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In Cross River, embers of PDP national crisis still glow

By Anietie Akpan, Calabar
27 October 2017   |   2:50 am
Although the tussle over the control of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) machinery between Senators Ali Modu Sheriff and Ahmed Makarfi has been resolved in favour of the latter, effects of the crisis that almost consumed the major opposition platform still linger....

Cross River State governor, Senator Ben Ayade

Although the tussle over the control of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) machinery between Senators Ali Modu Sheriff and Ahmed Makarfi has been resolved in favour of the latter, effects of the crisis that almost consumed the major opposition platform still linger in Cross River State branch of the party.

Two major factions, formed along the line of the old crisis before the Supreme Court resolved it on July 11, have emerged in the state with threats to the continued unity of the party and its capacity to win the next round of elections in 2019.

Prior to the judgment, the state governor and leader of the party, Senator Ben Ayade, installed party executives that were loyal to him to the chagrin of some elders of the party who were not happy not only because they were sidelined but also because many members of the new state leadership allegedly belong to the minority Sheriff faction.

Of course, this led to confusion and suspicions in the relationship between the governor and some elders of the party like Ntufam Ekpo Okon, former Deputy Governor, Efiok Cobham, a former Commissioner, Effiom Ekong, Senator Gershom Bassey of Cross River South, Rep. Bassey Ewa, Chief Linus Okom and many others.

On the side of some of these elders and leaders of the party is former governor, Liyel Imoke who like the others, was in support of Makarfi when the Chairman of the Caretaker was in the trenches against Sheriff who was said to enjoy tacit support of Ayade and his supporters.

Most members of the party representing the state at the National Assembly, were also said to be in an unhealthy relationship with the governor and were allegedly gathering signatures for a petition to ask the Abuja headquarters of the party to dissolve the state executive.

One of the aggrieved stalwarts who pleaded anonymity said, “The state executive will have to go since it was not democratic although we know in desperation, promises of juicy contracts are being dangled by the governor at some of the elders to calm frayed nerves.”
The source said the governor’s style of leadership was not only embarrassing to the elders of the party but also alleged that affairs of state, especially contract awards were being done as if the state was a private estate.

But the governor’s Chief Press Secretary and Senior Special Assistant, Media, Christian Ita dismissed the allegations as lies saying, “There is no issue at all and there is no such petition. Tell them to show you the statement that they signed. How can the governor hijack a party that he is a leader of? It is not true that he has left them out. All those ones are speculations.”

But the faction that stood by Makarfi during the party’s national crisis has called for the dissolution of the party executive who were said to have celebrated when Sheriff won at the Appeal Court for the party to win the 2019 elections.

However, former Director General, Rural Roads Development Agency (RUDA) and a supporter of Imoke, absolved the former governor of interfering with either the party or government structure as was being alleged by a section of party membership.

According to him, “To my knowledge, Imoke has not even given one name to the governor for appointment.  I think one of the challenges people have is that they don’t know that when you talk about party, it is about people and structure.  What structure brought the governor (Ayade) into office, was it his own structure?

“If it was his structure that brought him into office, does he need to dismantle the structure? Why is he afraid of the structure? Do you see Imoke coming to interfere with what is happening in Cross River? Imoke does not interfere but there is no enough consultation on the part of the governor.

“I hear some people are pushing for the dissolution of the state executive because people were not consulted. It is a known fact that the governor is giving contracts to APC people; does that make somebody a leader? We are not saying don’t patronize other parties but these are the same people who fought you to a level that people sacrificed their resources and everything.

“What does Imoke need the party structure in the state for, is he running election? He has never interfered with what the governor does but his position is very clear, let there be enough consultations because there are too many complaints going back to him. People are complaining.”

He alleged that instead of putting the party first, the governor and some of the leaders are only concerned about their self-preservation, which he said would have negative effects on the collective fortunes of the PDP.

According to him, “Everything is about self preservation. The governor wants to preserve his position, Senators and legislators at both the state and federal levels also want to preserve their positions. So it is a matter of people sitting on the table and talking truth to themselves.

