With unavoidable frenzy ahead the 2019 general election, the emergence of the All Progressives Congress in Cross River State as a formidable opposition party has now rewritten the books of the state against the once held notion of a one-party entity. The acrimony within the Peoples Democratic Party has also not helped matters either, thereby ushering in a flurry of discontents before the elections. Paul Obi writes
For Cross River State and Governor Ben Ayade, a palpable air of unease appears to have taken over the path to the 2019 elections in the state. Since his ascension to office, Ayade has left tongues wagging about his possible direction both in governance and politics. Till date, no one is certain about what is up the sleeve of Ayade. If anything, he has not failed to convince those who care to listen that he is a man of great and big ideas.
But while Ayade was busy flying around the world to sell his big ideas and sign Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), Cross River State politics slipped away from his grip, as opposition forces within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) peaked. Thus, he would have to contend with such forces if he plans to survive the on-going onslaught targeted at his second term ambition.
The Battle within…
Like every first term governor, Ayade would have to first overcome the battle of securing the PDP primaries ticket before thinking of any race with APC. As it stands, Ayade’s style of politics has not gone well with the top hierarchy of the PDP at Wadata Plaza, its national headquarters. His obvious support for Senator Ali Modu Sheriff’s faction during the long drawn leadership tussle remains a stain in his relationship with the PDP, now led by Senator Ahmed Makarfi.
Added to that, the governor’s alleged romance with the APC has so far created a gulf between him and his beloved party. There are already speculations that he is likely to defect to APC as the PDP umbrella becomes more uncomfortable and unbearable. To many, Ayade’s absence at the just concluded PDP non-elective national convention was a clear pointer that he was likely to jump ship.
In fact, at the last count, Ayade is believed to have attended more APC organised events than that of the PDP. But speaking to THISDAY, Ayade’s Special Assistant on Media, Mr. Christian Ita, debunked claims that the governor’s absence at the PDP national convention was an indication that he would eventually defect to the APC.
According to Ita, “The governor is on official assignment; it was a non-elective convention, all the State Houses of Assembly, National Assembly members, the Deputy Governor from the state were there at the convention. You people keep reading meaning to it. Are you people not tired of the speculations? It’s going to three years now, people keep speculating about Ayade and APC, he is not going anywhere. People should not be reading meaning to his absence at the convention; he was out of the country on official assignment.”
Corroborating Ita’s position, a member of the House of Representatives from the state and close ally of the governor, Hon. Idagbo Legor, told THISDAY that Ayade “was out of the country on official assignment to Germany for the signing of an MoU for Deep Water Seaport. It’s something he has been pursuing since, so I’m tempted to believe that because of this he could not attend the convention, but he was represented by the Deputy Governor, Prof. Ivara Isu.”
On whether, the governor would defect to the APC soon, Legor informed THISDAY that, “all that is speculation, until he himself comes out to say it. To the best of my understanding, I believe he wasn’t at the convention because of the official assignment.”
Also, former Minister of Environment and member of the National Working Committee of the party, Mr John Odey, told THISDAY that the governor was in touch with the party hierarchy. “There are other obligations all the governors were expected to fulfill towards the convention; he fulfilled that before he travelled.”
But beyond his rumoured romance with the APC, back home in the state, not many within the PDP are happy with the governor. Gradually, a mountain of opposition is being built among top PDP members to ensnare Ayade ahead of the 2019 elections. The crisis of trust between Ayade and his erstwhile benefactors will also count as the state prepares for the 2019 elections.
Ayade and the Kingmakers
As 2019 draws near, the battle for the governorship of the state and the senate seat presently occupied by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Finance, Senator John Owan Enoh, promised to be a battle of the titans. Elections for the two positions would determine how the state performs politically. At the centre of all these dicey political leanings are the governor, former governor of the state, Sen. Liyel Imoke, Sen. Owan Enoh, former Senate Leader and Chairman of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Sen. Victor Ndoma-Egba, SAN and the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Pastor Usani Usani. When you add the political interest of Senior Special Adviser to the President on Prosecution, Chief Okoi Obono-Obla, former PDP State Chairman, Amb Soni Abang, Mr Chris Agara, what you have is a potential political upheaval among the kingmakers.
Already, Ayade’s frosty relationship with Enoh, has led the latter to defect to the APC, where he is now strategising to return to the Senate for a second term. The governor has not hidden his opposition to Enoh’s ambition to return to the Senate. More so, the central senatorial district being the Mecca and epicentre of Cross River politics is already on a path of deep-seated division and infighting on the basis of who takes charge in the 2019 elections.
To worsen the matter, none of the political gladiators in the central is united with each other. Enoh is chasing his Senate ambition; Imoke operating from Abuja, is scheming to take back the structure of PDP in the state; Ndoma-Egba, THISDAY learnt is also planning a comeback to the Senate; Usani is keeping his plans to his chest waiting to unleash them.
In the midst of these, Ayade, according to sources is already lining out any of Agara, Soni Abang, Hon. Bassey Ewa or Dr Pius Tabi Tawo as likely challenger for the Senate seat. At the moment, Old Ikom made up of Boki, Etung and Ikom Local Governments with Owan Enoh leading the charge are laying claims to the Senate seat, while Old Obubra comprising Abi, Obubra and Yakurr Local Governments are also claiming it is their turn to produce the Senator for the district.
