Recently, Distinguished Senator Gershom Bassey representing the Southern Senatorial district of Cross River state in the Red Chambers, granted interviews to two Radio/FM Stations, HIT FM and CRBC. The interview centred on the state of the nation as well as other related issues in the state. He spoke on politics, insurgency, kidnapping, crime and 2023 politicking. Senator Gershom Bassey, was at his best as he offered considerably answers to most of the intriguing questions from the anchor men during the interview. The “Eagle” as fondly called by his political admirers, spoke intelligently like a leader and urged those interested in the 2023 race to rally around the incumbent governor Senator Prof Ben Àyade to finish his tenure. Any attempt, he said, will amount to distractions. Here is the full excerpt of the interview for your consumption as monitors by VITALIS UGOH, Calabar.
Question: Sir what is going on in the People’s Democratic party (PDP) in Cross River state and between you and the governor Senator Ben Àyade.?
Senator Gershom Bassey:NO, no, no. That is all rumours. I don’t think there is anything going wrong in Cross River state. What is happening is that we are waiting for the next step to follow the Constitutional provision of the party. The next step is for the congresses and party Exco to emerge. That is the next step. We had successfully had the other levels of engagement and what we are waiting for now are the state congresses. At the national level, there is nothing but the normal politicking. We have our national Exco in place. All the organs are in place and recently a committee was set up to go round to get the truth.
Question: 2023 Elections is around the corner. What is your take on this?
Senator Gershom Bassey: My advice is that anybody who is aspiring for anything in 2023 should just relax. If you are a Councilor, House of Rep member, Senator etc, you still have a lot to do before 2023. Face your business and do your work because we can only have one governor at a time. When you start talking about 2023 now, you are distracting the governor. And we have serious issues in the state to address. Let us allow the governor and the chief executive to face and address these issues. As indigenes of this state, let us join hands with the governor to assist him in addressing some of these challenging issues first and foremost. Those at the national level we can do our bit here while those at the state level should do theirs too so that we can deliver proper dividends of democracyto our people. Let’s do our jobs. You are the chairman, you have a job to do, do your work and allow the governor to do his work too. This is 2021 by 2023, people will come out to run or contest elections and politics will start and so this is not the time. For me I am not interested in 2023. I am still a Senator. I am doing my work in Abuja and that is my focus for now.
Question: Senator, you are the chairman of FERMA in the Senate. How do you guarantee the lives of road users of Calabar/Itu Federal road?
Senator Gershom Bassey: Thank you for the questions. First of all, FERMA is not the Federal Ministry of Works. It is a road maintenance agency that does palliatives on our roads. The agency does road maintenance and not road construction. What it did last year was maintenance but the real contract was awarded to Julius Berger and a Chinese company for huge sums of money. I am aware that the Ministry of Works has released some monies but for some reasons work has not started on the road. I have had several conversations with the minister Babatunde Fashola and he promised that additional ,#3 billion Naira(Three billion) will be added into the contract. However, he said that there are some community and compensation issues that needed to be addressed in Odukpani and that he has written to the governor and other stakeholders. These issues are being handled. But for us in FERMA, there is ongoing palliative work on the road. Work on the Calabar/Itu road will soon commence before the end of the first quarter.
Question: What do you make of the current insecurity in the country?
Senator Gershom Bassey: Thank you for the question. For us in Cross River state, we have experienced the situation. I had a personal experience on what happened in Càlabar in October, I mean during the EndSars protest. When you talk about banditry, kidnapping, and killings, name them, we have experienced them all in Càlabar. But I think after the EndSars, the state government has taken proactive steps. The issue of criminality is being addressed in the state as bandits and kidnappers are being arrested. I must commend the state government for the efforts and urge it not to relent. The governor and his cabinet should continue to ensure that the incidence of criminality is completely eradicated from our state. In the Senate, recently we had a robust debate on security. My contribution was that there should be adequate funding of Security. There is a need for more recruitment and acquisition of equipment for the security personnel to be able to police the nation well. Funding is a big problem, not only funding and the welfare of the security personnel. As a result, there is a need to declare some kind of emergency in the security sector just to ensure that we can pump enough funds to the security. Let us make one priority in budgeting and funding of this sector in two or three consecutive years then we will begin to see significant changes. We want Nigeria to be like other peaceful countries in the world. We need a situation where you can drive from Lagos to Càlabar all night without fear. You can drive across the country with ease and fear of any sort. Of course, there are other issues, like youth unemployment and general issues around the economy. To eliminate criminality we need to have a well funded security.
