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Cross River governorship: Tough contest, as litigations hobble APC

By Anietie Akpan, Calabar
24 February 2019   |   4:27 am
The Cross River State governorship race is a fight between the incumbent Senator Ben Ayade of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and his hottest challenger, Senator John Owan-Enoh, if he emerges candidate of the All Progressives Congress ....

Senator John Enoh

The Cross River State governorship race is a fight between the incumbent Senator Ben Ayade of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and his hottest challenger, Senator John Owan-Enoh, if he emerges candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), when petitions against him are settled in court. The next serious candidate in the race is Mr. Eyo Ekpo of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), but he does not have much chance, considering the poor visibility of his party.

Things working in favour of Ayade include the power of incumbency, as most people generally believe whatever the governor says. The large number of appointees may also work in his favour, since they are expected to campaign for him in their various communities. There is also the belief in some quarters that the North should complete its turn, just as the South and Central did between 1999 and 2015. Some political gladiators from south senatorial and others are canvassing that the north should do two terms, irrespective of performance, so that by 2023, they can produce the next governor.

The infighting in APC and government claims on industrialisation and infrastructural projects are also factors that may influence Ayade’s success in 2019.In favour of Owan-Enoh are the Abuja might, alleged Ayade’s poor performance, government’s falsehood, killing of the civil service, alleged award of most superhighway clearing and grading contracts to himself and his brother, refusal to hold local government election and now trying to inaugurate caretaker security committees as local government administrators, among others.

Indeed, APC considers Cross River the lowest hanging fruit to grab in 2019. The party claims Ayade has not executed one single road project since he assumed office, hence the need for a rescue mission.Except for divine intervention, Ekpo is not likely to achieve much in the forthcoming election. His followers are few, as some elders from his Efik ethnic group or South senatorial zone do not think it is their turn or that of the south.

Nonetheless, he is in the race and recently lambasted governor Ayade over his N1.043trn 2019 budget proposal, saying he ought to be impeached for ridiculing the state and his people with a bogus budget presentation.He accused Ayade of incapacity to present a budget in document form to enable members of the Assembly and public scrutinise it.

The various litigations in APC camp are another major factor that may swing votes in PDP’s favour, depending on their outcome. Presently, the development constitutes a serious distraction for the party.Following the outcome of APC state congresses and primaries, the
Minister of Niger Delta, Pastor Usani Uguru Usani, who felt his men were robbed of the State Executive position and himself elbowed out of the governorship race by the party’s national executive, instituted six cases to fight his cause. Four of the cases were filed in different high courts in Abuja, while two were filed in Calabar, pursuing almost the same matter.

Judgment has already been delivered on two of the four cases in Abuja. One of them was in Usani’s favour, while Ewan-Enoh won the other. Out of the two cases in Calabar, one has been decided in Usani’s favour, while the other is pending.Commenting on the Abuja case in Usani’s favour, the Director-General of Owan-Enoh Campaign Oganisation, Sir Maurice Effiwat, said: “We entered an appeal and applied for a stay of execution. In the one we won on February 7, we also entered an appeal. The latest one they won in Calabar, they were suing the party and its executive and not Owan-Enoh and Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). But along the line, they brought in Owan-Enoh.

“However, in the matter we won on February 7, they appealed the case, but later went to withdraw it, though it was already set for judgment on February 14. They went a day to the judgment, but the case was not withdrawn. Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed against Usani with a cost.”But the Director General of Usani’s Campaign Organisation, Mr. Ekpenyong Cobham, said the appeal was withdrawn and there was no judgment against them.

However, documents from Abuja Appeal Court showed that Usani’s team, led by J. Ogwu Onoja, had, on February 13 filed “notice of withdrawal of notice of Appeal…” that “the appellant (Usani) wishes to withdraw the notice of Appeal filed in this appeal and concedes the objection raised by the 1st (APC) and 3rd (Owan-Enoh) respondents and urges that this appeal be struck out.”

