How 2019 might be free-for-all in Cross River State

The Guardian (Nigeria) - - PANORAMA - From Ani­etie Ak­pan, Cal­abar

ZON­ING and per­for­mance have once against taken the front burner in po­lit­i­cal dis­course in Cross River State as the in­cum­bent gov­er­nor, Sen­a­tor Ben Ayade, con­tin­ues his search for a sec­ond term in of­fice.

Dif­fer­ent in­ter­est groups are mak­ing fran­tic ef­forts to jus­tify their po­si­tions re­gard­ing how best to re­solve the vot­ing pref­er­ences in next year’s gen­eral elec­tion in the state, with some pos­tu­lat­ing dif­fer­ent ar­gu­ments for and against zon­ing and per­for­mance.

How­ever, one thing is clear, be­sides the Cal­abar-ogoja ac­cord of the sev­en­ties which has since crum­bled like packs of cards, the state has never had any writ­ten agree­ment or an un­der­stand­ing that the gov­er­nor­ship po­si­tion should be zoned to any par­tic­u­lar sen­a­to­rial zone in the state.

Ayade is from Obudu in the North­ern Sen­a­to­rial and he is seek­ing a sec­ond term de­spite all in­trigues and schem­ing by some stake­hold­ers in the Peo­ples Demo­cratic Party (PDP) to stop him at the pri­maries. They plot­ted to stop him from get­ting the PDP ticket and even the last ef­fort to put a can­di­date against him failed as the screen­ing com­mit­tee dis­qual­i­fied them all ex­cept Emma Ibeshi who was cleared but was dropped at the last minute to the Septem­ber 29 pri­maries leav­ing Ayade stand­ing as the sole can­di­date.

As a re­sult, Ibeshi who is also from Obudu with Ayade, has dragged PDP, Ayade and the In­de­pen­dent Na­tional Elec­toral Com­mis­sion (INEC) to court in a N2­bil­lion suit, FHC/ABJ/CS/1268/2018 at the Fed­eral High Court, Abuja chal­leng­ing his dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion. He is seek­ing among other things, an or­der re­strain­ing the INEC from ac­cept­ing Ayade as the gov­er­nor­ship can­di­date of the party.

But glad­i­a­tors are con­tin­u­ing po­lit­i­cal align­ments and re­align­ments. Elites from the Cross River South Sen­a­to­rial dis­trict are align­ing with Ayade to en­sure he suc­ceeds in his sec­ond term bid so that by 2013,

Ayade and his sup­port­ers will in turn throw their weight for a south­ern can­di­date.

At­tempt to drop his cur­rent deputy, Prof Ivara Esu, was botched due to pres­sures from some Efik stake­hold­ers from south­ern sen­a­to­rial who be­lieve in the 2023 agenda.

Part of the strong sup­port Ayade is get­ting from the south is from the Seven-alive group led by a busi­ness mogul and an as­tute banker, Chief Asuquo Ekpeny­ong whose son is the Com­mis­sioner for Fi­nance in the state, Ekpeny­ong jnr and may likely take a shot at gov­er­nor­ship in 2023.

But within the group there is a strong di­vide over the Efik in­ter­est come 2019 and the three ma­jor gov­er­nor­ship can­di­dates (Ayade of PDP, Sen­a­tor John Owan-enoh of the All Pro­gres­sive Con­gress (APC) and Eyo Ekpo of So­cial Demo­cratic Party). The di­vi­sion even led into a fisticuff among some of the top mem­bers in a re­cent meet­ing at the in­stance of Sen­a­tor Florence Ita-giwa.

Some be­lieve in Ayade and see him as an achiever; some oth­ers be­lieve in OwanEnoh and see him as a more pur­pose­ful and vi­sion­ary leader and be­sides the Efik in­ter­est is more pro­tected with the for­mer Chair­man of PDP, Nt­u­fam Ekpo Okon as his deputy while the third group want Ekpo of SDP, a core Efik son but he is seen as an un­der­dog.

