Why Zoning Can’t Work in Cross River – Ekpo Okon

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In this interview, Ntufam Ekpo Okon, the Deputy Governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress APC in Cross River State, explains why zoning is not practically possible in the State. He also bared his mind on the industrialization drive of the State government, describing it as conduit for taking out money. Excerpts:

What is your take on zoning? Don’t you think the northern part of the State should be allowed to complete its tenure of eight years just as other zones did?

The reality is the fact that this government has failed to deliver governance. And it cannot be all because some persons are looking forward to what they called “our turn,” therefore we would ignore mis-governance and allow a government that has failed in performance, a government that has failed in administration, a government that has not been able to sustain those things it inherited; that it must be given another term. No.

I have always said that in Cross River State, zoning had not being institutionalized or written down, but we understand and definitely have a fair understanding of equity. In 1999, I was a key player when we worked towards the election of Mr. Donald Duke. There was no zoning. He campaigned, he worked and presented himself to the people of Cross River State and was elected without zoning.

In 2003 when he was campaigning for a second term, there was no zoning. Nobody said it was turn of the south and therefore others should not contest. We had candidates from the three Senatorial Districts contesting. He campaigned on his records and I can remember his slogan at the campaign in 2003 was “one good term deserves another”.  He got second term on record of performance.

When Senator Liyel Imoke put himself up for the election in 2007, there was no zoning. He contested. There were candidates from the North, Central and even in the South where governor Duke was living, there was a candidate and nobody raises an issue. Cross Riverians knew what to do and worked towards it.

When in 2011 he contested for a second, there was none. Even when zoning was pronounced in 2015; whether it was pronounced or not, the thoughts of most Cross Riverians were very clear that the next governor will come from the north. And that happened but unfortunately the beneficiary of this has failed to manage governance. Imagine the campaign now: I cannot understand why somebody can be campaigning for a second term on the basis of zoning and rotation.

Let me tell you something, if we allow the narrative to be the direction of Cross River State, because when you listen to the people talking about zoning particularly my brothers and sisters in the south, “they say he (Ayade) has not done well, but let us manage him; lets tolerate him so that he will leave and hand over power to us”.  And I ask the question. This “us” represent what? What is he going to handover? Is he handing over a State that is alive or a carcass of it?

And even when he is doing the hand over; what quality of succession is he going to breed? This question arises because birds of the same feather flock together.

When we have such succession and we have another poor performer taking over, the people of the Central will now have to also go with the same argument, please let us tolerate him so that he can hand over to us after his tenure. Then, what we would have established then will be a circle of mis-governance and tolerance. That will then be an acceptable culture. We say no to such.

What I will rather say is this; if we do what is right, knowing that he (Ayade) has not done well and we vote based on that fact that this government has not done well; If John Owan-Enoh and I become Governor and deputy, therefore beneficiary of such position, we all already know that we have put ourselves on the line. If we fail to perform, we will also be voted out in 2023 and that becomes a better culture in Cross River State; that you either do well or you be voted out.

That is what I think is good for the State, not zoning and rotation which is nowhere.

We should be looking at whether the State is getting the benefits it ought to get. Whether what is being done by the government meets the expectations of the people of Cross River State.

Many people, including the President, seem to have commended Gov Ben Ayade on his industrialization drive. Don’t you think the Governor has done very well on this?

First, let’s go to the general acceptable principle that over the years, it has been proven that government cannot do businesses and we have seen government businesses established previously all going aground and that in some instances, government were able to privatize many of them and they are doing well now.

So how would a governor who prides himself as having been a successful business man, now come and take government into business. How?

Under Donald Duke, we were able to privatize erstwhile CALCEMCO, today we have a functional cement factory- UNICEM, now Lafarge Plc. Metropolitan was privatized and today we have the Transcorp Hotel works and it’s efficient.

When Senator Liyel Imoke came, palm estates in Qua falls; in Ibiae, in Calaoro were all privatized. Today we have PZ Wilmer with investors all the way from Asia and we can see lives back in those estates. That was the direction but unfortunately under this (Ayade’s) administration not one simple private investment has come into Cross River State, even those that came, some of them have left.

You can count them, General Electric that came and put in its investments in Billions of naira in CFTZ have left. CBN Enterprenuership Development Center has left. Pepsi and Coke Cola depots have left and many others.

Do you now sit back and see a government that has failed to give proper administration, that has failed in the area of security, failed in area of infrastructure, a government that has failed in articulating appropriate policy direction that would attract investment, and you let the State to slide to the wrong direction? Imagine that same government claiming to take itself into what it calls industrialization.

Let’s take some of the industries, one after the other. Garment factory is his most celebrated achievement. What is the cost of the Garment factory? How much has this Government invested in the establishment of the garment factory? What is the operational cost of the factory on a monthly basis and how much does it generate monthly that will make it sustainable?

This you must answer if truly you want to convince some of us that he is working for the interest of the State.

Let’s take another one that I hear he calls “Calachika”, I hear that Calachika, for which machines have been imported in already, is expected to prepare frozen chickens for export. Please, I want to ask this Government to show me where they have established a poultry farm. Where is the farm that will provide the birds for processing and export?

Not one single hatchery exists in Cross River State. As we speak, about 60% of the eggs we eat in Calabar comes from Akwa-Ibom State and yet a Government tells us that it is setting up a factory that will process chickens for export. He quickly rushed to import machineries and celebrate that, yet no poultry farm.

Let’s turn to the Cocoa factory in Ikom. Has this Government raised one single additional cocoa seedlings, over these years? How much has it developed the existing cocoa farms that will sustain the factory? That is the truth. Let’s face it. The government has done nothing. You set up the factory, you don’t have the raw materials that will sustain the factory. The truth of the matter, which I have said over and over again is this; the so call industrialization has become a conduit for taking out money out of Nigeria.

Where are the feasibility studies of these industries?  They have not done any. It is not transparent at all. The process of procurement of machineries has being so opaque and not transparent at all.

 The Rice Seedling factory was commissioned by Mr. President who lauded the Gov for keying into the vision of the federal government. Also, Ayade Rice that was launched in Calabar sometime in 2017, is also another laudable industrialization move, cant you agree with that?

Anybody who is right thinking and who is fair minded knows too well that those things where fake. Mr President was hoodwinked into commissioning a superficial structure. What has been produced there after the commissioning?

He invites people who will never ask necessary questions and take them there, he tells them what they wants to hear. He knows why he takes such people there. In fact, he is taking people who are ready to collect his endorsement fees so that after showing them that, they will have something to justify their reason for endorsement. For goodness sake, he knows too well that he is not doing any industrialization.

What do you intend to do differently to address these issues when elected into office? 

Rather than doing what he is doing, there are so many ways to build Cross Riverians. First of all, there must be skills acquisition. Deliberate skills acquisition and beyond that, they must be a pool of funds that is available for such persons to assess and develop some small holders business that is sustainable and they will hold no to it.  

Let me tell you something; that tailoring workshop that he calls Garment factory; I hear some widows are there. If you train them on some machines out there and then empowerment them with similar machines and let them go home and work. They will make even more money for themselves and it is sustainable.

But in a situation where you bring them there and at the end of the month, how much are they being paid? Fifteen to Twenty thousand Naira monthly. In most cases, they don’t have anything to do for a whole month. If you empower them, they know how much they charge when people bring clothing materials to them and they will make money for themselves and those things will be sustainable. By so doing, the empowerment will be sustainable.

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