Between 2015 and 2017, there was hardly a time people will talk about critics of the Gov. Ben Ayade administration without boldly mentioning my name! I was among those who were a thorn in the Governor’s flesh. I was even attacked by hoodlums in Obudu for my critical articles about some of the administration’s programmes and policies.
Although I was stable, focused and veracious in holding the government accountable, I also had the courage to commend the Govervnor on policies I considered people’s friendly. However, people were really not paying much attention to areas I commended the Governed like they did to my criticism.
While many people especially the PDP apologists thought I was being paid to be critical of the government, as time went on, some came to the realization that my motivation was to ensure I put the Governor on his toes to continue to work for the betterment of all not money nor material gains.
Although, I hadn’t a sustainable job within this period, but I wasn’t carried away by the fact that almost all my peers were given appointment by the Governor. Offers came but I insisted that I was more convinced to do what I was doing than what they wanted me to.
Within this period I could barely walk freely on the streets because I was receiving threats and warnings from all angles. I remember how I was chased out of Calabar around January/February in 2017. Yes, I was excising my right to freedom of expression but at the detriment of other fundamental human rights.
Contrary try to insinuations that I was being paid by an imaginary master to critique the government, I could barely afford data then even though the major beneficiary of my efforts was the opposition APC which is the ruling party at the centre. Among all the APC leaders in Cross River State, only Mr. Sylvester NSA, NDDC Commissioner and Chief Okoi Obono-Obla actually showed concern about my plight.
Chief Obono-Obla apart from assisting me to submit petitions on the threat to my life to the Inspector General of Police, he was the only person that made efforts to ensure I relocated from Calabar as well as get a well paid job. I could remember during one of my visits to his office in 2017 how he lamented bitterly that most times he wonders how I survive seeing that most of my peers were in government at the state. He said outside my courage, what really endeared me to him was the fact that despite the huddle, I was still firm on my efforts to hold the government accountable.
He tried to get me into NCC but his appointment was scuttled by the Senate President, Sen. Bukola Saraki in active connivance with a Senator from Cross River State. He also made efforts to get me a job with the Nigerian Navy but I got to Abuja when the recruitment was almost over. Committed to ensuring that I never returned to Calabar, he reached out to Daily Trust Newspaper and I was to start work with the paper almost immediately. Because of my experience in Calabar with some colleagues where they’re more concerned about being serviced by government than serving the public, I told him I was only interested in a media job that I have control over what I do or not.
From there, I told him I was going for blogging training in Lagos with Philip Obin to start my own blog which he was happy about. Obin and Ifere Paul were the pillars of my going to Lagos for the all important training!
In 2018, when the jostling for the APC governorship ticket commenced in full stream, it became more glaring to some of us that the marginalisation of the northern senatorial district in APC would further be stretched by denial of the governorship ticket which was supposed to remain in the zone inline with the 2014 zoning arrangement.
Recall that one of the major reasons for the crisis which has continued to brew in the ranks and files of APC in Cross River State was because Sir John Ochala from the north was acting State Chairman of the party when the former Chairman, Pastor Usani Usani was appointed Minister. There were agitations everywhere that Ochala should step down for someone from the central to complete the eight years zoning arrangement. Ochala and a few stakeholders from the north, led by Barr. Venatius Ikem argued that since the north had no representation in terms of appointment, Ochala should be allowed to stay so that when critical party decisions are to be taken, at least, Ochala would be there to protect the interest of the north.
Those who wanted Ochala out by all means challenged Barr. Ikem’s argument that the north can’t keep the state Chairman and governorship ticket. Their arguments were so precised as if the north had the ticket already. I recall how many times Mr. Ikem insisted that such positions shouldn’t be trusted because if the state Chairman is taken from the north, the zone may not have someone to make a case for them at the party’s national secretariat in Abuja. He argued vehemently that other zones were seriously interested in the ticket but nobody listened to him!
Unfortunately, Ochala was removed and Etim John was installed as state Chairman. About two months or so, there was a major crack between Sen. John Owan Enoh and Niger Delta Minister, Pastor Usani who were the key actors in the installation of Etim. This of course led to the birth of a new faction. This time, parallel congresses were held, producing Late Dr. Mathew Ochigbe and Etim John as factional Chairmen.
The north gave the Late Achigbe’s faction which was loyal to Sen. Owan Enoh about 85% support thinking that the argument put forward when they wanted Ochala out would hold sway in deciding who to support and the zone to produce the governorship candidate of the party.
Uncharacteristically, the very people who said the north can’t keep the state Chairmanship and still demand that the 2014 zoning should be respected as it concerns the governorship ticket changed the rhythm and the song. This perhaps cemented Barr. Ikem status as one of the greatest and most accurate political prophets of our time. He predicted exactly what transpired. I remember him arguing that if the north relinquishes the Chairmanship without any significant appointment from the zone, they should forget about the ticket. This was what happened exactly as the north lost the ticket to the very person who said he was fighting Usani for them!