“Why has John Owan Enoh left the PDP? You have a sitting Senator and you went to his local government and without any recourse to him, put a party executive with people who were in opposing camps with him during the election. Does that make sense? What kind of politics are we playing? Between Donald Duke and Imoke, did you see any remarkable difference of people that emerged from the two former governors? It was a family.”

While identifying PDP’s system of handing over states’ party structure to the governors, Itu said, “the governors seize the party and shut out other people. You can be governor but on the day of the election, you will not be in my local government or village. So if you make me weak, how do you win the election? May be people do not understand politics.”  

Because of this situation, which has already divided the party down the middle, there are widespread speculations that the PDP may not retain the state in 2019 but Atu disagreed saying, “Why not? The party is bigger than any individual. As committed party members, we will do everything possible to ensure that we succeed. It will also depend on what the people think in terms of assessing the performance of government. So for us to retain the state, we must get our acts together and not be divided because it will not take us anywhere.”
But the Special Adviser to Ayade on Inter Party Affairs, Austin Ibok, said he was not aware that the governor gave contract to opposition as was being alleged by aggrieved members of the party.

However, he said, “If the governor did that, he has his reasons. For me I think it is at the detriment of his party and himself. Secondly, a governor of a state is not the governor of a political party if that has actually happened. Ben Ayade is not the governor of PDP, APC, Labour or any political party but he is a governor of Cross River State.
“Again a governor should also know that when it comes to an election, a man that belongs to a political party will go to the candidate of his party. That means a governor of a state must also look for a means to empower the people of his party and constituents because they are the first front liners and foot soldiers when it has to do with electioneering process. When you strengthen your foot soldiers, they will stand up and fight for you.”

On why some elders of the party are not happy with the governor, Ibok said, “I think the elders of the party are not being fair. Now the greatest problem Ben Ayade is having today is because he has decided to carry younger people along. He has refused recycling same people. And they are fighting because the conduct of congresses, as they say, was not favourable to them to keep perpetuating their own political relevance.

“They are not fighting for the interest of the state, they are fighting for themselves. One of the greatest things Ben Ayade has done is that he has given the younger people a new hope; people that these men will never want. From 1999 you still have the same faces of people becoming Commissioners, Special Advisers, Ministers; these are the same people who are fighting.
“A man who has been a member of House of Representatives like three to five times still wants to go back, is it only in his family? Can’t another generation be developed? Our elders are not helping us. They want us to be coming everyday to beg for money for fees and rent. They don’t want people that have credibility and content, they don’t like you when you have mental strength.

“But a man has now come and make sure that every month you get some fund to help you handle some bills and some people say it is bad because people are no longer loyal to them but to a man who has given you food. That is the greatest problem we have in our generation. Power cannot be given to you; you go for power.

“Until our mental capacity is liberated, these men will keep on putting us in this bondage. They are angry because some of them want to return their allies to second term or third term or fourth term in the House of Assembly. Some of them want to do fourth term in House of Representatives or do many terms in the Senate. What has this governor really done wrong? 

“Maybe the elders that are asking for the dissolution of the executive do not know the power of a governor. Maybe they don’t know the governor controls all machinery. Maybe they do not also know that PDP is not the party at the centre now. APC is available, other parties are available for a sitting governor and you say you want to dissolve executive, it is not at the benefit of our generation. They are seeking their selfish interest.”

On whether the crisis may lead to the governor leaving the PDP for another political platform, Ibok said, “I don’t know if the governor will leave but I will be one of the front liners of Ben Ayade, wherever Ben goes is where we go. If Ben does not want to move we will be one of those people that will tell him we have to move. Most of those people are former governors, Senators, Commissioners etc and in their time, was anybody treating them this way?

“Were they not the ones controlling the structure of the party? They controlled everything. The then State Chairman was Ekpo Okon and they decided who should pick a ticket. Primaries and congresses were not conducted on the basis of credibility, free fair and transparency. It was strictly a systematical arrangement to favour a man. Were they not the ones controlling the structure?

“So because another person is the governor, he should not also take hold of the party and he should give it to them so that they can toy with him anyhow. It is not in this generation we are part of. 2019 is not going to be easy but by the grace of God, God is the one that gives power, we will beat anybody that contest election against Ben Ayade. I can assure you, they cannot win us.”