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Why PDP may lose Cross River to APC, by stakeholders

By Anietie Akpan, Deputy Bureau Chief, South South
22 May 2022   |   2:43 am
The emergence of former Senator Prince Bassey Otu from Cross River South Senatorial district as the All Progressives Congress (APC) consensus candidate for the 2023 governorship election

Senator Bassey Otu

The emergence of former Senator Prince Bassey Otu from Cross River South Senatorial district as the All Progressives Congress (APC) consensus candidate for the 2023 governorship election has unsettled the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Cross River state.

The implication of this is that the PDP must pick its governorship candidate from the South, otherwise, the party is faced with an imminent exodus or protest vote as many of the party’s stakeholders and stalwarts say the emergence of Otu is a big lesson for PDP.

The issue of zoning or power shift has been a naughty one for the PDP. In a recent interview with The Guardian, the state Chairman, Mr. Venatius Ikem stated that the 2023 governorship race would be decided through “zoning by elimination because it is what we have practiced before. I don’t know why people are making a big deal out of it.”

Ikem’s position plus the emergence of Otu has rattled many in the PDP and there are speculations that the state chairman’s position tends to favour Senator Sandy Onor from the Central Senatorial district who is also in the race, insisting that there should be no zoning, not minding the fact that the South had waited for 16 years after Mr. Donald Duke (1999 to 2007) for the governorship to go to Central (2007 to 2015) and North (2015 to 2023).

 
On Sunday, May 8, Duke had hosted a meeting of some stakeholders, traditional rulers and the PDP aspirants in his house in Calabar and the meeting threw up the Chancellor of Arthur Jarvis University, Sir Arthur Jarvis Archibong as the possible consensus candidate for the people of Cross River South Senatorial District. 

The decisions at the meeting have, however, generated some backlash. The first victim is the Paramount Ruler of Calabar South, Professor Itam Hogan Itam who has been fired by the state governor, Senator Ben Ayade for attending such a partisan meeting.

Also, the Senator Gershom Bassey’s Campaign Organisation, that of the member representing Akamkpa/Biase in the federal House of Representatives, Mr. Daniel Asuquo, of Mr. Mkpang Coco-Bassey and Ekpo Ene have all condemned the consensus arrangement, saying the meeting was “illegal” since it was not coming from PDP stakeholders in the South.

The Director-General of Bassey’s campaign organisation, Mr. Ekpo Ada said the organisations view the meeting as illegal and reject it.

“We hold strongly that the purported consensus is a calculation to wittingly or unwittingly confer undue electoral strength on the APC by projecting unpopular candidates for governorship contest from the South. Our position is that our principal, Senator Gershom Bassey has consulted widely and is accepted by members and delegates of PDP across the state. We assure all Cross Riverians and supporters of our principal of his preparedness to contest any direct or indirect primaries that will be conducted by the PDP.”
 
Similarly, the Asuquo Campaign Organisation in a statement by the campaign Director-General, Mr. Yibala Inyang and that of Coco-Bassey also dissociated themselves from the said endorsement saying, “We are not part of any botched consensus.”

On her part, the member representing Boki 1 in the state House of Assembly, Dr. Itam Abang, declared, “PDP candidate is from the South. Cross River is PDP; it is not an APC state. Gershom Bassey is the preferred candidate; he is the leading aspirant as far as this race is concerned. Let them (APC) bring whoever they want to bring, Cross River is PDP.”

Another former member of the state House of Assembly, Mr. Maurice Edem said, “I don’t think my PDP is thinking of not picking a candidate from the South. The party is very conversant with the political situation in the state. But I want to warn that there will be a very big revolt or protest vote if they want to take a candidate outside the south. In the south, we have formidable candidates. I remember what happened in 1998/99. We had three parties at the time – the AD, APP and PDP. Initially, APP picked Prof. Eyo Etim Nyong as its candidate, and PDP picked Donald Duke as its candidate but because APP dropped Nyong, we turned our votes in for PDP and Donald Duke. The same will happen if PDP makes that mistake.”

The chairman of the Cross River state Traditional Rulers Council and Paramount Ruler of Bakassi local council, HRM Etinyin Etim Okon Edet, bemoaned the alleged involvement of some traditional rulers at the said consensus meeting in Duke’s house, saying monarchs were too enlightened to get involved in such controversial issues. He warned politicians against dragging royal fathers into partisan politics. “Traditional Rulers should be isolated from partisan politics but not from politics. This is because he is a father to all. Any royal father who indulges in the game politicians play does not know his onion. We do not indulge in partisan parochial issues about consensus or any matter about their primary election,” he said.

