Wike Is Stoking Crisis In Cross River – APC Party Chairman.
While Nigerians wait for the two major political parties to announce their presidential candidates for 2023, Alphonsus Ogar, the newly inaugurated Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APCCross )’s Rivers State chapter, has urged Nigerians to focus on the governor of Cross Rivers State, Prof. Ben Ayade, as their preferred choice to lead the country, stressing that his laudable achievements in office qualified him to do so.
In this exclusive interview with the Sunday Sun in Abuja, Ogar, the director general of the Due Process Agency in Cross River State, reviewed Governor Ayade’s achievements, calling him as “presidential material” that the country required.
Northerners are already calling on Ayade to proclaim his desire to run for president, according to a close associate of the governor.
Ogar also revealed how the state chapter of the party averted the crisis which greeted other states after the conduct of the nationwide ward and state congresses which he ascribed to the leadership approach of Governor Ayade.
Analysing the strength of the APC in Cross River, he revealed the readiness and tactics of its leadership to retain power beyond 2023.
Giving insight as to what led to Ayade dumping the People’s Democratic Party, the APC leader attributed the leadership crisis rocking the opposition party to the antics of Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike, who he accused of meddling into the affairs of the state with the aim of imposing his preferred candidate.
Looking at issues in the 2023 governorship election in the state, he said that he personally align with zoning, stating that the Southern part should produce the next governor of the state.
He dismissed insinuation that the APC in the state will find it difficult to surmount, pointing out that the interest of the majority will decide which zone will produce the next governor.
He also looked at other state and national political issues. Excerpts:
How did the APC in Cross River State avert the crisis that greeted the party in some states after the conduct of their state and ward congresses?
I must say that God was involved, God gave wisdom to the governor to pilot the affairs and to midwife a process that was rancour-free . If you had followed the reception that greeted the entrance of his Excellency ( Governor Ayade) into the All Progressives Congress in Cross River State it wouldn’t have surprised you. The problem of APC over time has been the problem of leadership like Bolaji Akinyemi once said. The movement of people without a clear headed leadership is like a mob action. APC was moving without a clear direction and everybody was laying claim to the leadership of APC. The coming on board of His Excellency, Senator Prof Ben Ayade on the 20th day of May 2021 came to solve all that problems. As admitted by every stakeholder, minor and major, it was clear that now they had a leader in the person of Governor Ben Ayade and like Odewole said when the “chameleon brings forth a child, a child is expected to dance”. The leadership entrusted in the hand of Governor Ben Ayade , he demonstrated by leading through a process you will say was all a burden and he carried every body along and luckily by July the party was set to commence the ward congresses and so with the leader whose mind and spirit and body , everybody had seen and believed in, it was very easy to believe in whatever he had to say. To me that was the foundation that culminated into the peaceful and rancour-free congress we had.
How were you able to manage the various interests of other party stakeholders, especially those who had been in the APC before the coming of Governor Ayade?
Like I rightly said , it was all encompassing, first let me tell the magic the governor did. You have this giant edifice you have here ( making reference to his house) once you have a bad foundation there is nothing good you can build on top to stand, it will definitely collapse. The governor got the foundation too right, in the meeting of all stakeholders which he called. His instruction was very clear and what was it? He said: “Please and please, let us put an end to division in APC”. Let us put an end to oppression, let us grant full autonomy to every member of this political party. He said, “every leader, every follower should return to your political units, your polling units, but above all return to your wards to sit down”, even if you are a governor himself, he was going to sit in his “Ikpong Ward” ( Obudu LGA) . I don’t know who is the least because we are all equal in APC but that which you consider is the least of persons to be considered was meant to sit down with the highest that you can imagine. And how did we resolve that? We also jointly agreed and declared that there is nothing like new members who came into APC or the old APC members that were there. Water had not mixed with oil for us to get the process of taking proper palm oil. You know when you want to make palm oil, the palm fruit that you put inside that big pot , you need to put water in it to boil it. So, we were in the process of making proper palm oil so we needed water to go in. And everybody was at the foundation and being at that foundation, what came out of it was consensus where various interests were considered and because we did not have one big man in one particular ward or local government influencing what was happening here, he had almost a 90 per cent result. And so that is what actually happened, it was consensus building , it was all inclusive, it was all encompassing and everybody was considered.
Do you think if other states had emulated the style which APC in Cross River led by your governor used, there would have been less or no rancour at all as against what we have now?
I wouldn’t give a yes or no to that because again like I said in Cross River State God was involved.
(Cuts in) So, are you saying God was not involved in some other state chapters?
