that 18 of the local government chairmen were appointed, hand-picked and not elected. In fact, there were hardly any elections. And a lot of people even within the PDP cried out about the hand picking of candidates. Half of them are in court, if not all of them within the PDP itself. The PDP was angry with the governor. Candidates in the PDP, who are sidelined or not picked were angry with the governor for not allowing a free and fair primaries for candidates to emerge.

So, we know that because the chairmen were hand-picked,  the counsellors were hand-picked as a result that link with the grassroots is not there, it’s unfortunate, but is not. So, that’s where we and, therefore, you have a situation where the impact that you talked about which naturally, should have been there is not there, if you had ran for an election as a counsellor, as a local government chairman. Because the people do not see you as their elected representative. So, in answer to your question, the impact is minimal.

In Cross River State, there is rotation of power among the three senatorial districts. Donald Duke took the turn of South, Liyel Imoke took the turn of Central and Ben Ayade took the turn of the North. Are you sure this rotational understanding will still be retained come 2023? 

I don’t see why not. You know, the rotation is ingrained in the polity right now. So, it is no longer the issue of Gershom Bassey or anybody saying that power must rotate or even any political party saying that power must rotate. Even within all the political parties, they have come to understand that rotation of power is real. It has gone round once, it started in the South, it has gone around once and it has come back to the South. So you know, anybody that wants to challenge it is free to challenge it. But the truth is that the people themselves are the ones that are insisting on the rotation of power in Cross River State. So, I believe it’s the turn of the South.

What are those issues that you think need to be addressed that can make Cross River State be at par with states that are working?

For me, I think the basic thing now for Cross River State is to create an enabling environment. Clearly, the government doesn’t have enough funds or income to embark on huge projects at this time. So, I think that the focus of the government must be to create an enabling environment. What do I mean by that? I mean, basic infrastructure, security and the likes must be in place. What encourages investors to come is the ease of doing business, those are the issues that we need to address now. So for me, those are the fundamentals. I think that if Cross River State creates a business friendly environment, businesses will come, investments will come, employment will be created and you will see economic growth.

Nobody wants to go into a place and do business where you’ll be kidnapped every week. In fact, we’ve had an exodus of traders operating in Cross River State leave, they’ve left the state because of the incessant kidnappings that have been going on in the past few years. So once we can address some of these security issues, and create basic infrastructure, repair the roads, you know, ensure that the water board is working, you have 80,000 cubic metres of water in the water board, but nobody’s feeling it. It’s as if we don’t have water, people are still digging boreholes all over the place. So you need to have basic infrastructure and security. And then you create the enabling environment for investors to come and do business in Cross River State. The other things are already there. We have the Tinapa Business Resort, we have the Summit Hills, and then you have a few of these factories that the current governor is trying to do. But I think that what may be missing now and where I think that the government should have focused is in the area of basic ease of doing business, which includes basic infrastructure and security.

Before now, Cross River State used to be the most peaceful state in the country but with the situation right now people are getting frightened. What can be done to address this?

Well, it’s no coincidence that the security situation has worsened since 2015. In 2015, the only other thing that changed was that we had a new government. So, I think that once the government is up and doing and is focused on its responsibilities, especially in the area of security, things will improve and things will change.

Recently, we saw the former governors of Cross Rivers State, whose relationship had been strained before now, come together. What do you think that reunion portends for the state?  

Well, first of all, let me tell you, Donald Duke and Liyel Imoke were superstar governors as far as I am concerned. Donald, who was the first governor of our state in this republic, ran a fantastic leg. He did his super leg, which is like a relay race and put Cross Rivers State on the map. Liyel Imoke  on his part, took the baton and ran with it. He did a super job in terms of rural infrastructure, in terms of creating fundamental processes of government. You can’t beat Liyel for that. And then he handed over to our current governor, who seems to have slowed everything. But to answer your question, I must say that the coming together of the first two governors in this republic, remind us of the limitless possibilities of Cross River State. We have untold possibilities and given the right governance and given the right man at the helm, you can take this state to any heights. So, if you say what does it mean? It means that Cross River State is about to get back on track.

