Ekpeyong Cobham is the director-general of Usani Campaign Organisation. In this interview with MIKE ABANG, Cobham expressed disappointment over what he termed breach of protocol by the National Vice Chairman of South-South of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and John Ochala during President Muhammadu Buhari’s visit to Cross River State last week Wednesday in which the duo refused to recognise the Minister of Niger Delta in the presence of the President. Excerpts:
What is your impression on the President’s visit to Cross River State last week?
The visit of the President was a welcome development considering the fact that we have a President coming to showcase the achievements of his administration and also let us know what he has in stock for the people of the state, considering the fact that he hardly enjoys meaningful support from the people of the state despite his magnanimity to the people in terms of political appointments in his government. He has done so much for us; his visit availed him the opportunity of meeting the people one on one. And to also know there is a paradigm shift against his candidature in terms of the general apathy against him before now, Cross River people have come to terms now that he is a better person and friend of the state than the former President who comes from the zone.
On the noticeable breach of protocol by the organisers of the rally, especially the National Vice Chairman South-South, Hilliard Eta by not recognising the Honourable Minister of the Niger Delta on the protocol list in the presence of Mr. President? What do you have to say on this?
I have absolute reservation on the organisation of the rally in which a few misguided persons decided to embarrass the President and the person of the Minister of Niger Delta by not recognising his presence at the rally organised by his own party in the presence of Mr. President. They decided to exhibit the highest level of ignorance; you behave and carry yourself believing that you are undermining him, but rather you are portraying yourself as untrained person, not deserving the position you are occupying, you deliberately refused to recognise him because you are the National Vice Chairman South-South of the party.
How do you view the action of Hilliard Eta and John Ochala during the President’s visit to the state?
The action of John Ochala and Hilliard Eta was only a manifestation of a crafty council constituted by certain person to rubbish the person of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs. They didn’t take cognisance of the fact that this personality they are trying to run down, has worked closely with the President; the President did not come to Cross River State to gather an impression about the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs. For almost 4 years, he has been working with him and all the functionality of the Minister he has had the privilege to draw conclusion as to his character, capacity, and his unblemished credentials; so coming to hear something completely divergent to his existing perception of his personality completely shows that these people are uncivilised and unreceptive to people of good manners.
How are you doing as DG of the minister’s campaign organisation?
Very great. Indeed, it’s very challenging but exciting, especially considering the unique circumstances, we have to operate in. But I can assure you that my principal, Pastor Usani, his teeming followers, fans, believers and admirers are very upbeat about the ‘Divine Project’ driven by the illumination team which I am privileged to head.
Recently, the INEC published a list of the candidates for Presidency and National Assembly; can you tell us the temper in your organisation before and after the publication?
Many thanks for this question. Let me start by saying that Pastor Usani is a very peaceful, law-abiding, sharp, witty and highly optimistic person. This is why at all times and in all moments, he remains unruffled, focused and extremely committed to the project. To your question now; yes, before the INEC publication, we believed that the Etim John primary list is the legitimate and official list that INEC would publish. Our belief was founded on the court’s verdict, a judgment, not just an order. So yes, so when INEC did otherwise, we were concerned because we believe that democracy flourishes on the capacity of the relevant institutions to do the right thing.
What is the reality now as we speak?
Well, we are justifiably affirmative that INEC will reverse itself. Predicating their action on the directive from the party national chairman is to put the man above the law and this contradicts the age- long principle of the rule of law that everybody is equal before the law.
I am not a lawyer, but it does not require rocket science legalism to know that once a court gives a judgment and the judgment beneficiary obtains an enrolled order, the system must effect the dictates of the judgment pending a possible upturning by an appellate court. As we speak now, the only legal pronouncement standing on four legs is that Etim John’s primary list is the one INEC should accept to all exclusions.
So, is it safe to say for now that the APC Cross River State governorship candidacy is still in contention, and if so, what is the prospect of your principal, Pastor Usani having it at the end?
Yes, ordinarily you would not say there is contention, if INEC had done the needful. But as it stands now you are right to allude that the position is still contentious. But I can assure you that the matter will be resolved in favour of Pastor Usani and others on the Etim John’s list. You know there is no time bar in a matter like this. Whenever INEC decides to behave lawfully and legitimately, the substitution will be effected, no matter how long it takes. Remember the classic case of Rotimi Amaechi Vs PDP and others. But for my principal, there is another specific window which is 31st January 2019, when the names of the governorship candidates will be published. INEC can explore that window and do the right thing. Where they still renege, then thank God, the matter is pre-electoral and we shall pursue it to its finest legal and moral logic.
Don’t you consider that the impasse may affect the fortunes of the party in your state?
No, I don’t think so. Remember, it’s the party logo that is inscribed on the ballot paper. Already, President Buhari’s next-level kite is flying high and Cross Riverians are prepared to show him great love in return for the plenty big portfolio appointments, Ogoja-Calabar Road, Calabar-Akpabuyo Road, Calabar – the road and many other projects. For other positions including the governorship, the party is working hard at all flanks. Indeed, it’s a double portion campaign delivery for us because contention or not, all party faithful and leaders are in agreement in taking the party to the next level of victory with CRS in APC’s kitty.