Liyel Imoke: The Avatar With Nine Lives Flexes at 60

PAUL OBI

“If anyone rises to power, it’s not only because he could, but also because the stars were aligned in his favour…” 
Bangambiki Habyarimana
Pearls of Eternity  

As Nigeria grapples with the deterioration of nationhood; Cross River State is also enmeshed in political quicksand. From being a toss of good tidings between 1999 and 2015; Cross River in the last six years has been sliding – deeply in search of a true leader. A reason, the focus is now being beamed again on Sen. Liyel Imoke, the erstwhile governor. Apparently, at the centre of what makes Cross River thick is no other than the behemoth himself, Imoke.

Within the last three decades, no one has influenced the politics of Cross River State compared to Imoke. In that, the metrics of power in the state often dangle according to the whims of the Itigidi born high prince. In Itigidi, and with Imoke as the lead orchestra, a political shrine – not in the realm of Okija and Babalawo but of mundane mentorship has been erected,  where power seekers genuflect every 1st January for blissful outcomes in politics. There, both political fortunes and blackouts are extended to followers and non-conformists. In him, a symbol and catalyst of Cross River politics stretching 30 years and it’s still counting has been carved out even for generations yet unborn. Alongside former Governor, Donald Duke, he is also credited with initiating the Cross River agenda that ushered in a clear direction in governance, a contradiction with today’s distractions  and disarray.

As the governor of Cross River for eight years, Imoke’s greatest legacy was his firm pursuit of rural development. Villages, hamlets and communities long cut off from modernity were railroad into the newness of today’s world. Education and healthcare service delivery became the cardinal foundation.

Beyond championing the blueprint of sane governance, in Imoke, Cross River thrived, grew and flourished in bounds and reach. Far from today’s hocus-pocus, Imoke’s legacy projects were well thought out, initiated and implemented.

On the contrary, by 2023 and after eight years of the Professor of Groundwater Remediation, Cross River will be thrown into the wasteland of white elephant abandoned projects.  Since Imoke left the seat of power, visitors and investors alike who know Cross River and its natural ambiance are stunned by the degradation and cannibalization of governance in the state. In times past, Cross River was in love with lightning speed innovation, tourism and big data; today, the state is more in comfort with decay, gimmicks and retrogression amid the rekindling of melodrama every now and then. Such that, even infamous critics of Imoke will bestow him with innumerable laurels. With Imoke, the aura of office glaringly left Peregrino the very day he signed out. As a statesman, both in practice and body language, Imoke clearly abhorred clannish leaning.

Unlike today, where even the Accountant General; Auditor General, Intergovernmental Affairs and major contractors of the state all have their blood lineages and strength traced to Kakum, in Imoke’s era, the Bekwaras, Bokis, Yakurrs, Akamkpas, Akpabuyos were calling the shots big time. There was also no government of the siblings, by the siblings and for the in-laws. The audacious familitocracy at play is incomparable in the history of the state. Under Imoke, Cross River was assured of the barest minimum of good governance – people-oriented policies, devoid of hype and peep shows. The state rainforest was also well protected; no depletion of the ecosystem, or looters of the forest on the prowl. Calabar City won awards back-to-back as the cleanest city in Nigeria. Availability of water in Calabar metropolis was like waterfalls. Today, there’s scarcity of water in a state bordered by Atlantic Ocean. Let the reader be the judge!

At the federal level, Imoke’s political expedition has remained not only legendary, but also a cornerstone of historical success. From being a Senator at the age of 30 in 1993, to Special Adviser on Utilities to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, to Minister of Power, the facts and records are our guide towards the coronation of Imoke as an avatar. Still, Imoke has remained a true party man, helping to keep the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as a united force in the many political battles that lay ahead. It’s in recognition of these qualities that the PDP head-hunted Imoke again to join the Sen. Bukola Saraki led Reconciliation Committee to bring peace and harmony to the party.

Born on 10th July, 1961 in Ibadan, Oyo State, to the family of former Commissioner of Health, old Eastern Region, late Samuel Imoke, the former governor attended Mary Knoll College, Okuku – Ogoja, Cross River State, Government College Enugu, University of Maryland, where he bagged a bachelor’s degree in Economics and International Relations. He also holds an LL.B from the University of Buckingham, United Kingdom (UK) and an LL.M from American University. Imoke, as a private sector stakeholder, has had his footprints in legal practice, commerce and telecommunications. But it’s in politics, leadership and public service that he has come to be defined as the real avatar and a cat with nine-lives.

