Recently, Distinguished Senator Gershom Bassey representing Cross River South in the Senate and Chairman Cross River Caucus in the Red Chambers, whose outstanding representations had placed him in the hall of fame in Cross River State. His style and pattern of politics bits the imagination of his contemporaries. This can be seen in his humility and readiness to let go when the tide swings the opposite side. An outspoken and successful politician cum an entrepreneur had over the years had attracted Federal government projects in his immediate constituency as well as to the state. A news maker any day, Distinguished Senator in this interview with The Patriotnews Online spoke on a number of National and state issues especially on the current tussle on the 10th Senate leadership, the PDP crisis, a big deal to amend the NEMA Act to capture #EndSARs fund, and other issues. In this interview, he X-rayed the issues as they were like a tested and seasoned legislator. It is a must read; Relax and savour the juicy interview.
Question: What is your view on the tussle for leadership of the 10th Assembly?
Answer; My view is that Godswill Akpabio is a sound candidate and it is only fair that a guy like us should be given an opportunity, especially since he is from the South South zone and he is also from our micro zone which is Akwa Ibom/Cross River. First of all, i believe that the South South deserves it. So I am in agreement with the APC for zoning it to the South South. In the South South, Godswill Akpabio is the most qualified because he is the only ranking Senator that APC has in the South South and when you look at his precedence, he has the experience and capacity to be a Senator and so I am fully in support of him.
Question: How would you assess Wike’s role in the PDP in Cross River?
Answer: I do not want to personalize it because even in the Bible, Jesus Christ was tempted and He rejected that temptation. People will always be tempted but it is up to us as individuals to decide right and wrong. If you decide to go the wrong way, you cannot start blaming the person that tempted you and unfortunately for us the PDP in Cross River, it was our conscious decision to go the wrong way and now we have seen the result of that so we should learn from it.
Question: What do you think should be done in the PDP to make them a strong opposition?
Answer: It is beyond Wike and Atiku now. It is about the Parliament which includes the Senators and House of Reps members. Any issues in the Parliament are about the parliamentary party and i think in the senate now, the PDP has enough strong leaders to guide the parliamentary party very well. We have leaders like Senator Alero, governor Tambuwal and co coming in, and a number of very solid leaders who are strong enough to lead the party in the Parliament. So i have no problems with the PDP in the Parliament because we are going to have a very strong and cohesive PDP in the Parliament. How we use our political strategy in the Parliament is a different issue but I am sure that we will achieve whatever it is we want.
Question: Recently you raised a Bill in the Senate to amend the NEMA Act. What does the bill intend to solve?
Answer: We have the National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA) and the Bill is supposed to amend the normal act, to include the provision for creating an ENDSARS fund is one that the government has as of law that would be created and be part of the Act. The idea is that the ENDSARS fund which would be funded partly from the sovereign wealth fund, the budget and donations, will be a substantial fund for victims of the ENDSARS, mostly private citizens but I am sure government can equally tap into it, especially like in the case of Cross River State and Calabar. Places like Tinapa and three conference centres were affected by the ENDSARS. It is a fund where all those types of situations can approach the fund, provided the claims have been verified. As in the case of Cross River State, the governor has already done a verification of the claims and has sent a letter to the President. The only issue is the value of the money because as at the time those claims were verified two years ago, the Naira was stronger than it is today but if you put that beside the value of the Naira, you will find that all the claims have been verified. In the event of the fund being settled, we will simply approach the fund and it will hopefully pay. It will be funded annually from the budget at the president’s discretion. It will also be funded from a statutory percentage of the sovereign wealth fund and so we expect that there would be sufficient money over time to address some of these issues.
Question: Does it have a timeframe?
Answer ‘ It has no timeframe because it is now a Law. Part of the law that sets up NEMA will include a fund that is statutory, so it will go on until that law is repealed, if it will ever be repealed. The law is saying that it is specifically for ENDSARS but we recognise that in the event of all ENDSARS debts have been paid, the funds will still continue and address other issues. But the primary focus is the victims of ENDSARS.
Question: Does it also include those that lost their lives during that period?
Answer: The governor had set up Judicial Panel of Enquiry and the panel made recommendations. It is those recommendations we are talking about because there are lot of issues by the panel of enquiry. It talked about injuries as part of the claims and those claims have been sent to the government or police. All those issues have been included in the reports of the judicial panels and we are talking about the implementation of all those recommendations.
Question: What would you say on the issue of Independent candidate in our electoral process as enshrined in the electoral law?
Answer: Only the Electoral Law talks about and provides for independent candidates but it sets a high threshold for independent candidates and i do not know if that was adjusted but when the reports came in, the threshold for independent candidates was high and it simply stated that “an independent candidate would have to meet the same threshold as a political party”. For instance, if you are an independent candidate and you want to contest for governorship in Cross River State, you must meet the same threshold as every other political party, in terms of offices, presence in every local government and wards. You cannot just say you want to be an independent candidate and you do not meet the threshold but the political parties do, that would not be a level playing field.
Question: What is your advice for the incoming governor?
Answer: I think Prince Otu is an excellent choice for governor and i have already congratulated him as you know because of the first hurdle, which is winning the election, secondly being the poster boy for the back to South movement which the entire Cross River State agreed with, are major achievements for which he should be congratulated. Going into governance is serious business and i would advise him to surround himself with quality people who will not be sycophants but would give him quality advice and help him in governance and deliver on various sub-mandates. He is coming in at a time when Cross River State does not have a lot of money. So i want to encourage him to ensure that he finds a way to increase revenues in Cross River State and if he can do that, then he would have solved a lot of problems. I think he is going to do well because he had the temperament and capacity to do well and i wish him all the best.