Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

The Politics Of Cross River State

Elizabeth Ohene

The party was billed as in honour of members of the World Press that had come to witness the swearing in of the new Governor of Cross River State, Chief Donald Dick Etiebet.

Never mind that the World Press was represented on a rather small scale, the people of Etienan had something to celebrate, and they more than made up the numbers.

I was told every now and again by different people always with a sense of pride? or wonder? "this is the first time that we are not in the opposition, right from the beginning. We have always been in the opposition; even in 1979 we voted solidly for GNPP. Is it any wonder our road is so bad?

Anyway, now that we have given all our seats to the NPN and our Governor has been installed in the State House, we must celebrate. At long last we shall also get some of the national cake?"

This theme ran in every speaker's speech and I started feeling sorry for the new Governor. It was simply not possible that there was a "state cake'' of a size that could be shared no matter how thinly for everybody and every place to be satisfied.

But then it is a problem that will have to be faced sooner than later by Governor Etiebet, for he is likely to be one of the Governors who will not have much by a honeymoon from his people and yet if ever there was a case for somebody taking office and going on vacation, this would have been one. So fiercely was the election in Cross River State contested that it was a wonder that the winners had any energy left in them to celebrate at all, but celebrate they did and if the enthusiasm of the crowds in Calabar was anything to go by then it is quite possible that his people might give him a breather, before their enthusiasm turns into disillusion.

But disillusionment was the last thing on the minds of the majority of the people who crowded into the stadium complex at Calabar to see a popular son of the State take his vows as Governor.

Very bitter though the election campaign had been in Cross River, (the battle was fiercer within the NPN than between the different parties) on inauguration day, most of them were in a mood for celebration, and celebrate they did.

You would be quite mistaken if your idea of a 'Nigerian attire' is the expensive lace "AGBADA" they are famous for world-wide.

In Calabar, it was frock coats and top hats, Pierre Cardin suits and immaculate Singapore Safari suits for the men and chic and elegant designer dresses for the ladies. Calabar High society might have fallen on hard times these days and rubbish collection in the city might not be as it used to be, driving on the streets might be more like through an obstacle course, but the people in these parts of Nigeria have not lost their flair of yore.

And they pride themselves on being very civilised, so in spite of the bitter struggle during the campaign the losers were quite free with their congratulations and the winners were not displaying any untoward "master-of-all-I survey" attitude.

Thus, the outgoing Governor chief Dr. Clement Isong arrived at the inauguration ceremony with all the trappings of power he was about to shed. He dutifully clapped at the appropriate times and shook hands with and congratulated the new Governor.

The CBC (Cross River Broadcasting Corporation) needs special mention, an incredible radio station, if ever there was one. Listening to this station, you would be persuaded that the sun only rose and set with permission from Chief Donald Dick Etiebet.

Typical newcast between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on October 1, 1983 - "Chief Donald Dick Etiebet will be sworn in as Governor of Cross River State at a ceremony at the stadium this afternoon, this morning in Lagos, President Shehu Shagari......... also sworn in…”

I wondered aloud at their news judgement until I learnt that until Chief Donald Dick Etiebet became Governor-elect, the sun used to rise and shine at the behest of Governor Chief Dr. Clement Isong in the CBC scheme of things.

For the next three days, radio and television featured nothing but the inauguration. The new Governor himself is suitably impressed with the task that faced him, he was until his election, a Senator and part of the group that had led the opposition to what was regarded as the "do-nothing" administration of Governor Isong.

Now that there is a new administration, hopes are very high in the state. Civil Servants have not been paid for four months with consequent loss of morale and productivity in the service. It is however, not the salaries that are the talking point so much as the roads in Cross River and the Governor has about decided that if he is to make any impact at all in the state, he has to start doing something about the roads.

The chances therefore are that the people of Etienan, might reinforce their opinion that being on the winning side in the political games pays handsome dividends - their road, their long mourned road is likely to be made for them.

The lesson is not likely to be lost on others, for as one of my hosts at the party told me, "if UPN had won, I would have joined them later," a brief discussion elicited the conclusion that many people are of the opinion that there are no fundamental differences between the various parties, at least nothing big enough to worry unduly anybody who might want to change allegiance because of a disagreement on personalities.

But what will be different in Cross River apart from a new Governor - the ruling party after all remains the same?

Governor Etiebet harps on peace and unity, but will economic activity in the state be quickened up to make some difference to the life of the people? "I am a man of the people, they trust me implicitly, they know I will do what is in their interest, what is more, I will listen to my people.”

Many people believe that Governor Etiebet will be listening a lot to his former colleagues in the senate from Cross River State, especially to Dr. Joseph Wayas the Senate President and Senator Victor Akan, generally regarded as kingmakers in the state.

Both Dr. Wayas and Senator Akan have more than big stakes in the success of the Etiebet administration and being at the very centre of power, the people are expecting great things.

As somebody told me, "at least, we know who to blame if things don't work here. Pity those in Anambra and Ondo states, they still don't even know who their ..... governors are, let alone those behind the throne......."

While they wait for the miracles to start, they are congratulating themselves that they have entered history as having witnessed a smooth and civilised transition of power from a sitting Governor to a new one.

As for the roads, everybody is looking forward to the bright young men said to be the people who will serve in the Etiebet cabinet when it is announced.

Chief Donald Dick Etiebet, Governor of Cross River State at a press conference before his inauguration. He is flanked on the left by Dr. Joseph Wayas the Senate President and member for the Ojoja senatorial district and on the right by Chief Emmanuel Etim James NPN Chairman of Cross River State

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