Yet, since the build up to the 2015 general elections, Duke’s political temperature has had to rise to fever pitch time and time again
– Dan Amor
“If our credit be so well built, So firm that it is not easy to be shaken By calumny or insinuation, Envy then commends us, And extols us beyond reason To those upon whom we depend, Till they grow jealous, And so blow us up When they cannot throw us down”- Clarendon
Former governor of Cross River State (1999-2007), Mr. Donald Duke and his successor, Senator Liyel Imoke, who governed the state between 2007 and 2015 have been best of friends. They know how they and one of their own, Senator Gershom Bassey, came together and drew up a blueprint for the New Cross River State prior to the current democratic civilian dispensation in 1999.
As progenitors of the intricate power calculus in the state, they know what arrangement they had behind closed doors as to who among the three musketeers would give the first shot at the governorship of the massively agrarian state. They also know how they have been helping one another from when they met up until today.
As politicians, they know that crisis is part and parcel of the game of politics. And they have,individually or collectively, been in and out of crisis after crisis in the course of their involvement in the political engineering of the state.
It is common knowledge in Cross River State that in 2007, Duke did not support Imoke to succeed him. He actively encouraged and financially supported his Deputy, Walter Nneji to run against Imoke, an aspirant whom Imoke roundly defeated at the primaries.
Yet, since the build up to the 2015 general elections, Duke’s political temperature has had to rise to fever pitch time and time again. At a time when even erstwhile strange bedfellows were aligning and realigning for relevance, Duke who, at a time, dumped the Peoples Democratic Party on whose platform he rose to power but was brought back by his benefactor, Imoke, was said to have openly lambasted the latter in a clandestine or cavalier manner.
According to reports, Duke, against the backdrop of the 2015 political engineering, had an ulterior motive to hijack the party structure from Imoke who ideally was the leader of the party in the state as the then sitting governor.
At a reception for Goddy Jedy Agba, a governorship aspirant, by a faction of the party in Calabar, the State capital, Duke was said to have derided Imoke for the crisis that rocked the State chapter of the party. He was said to have queried the veracity of Imoke’s claims on the development of the state vis-a-vis the economic health of the state under Imoke.
As though he was out to disparage his successor or to challenge him to another round of political combat, Duke called Imoke a dictator without looking back at how he (Duke) behaved while in power including his relationship with his late Deputy, John Okpa. Like the proverbial monk who wants to have his cake and eat it, Donald Duke is once again in the news, for the wrong reason of promoting mischief.
In a cover interview he granted Newswatch Times Magazine dated July 2015, Duke gave a false narrative of his relationship with Imoke and his successor’s role over the fate of his legacies. It was headlined “How Imoke Ruined My Efforts- Duke.”
As if that was not enough, Duke granted another interview to a new magazine, “The Interview” dated August 2015, a section of which was used to attack Imoke. It’s astonishing reading Donald Duke in the conversation with “The Interview” alleging that his successor, Liyel Imoke did not follow through with his vision.
What a fabrication! Of course, every administration wants to build its legacies. Even the present Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari has said it would not continue with some of the policies of its immediate past predecessor. But there is no administration that preserved the legacies of its predecessor like Imoke’s since the current civil rule began in 1999. Let’s take, for instance, the Calabar Carnival and Festival.
Duke started it, and every informed Nigerian knows from where Imoke took it over. It is now on the global annual calendar. Imoke has turned it into a massive revenue earning, labour generating and talent hunting event. The Imoke administration introduced the Children Carnival, the Cultural Parade, and the Kings and Queens competition. Every informed Nigerian knows that Imoke took the Carnival to unprecedented height.
So, how can you now say that he ruined your efforts? In the same vain, the Obudu International Mountain Race which Duke initiated celebrated its tenth mountain race anniversary with increased international participation and grew to become the official African Mountain Race Championship under Imoke.
