Andy Esiet, Calabar
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) 2023 Governorship primary is just few hours away (May 25 or 26) and one of the leading aspirants in the race and the Cross River Caucus Chairman in the National Assembly, Senator Gershom Henry Bassey in an interactive session with some newsmen on Monday, gave further insight into his 2023 Governorship aspiration especially as it concerns his electability, current state of affairs in the state, his five point agenda and others, Excerpts:.
The PDP Governorship primary is just two days away, yet your party has not decided on zoning or the back to South agenda?
The issue of back to the South is still very much alive in the People Democratic Party (PDP). What we have said is that, since there has been no zoning for now, of course we have a few more hours or a few more days to go before the primaries. We believe that if there’s no zoning that means the delegates themselves will have to do the zoning. And we in the South believe that the delegates of the PDP will cast their votes in such a way that will affirm the back to South agenda.
Why should Cross Riverians think of PDP at this critical point in time?
The truth is that PDP is the only true political party in Cross River State and in Nigeria. The other one is the contraption that was put together by strange bird fellows and we are seeing that play out today in everything they do. That is number one. Number two, the track record of the PDP over 20 to 22 years is there for all to see. The problems that we have had in the PDP were when the current Governor came into PDP and he has carried those problems with him to the APC.
In fact, PDP is the most successful political party platform that has ever been produced in Cross River State. You can go as far back as amalgamation, there has been no more political association or party than the PDP and that is the fact, that is why people should vote for PDP because PDP has been a record of success upon success.
How do you see the quality of candidates that have so far emerged from the PDP primaries?
If it is winning the election, our candidates are the best so far in terms of pure electability, they are the best. I am comparing them with those that are coming out from the consensus arrangements in the All Progressives Congress (APC). In the South for instance, every single candidate that has emerged will beat anybody in APC, I am predicting that and I know that’s the truth. In the Central the same thing, just recently former Attorney General Attah Ochinke emerged, who’s going to beat Attah Ochinke in APC, there’s nobody that can beat him in APC and so on. We will see more emerging in the Senatorial race. The PDP is poised to reclaim or take Cross River state back from the APC.
Can you tell us why you think the people should vote for you?
It is clear that I am the most electable candidate of all the people that have come out. Of course, you know that the consensus candidate of the APC is Senator Prince Bassey Otu, my friend. But we also know that the only person that has contested an election with Prince Otu is me and we know the record. Therefore, I am the most electable of all the aspirants in PDP and if PDP really wants to win the election in 2023 and want to execute the agenda they have for Cross Riverians, then they have to go for the most suitable candidate and that is me.
So, it is really up to my delegates, it is up to my peers to also come to that determination but I think they have come to that determination so we will see it in the field on Wednesday or Thursday.
When you come in as Governor, what are those things that you will tackle?
I have pulled out a five point agenda and it starts with security. For me the two key issues today are Security and the Economy.
Every other thing that we will be talking about, whether we are talking about tourism, healthcare, governance, and all those things tilts into security and economy, in fact particularly security. If this place is safe, you know today we have rampant kidnapping, recently Cross River State is generally unsafe.
If we can restore the safety that we had in the Liyel Imoke years, in the Donald Duke years then you would begin to see investment coming in and you will begin to create jobs, better healthcare, improvement in education, environmental sanitation and all that. In essence, we must create an enabling environment for foreign, external and even internal investors.
Today we are having challenges with pipe borne water, what is the way out?
The supply and availability of pipe borne water to Cross Riverians is one of the key things to the economy and to development. Water, Roads, sanitation etc are things that create an enabling environment. Like in the Water Board, we have a structure there which we built when we were there, that can give all the water we need in Calabar and Odukpani. We have other systems in Akamkpa, Ugep, Obudu and in Ikom. These systems can give you all the water you need. I think it is just a question of proper management of these facilities and you will have water.
The other day I was reading an article because somebody was trying to run us down, we had to go and dig up what the World Bank and the African Development Bank (ADP) were saying about our Water Board project back in 2011 and so on. They called us “A Benchmark for PPP project in Nigeria” because it was Public Private Partnership, so we have the formula or the code for making Water Board work again and we will reveal the code when we get office by the grace of God.