On the recent judgment from the Federal High Court in Calabar, which Usani won, the Owan-Enoh group appealed for stay of action, but on February 20, this was denied pending determination of the main suit. Justice Mojeed Owoade, who delivered the lead judgment, ordered all parties to maintain the status quo, pending the determination of the appeal filed by the faction of the party led by John Ochala against the judgment of the Federal High Court, Calabar.

Commenting on the various cases, former Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba described as fake the judgment of Federal High Court Calabar declaring Usani as APC governorship candidate. He said it was wrong for Usani to move from one court to another in the same jurisdiction, canvassing the same issue.

“How come in these matters, the litigation is becoming endless,” he queried. “It is an absolute abuse of court process, and I think the National Judicial Council (NJC) should do something about this, as it has become a major embarrassment for the judiciary and the legal profession.

“First, if you look at the FCT High Court’s order, the claim was who the party chairman was. The court decided to be a Father Christmas and said INEC should accept the list of candidates from a particular person. In Cross River, we did not do delegates election. We had direct primaries. So, the issue of list from a particular person does not arise…”

Usani had challenged the judgment delivered on January 7 by Justice Adeniyi Olukayode of the Federal High Court, which dismissed a suit filed by him, seeking among other things, to be declared APC governorship candidate. But in his judgment, the judge accused the Minister of forgery, just as he declared that Usani was not an aspirant in the first place, not having taken part in the primaries conducted by the party’s national executive.

Briefing the media on the appeal’s outcome, the APC National Vice Chairman, South South, Ntufam Hiliard Eta, said Justice Abdul Aboki dismissed the appeal by Usani in his judgment, because it lacked merit.He said the implication of the Appeal Court judgment is that; “Usani is no longer seen in the light of contending for APC gubernatorial ticket, as the court ruling takes preeminence over the high court verdict.”

In the February judgment, Justice Aboki upheld that the dissolution of the Etim John-led APC executive in Cross River by the Oshiomhole-led national executive committee still stands.The appeal court added that though the right to access to court is constitutionally guaranteed, but since no right is absolute, there is equally a corresponding duty to exercise such rights in a responsible manner, as the law bars a party from filing multiple law suits in different courts against the same defendants concerning the same subject matter.

“The penalty for abusing court process is dismissal of the case, hence the case between Usani. Vs. APC & others is hereby dismissed and the status quo maintained,” he said.Eta said: “The implication of what the minister has done, having not resigned 30 days to election and continuing to confuse the good people of Cross River State is that he is working hand-in-glove with Ben Ayade to keep Ayade in office till 2023, so that he will hand over power to Pastor Usani. Anytime Pastor Usani has upper hand in the matter, there is always celebration in PDP camp and Government House.”He said the party had written to the Inspector General of Police to investigate if the documents Usani submitted or attached as various courts documents, which carried the party emblem truly emanated from the party or were forged.

Surprisingly, an environmentalist and a critic of Ayade, Mr. Odey Oyama has thrown his weight behind Ayade’s reelection, lauding his industrialisation drive. Oyama, the Executive Director of Rainforest Resource and Development Centre (RRDC), said: “As an environmentalist, therefore, RRDC’s position on the Superhighway has not deviated from the principal issues of compliance with the law…It should be noted that environmental advocacy is not intended to result in needless conflicts and enmity with government at all levels.”
He based his support on what he saw, when Governor Ayade led him on a visit to some of his projects.

Rising in defence of his boss, the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor and Senior Special Assistant Media, Mr. Christian Ita, said: “…And based on the strength of his achievement, the man stands tall above any other person. There is no local government you will not see Ayade’s imprint in terms of industrialiasation and infrastructure. He has also been vey consistent in the payment of salaries and pensions. Governor Ayade has been endorsed by all sectors.”

On whether they feel threatened by Owan-Enoh, he dismissed the notion, saying, “Owan-Enoh is not a threat.” He also denied allegations that Ayade was sponsoring crisis in APC, saying: “Their problem is that of arrogance and un-forgiveness. So, they should just leave us out of their problems. We have no relationship whatsoever with Owan-Enoh or Usani. What does Usani stand to benefit from working for Ayade? Cross River State APC is paperweight. The party only exists on Facebook. Be rest assured that they won’t get up to 20 percent votes in coming elections.”