Recently your successor, Governor Ben Ayade, defected to APC amid fears that the move could negatively affect the dominance of PDP in the coming elections after a long while. Are you worried about that?
I am glad you ended that question with saying that it’s a state that has a history of being PDP. I think in the past; you would see that states that have that type of strength irrespective of a defection tend at all times to remain strong. There’s a reason for that.
What you perceive as power will determine how you lead. If you perceive power to be a political party, then you will be moving from one political party to another, but if you understand that power ultimately is the people and that it belongs to the people, you will appreciate that it is not about the party.
PDP in Cross River State has always been about the people and I think we still remain about the people. So the party has endeared itself to the people and as such a movement by the governor does not of its own translate to the people moving into another political party, because they have already identified strongly with the party – the PDP. It is sort of like what you have in the United States and other countries where there are strongholds; a state like California, it is defined as a Democratic stronghold. Cross River State is a PDP stronghold.
The truth is that they have an uphill task to remove the PDP in Cross River State.
How true is the general impression that you actually propelled Donald Duke to become governor?
Well, at the risk of sounding immodest, the answer is yes. But, we had a formidable team and we were extremely focused. Our major strength was the ability to strategise to win the hearts of the people. I led a strong team of young men and women, who worked selflessly.
I think that’s the history of our state and I think, through that experience, we were able to strengthen our party and it became dominant. I contested the elections and the party won all the seats at every level and everybody that has contested election in Cross River State thereafter has won with similar margins. The struggle was for PDP ticket, once you had the ticket, you are literally elected.
Through the years up till the emergence of Governor Ayade, PDP has been firmly the party of choice of the people. I think it’s not just our style and approach that achieved this. We introduced a collegiate leadership model at all levels. This engendered confidence in our supporters as it was a bottom up approach and afforded them, not only the freedom of choice, but also an opportunity to take ownership and responsibility.
We also had a strong connection to the grassroots and I think that was something that we deliberately embarked upon especially given my own experience in going round campaigning, first for senate and then subsequently for Donald to become governor and then my own eventual emergence. So we endeared ourselves to the electorate and that is where the strength of the PDP lies.
But, your predecessor, Duke, in a statement following Governor Ayade’s defection, accused you of practising “autocratic leadership style” as well as imposing Ayade on the people?
I believe his statement was issued after I was informed of his joining the party and had called him welcoming him back to the party. So, let me use this opportunity to again welcome him back into the party and assure him of our commitment to working with him and making sure he is fully reintegrated and understands who we are and what we have always done as a party.
I think his decision to re-join the party speaks volumes and it is indeed a very good decision. Our major strength has been, and will always be, carrying everyone along and making sure that each person’s opinion is sought and recognised. As he returns to his foundation, he will definitely have every opportunity to make his own contributions towards the growth and development of the party.
As a party we are proud of the fact that we have since inception, consistently and without fail achieved significant successes in Cross River State. We have done extremely well. Holding the ground and keeping the state under the umbrella has been no mean feat, but the PDP has done this successfully over the years.
This I think is commendable. Whether we are looking at Ayade, Donald himself or myself; the party’s style of leadership through the years PDP has been in control of the state, has always been the collegiate style and appeal to the grassroots. It is this grassroots acceptance that has always ultimately delivered 99 per cent success at the polls. That is the style we have adopted over the years and it has kept us firmly on the ground as the most popular and accepted party in Cross River State.
Donald’s return should add value to what we’ve done and will continue to do. We have not changed and we will continue to blaze the trail. He has returned to our great party and to his foundation at a time, when the governor has defected; since I am not God, only God knows the hearts of men, so I am not going to speculate on the reasons behind Governor Ayade’s departure from the party.
But, as I said, I welcome Donald back to the party and I look forward to working with him.
Are you conceding to his claim that you introduced ‘autocratic style of leadership’?
I believe that the key to our success has been acknowledged, beyond the party and the state. And, I believe it has even been recognised and acknowledged by Donald himself in re-joining the party. That is clearly the collegiate rather than autocratic style of leadership.
So, let’s not dwell on that, but welcome him, and assure him of not only his full membership, but also of the key leadership role that he is expected to play. We’re all looking forward to working closely with him and improving the fortunes of the party in the state.
Now that governor Ayade has defected from PDP, do you feel regret, betrayal or frustrated for supporting him to be governor?
No; I don’t actually have any regrets. As I said, the only authority that has the benefit of hindsight is God. So, you can’t say I regret or I don’t regret, no; certainly not. At the time, when Ayade contested for the governorship, we gave him all our support. He would not have been governor without our building a consensus and without the party taking him to the people and the electorate to solicit for their support.
So, when he emerged through a rigorous state-wide internal party caucus selection process through the 18 local councils, we believed that the people had made their choice. We believed he was the right man for the job at that time and I think he came out and appealed to Cross Riverians across the 18 local councils.
It wasn’t a pronouncement; it wasn’t a dictatorial imposition. He went through a very lengthy and hectic process of campaigning, of reaching out to the people and enjoying their support. So, we can’t say we regret that if we are honest.
What we’ll say is yes, at that time, he enjoyed the popular support of the party and of course ultimately the people. I remember telling him on the day he was sworn in, that his popularity would begin to erode from his first day in office, but how fast it would happen depended on him. It’s always the case with elected leaders.
With the governor’s defection, what would you tell PDP faithful in Cross River State, including National Assembly members elected on the party, those at the state House Assembly and chairmen of local councils?
It was very interesting that I haven’t seen governor Ayade hold a broom; but I have always imagined in my head that Ben would look at the broom once or twice before he holds it (laughing). Because, in all honesty, even that is alien to him. So, to the people of Cross River I say: stand firm, we are PDP, we are committed, we are resolute, we are a grassroots party and we are sufficiently strong.
I want to commend the strength and the will of the people who said listen, we are not going, PDP is our party, we will remain here. So, you have members of the State Executive Council, we have members of the State Assembly, of course the National Assembly, we have party chairmen, leaders in our state, all of them standing resolute for the party that they know they belong to.
So, that movement did not have the expected effect. The perception, that Cross River State has become an APC state has clearly been debunked by the fact that a good number of people stood firm. And, even amongst those who have moved, there’s something that we say “you can move but don’t join”.
So, even amongst those who have moved, we know that they have moved, but they have not joined. And, I think there will be opportunity for everybody to reassess the situation going into 2023 and come back together again, and again do what they have always done. I will never take the credit as leader for the work that they do, I believe that they are standing firm, they are committed, they are resolute and indeed, they know that by the Grace of God come 2023, PDP will be Cross River and Cross River will remain PDP.