Clouds gather over Ayade’s political future
As the buildup to next year’s election gathers momentum in Cross River State; there are plots, schemings and strategies preceding the sale of nomination forms that would soon be announced nationwide. The incumbent governor, Professor Ben Ayade, has indicated interest in a second term and most of the schemes are no doubt targeted at his seat.
Perhaps as a result of the heat generated by plots for the gubernatorial poll, the governor took a three-week vacation, which many believe he spent mostly in Abuja trying to lobby and concretize his position as the sole candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Speculations have been rife about the possibility of Ayade running as the sole candidate of PDP. The state publicity secretary of the party, Mr. Odama Egbung, had recently alluded to it. He said: “The governor would have the offer of first refusal. Besides, the party is open to anybody, who wants to run for any office. We don’t have the right to bar aspirants to any position. This is democracy, the majority caries the day.”
But, despite Egbung’s promise of level ground for aspirants, some groups like Seven-Alive, led by Chief Asuquo Ekpenyong, the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) among others, have curiously endorsed the incumbent for a second term. However, other stakeholders, including religious leaders and groups and civil servants are insisting that Ayade does not deserve a second term due to perceived poor performance. And plots to stop him continue to thicken by the day.
Other allegations against the governor are, lack of good governance, running state like a sole administrator, neglect of critical stakeholders, initiating phantom and mindboggling projects that exist mainly on billboards.When the governor returned from his recent vacation, his reception at the airport and Calabar municipality was unusually devoid of pomp and ceremony. And surprisingly, PDP flags and logo were for the first time, absent from the major banners, except on very few minor ones. The Guardian gathered that based on orders from above, the printers were instructed at the last minute to drop the logo, suggesting that all might not be well between the governor and some of his benefactors.
Observers said the disappearance of PDP flag and logo at the venues is instructive. Some said Ayade might have lost out to PDP chieftains in the state, while others alleged that he was putting final touches to his eventual defection to the new mega party, just as it is also claimed that he was shopping for an alternative platform in APC or Labour party.
Yet, word currently making the rounds in the state is that the powers-that-be in PDP are favourably disposed to two chieftains from the South for the gubernatorial ticket, since all zones have tasted the gubernatorial seat. As such the issue of second term is being hinged on performance and acceptability instead of zoning.
With this development, Ayade has become the second person in the state doing away the PDP logo or flag in a public ceremony. For over a year, the senator representing Cross River South, Mr. Gershom Bassey, who is fingered as one of the “anointed” aspirants has not been using the party logo on his billboards at Efioete junction, Watt Market round about and few other places.
Another likely aspirant preferred against Ayade, from the south is the immediate past deputy governor, Mr. Efiok Cobham, who has remained out of public ceye since he left office in 2015. Already party stalwarts like Emmanuel Nsa from south and Emmanuel Ibeshi from north have indicated interest to challenge Ayade next year.
It is obvious that Ayade’s battle is not just from the opposition parties like the APC and Labour Party, but also within PDP and others. On top of all these, it is alleged that the governor runs the state without due process and that since 2015 the state account has not been audited.The state has many signature and dream projects like the super highway, deep seaport, dualisation of Tinapa junction to Odukpani junction with a spaghetti fly over, that have consumed over N15 billion, yet no significant development on ground except for the garment factory, the Rice Seedling factory and few others given lean resources.
To make matters worse, not only politicians, but also religious leaders have joined in insisting that Ayade must not come back come for a second term. Recently, some Christians under the auspices of Christian Leaders Forum (CLF), led by Bishop Josef Bassey of God’s Heritage Church in Calabar declared that Senator Ayade does not deserve a second term, saying, “the state needs to be rescued as a matter of urgency…as indicators are clear that the state is failing and we need to speak truth to power.”
Bassey, who briefed journalists in Calabar declared: “No meaningful progress has been achieved in the state under the present administration. We have a government in power that does not know how to preserve or work on what they inherited from previous administrations. If you can’t build on what you inherited, at least, do not let it deteriorate. The civil service of the state is worst hit by mal-administration. It has never been like it presently is. The government also talks about making numerous appointments and providing monthly stipends to them but even with that, those same persons have been crying in their closet, because the situation is rather creating much poverty in the state.”
However, in a sharp reaction, one of the pastors present at the briefing by Bishop Bassey, Pastor Gabriel Joseph, the General Overseer of Blessed-Hope Gospel Ministries International, issued an elaborate statement in the media distancing himself from the briefing.He said: “I write to dissociate my self from the news purported to have been sponsored by Cross River state Christian Leaders Forum and published on some national dailies and online platforms on June 23, 2018 berating the people’s Governor His Excellency, Senator Prof Ben Ayade as unworthy candidate for re-election in 2019.”
Another Christian Leader, the National Director and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Caritas Nigeria, Fr. Evaristus Bassey, said former governor Liyel Imoke “bequeathed to Cross River State a man, who might well be described as megalomaniac. For Ayade, if it is not big, it is not done, and because he waits to do the big things, he ends up doing nothing of substance.”
Bassey added: “The day I dismissed Ayade as a huge joke was when I looked through amounts budgeted by states in Nigeria for 2018. To my shock, Cross River State budgeted higher than Lagos State. Even a state as rich as Rivers did not budget up to one trillion naira. Only Lagos and Cross River States budgeted more than a trillion naira and Cross River’s was higher…Even if these monies were to come through loans; I wondered whether the Cross River State government had forgotten that state loans are guaranteed by the Federal Government.”
The Chief Press Secretary to the governor and Senior Special Assistant Media, Mr. Christian Ita, dismissed all the allegations as false, insisting that anyone, who is not seeing what Ayade is doing may be blind.“There is no conflict or face-off between the governor and Christian leaders. We have good relationship with CAN and PFN, so where is the conflict coming from? That forum does not even exist. It is the creation of one man. He is just on his own with some drummers in the bush beating the drums for him…Josef Bassey is the voice of Esau, the hand of Jacob, he said.”
Ita disclosed that Cross River people, who are very happy with the performance of the governor, will vote him for a second term come 2019. “Cross Riverians are extremely happy with the governor. And why will they not be, when in just three years, he has built 12 industries (garment factory, Rice seedling and Rice Mill, Tooth Pick factory, Pharmaceutical factory and others) and still counting. From number 27 in National Examination Council (NECO), Cross River is now second”, he said adding, “Here is a governor, who is building roads in each of the 18 local governments in the state, including the longest road ever undertaken by a state government, the 143km Mfom-Yahe-Bekwarra-Obudu dual carriage road.
“Today Eastern and Western Boki have direct road access, the Boje and Kakwagom bridges completed. Waneheim and Wanakandi road is under construction amongst many other roads including the complete asphalting of Usung Esuk in Akpap-Okonyong in Odukpani Local Government. Through the State Universal Education Board, the administration has carried out total and comprehensive renovation of at least 230 schools across the state.”
The Special Adviser to the Governor on Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Mr. Victor Ekpo, said, “what the Christian leaders said comes from lack of information. Bishop Josef Bassey is a renowned Bishop we respect, but I begin to wonder when a clergy man starts stepping into political arena to know and start judging government.”