How have your representation in the Senate benefited the people of Cross River State?

That  question is not for me, it’s a question for them. Why not go and ask them? Because if I say anything, it’d be like blowing my own trumpet. But what I do know is that I’ve given my people effective and qualitative representation.  When I say effective representation we are talking about representation in all its ramifications, whether in terms of your primary assignment, which is bills, motions, debates, oversight etc. Then your secondary assignment, which is to ensure that whatever is due to your constituency, gets to your constituency, be it projects like roads, water, electrification, solar lights, training, you name it, we have done some of those projects.  For instance, we have just finished solar lights and some roads, but we are still doing more roads and solar lights. We have just distributed buses to constituents, we have given out motorcycles. You name it, we’ve done it.  Today (Tuesday), I took up a bill for a second debate on the floor of the Senate, about the School of Fisheries and Research in Bakassi Local Government Area. And that bill has gone for second reading and now it has been consigned to the Committee on Agriculture, to produce a Federal institution in Bakassi local government to create employment and create research capabilities in that area. So, those are the type of things that I believe a senator should be doing, things that affect your constituency, directly and things that affect the country as a whole. So, we’ve moved motions on illicit financial flows. We’ve moved motions on the economic bill. So, I think I’m doing well. Incidentally, they ranked me, I think, in the top 10 of performing senators in the Senate by the last ranking I saw.  So, I think I’m doing quite well.

Are you in support of this bill in the National Assembly to gag the media? 

The bill to regulate social media is not the same as gagging the media. Social media is different from mainstream media. Well, I don’t know, I haven’t seen that bill,  I haven’t read it. So, I don’t know the details of the bill. I know that it has not gone through the Senate yet. I think it has gone to a second reading. So, I’m waiting for it to come, then we will go through it clause by clause. That’s when we will make our input . But I definitely believe in the freedom of the press. For instance, the banning of Twitter, I believe that Twitter should not be banned. There should be freedom of expression. These are constitutional freedoms that are guaranteed to us. So, I fully aligned with the Constitution, apart from the fact that, of course, I have sworn to uphold the Constitution. I mean, I understand that Twitter itself has to behave more responsibly. But banning Twitter, there’s no reason for it.

What’s your take on the clamour for the Southeast to produce the next president come 2023?

Well, I think it’s because different parties have different positions. The argument in the PDP, for instance,  is that we’ve had the presidency for 16 years and of those 16 years, 14 years have been in the South, two years have been in the North.  Of course, the other argument is the one you just asked. So, we’re looking at it, I am a party man and I will toe the party line whenever they decide.

What’s your take on the ongoing constitution review to address some concerns in the country?

I›m all for it 100 per cent. I›m a member of the Constituent Review Committee. I am 100 per cent for the review of our constitution, especially as it concerns the devolution of power because I believe that one of the biggest problems in Nigeria and why things don›t work is largely because of the concentration of power in the centre. It’s just humanly impossible for so much power to be concentrated in the centre and for you to be effective. So, you need to devolve power so that other people can help you do this work. And then you maintain the essential areas that you feel you can concentrate on in the centre, but we should devolve power to the states and to the local governments too. So, I think that›s one of the biggest things that we need. So yes, I›m all for the Constitution review.

What do you think is responsible for all these recent agitations both in the Southeast and the Southwest and what should be the solution?

Well, I don’t know what’s responsible for the agitations because I cannot pretend to be in the minds of the agitators. But what I do know is that there must be fundamental fairness in the way we conduct our businesses in Nigeria. And if we can achieve fairness for all in Nigeria, then I think some of these agitations will reduce. For instance, take the Southeast, we have five states, and then you have seven states in the Northwest, there is a problem there. And then all the other geopolitical zones have six states each. So simple things like that, for fundamental issues like that, we have to look at it as a country and try to be fair to all.

The issue of open grazing is still raging, especially with the president’s position insisting that this open grazing must continue? 

Well, you know, I’m a Southern senator, and we back the position of the Southern governors 100 per cent. We have said that in our communique. So that’s my position, my position is that of the Southern governors.

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