By John Ighodaro
IT is alleged that just before the current democratic dispensation emerged, three young men in Cross River State who were then in their thirties sat down and reached an agreement on how to take over the administration of the state. Their story is the stuff by which folklore is woven.
Today, in Cross River State, they are known as The Three Musketeers: Mr. Donald Duke, Senator Liyel Imoke and Mr. Gershom Bassey. Part of the alleged agreement they reached was that they would rule the state as governors in that order.
Mr. Donald Duke has ruled as governor for eight years. Senator Liyel Imoke is in the saddle now as governor just as it was planned and agreed on and Mr. Gershom Bassey is on queue.
Consideration that they were young men at the time this plan was hatched, it is doubtful whether the discussion took place over a bottle or bottles of beer. It couldn’t have been because these young men sat down discussed and hatched a plan that has arguably been controlling the destiny of a state and the lives of millions of people for over ten years.
So these must have been three serious young men with ambition, zeal and vision. To have a glimpse at the quality of their discussions and agreement at that historic meeting one only needs to remember how Cross River used to be perceived and how it is now seen.
Today, we have the Tinapa Leisure Resort, the Canopy walkway in Boki, the Marina Resort, the Obudu Cattle Ranch, the Calabar annual carnival and Calabar’s fame as the cleanest city in Nigeria _ offshoot of the meeting of the three young men. They didn’t plan to be headmasters of a primary school in the remote parts of Cross River State but to be governors of Cross River State and like a home video they are acting out the script.
Like children in a family however, these young men grew up and grew away. Children grow up, get married and leave, that is, grow away! No one outside their circle can categorically explain what happened to the 3 Musketeers, but one can look deeply into their activities in the past ten years and try to understand what must have happened to them.
Mr. Donald Duke as governor engaged in big money_guzzling projects in his determination to turn Cross River from a mere civil service state to a world tourist destination.
It was as if he felt Cross River was at a disadvantage as_a_not_too_big oil producer by Niger Delta standards and therefore decided to create its own oil wells in such projects as Tinapa Leisure Resort, Obudu Cattle Ranch, Calabar Carnival and others which are expected to be churning out billions of naira as oil wells do in some other parts of the Niger Delta.
The reality today, however is that these laudable projects have left huge debts which the government of Governor Liyel Imoke has been servicing and this has been gulping the scarce resources of the state.
Then came the loss of Bakassi and with it, the loss of oil wells. Subsequently, the state suffered yet another setback_the loss of 76 oil wells to neighbouring Akwa Ibom State.
Donald Duke campaigned heavily for Imoke while he was leaving office and when Imoke took over he tried to bear the burden of debt servicing with magnanimity. For starters, Duke was not just his political ally, they were and are family friends.
Duke was close to Imoke’s Mum and Imoke is close to Duke’s Mum. We are looking at a situation where Duke’s mother would run into Imoke at a function and ask “how is your brother? (meaning Duke). In an African setting, you must protect and defend your brother.
Somewhere along the line however, Duke grew up and grew away. He had eyes for the presidency. He had come to understand that he stands no chance of picking the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ticket as a presidential aspirant.
Everything seems to be walking so well and smoothly for President Goodluck Jonathan and it appeared he would be there for no one knows how long, so Mr. Duke resigned from the PDP and threw stones at the PDP. Naturally Imoke expected Duke to join another party or form a new party which Duke would also have to support at the local and state level.
And this would mean that Duke would have to campaign for whoever would run for governor in Cross River in his new party. In other words, Duke would have to campaign against Liyel Imoke in the state. The people of Cross River were about to see a situation where one of the three Musketeers (Duke) would be campaigning for a 4th Musketeer against one of the original three Musketeers for the post of governor. This seemed against the original plan of the three Musketeers at the very beginning.
Governor Liyel Imoke has not completed eight years and Gershom Bassey is waiting in the wings and the victorious balloon of the three Musketeers seemed to have been deflated by Duke after having fully benefitted from the original arrangement. So Duke and Liyel Imoke fell out. They are still brothers.
This writer has spoken to each of them in the absence of the other and they let you know without mincing words that they are still brothers.
Duke is smart, so one may never understand why he left PDP the way he did only to indicate later that he might not run for president in the next election as he initially planned.
After what he said about PDP, he is not likely to go back to the party ever again since he is not Chief Orji Uzor Kalu who prides himself as a man who easily takes decisions not minding the quality of such decisions.
Duke is in a quagmire of some sort because if he still wants to have a go for the presidency, he would have to wait for some years because he is not likely to run in 2011. And in 2015, one would like to see how he would convince the North that another South Southerner should step into Jonathan’s shoes if Jonathan wins in 2011.
Duke perhaps has walked into a political wilderness and perhaps not, because he is full of ideas. He could come up with a thing or two.
And as for the third man among the Three Musketeers, Mr. Gershom Bassey, in a private chat he didn’t appear keen on taking over after Governor Liyel Imoke. He said a new understanding was brewing in Cross River which seems to embrace the idea that any governor after Imoke should come from the North of the state and he and Donald Duke happen to come from the same area of the state. Talk about zoning.