The 2019 general elections are about 8 months away. Politicians are getting busy by the day, designing and perfecting strategies that will enhance their chances of success in the polls. Curiously, the tempo of political activities has been more pronounced in the Central Senatorial District of Cross River State than in the other two senatorial districts. The reason for this may not be unconnected with the fact that the Central Senatorial District is seen as the heartbeat of Cross River State politics. Aspirants to the senatorial seat, nine of them as at the last count, have been embarking on consultations with groups and individuals to sell their aspirations. Expectedly, their activities have generated a lot of discourse, mostly on social media and, of course in various political circles.

One of the most contentious topics has been the issue of zoning. There have been arguments advanced by the various contending parties as regards which part of the senatorial district has the rightful claim for consideration. Some of the arguments border on the absurd while some others bear reasonable logic. For example, one group argues that the issue of zoning should be considered along the lines of the Federal Constituencies in the Senatorial District. Others believe that the basis of zoning should be the constituent Local Government Areas in the District. Yet another group holds that the Old Ikom and Old Obubra blocs should be the main considerations. Expectedly, there are also those who argue that the subject of zoning should be completely jettisoned.

For ease of comprehension, it is important to have a quick outlook of the political structure of the Central Senatorial District. The six local government areas and their approximate voter population as at the 2015 INEC registration figures are Abi (47,837), Boki (71,178), Etung (31,982), Ikom (82,835), Obubra (72,307) and Yakurr (77,278). There are three federal constituencies – Abi/Yakurr, Obubra/Etung and Ikom/Boki federal constituencies. These figures show that there is near equal voter population figures between Old Ikom and Old Obubra with the latter having a slight advantage. In terms of federal constituencies, Ikom/Boki is by far the most populous followed by Abi/Yakurr in a distant second. These figures will, of course change, dramatically by the close of the Continuous Voter Registration exercise by INEC in November/December, 2018.

In terms of those who have had the opportunity to occupy the Senate seat, it is fair to go back to the first time we had a political entity called Cross River Central Senatorial District which was during the short-lived Third Republic with Senator Liyel Imoke from Abi LGA as the senator then. His tenure lasted all of 11 months (1992-1993) before the then military government truncated the political transition to civilian rule. Then at the on-set of the Fourth Republic in 1999, Senator Matthew Mbu Jnr (Boki LGA) became the senator and served for one term (1999-2003) of four years. He was succeeded by Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, SAN (Ikom) in 2003 who went on to serve for three terms of twelve years and rose to become the Senate Leader in his third term which ended in 2015. Then, Senator John Owan Enoh from Etung took over in 2015 and is currently serving his term which will lapse in 2019.

So for the proponents of using the federal constituencies as a yardstick for zoning of the senatorial seat, the above picture shows clearly that even though all three federal constituencies have occupied the senate seat, the Abi/Yakurr federal constituency argues that their term was incomplete as it lasted for less than a year and as such they have a strong claim for consideration in 2019. Those angling for Old Obubra posit that for 20 years, Old Ikom has occupied the senate seat and it is only fair and just that Old Obubra should be encouraged to have it in 2019. For those who believe that the LGAs are the constituent units of the senatorial district, their argument is that only Obubra and Yakurr have not yet produced senators and as such the race for the seat in 2019 should be limited to those two LGAs.

For an objective analyst, there are a few things to note. Firstly, the political position under consideration here is the Senator representing Central Senatorial District in the National Assembly. It is the only position that is common to the six LGAs of Central Cross River. Thus it should not be equated to any other position and must be considered in isolation. The above analysis thus makes a compelling case for the people of Obubra and Yakurr to be given support to aspire for the seat. Perhaps that of the nine aspirants, six are from either Obubra (Walter Ajogbor) or Yakurr (Patrick Iwara, Bassey Ewa, Godwin Ettah, Dodeye Arikpo and Wilfred Usani) speak to the fact that there is strong sense of entitlement by these two LGAs. The other three aspirants are Chris Agara and Paul Erokoro SAN and Chris Agara (both from Ikom) and  Sandy Onor (Etung). All of these are in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The picture in the All Progressives Congress (APC) is still hazy. Currently, there are not senatorial aspirants from Abi and Boki LGAs.

While it may be argued that this is all politics and a contest for “survival of the fittest”, one still needs to remember that it is only fair and equitable to look at the issue of zoning objectively and dispassionately. If indeed the long-standing political harmony in CRS Central must be sustained, then indeed ‘fair must be fair” and what is good for the goose should be good for the gander. There is no gainsaying the fact that twisting the zoning narrative to reflect selfish undertones will not augur well for aspirants of Old Ikom extraction in either the PDP or the APC. In any case, there is always the bigger matter of the general elections to consider. I think that this, much more than the zoning arguments, should guide the political parties in their choice of candidates for the elections. The parties will need to be strategic in selecting their candidates. For now, we can only watch, wait and pray that the situation is kept under control such that it does not become a cankerworm for the parties, and by extension the Central Senatorial District in general.

Michael Bassey

A public affairs analyst

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