Well, God may have not been involved and even if God was involved I think the players themselves allowed the devil to play a role. Maybe they refused to listen to the voice of God. And that was the kind of problem that we were facing in our former political party ( the People’s Democratic Party). You see as a governor, once you leave the scene allow the new leader to lead, because once you are governor you automatically become the leader of the party in the state. If you are a former governor, play the role that is advisory in nature , do not come to divide the kingdom, a classical case was in Ogun State. You see a case where the former governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, is rubbing shoulders with the incumbent, which is not done anywhere. It’s just like when we were in the other party (PDP) you have a situation where the former governor and governors from other states you see stakeholders from other areas coming to meddle into our affairs. Once you do that, that is what I meant be allowing the role of the devil coming and not listening to the voice of God which says that leadership at any particular time must be in consonance with the book of Romans chapter 13 verse 1 to 7 that says that “everybody that is in authority is instituted by God’’ and therefore we must subject ourselves to the Governing authority, for there is not authority which exists except that which has been instituted by God himself, but people fail to realise that. So, in other states even if they had tried to behave like our own governor (Ayade) behaved and did perhaps the devil that took over the management of the affairs of some of those former governors or some of those die hard interests. Because everybody was saying that if I do not put a structure now what will my fate in 2023 be like , that desperation and all that may not have been responsible for the crisis in those states. In Cross River State, God was involved; we did not find it difficult.
It is expected that your first assignment as the new party chairman is to win the Ogoja/Yala Federal constituency in the House of Representatives, how prepared is your party to win that seat?
Like I said, that is not just my first assignment, my first assignment which I gave to myself is to march with my vision for the party which I called “PLUG” which stands for Peace Love Unity and Growth of party . If you have been following my movement since the 16th of October 2021 I have been embarking simultaneously on that agenda of peace, love and unity and I speak to you today to the best of our ability. We have been able to achieve a reasonable level of peaceful , loving and united front. Which is already growing the party and that is what is going to help us win the election. Don’t forget it’s people that make political parties, it’s not the parties that make people. In Cross River State, our politics is that we follow the direction of the Government House, we follow the government decision , we follow the government direction. Today, the government in Cross River is the All Progressive’s Congress, that has been the politics in Cross River State. If anybody tells you that it is not politics, go and tell the person that. He’s either being mypopic or is either being mischievous, but this is the obvious fact of how the politics is being played. And I tell you the truth, the bye election in Ogoja /Yala Federal constituency which is an area because I am from Yala Local Government, that is a foregone conclusion, we will win and we shall win by landslide. We don’t yet have a candidate because we are waiting for the seat to be declared vacant. We can’t count eggs before it’s hatched. We follow due process. We are waiting. We know that we have more than enough people that will be interested in vying for the seat. And at the appropriate time we shall sit as a family and look at where we shall zone to and look at the consideration of who is best to go into the field to win the election for us. It will not be on the basis of any sentiment, it will be on the basis of who is qualified, who is popular enough, who is acceptable enough and who can deliver the party. That is what we are going to do.
You were quoted to have said that you were a political orphan before you met Governor Ayade, why did you make such a statement?
You need to read more about me , if you read more about me you will understand that I have been a political orphan all the days of my life. Even though I have struggled so hard to establish and assert myself, it has always turned out to me that I had no one to speak for me. I had run several elections in the past, but I don’t know. I still want to say that it is the will of God because God never wanted it that way. But I was looking forward to that God father or that God mother who would have propelled me and I found no one, it took a man from outside my local government, from outside my federal constituency to identify me to ask people of my local government and said: “I have found that young man to be very intelligent, loved by his people, why are you people not prepared to give him opportunity to come and serve?” I ran in the House of Assembly election in the year 2011 , I was reputed to have won the election, but I was denied. I ran again in 2015 but I was zoned out, but God did the magic, when Governor Ayade told me ,” don’t worry if I become governor I will make sure that those that have looked down on you will look up to you”. I have not seen a man of political fidelity in my life more than Governor Ayade and I sit down today here, I sit with every sense , deep appreciation with the man who made a promise to me and kept to his words. He did not just bring me to head the Due Process and Price Intelligence Bureau as the director general, he surrendered his plenipotentiary powers to that office and that office became like that even the Government House, the governor himself and everybody in government subjected themselves to. People said that it was the most powerful office. That was because a man made a promise and said “those who look down on you will look up to you” and the red biro of the governor for every one naira approval was subject to due process. I’m happy because that conforms with the idea of reform in terms of good governance. I must also say that one sacred thing is that he kept to his words and that sanctimonious adherence of saying ‘people will look up to you’. He did not just stop at that , he stood by me and ensured in conjunction with every party member that I emerged the state chairman of a ruling political party from my polling unit to my ward to my local government to my senatorial district, to my state and to the country at large and by extension the people of West Africa and Africa, the largest political party, the All Progressive’s Congress, that is the chairman of the party which I am and I give thanks to God and to Senator Prof Governor Ben Ayade and the entire members of APC.
With the successful conduct of the congress in Cross River State and the current performance of the governor , do you think that’s enough for the APC to retain power in the state in 2023?
We are not resting on our oars, if you are complacent then diminishing returns will set in. Governor Ayade with the minted resources at his disposal has done the magic that people will hear , that people will see more visibly when we start our campaigns. They have it set out that the blind are not seeing, the deaf are not hearing because they have blinded their vision to opposition politics, but the reasonable ones will ask you; “ where is your governor getting money from?” The human capital development index in Cross River State today is the first and best of its kind in any state to consider in the whole of Nigeria , if not West Africa at large.