But as Shakespeare maintained, “there are tides in the affairs of men, which taken to flood, lead on to fortunes; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows….” Hence, it’s not in every of his political pursuits that Imoke has come out triumphant or led afloat. He had his gubernatorial mandates quashed by the courts twice, only to rebound. Under his reign, Cross River oil wells were confiscated through merciless Supreme Court judgement spearheaded by her sister state, Akwa Ibom, in what many blamed on Cross River’s lack of tact and fierceness. In fact, his tenure was christened “sleeping government” by notorious critics of the state then. Close watchers of Cross River political trajectory in the last six years plus also point to the corrosion of governance in the state as a classical example of how not to roll out a leadership succession plan.

Instructively, it’s in that succession plan and the decision-making processes Imoke embarked upon in 2015 that Cross River politics now hangs in the balance. The reasons for that rest squarely on the contradictions of an Imoke that played cohesive politics and entrenched good governance for Cross River rural populace on one hand, and today’s prevailing leadership harakiri in our dear land – the People’s Paradise.

Because, in Cross River of today, rather than the state government engaging in people-oriented development, it’s now a feast where mobocrats, clap-trap sycophants and naysayers wield the monstrous broom as a plaque of victory. In places like Boki, food-on-the-table appointees have now invaded the land of the brave with brooms that are culturally antithetical and alien to the people – for only serfs and vassals wield and gyrate with brooms. Ironically, the leader championing the broom revolution in the state has never raised a broom for a day. Still, within a space of one month after jumping to APC, Cross River has lost the approval of the Deep Sea Port and the Federal University of Technology, Ogoja – all awarded to Akwa Ibom State. Thus, the sum total of these digressions is that – the current leadership is a dangerous hold on the state and its prosperity. In the midst of this predicament, while our neighbouring and sister states of Ebonyi and Akwa Ibom are in celebration mood with fireworks, serenaded by physical development and infrastructure, Cross River, once, a frontline state, has now been reduced to a land that manufactures comedy and megalomania in absurdities far more than good roads, hospitals, schools and even riches.

Worst still, by parachuting Cross River to the fiefdom of the broom, the state has lost more than gain. The reason for such betrayal remains a mere narrative in infamy. To save the future of the state, the battle is now Imoke’s own to rescue Cross River from the abyss or consign the state to perpetual perfidy. And in a state where poverty has been systematically weaponized for political expediency, the fear is that the future of young Cross Riverians have been mortgaged for a portion of porridge. Many are now contracting their thinking faculties to the state Czar; no more innovation and critical thinking for the good of the state. As a leader, this present crisis of leadership and the wobble direction of the state compels Imoke to lead the charge to salvage Cross River for the better.

As Imoke posited recently in THISDAY interview, “you cannot oppress the people without a reaction; power must go to them,” in the last six years plus, Cross Riverians have been manacled, dribbled, stagnated and reduced to beggardom, would the real power return to the people in 2023? As every Cross Riverian looks up to Imoke, the greatest political danger since the creation of the state in 1967 will be if Cross River tilts to APC in the governorship election. APC has brought too much carnage to Nigeria that any reasonable Cross Riverian would think twice before thumb printing his or her ballot for the party. The party and their leaders are merchants of nepotism, divisiveness, and economic kindergartens. Its overall leader is busy describing indigenous Nigerians – Igbos as “a dot in a circle,” while embracing aliens in faraway Niger Republic as cousins. Rather than implement restructuring which the party swore to and took an oath before Nigerians to adhere to, APC and its leaders are busy trying to dig out a draconian, archaic, medieval and illegal Gazetted Open Grazing Route document in pre-independence Northern Nigeria to create Cattle routes in Cross River and other parts of the South. That is not a party Cross River should be associated with. Imoke therefore has his hands full.
What has happened to Cross River since Imoke exited has been the fingerprints of derailment in all the structures of governance both at the executive and legislative branches of government. All things considered, what has berth in Cross River in the last six years is the fatal politics of squandering, wastefulness and with an army of praise singers.

Now, the state is on edge, which has indirectly mandated Imoke and other top political bigwigs in the state to return to the trenches for the redemption of the state. In 2015 when Imoke bowed out meritoriously, he had thought that that was his finished line in Cross River politics, with the political backstab and the advent of the innocuous broom revolution, it is beginning to look more like the starting gun. 

Therefore, Imoke’s 60th birthday can be likened to Aeschylus’ The Battle of Salamis to reclaim Cross River. In reclaiming the state in 2023 , the outcome will be the fundamentals of Imoke’s political survival and or even collapse. Remarkably, as he celebrates his 60th birthday – today, we join his lovely wife, Obioma Imoke, Osodi Eme 1 of Cross River, his family and well-wishers to toast to the indisputable avatar as he flexes on his Diamond Jubilee. The reign of applause for the Itigidi high prince beckons like the bell in a palace courtyard, “for all is well that ends well,” and may the Almighty Elohim continue to dwell with Imoke.

Obi is a journalist and political communication consultant based in Abuja 

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