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Cross River and resurgence of opposition politics

By Anietie Akpan, Calabar
19 June 2017   |   3:57 am
When Nigeria returned to democratic rule in 1999, the PDP had a very strong opponent in the defunct All Peoples Party (APP), a platform that has now transformed, through mergers with others, into the APC.

Cross River State governor, Senator Ben Ayade

Preparations for the 2019 elections in Cross River State are taking different shapes and dimensions as the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition All Progressive Congress (APC) are set for a keen contest that may reenact robust rivalry that the state was known for at the inception of the current democratic dispensation.

When Nigeria returned to democratic rule in 1999, the PDP had a very strong opponent in the defunct All Peoples Party (APP), a platform that has now transformed, through mergers with others, into the APC.

Then the PDP managed to win the governorship election through the doggedness of its candidate, Donald Etim Duke and other party stalwarts despite the ethnic pressure from the defunct “Atam Congress.”

After the close of a keenly contested race, PDP had a slim majority of 13 members in the 25-member House of Assembly and APP had 12. The rivalry however fizzled out in subsequent elections, as Duke was able to successfully steer the state in a one-party direction with most APP members joining the PDP to strengthen the party.

But the strength of the PDP which it maintained up till the last 2015 elections, appears to be waning, making political observers to believe that the 2019 elections may likely bring back the 1999 scenario when two different platforms bestrode the state’s political landscape with almost equal strengths.

This believe is buoyed by recent defections of top PDP members to APC the three senatorial districts including the North where incumbent governor Ben Ayade comes from raising questions whether the governor, who seems to have lost many of his party members, would still stay in PDP or follow the crowd to the APC.

Leading the pack of defectors from southern district is the immediate past Senator, Prince Bassey Otu who left in the wake of 2015 elections for Labour Party (LP) and eventually moved to the APC with some of his “Sweet Prince” supporters. Two months ago, former Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Florence Ita-Giwa and later, the immediate past Minister of Tourism, Chief Edem Duke, followed suit.

In the central district, current Chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, also pulled out of PDP alleging “impunity and imposition.” His core supporters like a former Commissioner in the state, Dr Sandy Onor; former member in the House of Representatives, Ernest Irek; former LP House of Representatives aspirant, Mr. Egbe Jabengo and many others, followed him to the APC.

Ironically, Ndoma-Egba’s successor on the seat of Cross River central district, Senator Owan Enoh, in a surprise move, equally left the PDP in April to in his words, “take my political destiny in my hands.” It is widely speculated that there is no love lost between him and the governor Ayade.

In the northern district, Ayade’s kinsmen and former PDP governorship aspirants, Fidelis Ugbo and J.D. Agba, one time National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Venatious Ikem; former Special Adviser in Ayade’s government and social critic, Rev. Ugba Murphy and immediate past NDDC Commissioner for the state, Paul Adah, have also dumped the party.

Other factors apart from the massive defections that are expected to come to play in deciding where the pendulum would swing, are the roles of National Assembly members, intra party squabbles, security issues and the performance of the incumbent in delivering dividends of democracy.

The National Assembly members are alleged to be at loggerheads with Ayade although they still remain in the governor’s party. Most of them, for the past two years, have not been visible at state functions, especially at the recent celebrations of the state’s 50 years Golden Jubilee on May 27 and Democracy day on May 29.

The issue of security is also very paramount and it is gradually playing out today with direct influence on the state’s politics. A political analyst, Paul Egbe said, “The kidnappings of the Commissioner for Water Resources, Gabriel Odu- Orji and the Chief executive Officer of Hit FM radio station and recent ransacking of APC office in Obudu, are heating up the polity ahead of the elections.”

He also alleged that such incidents of insecurity particularly direct attacks on members of the opposition parties are politically motivated and that “it is an indirect way of scarring away opponents before 2019 as was the style in Akwa Ibom when Akpabio sought and got second tenure.”