How does your party intend to settle the zoning issue with regards to the gubernatorial election , considering the claims that it’s the turn of Cross River South to produce the next governor?
There is no problem, it is only where there is a problem that you can talk about settlement. The issue of settlement does not arise in our party . In the All Progressive’s Congress there is no problem for us to settle. When it is time we will do that which is just , that which is fair and that which is in accordance with the yearnings, aspiration of our entire members. I think those that are looking for a settlement of what you have explained, because I follow the media , is it the confusion that was in the People’s Democratic Party? Don’t forget when I was I PDP. Let me tell you I was part of it (belief in zoning) and I had my position as a person, but when I told them they refused to understand. But today let me not speak like the APC chairman, let me speak in my personal self as “Alphonsus Eba” that I was when I was in PDP. I told every Crossriverian that one governor somewhere called Governor Nyesome Wike was the one stoking the fire in Cross River State and he was doing it for one selfish reason, all to impose his friend, his old time friend and I have nothing against that to make him governor of Cross River State. Even when it was clear as we all believed while we were in PDP that because, Governor Donald Duke was governor between 1999 to 2007 and because Governor Liyel Imoke was governor between 2011 to 2015 and because Governor Ayade is now governor from that 2015 and his tenure will end in 2023 that the natural flow should be that it (power) returns to the Southern part of Cross River. I held that position and I hold that view as a person, but I will not impose that position or opinion on my party. I will want to sit down with my party members and know their decision and it’s that decision that I will implement, but my own personal view, I don’t say a word and contradict myself. I think what is right and just and please quote me that I said as a person not as party chairman that ‘power should return to the South’ . That is my view, like I have said, of the aggregate opinion of my political party. I am happy two National Assembly members from the South are running for governorship, let them go and sell their birthright, it is their problem, it is not my problem. I saw the National Assembly members gathering to start talking about the Calabar accord. I am sure they will come and buy me coke (laughs) for seeing what they could not see. That is why when some of them are frustrated over there, some of them who are good I will bring them into our party because I think that they will know that this party is party of justice , this party stands for equity, this party stands for what is fair and whatever be the interest APC I will be able to give a direction. It is not a minority opposition party like PDP that gives direction of what is being zoned at all times , it is the leading government in power that gives us the direction. So they are embarking on a journey of vain expectation and they will end up in a catacomb of oblivion.
Now that your governor is in APC, what efforts are you putting in place to bring more people in?
I said I was going to grow the party and by Thursday this week a day after tomorrow I am launching what is called operation one million members into the All Progressive’s Congress. The entire local government chairmen , the vice chairman, the councillors, all stakeholders at the polling unit and at the ward structure. I am launching my pet project which is what I call political evangelism to win souls into the APC . The target is one million people to join the over 400,000 members we already have in the party.
What’s your opinion on the clamour for the zoning of the 2023 presidential ticket to the South?
I believe in zoning, I like zoning because it reduces political acrimony and unnecessary bickering and contestation, it is obvious and if you have been following the APC arrangement almost everybody that wants to be national chairman of the party that have all indicated interest are from the 19 Northern states of Nigeria, what that means is that once the national chairmanship emerges from the North the president will be from the South . We are not going to behave like those in the “Papa Deceive Party” (PDP) that are telling you that no! Now that we have our national chairman from the North, any zone can run elections. It has never happened in Nigeria that is not the politics of this country. They are not good students of political history . The national chairmanship of a political party is in one area and then , the party presidential ticket is in another area. That is how the politics of Nigeria has always been that is what has engendered the current cohesion that we have. So, what they are trying to do is in alliance, in alliterative connotation with their name which people call “Papa Deceive Pickin.’’ When people were saying that power can start from anywhere, I said it’s clear, you have said that Governor Ayade has so much confidence and believes in me and I am from the other federal constituency, it means I am one person that would have been most qualified having been a member of the state executive council and have learnt administration so much , I was the most qualified to take over as governor of Cross River State. Despite that I would have still refused because I believe in equity, I believe in justice and that is why today with my very strong voice with my commitment to this as a person I said that zoning is just and right. You will see people that say they don’t believe in zoning, but they will be contradicting themselves over and over . But I want to be consistent in my opinion that zoning helps to reduce political acrimony and that is my opinion.
So, which particular zone from the South do you think it will go to?
For now when it comes to the South you can’t say which zone should produce , for now I tell people that the best presidential material we have in the country today is Governor Ben Ayade. A man who has been able to bring water out of the rock , if only you understand the financial econometrics in Cross River State. If you understand how a man collects minus N96 million and is still able to pay salaries in Cross River State. If you understand how a man’s debt crystallised when he just took over and he never got money that can do anything yet he did projects that run into several hundreds of billions. Then you will know that is such a man we need to change Nigeria.
Do you think he will be willing to contest?
Governor Ayade has always seen himself as a servant leader . If you give him any assignment today he will hearken to the voice of the people and I think he will be willing because he is already prepared for any kind of responsibility and assignment.