Question: What do you think the government is not doing well to address the issue in the North East of this country?
Senator Gershom Bassey: What we have is a situation where the President had changed the security chiefs in the country and appointed new ones who will soon appear before us in the Senate and we expect when they come they will tell us the new ideas they have to fight external and internal insurgency in the country. The issue of funding in both areas is a big challenge we need to address. I agree with you that after so many years of aggression, there is a need to bring to an end these aggressions.
Question: Is there plans to probe the out gone Service Chiefs as they come for screening?
Senator Gershom Bassey: Well you know that the military is an institution and so we can not personalise institutions. In Nigeria it is about time we start treating institution as institution and not to personalise it. The Chief of Army staff or Naval staff is an individual and so his successor will continue from what he sees from the files.
Question: .How can the use of technology help in the security situation in Nigeria?
Senator Gershom Bassey: Yes, we need CCTV Cameras, tracking equipment and drones. They are very important and useful. And even beyond that, like I said it requires funding. We should prioritize security. In all the states people are being kidnapped, some die and they are all human beings. Petex Etim was kidnapped years after no news about him. It doesn’t make sense at all.
Question: What is your take on the second Lekki Tollgate protest?
Senator Gershom Bassey: We in the Senate specifically supported the Constitutional right of Nigerians. We as law makers support protest. What we do not support is criminality and a situation where a peaceful protest is hijacked by hoodlums. Some people lost their lives and prisoners were released from prisons. I don’t know what the prisoners got to do with the EndSars. Destruction everywhere, looting of private and public properties. Infectious hospital looted, International conference center also looted under the banner of EndSars. It gives a serious concern. So while we appreciate and acknowledge the right of the youths to protest, they were protesting over a very serious issue most of them we have discussed in the national assembly, like the Police reforms and so many others. We have even passed a law on that. When you protest you have to be careful that it is not hijacked by Hoodlums. If you applied for police protection, and they say we can not do it on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, then we need to take another day. My take on the issue is that I totally support people protesting for their human rights so long as it is not hijacked by hoodlums. It is a Constitutional right but it must not infringe on the right of other people.
Question: The attempt to protest against the Lekki toll gate saw police brutality again. Lots of people were arrested. What is your view on it?
Senator Gershom Bassey: Well, i didn’t follow it closely so I can not comment on it. However, I am aware of the arrest of some persons. The reason why the police were there was to protect lives and properties and not to brutalise people anyway. If you recall the earlier EndSars protest had a police detachment attached to them. They had police protection. If you have to protest and the police says look we don’t have enough personnel to protect you, then you need to have a rethink and choose another suitable date and time. So I don’t have the details of what happened this second time in Lekki. Lekki toll gate is a private sector business which involves loans and it was already in use before 0ctober EndSars protest. What are we protesting, the use or the tolling of the Road? People have been protesting over the toll gate long ahead asking for an alternative route and the issue is ongoing. That is a separate issue with what happened at EndSars.
Question: After the EndSars the state government came up with Operation Akpakwu to fight criminality in the state. What is your impression on this?
Senator Gershom Bassey: I had already said it. I think, so far so good. Security is an ongoing thing while I commend the governor and his team for having focus on Security issues, I urge them not to relent. I commend him for swearing in Justice Ikpeme as the Chief Judge of the state. I urge all and sundry to join hands and encourage him to succeed as governor of the state. Since the October protest, I must commend the government on the new approach in tackling criminality in the state.
Question: Are you interested in the 2023 governorship election in Cross River state. ..as one of the three wise men?.
Senator Gershom Bassey: The issue of contesting elections in 2023 is too early for anyone to come out and say. Except you are talking about non conventional elections but for the real Election, it is too early. For now, the governor and his team need our support and I think we should join them to solve the issues on ground. When the time comes in our usual way we in the PDP we will come out with our candidates.
On the issue of rotation, this has been an unwritten tradition since 1999 and I am very happy we have kept to that tradition. Governor Duke started it, Imoke continued and I am happy governor Senator Ben Àyade is keeping faith with the tradition. Clearly the people of Cross River state are in full support of rotation.
Question: What is the relationship with the National Assembly members and Governor Senator Ben Àyade?
Senator Gershom Bassey: Exactly no problem but where it seems there is a problem is with some of his Advisers and aides, however, it is not personal, but it must be in line with the Constitution of the party. Else, there is no problem at all.