But Duke, in a statement, said in the meeting he hosted, there was no consensus candidate for South but “following lengthy deliberations and presentations, which at some instances touched on the historical and equitable demand of this quest, the aspirants went into a private session to allow them, amongst themselves and after a sincere and pragmatic review of their chances, determine for the sake of the district, who should step down in favour of others in possession of better chances at the primaries. Sadly, none of the aspirants yielded their stance and upon their return to the full house to report this development, the house decided on a non-binding straw poll that would reflect the acceptability of the aspirants. The poll revealed that the top three candidates were Mr. Jarvis Dan Archibong, Mrs. Nkoyo Toyo and Hon. Daniel Asuquo. I must state here, categorically, that there was no consensus aspirant. Non-binding as it were (sic), the cardinal objective of these representatives was the equitable rotation of the office of the Governor of Cross River State.”

On the issue of consensus, he said: “An eight-year rotational cycle ought not be vague or negotiated. Rather, it should be engrossed in a morally binding document, outlining the vision and governance objectives of our state, an Article of Association or an Accord as it were. The earlier document by our forefathers, The Calabar-Ogoja Accord in large part, does not reflect nor address our current realities. Indeed, the new accord should be an actual consensus arrangement, such that the next generation of leaders across our state should never have to suffer the uncertainties of political representation across every constituency in each electoral district. Regardless of the outcome of this present political cycle, we must speedily and expeditiously put pen to paper enunciating this political treaty to guide the multiethnic and diverse geographical entity that is Cross River state.”

Duke, in a message to the Paramount Ruler (Etim Okon Edet), said, “Eti, I am surprised the meeting at my residence on the 8th of May is being described by you as a political gathering. I needn’t remind you that it was communal for a common quest for a governor of southern senatorial district extraction and you had earlier, as co-convener, led a team of paramount rulers from the seven southern local councils to a previous meeting on Sunday, April 10 at my residence.” 

Taking a swipe at the Paramount Ruler, Duke said, “talking of political meetings, I needn’t also remind you that you attended a lunch meeting with Gov. Nyesome Wike at my residence on the April 13, when he came canvassing for support in his presidential quest for which you were handsomely rewarded. Photo evidence of this abounds. I say these to remind you of events to enable you to put them in proper perspective.”

 
Worried by the cold war in the party and the fear of PDP not picking its candidate from the South, the former member representing Abi\Yakurr federal House of Representatives, Mr. Bassey Ewa said, “In 1999 after Donald Duke, Liyel Imoke, after Liyel Imoke Ben Ayade.

As a party, it is agreed it should go back to the South. Courtesy demands that we go back to the south and start from where we started the first time. You use the importance of the past to understand the present and then predict the future. You and I were here in Cross River state in 1999; Donald Duke was an unpopular candidate. The people of the Southern Senatorial district had in mind then Prof. Eyo Etim Nyong. He was a household name. Even in PDP, we were afraid of him because he is a name that is already a household name. Donald just came. Nobody knew him. But it took just one mistake and what was that? They took the ticket APP from Nyong and gave it to somebody who was not from the South.

“In fact, it didn’t take one week for everything to change and Donald won. That is what I see playing out again. Unfortunately, it is those that should advise us well that is even making the mistake. APC has done the right thing. They have got Bassey Otu. For me, it is a lesson for PDP to address the issues.”

On who he thinks can match Otu of APC, Ewa said, “Gershom Bassey is a seasoned politician that has ran elections a couple of times and won against Prince Otu. Bassey is a household name. He has been in politics even before my friend, Otu came into politics. In Bassey, I see those qualities of Prof. Nyong then. He has touched lives across the state, and stands a better chance to give Senator Otu a good fight. So, if PDP is smart, we have our choice in Bassey to give us victory.”

Another PDP stalwart, the former Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General of the state, Mr. Attah Ochinke expressed the opinion that the choice of Prince Otu from the Southern Senatorial District reflects the general geopolitical sentiment of people that the governorship should come to the southern senatorial district of Cross River State. “I am certain that PDP is taking note of this to ensure that we make no mistake on the choice of our candidate. We are not bound by what APC has done, we are going to run our own race and the choice of our candidate, according our belief, will be in the ultimate interest of the people of Cross River state. But certainly the emergence of Prince Otu is reflective of the mood that the southern senatorial district should take the governorship.”

A one-time member of the Federal House of Representatives (Calabar South/Akpabuyo/Bakassi), Dr Patrick Ene Okon also said: “PDP would be making a big mistake by taking a candidate outside the southern senatorial district. Remember what happened in 1999 when the APP dumped its candidate from the south and went for a candidate from the north. We in the south, including myself, carried out a protest vote and worked for PDP. If PDP makes that mistake, that is exactly what will happen in 2023.”