Ayade is said to be bank­ing hope on the zon­ing ar­range­ment and his said per­for­mance and one of the lead­ing mem­bers of the Seven-alive group, and a for­mer Com­mis­sioner for Lands in Don­ald Duke’s gov­ern­ment, Chief Bassey Ndem said the zon­ing ar­range­ment has not col­lapsed.

“The zon­ing ar­range­ment the re­cent one was a PDP af­fair and PDP has main­tained it”, he said adding, “If an­other party feels zon­ing is bad and your weaker broth­ers do not de­serve your sup­port, that might is right, then let them ex­per­i­ment it and see how they will be re­ceived by the gen­eral pop­u­lace whom I know are their broth­ers keeper and I have seen the ben­e­fit of zon­ing. It does not mean that be­cause you have might, money, your poorer cousin should not be given a shot at lead­er­ship.”

Pub­lic opin­ion may not favour Ayade in terms of per­for­mance and gov­er­nance style but Ndem, a shrewd busi­ness­man who is sus­pected to be ey­ing the gov­er­nor­ship seat in 2023 has this to say.

“My re­sponse to this is­sue of gov­er­nance is that, a lot of our peo­ple have what I will call a mes­siah com­plex and that ex­plains the eu­pho­ria that made us to do what we did in 2015 and is likely to make us do the same thing in 2019 where all of a sud­den a leader is seen in God­like char­ac­ter­is­tics and we ex­pect him or her to solve ev­ery prob­lem.

“We see him as su­per hu­man and leave the bur­den of lead­er­ship on him. We are a crit­i­cal part of that whole ar­range­ment call gov­ern­ment…this bad gov­ern­ment is seen by only two in­di­vid­u­als from a par­tic­u­lar zone, no any other per­son has seen it. Let us not be naïve.”

The Chief Press Sec­re­tary and Se­nior Spe­cial As­sis­tant Me­dia to the Gov­er­nor, Mr. Chris­tian Ita, was re­ported to have said, Ayade’s per­for­mance in of­fice, to­gether with the zon­ing ar­range­ment which favours’ the Gov­er­nors sen­a­to­rial dis­trict, would en­sure his vic­tory.

Ita stated, “over a hun­dred pres­sure groups across the state have en­dorsed His Ex­cel­lency and are work­ing as­sid­u­ously to en­sure he re­turns. Sen­a­tor Owan Enoh or any other per­son is of no threat what­so­ever. Sen­a­tor Owan-enoh’s fol­low­er­ship is in the cen­tral and the south but let me state that His Ex­cel­lency has fel­low­ship from all the three sen­a­to­rial dis­tricts’ based on what he has done pos­i­tively on Cross River peo­ple.

”By the time we do elec­tions early next year, Sen­a­tor Owan-enoh would have spent four years in the se­nate, but so far, how many bill has he spon­sored? Gov­er­nor Ayade was in the se­nate for four years same as Owan-enoh and he spon­sored 47 bills and was given an award as the best sen­a­tor of the 7th se­nate. Pop­u­lar­ity is based on your an­tecedent. The econ­omy of Cross River to­day does not re­quire some­one that has no knowl­edge of how to cre­ate the nec­es­sary busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment be­cause Cross River is not Akwa Ibom and not Rivers in terms of fed­eral al­lo­ca­tion.

“The Gov­ern­ment has started mas­sive ren­o­va­tion works on all roads net­work in Cal­abar. Things are grad­u­ally fall­ing into place. To­day, you go through length and breathe of the state, there are many projects scat­tered all over Cross River State.

“A lot of work is go­ing on in the first phase of the su­per­high­way. We would have gone far with that project if not for the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment and some Cross Rive­ri­ans who played pol­i­tics with the project. There were sev­eral pe­ti­tions and even the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment took us to court. Two weeks ago, the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment steer­ing com­mit­tee and im­ple­men­ta­tion com­mit­tee were on ground over the Bakassi Deep Sea­port project. Un­der three years, we have got more ap­provals and done more work in Bakassi deep sea­port than Ibaka deep sea­port in Akwa Ibom which started about 10 years ago.”