In 1999 there was a protest vote against the injustice by the APP to Eyo Etim Nyong and this led to a protest vote. Do foresee similar thing this time around if the PDP gives the governorship ticket to the Central senatorial?
This thing is not about Gershom, it is not all about me, it’s about winning the 2023 election and the truth is that when you sit down and do the political analysis, it is very clear that if we want to win the 2023 election we must go with the candidate that can win the election. In 1999 for instance, there was an injustice done to Eyo Etim Nyong. Also in our party there was a tug of war between the Donald group and the Kanu Agabi group, I think that scenario is not what is happening now.
But there is danger that if we do not follow the rotation of power amongst the various senatorial districts, that is if PDP leaves the Southern senatorial district and goes to another senatorial district, there could be a backlash because the yearning for power is in the South having waited for 16 years. I think we are growing beyond that. In the South we have about nine aspirants and still have to pick someone that can win the election. If you zone it to the South, the person will be running against a Southern person from the APC, so your scenario of the 1999 thing will not apply. In those circumstances, you still have to win the election. You must have someone that can deliver in the South and also have someone that can deliver in the Central and in the North…If you get the governorship wrong, you get a lot of things wrong.
According to Governor Nyesom Wike, a lot of aspirants are buying both Governorship and Senatorial forms, how true is this and do you know anyone that bought both forms?
Since you are talking about Governor Wike, I would like to say that he has done so much for Cross River state. He supported us in our justice for the party, he has supported us in our bye election for the last bye election where we won in Akpabuyo constituency and of course we had problems in Ogoja and Yala constituency, so I must commend him for his brotherly support for PDP in Cross River State. Well, I have not bought any other form so I can’t say for anybody else. I believe we must save this party and save this state.
Since you believe in the back to South agenda, has PDP given consideration to Akamkpa/Biased for senatorial ticket?
I think that it depends on the people that come out; so far for the senate we have two aspirants Ekpo Okon from Odukpani and Joe Edet from Akamkpa. I am sure that if we begin to do a zoning arrangement which we have not done in the PDP those things will be taken into consideration but for now there is no such arrangement. Of course you know that the South is quite peculiar. In my constituency, Akpabuyo/Bakassi/Calabar South, we just elected Hon Essien Ayi to go back for the sixth time in the House of Representatives and they elected him with joy, there was no protest. That shows that in those constituencies there is no zoning.
How do you intend to tackle the issue of high taxation if elected?
I think power should be devolved from the federal government to the state and then to the local government. If we do a correct devolution of power you’ll see that some of these issues will just fade away. The problem you have now is that there is too much involvement of the state government in local government affairs and that is where this entire problem comes from. I think the solution lies with is in National Assembly. We have devolved some powers but we have to devolve more.
What of the issue of judicial independence, how will you handle this?
We are devolving power in all three arms of government, especially the judiciary. The idea that the state government is responsible for paying the salaries of judicial officers doesn’t make sense. The idea of the state government paying the salaries of the House of Assembly doesn’t make sense. There must be complete independence of the three. It will help us; it will make our democracy better.
Is it true that Donald Duke does not support your governorship aspirations, perhaps, seeing it as Liyel Imoke’s third term?
Isn’t that a good thing? Did you not enjoy Imoke’s administration?
So if he wants to have a third term through me, is it not a good thing?
And if somebody who is the leader of the central and can deliver major local government in the central wants to support somebody in the South who can also deliver major local government in the South, are we not half or major way of having a PDP Governor? Where’s the problem?
Have you been able to reach out to other contestants to let them know you are a better material?
We talk all the time but I am not saying that I am better than any other candidate. What I say is that I am more electable, that’s what we are talking about, electability. Better has different connotations, some of them have experience in certain areas of lives that I don’t have any experience with. I may have more experience in politics than some of them or we may even have equal experience.
Someone like Dansuki, he was a local government chairman twenty years ago and I was not handling any elected position then. Even the likes of Sandy Onor who was a chairman of a political party in 1996, I only got elected into office in 2015, but we are talking about 2023, who is more electable? That’s what we are talking about.
What message do you have for the delegates?
I want the delegates to take these primaries very seriously. I wish them safe journey as they come to Calabar and wishing all of them coming for the primaries and their families God’s blessings and I pray that the PDP with their support will win back Cross River State