Cross River State has produced prominent women in various fields of life, including activism and politics. Among them was the late Margaret Ekpo, a women’s rights activist and social mobiliser. The pioneer female politician in the First Republic was born in Creek Town, Cross River State.
In recent times, prominent women like a former Head of Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita, former presidential adviser on National Assembly matters, Senator Florence Ita-Giwa and the national woman leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Dr Betta Edu, among others, emerged from the state.
However, more than 23 years after the return of democracy in Nigeria, female politicians have been relegated in the affairs of Cross River State. Pundits say it is still very unlikely that a woman would either be elected as governor or deputy in 2023.
Mrs Cecilia Ekpenyong, who emerged deputy governor during the regime of Chief Clement Ebri in 1993, is the last woman to have occupied such exalted office in the state.
The ruling APC recently settled for Senator Bassey Otu as its consensus governorship candidate in Cross River State for the 2023 general elections.
The former senator, who represented the southern senatorial district, emerged through an exercise held at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Abuja.
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is also tilting towards settling for a consensus candidate in the state. However, it is doubtful that it would give its ticket to either of the two female aspirants who have shown interest in succeeding Governor Ben Ayade, who was elected on the platform of the PDP in 2015 and 2019 before his defection to the APC in 2021.
Nigeria’s former ambassador to Ethiopia and African Union Commission, Mrs Nkoyo Toyo, who was the governorship aspirant of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 2011, and Imah Nsa, a lawyer, are the two female aspirants seeking the 2023 governorship ticket of the PDP.
The two women, described by commentators as urbane, highly intellectual, goal-getters, courageous and determined women, are from the southern district of the state.
The chairman of the PDP in the state, Venatius Ikem, said the party did not look at gender but capacity and capability in choosing its candidates for elective positions.
Days earlier, Ikem hinted at the possibility of a consensus in choosing the candidate of the party.
“The PDP is working towards transparent, rancour-free and fair primaries. If a consensus arrangement comes along the way, we will thank God for it,” he said.
A commentator and woman leader in the state, Mrs Magdalena Bisong, said the state needed women like Mrs Toyo and Nsa at the helm of affairs.
She said the two courageous female aspirants who had weathered the storm to tread where some men had dreaded, were not new faces or greenhorns in politics; hence they should be considered and given a chance to exhibit their talents.
She said men had not done exceptionally well in the last 24 years or since the inception of the state.
“Cross River has a collection of women who are intellectuals, well exposed and poised to change the situation of the state,” she said.
Nsa said she was not intimidated by the galaxy of male aspirants in the race, arguing that men should not see her as an alternative but the actual choice.
The lawyer, who has been championing widows’ and communities’ rights in the state, said she would bring commitment and passion to bear in governance by ensuring that everyone feels the positive impact of government.
She promised to shift the cycle of inequity and injustice in the governance of the state.
“My vision is to shift this cycle of injustice and inequity in the governance of Cross River State, using it as an example of what Nigeria can again become if the proper parameters of justice, equity and rightness are once more enshrined as the fulcrum of social engineering.
“To achieve this, there has to be a paradigm shift, which will be pursued through five key programmes and a defined agenda with the acronym SHIFT which stands for Schools, Hospitals, Infrastructure, Farms and Technology,” she said.
Claiming that she is not intimidated by moneybags in politics, Nsa said rural primary education would be the focus of her administration so as to give a fighting chance to the next generation of the people.
She emphasised that there had been a lot of decline in the system, both at state and federal levels, while calling on women to rise and aim at changing the narratives and restore hope.
“I cannot be intimidated by names or those you describe as moneybags. I am out to make an impact and win because the widows, mothers, the youth and others are yearning for me.
“I have a very good knowledge of the state, having traversed it in the course of widows’ rights advocacy, and quite understand the pains and plight of the people
“I have travelled the entire 18 local government areas of the state and have solid proof of how prosperous we can become if we only harness our wealth for the benefit of ourselves and not just a few rich persons,” she added.
Another female governorship hopeful in the state, Mrs Nkoyo, a one-time member of the House of Representatives, said the state would achieve more if the female folks are given a level-playing field.
She said she had the capacity to govern the state better than most former governors of the state.
Nkoyo said there had been male governors in the last 24 years, stressing that time has come for a woman to change the status quo for a huge difference.
The PDP stalwart said that if elected as governor of Cross River, her first 100 days in office would be spent reviving the civil service of the state, which is 70 per cent depleted owing to the number that would be retiring.
She said she would also increase the internally generated revenue (IGR) of the state by blocking leakages at the state revenue points that had been used to settle political cronies.
She maintained that she would reform the many agencies created by Gov Ayade by cross fertilising local and international ideas for more sustainable results.
“Having the capacity to run for the office of the governor of Cross River State is not about the amount of money one has in his or her bank account or the number of crowds they can pull, or gender.
“Nigerians expect more than noise but concrete plans that would take the country forward.
“I don’t go to any consultation with a crowd, I go with two or three people because you have to feel me to be able to know who I am, and then, you begin to see that beyond being a woman, I am very substantial.
“I have no problem with votes because I know the women will vote for me, the challenge is the party.
“We need to go back to the party and get them to understand that we have had men in the last 24 years; why don’t we have a change and try a woman and see the difference,” she said.