Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Hon. Bassey Etim vs. Sen. Bassey Albert: The imperative of a political solution now

Hon. Bassey Etim vs. Sen. Bassey Albert: The imperative of a political solution nowHon. Bassey Etim vs. Sen. Bassey Albert: The imperative of a political solution now

The dust raised by the political faceoff between Hon. Bassey Etim and Sen. Bassey Albert Akpan is yet to settle across the state. This is despite the fact that the matter has moved on to the Appeal Court. The case which first came up at the Federal High Court, Uyo, was decided in favour of Hon. Bassey Etim hence the appeal by Sen. Bassey Albert.

Hon Bassey Etim and Sen. Bassey Albert are both of the PDP political household which makes the matter even more interesting. And you ask yourself: is the PDP umbrella no longer large enough to accommodate the ambitions of these political gladiators? What has come of the largest political party in Africa? What is the state party leadership doing to tame this obvious conflagration that is capable of rubbishing all the gains recorded by the party since 1999? Who will this internecine battle benefit in long run?

But first what is really the crux of the matter? Hon. Bassey Etim is contending that he was the rightful senatorial candidate for Uyo senatorial district in the last senatorial election, a position he alleged Sen. Bassey Albert usurped to become a sitting senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Hon. Bassey Etim is thus praying the courts to sack Sen. Bassey Albert and swear him in as the rightful person representing Uyo senatorial district.

Senator Bassey Albert, on his own part, alludes to the fact that it was the PDP which admonished him to forgo his promising gubernatorial ambition and then offered him the Uyo senatorial ticket on a platter as it were. He argues that what transpired was an internal political arrangement of the party which all the members agreed to. Of course, it is now clear to all that whatever internal political arrangement the PDP may have made then, may not have gone down well with some members of the party. And so that begs the question: if it was indeed the internal arrangement of the PDP that has brought it to this ugly pass, is it not incumbent on the PDP to organize another internal political arrangement to clear the apparent mess? That is the imperative left for the party to resolve the imbroglio and preserve its honour.

Hon Bassey Etim is a former member of the Federal House of Representatives, and Sen. Bassey Albert is a former commissioner in the state. Both are very honourable men who have contributed immensely to the development of the state and still have more to offer the state in future. Indeed, borrowing the words of Ojukwu, “their past achievements are little compared to the promise of their future”.

It is assumed by many that the two honourable men are right in their claims, a fact that has invariably torn the state into two factions. This is as unhealthy for the party as it is antithetical to the development of the State. 

The authors of this piece are, therefore, not out to speak for any of the parties or offer any legal interpretation of a case that is already in court as that would be prejudice; our mission here is to appeal to the leadership of the PDP in the state to seek a quick political solution to the matter and save the party and the state further embarrassment.

Robert Kennedy said there are two kinds of people in the world: those who see things the way they are and ask why those who dream of things that never were and ask why not? The “why” questions border on despair, while the “why not” ones are signs of optimism. In life it is those who have optimism that make things happen, while those who despair, only watch the happening around them.

To that end, while many in the state may be full of despair over why things in the state continue to follow this trajectory of conflict, we are optimistic that we will overcome and that our beloved state Akwa Ibom will be the better for it. For conflicts are necessary in society as their peaceful resolution always make for peoples.

We are in total sync with Kennedy that questions matter in life. A fatherless child who comes of age, asks questions about his father. A man who misses his way, must needs ask questions as to the right direction to follow, so also are lawyers when cross-examining a litigant in court. In this vein, there are certain pertinent questions the leadership of the PDP in the state must answer in order to establish the truth about who amongst the two litigant was the party’s Uyo Senatorial Candidate in the last general election. These posers are:

As a political party, does the PDP have the final authority when it comes to choosing a candidate for elections?, Is the process of selecting candidates for the party democratic? If yes, do you allow for parallel primary elections?, has the party the legal right to offer any kind of waiver to someone aspiring to be a candidate of your party? Who between the two litigants worked and contributed more to the electoral success of your party in the last general elections in the state?, Who between the two litigants had more support and greater electoral value across the state and in the Uyo Senatorial District? Who between the two litigants stands to lose more if justice is miscarried. In this case as is sometimes the case in Nigeria? Who between the two litigants appears to be more loyal and obedient to the dictates of the party? Will the continuation of the litigation or its outcome either way serve to strengthen or further weaken the party? Does the perpetuation of the conflict portray the state party leadership as being strong or weak? 

Is it within the party’s power or not the proffer a win-win solution to the matter in question? Will the perpetuation of this case promote party discipline or weaken it? We do not see the need to recall in detail all that transpired in the state in the buildup to the last general elections as events are still fresh in the minds of the Akwa Ibom People. We remember with nostalgia the rare enthusiasm which greeted the entrance into the gubernatorial race of one of the litigants, and the massive following he enjoyed across the state. 

We can still see the pain on the faces of many indigenes of the state at the news that he had accepted to relinquish his gubernatorial ambition in exchange for a senatorial ticket which the party had allegedly compensated him with. We cannot easily forget the statesmanlike behaviour he exhibited when at an open event at Shelter Afrique, Uyo, he graciously collapsed his political structure for the incumbent PDP governor of the state and asked his massive supporters to vote the PDP all the way at the election. And he campaigned with all his heart for the PDP.