Before this time, I’ve announced using all my social media platforms that in the 2019 governorship election, if the north is denied the ticket in APC which is my party, I would support any good candidate from any party with the structure to retain the governorship in the zone. Fortunately, Gov. Ben Ayade of the PDP was the candidate that fit into this and match others from the zone. In line with my promise, I supported him.
It’s worthy of note that, the APC tried to convince me to support Sen. Owan Enoh. I was even offered appointment in his campaign organisation. The party leader that talked with me said that although some of them were as disappointed as I was over what happened, they decided to let things be and for me, the party took a decision to pacify me with an appointment in the campaign council . Out of respect for the party Leader, I just told him I needed time to consult before getting back to him but right inside me, I knew there was nothing they could pacify me with that would be enough to heal the wounds.
Throughout that night, I didn’t sleep. I thought of many things. I remember what our brothers from the central were telling us about northern politics while in school. They usually say we’re the most divided and that once small money is thrown around in the zone, we can even kill ourselves to sell what belongs to us to others. I felt bad and became even more determined and agitated to contribute my quota to ensure the north, like other senatorial districts complete eight years.
The next morning, I sent a message through the party leader to the party that had the meeting with me and turned down the appointment because my grievance’s wasn’t really about me or Gov. Ayade but the future of Cross River Northern Senatorial District politics. For me, the choice before the north was to work and make other zones see reasons why they should support us for another four years or perpetually make the zone a surrogate to some power tasty politicians from other zones.
Besides, nobody was or has been able to convince me that the option my party presented was better. Honestly, the only person that in my thinking and from his programme could match the incumbent is the SDP governorship candidate, Eyo Ekpo. From his campaign structures to his enthusiasm and manifestos, he was arguably one of the best materials in the race. But his timing too was wrong.
As the campaigns were going on, people were defecting to PDP and getting immediate appointment and contracts. I was also offered the opportunity to defect and get appointed but again, I turned it down because that wasn’t really my motive. I doubt if most people who have refused to stop peddling falsehood against me would have had the courage to reject all the offers like I did!
While I didn’t want to move to PDP and be given appointment, I continued working with so much commitment and convictions for the Re-election of Gov. Ayade. This as expected, turned many APC members, even people whom I know would have done same if they were in my shoes against me. Some started calling me names like “Ethnic Champion”, “Food on the table Journalist/Blogger” etc. They accused me of collecting money from the Governor to dispel the lies and propaganda that APC media team were peddling.
One question I’ve continued to ask them have been that, did I collect this money before I announced six months to APC primaries that I would win and loose with the north or when the north was denied? Are they not aware that I was one of the few persons that stood by Mr. John Upan Odey, the only APC governorship aspirant from the north that had the courage to pick form till the very end? There are things I did that Mr. Odey himself asked me how I managed to do them all in the interest of the north.
Elections have come and gone but some people are still suffering the hangover of the defeat. Some are still accusing me of hating Sen. Owan Enoh or collecting so much money from the Governor. Well, like I said during my Bosses birthday two months, when I started writing for Owan Enoh, most of the boys and men who are today calling me names were describing him with some unprintable names. I never did that because I was in his payroll like them but purely out of conviction.
If I was convinced to write for Owan-Enoh without gain years ago, if I was inspired to criticque Ayade without gains three years ago, why should I be crucified now for deciding to support the Govervnor? Is it a crime to support Gov Ayade?
Aside the fact that I’m an advocate of zoning, during the elections, I wrote many times talking about why even their antecedents shows that the Govervnor is better. With all the abuses and insults, have I not been vindicated by the Governor’s overwhelming victory? Didn’t that send a message to those who have continued to peddle cheap lies against me that majority of Cross Riverians shared in my views? Have they now made Sen. Owan-Enoh Governor?
Before the elections, I told many people including some senior APC leaders that I shared my sentiments with that, one of the things that would affect Sen. Enoh, that he may not even win his local government was because he had no committed supporters in APC. They only like the size of his pockets not the credibility of his leadership.
Majority of those who pretended to be with him were just doing so for their benefits. His alliance with some APC leaders was like a marriage of convenience. Some only saw him as instrument to use to fight Pst. Usani who was their nightmare while others saw his ambition as an opportunity to milk him dry.
Many who were upset with the role he played in removing Ochala saw it as a golden opportunity to pay back while his former PDP members whom he came to meet in APC wanted him to have a taste of the meal he and former Governor Liyel Imoke made for some people in 2015.
If you try to marry the diversities in the interests, you’ll realise that it was always going to be mission impossible for APC to have won the election with him because his real enemies were not those of us who were sincere enough to tell him that although a good man, the timing of his ambition was wrong and that records in terms of performance didn’t show that he was a better choice than the incumbent but the people within who claimed to be his supporters only to get back at him.
Those pretenders are the real food on the table Politicians because most of them, we know thier opinions about Sen. Owan-Enoh before and after he joined APC but immediately he started throwing some money around, their song changed and they began to accuse those who genuinely pursued a course as doing so for money or material gains.
As time goes on, Cross Riverians will realise that the decision by some of us to support Gov. Ayade for reelection despite party affiliation was the best thing to have done at the time!