Sir John Ochala is a factional chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Cross River State. In this interview, he explains why the crisis in the party has lingered and what stakeholders are doing to harmonize the two factions. Clement James reports
The APC in Cross River State has been in crisis over its chairmanship. However, there was this news recently that the two factions have harmonized. What is the state of affairs of the party?
The national leadership of our great party had directed that the party must come together which is what we have been striving for all along. So, my humble self and Hon. Etim John decided that if not for anything else, for the fact that we have a by-election coming up, one for the northern senatorial seat and one for Obudu state constituency, that we should not confuse our teeming faithful and Cross Riverians in general. The argument of legitimacy or otherwise should be down-played until the end of the elections for us to have enough time and sit down to look at whatever interests that we have. However, there has never been any time in Cross River APC that we had two chairmen at the same time. It has never happened. We have always had a chairman and a splinter group claiming and causing confusion. That is how it has always been. But for now, we have said we are going to talk to ourselves and come together and ensure that does not make us to lose the forthcoming by-elections.
You said the party has never had two chairmen in the state. Now that you have chosen to down-play the issue of chairmanship and there are by-elections coming up, who takes charge of these elections?
I suggest to you that you ask this question to the national leadership. I made it clear to you that we have never had two chairmen at the same time. As I speak to you, the national leadership knows who the chairman in the state is. I just told you that we have always had crisis occasioned by interests but we said for the sake of the by-elections, we should not bring up any crisis. Whatever claims anybody has should come up after the elections. That does not mean we do not have a chairman or we do not know who the chairman is. There are insinuations that the National Executive Committee (NEC) that supported your group has been dissolved… I will appreciate if you do your findings with the national and talk to them. It makes it easier.
How is the party prepared for the by-elections in the northern senatorial district as well as that of Obudu State constituency?
It’s part of the preparation that we are strategizing. But our greatest challenge is the internal strife and it is obvious, we have found out that there are leaders who are fanning internal discord for their own selfish interest. You will be shocked at what will play out before, during and after these by-elections. We are to say it as it is; we are going to be straight about it and we are going to be sincere to ourselves. And we are going to shame the leaders who have been perpetrating this division all along.
When you are talking about leaders, who are your referring to?
I will not name names until the time comes.
Let’s take it that you are the only chairman of the party in the state; how much have you popularized the APC in the northern senatorial district even as you go into the elections?
Concerning the by-elections, we have asked all the aspirants to come out, showcase themselves, go the people and sell themselves. We have had series of meetings, we have had meetings with the aspirants in the north, we have had meetings with the party leadership in the north, we have had meetings with leaders and opinion molders from Cross River North and across the state concerning the byelections. At the end of the day, once the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) comes out with a timetable, we will kick the ball rolling and whoever emerges as the candidate will be supported by the party.
How many aspirants do you have gunning for the senatorial ticket on the platform of the party?
Those who have shown interest that they are willing to contest include the likes of Odey Ochicha, Chief Wabili Nyiam, Tom Agi, Joe Agi, Zana Akpagu, Hon. Fidel Egoro and a former Speaker of the State House of Assembly. I think all put together, they are seven in number. But sincerely speaking, once INEC blows the whistle, only those who buy our forms would be sold by the party.
There was local government election in May this year and the Cross River State Independent Electoral Commission (CROSIEC) recognized only the Etim John-led faction of the APC. Now that you said you have resolved the crisis and that only one chairman is in the state, but CROSIEC insists that that faction remains recognized according to the INEC register. How do you reconcile this?
But you and I know that that was not true. The truth is that the media creates confusion where there is none. It is very obvious that Ayade sponsored some people. That is why we are in the court with CROSIEC till day. The splinter group in the party went into an agreement with Ayade to get some slots in the local government but at the end of the day, of course, Ayade will not keep to his words, so he did not. And they went around that this was not the agreement, so the whole world knows that there was a game between the two parties. That is not what I want to discuss here. I told you that if you are talking about who the leadership is, don’t ask me. Go to the national secretariat and find out. If they give you two names, then you believe it be-cause I have told you that there has never been two chairmen at the same time. It’s not possible, it has always been one.
But the crisis in the party seems to affect the role APC is supposed to play in the state as an opposition party…
Let me ask you: How much noise has PDP been making and what kind of opposition are you talking about? Is it noise that wins elections? You and I know that it is facts, which the populace knows that wins election. It is facts that the teeming voters know about that wins an election. You and I know that Cross Riverians are tired of this government and you and I know that part of the crisis is that the governor has been sponsoring people to destabilize the APC. That is why reason is prevailing because we want to work together across divides to ensure that that does not play out in the by-elections that we are going to have. It is not about making noise; It is about talking to the electorate, exposing them to the ills of the society and proffering alternative platform, which they are ready and willing. But this confusion takes toll on us and that is what we are trying to address. If the major players have come together to say enough is enough, then you know that something positive is going to happen.
Are you looking to be strong in 2023?
2023 will take care of itself but first, let’s face the by-elections. It is 2023 that is causing serious problem and sell-out and crisis in the party amongst us. A lot of our leaders are already angling for 2023 and they are taking steps that are very untoward, undermining the structure of the party to see how they can position themselves for 2023. That is one of the reasons we are having these challenges. But I can assure you that all that is waste of time. What will be will be and anybody that God chooses to run for governorship or any other position will run no matter how much you plan.
Earlier on, you mentioned those who have interest in contesting the northern senatorial election on the platform of your party. Are you not aware of the bickering among them right now?
We call that de-marketing. In an attempt to be excited and overzealous to promote your principal, you insult and abuse a contestant and opponent. What you will succeed in doing is to de-market your principal because the electorate will say, is it the angle this people are coming from? They are not civil, they are not polite, they are high-handed and they are autocratic. So, we have noticed what you have just mentioned and for that reason, the State Publicity Secretary held a meeting, a mini-seminar with the menders of all the aspirants and drew their attention to this very bad trend and they all subscribed to correcting themselves and focusing on the positives without necessarily bringing down the other person.