On zon­ing, he said, “the po­lit­i­cal amity we are en­joy­ing in Cross River is that we have a zon­ing ar­range­ment in which ev­ery zone knows that af­ter ev­ery eight years the Gov­er­nor­ship must come to them but OwanEnoh came out to scut­tle that un­der­stand­ing. Do you think those in the North, whose right he is try­ing to take away, would vote for him? I do not think so; he does not con­sti­tute a threat to us at all.”

But one of the APC stal­warts,

Chief Sam Bassey said, “for me in Cross River state there have never been zon­ing es­pe­cially the gov­er­nor­ship po­si­tion. I say so be­cause in 1999 gov­er­nor Don­ald Duke con­tested and he had my good friend, late Mark Ukpo as con­tender. Don­ald con­tested on plat­form of PDP and Ukpo con­tested on plat­form of APP (de­funct All Pro­gres­sive Party)…when he tried sec­ond term he also had Am­bas­sador Obi

Odu, Em­manuel Ibeshi as can­di­dates from the North. In 2007 when Sen­a­tor Liyel Imoke con­tested, he had Prof Eyo Etim Ny­ong from the South who con­tested; he had Em­manuel Ibeshi from the North, Pas­tor Usani Usani from Cen­tral who con­tested.

“All these years we have never had a sit­u­a­tion were one zone, be it South, Cen­tral or North was al­lowed to be the only zone to pro­duce the can­di­date. All other zones have been hav­ing a foray into the con­test, so we can­not start now.”

A busi­ness­man and politi­cian from Ogoja in North sen­a­to­rial, Mr. Peter Ogar said, “sec­ond term is not a right, it is earned through good per­for­mance and Ayade has not per­formed well. If we give him an­other term he will kill the state. Some of those speak­ing for him to­day are his aides who de­pend on ‘alert’ and few elites from the South who are ey­ing the gov­er­nor­ship seat in 2023 for their own per­sonal in­ter­est. Let them show us one sin­gle road Ayade has started and com­pleted!

“This 2019, any­one from any sen­a­to­rial dis­trict can con­test and win. What we want is per­for­mance and good gov­er­nance and not Ayade’s failed prom­ises, poor gov­er­nance, bo­gus, high sound­ing and un­re­al­is­tic projects that re­main a mi­rage like the su­per high­way, deep sea­port, Calasve­gas, Northro­dam, Cen­tri­cut, Calachika, Ti­napa to Oduk­pani dual car­riage way and oth­ers which are seen as de­cep­tive strat­egy for some­thing else.

“Imag­ine the su­per­high­way, so much spent on clear­ing yet no re­sult, no com­pen­sa­tion and all the failed tim­bers al­legedly carted away by gov­ern­ment agents. The gov­er­nor talks of in­tel­lec­tual money and over 100 Mem­o­ran­dum of Un­der­stand­ing (Mous) signed yet noth­ing on ground ex­cept the beau­ti­ful pri­vate es­tates and ed­i­fices that dot choice ar­eas like Afi-ekong es­tate, State Hous­ing, MCC road, Di­a­mond hill and few oth­ers. Per­haps these are the alerts and in­tel­lec­tual money?”

Ap­par­ently put off with the false il­lu­sion of zon­ing, Ogar said, “What is our turn or his eight years? Is it turn or eight years of de­struc­tion? Is it turn or eth­nic­ity that de­vel­oped the Obudu Cat­tle Ranch! Is it eth­nic­ity that pro­moted the Ranch and the peo­ple of Oban­likwu, Obudu and the state to the out­side world through the fa­mous Obudu moun­tain race?

“All these things were done by Duke a Cal­abar man from south and Imoke an Abi man from Cen­tral but the son of the soil, Ayade came and the Ranch is dead, the moun­tain race and its ben­e­fits gone, the cel­e­brated Bek­wara-obudu road is now a death trap. The gov­ern­ment said it has built power plant in Obudu and Cal­abar yet no light…this is the big­gest op­por­tu­nity to res­cue the state through the bal­lot box be­cause an­other four years of Ayade will be a dis­as­ter, Cross Rive­ri­ans be wise.”

Ayade

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