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Despite endorsements, opposition mounts against Ayade


Cross River State governor, Senator Ben Ayade

In Cross River State, forces for and against the second term ambition of incumbent governor, Senator Ben Ayade, are getting set for a showdown as the 2019 election year gets nearer.

As next year’s governorship election draws nearer in Cross River State, the political field has been agog with endorsements of the second term ambition of Governor Ben Ayade by various groups while a wave of opposition is gradually mounting to stop him.

Pro-government groups made up of mainly government appointees under the leadership of the Deputy Governor, Professor Ivara Esu are in the forefront of the campaign and in the state’s South Senatorial District, Chief Asuquo Ekpenyong heads the 7-Alive Group even though it is rumoured that the interest of the group may not be for the collective benefit of the state.

There are speculations that the group is quietly promoting the current Commissioner for Finance, Asuquo Ekpenyong (Jnr) to become Deputy Governor next year in a grand plot to replace Esu and for Ekpeyong to somehow emerge as the governor in 2023 after Ayade.

Made up of mostly top members of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the groups selling Ayade’s reelection have spread their tentacles to all the local councils but it seems members of the National Assembly on the platform of the party were not properly briefed or that they were showing tacit opposition to the endorsement.

At the town hall endorsement meetings which kicked off last month in Akamkpa council headquarters for the people of Akamkpa/Biase Federal Constituency, the member representing the area in the House of Representative, Daniel Asuquo popularly known as Dansuki and the Senator for Cross River South, Gershom Bassey were absent.

In Akpabuyo council headquarters for Akpabuyo, Bakassi and Calabar South Federal Constituency, Pastor Essien Ayi of the House of Representatives was absent. Similarly at the grand finale in Calabar Municipal, many members of the National Assembly from the state were absent.

According to sources within the party, their absence may not be unconnected with the brewing cold war between some elders of the PDP and the governor in the latter’s handling of party and government administration.

But the Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly, Joseph Bassey who spoke at the ceremony in Akpabuyo, said the federal lawmakers were absent because they were attending to issues concerning the 2018 budget in the National Assembly.

He charged members of the party and the state voters to return Ayade in 2019 to allow him complete projects initiated by his administration saying “No governor in the history of the state has ever completed any major project in the first term.”

In a formal motion to endorse and adopt the governor as the candidate of choice for the 2019 governorship race, Bassey said, “Whereas, many party stakeholders have spoken and even the traditional and royal fathers have added their voice that Governor Ben Ayade is our one and only choice to continue as governor in 2019 in the state, I hereby move and be it moved that we the people of Akpabuyo, Bakassi and Calabar South local council have endorsed Ayade for second term in office. I so move.”

The motion was seconded by Chief Ene Cobham and unanimously supported by all in attendance including the Deputy-Governor, serving political appointees and elected party officials led by the state chairman, Ntufam Inok Edim.

At the Calabar Municipal rally, Esu said Ayade’s endorsement came as an acknowledgement of his achievements in the development of the state and the constituency in particular.

The Deputy Governor expressed appreciation to the people of Odukpani and Calabar Municipality for turning out in large number for the endorsement, which according to him, is an indication of the support the governor enjoys from the people adding that the Ayade administration has no choice than to continue to develop the constituency given its position as the host of major government infrastructures with more appointment of indigenes.

Member representing the area at the Lower Chamber, Ntufam Eta Mbora noted that Ayade’s three years in office has shown passion, commitment, direction and hope in his style of leadership to the people of the constituency.

Mbora who was the only federal legislator at the rally, said the constituency joined others to endorse Ayade to enable him complete his projects while the Commissioner for Finance and his Tourism and Culture counterpart, Ekpenyong (Jnr) and Eric Anderson, spoke of the governor’s quality of financial discipline, industrialization and revenue generation projects across the state.

They also noted his ability to accommodate people by providing succor by way of expanding his government through numerous appointments to indigenes.

Despite these endorsements however, a source that craved anonymity said, “if the governor wants to succeed, he should go to the streets of Calabar and seek the peoples’ votes and present what he has done in the past three years.”

He described the series of endorsements as a flash in the pan saying; “the heart of this treachery is their own personal ambition or desire to run elections on the back of a second term for Ayade. Overlooked, in this mess, is the fact that the governor does not deserve reelection on the ground that after almost three years in office, he has no achievements to point to in concrete terms.”

Another commentator, Ekeng Efiom said, “All what we have on ground are promises on invisible and impossible projects. The governor has signed over 100 Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) with frivolous travels yet nothing on ground. The proposed superhighway and deep seaports, Calasvegas, as well as the so-called commencement of the dualisation of the Calabar-Odukpani road with a fly over are some of the phantom projects.

“We are just being fooled and I hope we have a credible alternative irrespective of the party because if Ayade comes back for another four years, Cross River is doomed. Since Liyel Imoke left, nothing has happened to the Calabar International Conference Centre (CICC), Songhai farm is dead, city and rural roads have been ignored, no rural electrification projects and many others.”

A Catholic cleric, Rev. Fr. Evaristus Bassey, in a statement titled, “Governor Ayade Again? God Forbid” openly denounced the governor’s second term bid saying, “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 who is the National Director of Caritas Nigeria and Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC) of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, said he was speaking in his personal capacity as an indigene.

He said, “The day I dismissed Ayade as a huge joke was when I looked through the 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 than Lagos! I spent hours wondering where the money would come from, and if Ayade were a green horn I would think he was mistaking a budget for cash. Even if these monies were to come through loans, I wonder whether the government had forgotten that the Federal Government guarantees state loans.

“So where will Ayade get nearly two trillion naira to execute his mega projects? Will it be from all these small companies chased away by the exorbitant tax regime? Even if there were investors, would monies belonging to private companies be counted as funds coming into state coffers?”

Commenting on the arguments that a second term for Ayade who is from the Northern Senatorial District would pave the way for a southern governor in 2023, the cleric said, “I think it is time to put sentiments aside and reflect on who can move the state forward.

“The argument of allowing Ayade to continue so that Cross River North could have its complete eight years for the governorship to come to the South is like saying we should continue under Buhari for another four years so the North would finish its turn of eight years! Is zoning more important than good governance?”

But even in the governor’s northern base, opposition is rising against his second term as former House of Representative member and NDDC Commissioner, Paul Ada, former PDP National Publicity Secretary, Venatious Ikem and a banker, John Odey, are preparing to challenge Ayade’s candidature.

There are however allegations that some loyalists of Ayade have been unleashing violence against perceived opponents to discourage them from challenging the governor and the mayhem at Obudu where a meeting of anti-Abade politicians was disrupted was cited as an example.

Sources also pointed to the disruption of a meeting conveyed by APC’s National Vice-Chairman, South-South, Ntufam Hilliard Eta last year at Obudu and the attack on Ikem who wanted to declare his ambition at the party’s state secretariat.

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