 We make bold to say here that the love and massive electoral support Sen. Bassey Albert received in 2015 was no happenstance: it was a function of his own love and sacrifice for the people. In his victory speech to the American people on the night of his presidential election in 2008, Obama had said: “if there is anyone out there who still doubts the power of our democracy, or who wonders whether the dreams of our founding fathers are still alive in our time, tonight is your answer”. 

To Obama, the answer was the long lines of people who came out to vote for him, whites, blacks, Hispanics etc. in like manner, if Sen. Albert had ever wondered whether the Akwa Ibom people loved and appreciated him, the 2015 election in the state was the answer. It was an answer told by the unprecedented following he enjoyed across the state not minding that that was the first time he ever sought an elective office.

In the epic story Mutanda Oyom Namondo, Ekpo Mosufe the hunter offered to sacrifice himself as a ransom for Namondo, the heir to the throne of Bokondo. When king Mutanda, tried questioning what was to him a strange decision, Ekpo Mosufe told him his action was to notify the popular king that there were people in his kingdom who loved and cared for him the way he could never imagine. In 2015, the Akwa Ibom people expressed similar sentiment towards Sen. Albert. Horace Leaf says the mass of people await to follow leaders. In 2015, the Akwa Ibom people found in Sen. Bassey Albert a leader, and they followed him 

So it is expected that the PDP leadership will take a stand on this disturbing issue, a stand based on the popular truth. For as Tolstoy did say, truth is not only a joy, but also a weapon in conflict.
Doris Goodwin whom we quoted above opines that crisis provides a rare opportunity for leaders to reinvent themselves. We believe this to be absolutely correct and hope that the leadership of the PDP in the state will seize the moment and do the proper thing. 

History is replete with stories and examples of average leaders who snatched greatness from the jaws of crisis and adversity, ordinary leaders who were transformed into icons overnight by circumstances that they had no control over.  Churchill was a product of the Second World War; the Great Depression Transformed President Roosevelt from a wheelchair –bound polio victim to a great political genius; apartheid threw up Mandela, and 9/11 made Rudy Giuliani world-famous. We see the ongoing conflict  within the state chapter of the PDP as having the potentials of strengthening true leadership of the party if it could but rise to the challenge of the hour.

Harold Lasswell, a known political authority defines politics as “who gets what, when and how”. Another reputed authority describes politics as the art of the possible. And so if the PDP as an authentic political party wishes to internalize these traits, conflicts like these will become a thing of the past amongst its members.

Politics as an art has indeed been used to achieve the impossible in many societies and nations of the world, one of which is South Africa. An heterogeneous society torn apart by apartheid, South Africa was thought to be an impossible country. The great South African writer and humanist, Alan Paton, expressed this fear about his country in his book Cry, the beloved country: “Who knows how we shall create a land of peace where blacks outnumber whites so greatly?”  

That fear has been laid to rest today through the rare leadership exhibited by certain key political actors in the country’s evolution. Through deft political moves by these actors, coupled with an unwavering conviction that peace was possible in the country, that nation has successfully shed off its old image of a land of social injustice and assumed the new toga of a land brimming with opportunities for all. This was not achieved though the law courts, but through sound political actions by those truly convinced about the future of the country.

Nelson Mandela for example admitted that there were indeed moments of great disagreement during the talks between his party, the ANC, and De Klerk’s ruling party (it was this talks which eventually led to the pulling down of the last vestiges of apartheid and paved the way for peace in South Africa)
Mandela said that at these difficult moments, all the parties needed to do to bring down their tempers in order to enable the talks continue, was fix their eyes on the big picture which was the new South Africa they were trying to birth.

The resolve of Mandela and De Klerk to bequeath lasting peace to South Africa saw them relaxing some of their hardline positions: Mandela consented to the Government of national unity which De Klerk and his party had proposed for the country. The GNU proposal was a novel arrangement which would see the winning party at the general election producing the president and the 1st Vice President, while the party with the second highest vote will settle for the post of 2nd vice President. 

The election was to be the first in the country where the ANC as an hitherto banned political party will be participating in. The GNU idea was at par with the ANC’s initial demand for a winner-takes-all Governmental arrangement.

The final outcome of the election saw Mandela becoming the president of the country and De Klerk 2nd Vice President and the third most powerful person in the country. Thus, De Klerk relinquished to his former prisoner the number one position in the country and in the government, and consented to taking orders from him. Mandela on his own path, agreed to share power with his former jailer and oppressor.

The act was one of a great sacrifice on the side of De Klerk, and of forgiveness and understanding on the side of Mandela.

The world applauded the actions of the two men who were later jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The choice of awardees of the Nobel Peace Prize has been controversial most of the times but the recipients that year were generally accepted as befitting of the award.

The secret of their historical breakthrough was that none of the global icons allowed his personal ego to stand in the way of his love for his country and his countrymen who would have been most affected if the talks had failed.

Coming back home to the subject matter of this piece, we surmise that if the leadership of the PDP should resolve to play a good mediatory role in the ongoing drama between Hon. Bassey Etim and Sen. Bassey Albert today, and if the litigants would agree to sublimate their egos  and focus on the big picture and decide to tread the path of honour, and end would come naturally to the conflict and a win-win situation could be arranged for all concerned.
        The Achebean philosophy of “let the eagle perch, and let the kite perch” has always been a good recipe for lasting peace in this kind of conflict, and we believe the philosophy will work if applied in this matter. God bless Akwa Ibom State. 

Uwem Michael is a Public Affairs Commentator and sent in this piece from Uyo

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