A statement issued and signed by the Acting State Chairman of the APC, John Ochala in Calabar said the high rate of insecurity and attacks on opposition members “has created room for suspicions that government officials are behind the increasing spate of crimes in the state as a prelude for 2019.

“In Obudu, the home town of the governor last week, suspected political hoodlums vandalized the secretariat of the APC which was to serve as the venue for an awards ceremony and meeting for members of the party after they were denied the use of the public civic centre even after payment.”

The South-South National Vice Chairman of the APC, Ntufam Hilliard Eta, who was in Obudu for the event, said, “let me start by the fact that when we arrived here on Friday, party officers had come to report to us that venues selected by the party, first of all the Civil Centre was refused at the very last minute, and other venues the party had wanted to take were also denied the party.

“The party had to, at the very end, settle for the party secretariat. Information may have gotten to them that we had settled for our party secretariat. Early this morning, reports came again to us that the party secretariat had been vandalized at night.

“Not only that…we are also aware the governor is making it impossible for the party to have its meeting in Obudu, because all of the signs that we have, give away that fact. He is actually the one drumming in the bush for the dancers that we have seen dancing on the roadside.”

But in his reaction to the Obudu incident and APC’s allegations, Chief Press Secretary to the governor and Senior Special Assistant Media, Christian Ita, said Ayade was too busy to start thinking of disrupting any APC event.

He said, “That is too petty. The governor is on an investment drive now in China. Would he leave that to come and disrupt APC function? They should look within themselves to know who is responsible because the governor is too busy for that.”

On the spate of defections that seems to be decimating the strength of the ruling party, Commissioner for Sports and Youth Development, Asu Okang, in a briefing with newsmen, said the movement of some PDP members APC is of no effect as far as PDP and 2019 is concerned. He said, “the defection is a clear cut idea that is premised on selfishness, self-centeredness and egoism.

“I have to grapple with questions bordering on politics of Cross River State, particularly about the inglorious departure from our party, the PDP, by a serving Senator from my local government, from my senatorial district. Therefore, the departure of a distinguished Senator (Enoh) from Cross River Central is indeed very unfortunate because, maybe you do not know that he is one man who has enjoyed the magnanimity of the people, back to back, unbroken tenure in office for years.

“When His Excellency, Senator Prof Ben Ayade emerged as Governor of Cross River State in 2015, he inherited a clear cut political hegemony from certain political class that cocoon themselves into a sort of caucus or cabal that were set and ready to manipulate the governor in their favour to decide who becomes even a cleaner in the local government council.”

He said those who decamped decided to leave the party “because they were shocked to understand that the man who came in as governor is one who understands his roots and import of bringing in young people up to also empower them politically. One of those is the circumstance that surrounded my emergence as Commissioner from my local government, contrary to the expectation of the distinguished Senator and his folks.

“Do not forget that if the defection was to be for the senatorial district interest, I am sure he would have remained in the party. But this is a clear cut picture of one who is not ready to grapple with realities of an emergence of crop of young people who have also come in to provide leadership and contribute their own little quotas into governance, and not to chase anybody away.

“So they simply say this one is too young, this one is too small and the governor said No. The governor made is first million at 24 years old and in fact became a Professor at 24. I was Commissioner at the age of 34 and they say I am too young to become Commissioner at 34.

“What the governor did was to go to the grassroots to appoint those he could work with. Many thanks to the former governor, Senator Liyel Imoke who simply said told him, ‘it is your government, drive it and choose those you want to work with’. The governor did just that.

“It is only normal that we state it very clear that even the defection of Senator Owan Enoh has effect on the foundation of PDP in Cross River. I can authoritatively tell you that come 2019, the people will again deliver because we are the one who have always done the delivery. We are the one always driving the process in the field. A general is a strong general when he has good foot soldiers at the battlefield.

“The foot soldiers and the youths of Cross River state are strongly behind Ayade’s administration. I do not speak just as Commissioner but as Commander of the youth and youth activist. PDP is unshaken, the umbrella is still intact and defection or no defection, the PDP in Cross River is still solid.”