This scenario depicts how murky 2019 elections would be. The combination of all these forces in the central and the political subterfuge expected in the coming months if not weeks in the run up to 2019 elections is the rumbles in the state that once regarded herself as one big family, under one umbrella.
The APC Challenge
Another unpredictable slate up for a political surprise in Cross River State is the APC. Cross River presently has the highest number of federal appointments in the history of the state. Ordinarily, such political goodwill would have transcended to some political benefits and takeover of the state. On a serious note, it is even doubtful if such concentration of appointments will ever bring about any material benefits to the state, let alone fetch political victory for APC in the state. This is because Cross River State APC has glaringly refused to seize the stage and enthrone herself.
The presence of different camps without a clear leader in APC has inadvertently created a fertile ground for disunity and failure for the APC. While Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, is leading his own pack of supporters, Obono-Obla is forging his own enclave. New entrants like Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, Ndoma-Egba, Owan Enoh, Senator Bassey Otu, Alex Egbuna, Hon. Paul Adah and many others are also craving their own political niche. There is already a clash of interest between old APC members and the party’s new political brides. Yet, the common denominator and force uniting these political juggernauts in APC is nothing but the zeal to unseat Ayade.
What the lieutenants said…
Painting a clear picture of what will likely befall the governor and PDP in 2019 elections, former House of Representatives member and APC stalwart, Hon. Paul Adah, said: “I should say so that APC is capable of taking over the leadership of the state from Governor Ayade’s administration.” Asked why opposition to the governor appears to be more intense in the North, particularly, the Obudu-Obanliku axis, where Ayade is from, Adah told THISDAY: “That is not true, the opposition against Ayade is not only within Cross River, even people who are visitors to the state sympathise with us about the calibre of person we have as governor. So, it is not only Cross River North or Cross River State in general, it is the entire country.
“When Peter Obi addressed a forum in Lagos that the governor is talking about a super highway when there is no road to his village, was he talking as an Obudu man? He was not talking as a Cross Riverian, he is an Anambra man,” Adah stated. On the likelihood of the North losing the governorship due to the opposition to Ayade, the former lawmaker told THISDAY that “the North will not lose the governorship position; there are credible persons in the North who will right the wrongs Ayade has created.”
On the fortunes of APC in the state and the lingering crisis, Adah argued that “there is cohesion among the leaders, even among the four leaders you mentioned – Usani, Obono-Obla, Ndoma-Egba and Owan Enoh. PDP does not exist in the central again, PDP is only in name. Will you tell me that politician like Obono-Obla, Usani and Ndoma-Egba with the responsibilities the federal government has given them will work for Ayade? Or will an amiable politician like Owan Enoh and Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, who just left Ayade because she discovered who the governor is, now turn around and work for him?
Conversely, the Senator representing Cross River South senatorial district, Gershom Bassey, told THISDAY in an interview that APC cannot unseat PDP and Ayade, because according to him, “It is impossible. PDP cannot be kicked out. I don’t know, but why will you say APC now has overwhelming base in the state. It’s not overwhelming. Some people have moved to APC but that doesn’t mean anything. Yes, there is strong opposition now but PDP is still the most dominant party in the state.”
Bassey also denied reports that the governor is making plans to decamp to APC. “I am not aware of any such plans. I have spoken to the governor personally and he assured me that there is no such plan. If you know the governor, he is not someone that kicks the ladder that has taken him to higher heights.”
Concerning the differences among the former governors and the incumbent governor and other top PDP members, Bassey maintained that, “the important thing is that the entire family is intact. The entire PDP family is intact, including the former governors and the current governor. We are all intact, we are on one boat, working for the PDP at all levels,” Bassey submitted.
The Fight to Finish…
Undoubtedly, Ayade is already conversant with the political traps lying-in-wait for him ahead of the 2019 elections. The centrifugal forces of power contest for elective positions in Cross River have now risen to a whole new level. In the Northern Senatorial District, Ayade has his brothers like Chief Godwin Jedy-Agba, Hon. Paul Adah and Hon. Venatius Ikem to contend with. In the Central, the governor has Owan Enoh, Pastor Usani, Obono-Obla, Alex Egbuna and many other PDP top guns to dig it out with.
Down in the South district, he will face Ita-Giwa, Bassey Otu, Hilliard Eta and others. Therefore, Ayade’s support base is left to parade former governor, Donald Duke, Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Hon. John Gaul Lebo, House of Reps members like Legor, Bassey Ewa, Mike Etaba, including Senators Rose Okoh and Gershom Bassey, Mr Odey and a handful of his protégées.
The electorate in Cross River would also want to scrutinise further Mr. Ayade’s good governance credentials and use the 2019 elections to push their verdict. It will be a contest between his big ideas championed through his signature projects and the reality on ground. The race for the central senatorial seat will also be another uphill task for the governor. Even as Enoh confronts his fiercest political battle, there will also be stiff political battle for the other two senate seats in the north and south, including some House of Representatives seats.
In all, the bonds of a united political family in Cross River State have now gone up in flames and in tatters. Instructively also, the prospects of a united political Cross River, reinforced by one party and strengthened by a single party choice will now virtually remain out of reach throughout the run to 2019 elections and beyond. Ayade, Imoke, Owan Enoh, Usani will surely lead the political orchestra with their divergent agenda towards 2019. That year, Cross River will race into political wildernesses amid endless rumblings.`