The Tinapa case is even more beguiling than it appears to the general public due largely to Donald’s use of the media to hoodwink unsuspecting Nigerians and the world at large. We must admit that Duke built a project without tenants. International best practices demand that you secure anchor tenants even before the foundation is laid.
Duke continuously makes reference to Walmart coming to Tinapa, but he doesn’t have any agreement to that effect. Duke did not even have a Memorandum of Understanding ( MoU).
If Duke had wanted Walmart to come, why did he now open Tmart? If Imoke was going to stop Walmart, why did he not stop Tmart which belongs to him (Duke)? And how well did Tmart do in Tinapa? To be candid, it was Tmart that drowned Tinapa.
Walmart and other retailers have discovered that Tinapa was not suitably located and did not have any clear operating or regulatory framework; they realized that the Duke administration didn’t take into consideration some critical elements from the onset.
It was touted as Public Private Partnership project, but now, everybody knows that the burden of Tinapa is being borne by the Cross River State Government. Yet, in spite of all the burdens and debts, there are things that Imoke did to protect someone who is now saying that he (Imoke) did not want to continue with his legacies.
It was Imoke who got the operating licence for Tinapa in 2008/2009, when the Customs operating regulations were approved. The simple truth is that Duke touted Tinapa as Nigeria’s Dubai when, in fact, as a governor, he could not in anyway change or amend the constitution or the fiscal policies of the Federal Government. All Duke did was put massive warehouses and line shops in place at the expense of the taxpayers.
Secondly, Duke knows that when Tinapa was commissioned, the hotel, the water park and the studio were not ready. One of the first things the Imoke administration did was to get a loan of N3billion specifically to complete those outstanding projects in Tinapa. In fact, the hotel became operational during Imoke’s tenure.
Imoke even introduced a new conference facility in Tinapa, even as he introduced a children amusement arcade all in the hope of bringing in some traffic to the complex. Imoke made offers to companies like Silverbird to take over the studio but Silverbird refused. Imoke made offers to Shoprite, and all of them said Tinapa was wrongly located; that Calabar did not have what it takes to bring business to Tinapa.
Indeed, the failure of Tinapa is not due to lack of effort. Very clear effort was made by the Imoke administration including the completion of the studio and signing of an agreement with Ebony Life TV, which today is operating from Tinapa. Tinapa was without electricity.
The Imoke administration ensured that power supply was brought there, and everything else at the cost of billions of Naira. But Duke would have Nigerians believe that Imoke ruined his efforts. This is because Imoke is media shy and does not talk. Duke is enamoured of politics of belligerence and has become its virtual synonym.
He believes, like Niccolo Machiavelli, the Italian theorist of The Prince fame that to have peace, there must be war. But Imoke is a man of peace, always contented with the fruits of the spirit.
He is a gentleman whose aristocratic upbringing would not permit to wallow in delusion of grandeur. Were it not for the fundamental failure inherent in the structure of Tinapa, Imoke’s effort would have been enough to jumpstart the project. But we hear Duke claiming that there is hope as he is discussing with Asset Management Company of Nigeria, AMCON. He should be asked who approached AMCON.
It was Imoke who approached AMCON and actually signed the AMCON Agreement that Duke is making reference to. It was the Imoke administration that went through the whole arrangement of inviting AMCON, sitting down with them, negotiating the agreement, and now Duke wants to take the credit.
Imoke’s greatest mistake was that in an attempt to shield his friend and predecessor from public odium and disgrace, he tried to deodorize the white elephant project called Tinapa which Duke fraudulently used to attract headlines.
Yet, unfortunately, while Imoke was in office as governor, Duke tried to stop AMCON from concluding the transaction through subterfuge and blackmail.
Duke is now trying to conclude it with the new governor, Prof. Ben Ayade, but unfortunately the management of AMCON has been dissolved.
(To be concluded tomorrow)
•Amor is an Abuja-based journalist and public policy analyst.