Ntufam John Achort Okon is a former clerk in the Cross River State House of Assembly and immediate past Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state. Okon, in this interview speaks on several thought-provoking issues concerning the party. RICHARD NDOMA brings you excerpt of that interaction
Why have you not quit your office after exhausting your tenure as party chairman in Cross River state, unlike like your predecessors chairmen. Why is it so?
We must give credit to God and not to any human being. One of the problems we have is looking at human beings, his lack of self-contentment. As a person, I am lucky in life. I worked with politicians in the House of Assembly as Clerk of the House. And it so pleased the leadership of the state at that time to look at me, among all the politicians they had, to say ‘You have the integrity, you have the mien, you have the ability to come and manage us.’
And they brought me out to be the state chairman. I think it was an honour. And having done that for four years, you know the kind of result God gave to us in this state. We won all our elections, both at the local level, the state level and the national level. And having been a part of that, I think it is only good for me to be satisfied and give my best whenever I am called to contribute to the party. I have to show gratitude to the party that gave me that opportunity, that gave me that scope to work. When I go to some of my colleagues at the national, some of them say ‘you are supposed to go for a second term because of your performance’ and I say ‘yes, but it wasn’t so because it is God that did that.’
If I didn’t go for second term it does not mean I have to be bitter. I was holding the key of the party. I am interested in working for the party because PDP is one family. Having made a mistake as a party and had fallen, we must stand up, brush up and move ahead. Nigerians still need us. And even the opposition in the state needs us. So we must not allow the mistakes of the past stop us from moving ahead. That has been my attitude
How has the complaint by the National Assembly caucus of PDP about the state governor hijacking the party been addressed?
Understandably, it is a matter of interest. The thing happened in 2015. Waiting till now to bring up this kind of issue… But I tell you something. When parties’ structures are being built, apart from what you see in the open, there is a lot of consultation taking place behind the scene. There is no way the governor can single-handedly handpick the leaders of the party. Yes, he is the leader of the party, he is the driver of the party.
You cannot take that away from him. It is a norm right from Donald Duke’s era to Liyel Imoke’s. I am a stakeholder. I must be frank that the governor consulted me and other leaders in Akamkpa. Both here and Abuja where we had the caucus meeting, we sat down and discussed. I was at the caucus meeting both in Abuja and in the government house and they sat down and agreed that they should work together the more, and the governor agreed. The governor is being encouraged to consult them the more. You see, the challenge about running of parties is that you don’t just go to elections
You must show interest in party affairs. One of the challenges we also have is that National Assembly members should also show interest in the affairs of the party. They should be in touch with the chairman of the party to know what is going on in the party, the welfare of the party officials. I am not blaming the governor. He is not staying aloof. They have discussed and there is assurance that there will be more consultations. That was why we had successful caucus meetings.
As a former PDP chairman, do you see the party being better managed now than the way it was when you and your team were on board?
There is always management style. In my own time, my Governor, Senator Liyel Imoke, was somebody who believed in the activities of the party. He wanted the party to be very active and it paid off for us. You know I was very active. You agree I was very active. We were very active. The new governor is more interested in governance. He feels he should concentrate on industrialization, boosting investments and so on. His orientation is that if you do this you will impact on the grassroots. He believes the party should play a minimal role.
You can see even in his government, he tries to encourage opposition politics and so on. But in my own time, it was for us to build the party. But let us see how it works. But I can assure you that by 2018 the attitude would change. The party would be more active.
The situation is like this because the local government election has not been held. It makes the party to be more dormant when there are no elections. Governor Ben Ayade believes more in governance and development than partisan politics. That is his style. With apology, my former governor believes you can combine the two and still move on.
It seems all is not well with the party in the state as big wigs such as the former speaker of the state House of Assembly are defecting from the party. Don’t you think this will impact negatively on the party?
I wish they did not defect. But the concern about their defection is that it is happening at a time there is no reason to defect. Why am I saying so? Because if we were doing primaries as we used to do, then people get dissatisfied and defect, you understand that it happened after you wanted to become a senator and you could not have the ticket and then you move to another party.
But I think politics is a matter of interest. We have lost the national level. Don’t blame it on the state alone. It does not happen in Cross River State alone. Politicians always seek their interest. They go to where they believe their interests will be better served. The tendency is that the patronage is not as weighty as what you will have at the national level where the APC is holding sway. So a politician will say let me join the party in power at the national level. That is what is affecting us.
The APC is in power. And a lot of people are not pushing our party to return to power. I think if we were holding power at the national level, those who are defecting now won’t do so. Don’t look at it as Cross River State problem alone. It is happening across the states. Look at Anambra for instance. Look at all the gimmicks. Those of them who ought to have held the party together have defected to either APGA or the APC. Blame it on the Nigerian political psyche. We may have problems. But don’t take it away from the fact that people have interest and they have made their calculations and they feel that their interest will be better protected in APC.
Yes, the impact is there. But don’t forget that we are on ground. We hold the structure of this state. By God’s grace, I don’t see anybody upstaging us. We may not have the 100 percent things we used to do because of the power structure at the national level and here but I can assure you that we will take the state. The governor will do that. PDP is strong enough to be able to hold the state.