Opposition parties are regarded as an essential part in a democracy. Besides, fielding candidates and competing for elective positions, opposition parties are usually expected to hold government accountable and are seen as an alternative government which can help to checkmate the excesses of any ruling party.
However, the Cross River chapter of All Progressive Congress (APC) has been accused of not playing an effective opposition role of galvanising its members with the aim of wresting power from the behemoth PDP. The state chapter has been perpetually at war with itself since its emergence in 2014. Most of the members are dressed in progressive motley garb.
The battle for supremacy and who controls the party structure got to a head in 2019 following the conduct of state congress. The congress threw up two factions one led by former Minister of Niger Delta, Usani Usani, and the other led by John Owan Eno, a former senator who represented Central Senatorial District.
Both men were also emerged governorship candidates in their factions which had late Dr. Mathew Achigbe (later Sir John Ochala) and Etim John as party chairmen, well as two national assembly members each for state and national assembly positions in the last general election.
The tussle for control of the party deepened the division within its ranks which led to accusations that some members engaged in anti-party activities during the 2019 general election. As a result, the party lost the governorship seat, all the 24 house of assembly seats, and lost 10 out of the 11 national assembly seats. Both factions are also at the tribunal claiming to be the authentic faction.
This development was not only a source of worry to the party, but stakeholders and many die-hard followers have expressed disappointment in the state of affairs in the party as they had expected to use the 2019 general election to make a statement and prove that APC had come to stay.
After the 2019 general elections, the focus of the party shifted to the federal government and how to get into President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet. Usani and Enoh intensified their lobby for a ministerial position and sources close to them told newsmen that both men repeatedly reached out to their contacts within the Villa and the APC national secretariat to ensure that they make the ministerial list.
Both were said to be optimistic of getting nominated until Tuesday, July 23, 2019 when the presidency released the final list of ministerial nominees and Jeddy Agba was nominated instead.
The ministerial nomination of Agba, a former governorship aspirant in the 2015 primary election of the PDP sent shockwaves throughout the state as his name hardly came up in political circles anytime the issue of nominees is discussed. His emergence has been trailed by mixed feelings from both within and outside APC.
While some APC members see it as sign of good things to come and the end of factional politics within the party hierarchy, others see it as an indication that the party has no reward system for loyalists and founding members. Some founding members wondered why those who have devoted their time, energy and little resources to keep the party alive before the mass defection in 2014 that brought the party to its knees were not rewarded.
Some APC members insinuate that Governor Ben Ayade of the PDP might have secretly lobbied for Agba who is his kinsman from Obudu Local Government. Their belief is anchored on his not too discreet war against Enoh, whom he sees as a political enemy. They believe that Ayade, who has a cordial relationship with President Buhari, may have lobbied for anybody but Enoh to represent Cross Rivers as a minister.
Reacting to the emergence of Agba as the state ministerial nominee, the state chairman of APC, John Ochala, said: “I think it’s the cry that Cross River North has been marginalised that was responded to. Certainly his choice will give the party verve. Given the present situation, the party will definitely reposition and try to ensure that it gets justice from the tribunals and prepare towards local government elections and the re-runs.”
He denied insinuations making the rounds that the state governor has a hand in Agba’s emergence, calling on party members to rally round Agba and see how to reunite the party and move to the next level rather than dissipating energy fighting ‘imaginary enemies’.
Corroborating the chairman, the party’s vice chairman for the Central Senatorial district, Cletus Obun, said Agba’s coming on board as a minister is good riddance to factional politicking, but warned that neglecting those who fought for the sustenance of the party could spell further doom.
Obun said: “Agba will only do well if he ensures that neglected and marginalised founding members such as myself, Cyprain Oyom, John Odey, Wabili Nyiam, Prof Eyo and others are compensated with apologies. The reward system in APC is horrible. After 2015, those who fought against APC got the best positions.
“Again we are seeing the pattern about to repeat itself. Loyalty and hard work must be rewarded. The future of the party will depend on the appointments that follow after this one. I have seen that sabotaging the party is the short cut to benefits in APC. Let it be known that nobody will be allowed to harvest from our farms without paying for it.”
Also reacting, Utum Eteng, a member of Ken Nnamani Constitution and Electoral Review Panel, said: “The nomination of Jeddy Agba would breathe life into APC in the state because the party was so factionalised that nothing was really happening again. He is a choice well made because he has not been seen to have been involved in the …
“He has a role to play because of the suspicion on board. We got to the point that everybody was tired. We didn’t want to fight again. So he is a choice well made and I can tell you that all the gladiators would queue in behind him. His nomination is a new dawn in the state.
“Besides, it is out of place to say that Governor Ayade was instrumental. He is not a member of APC and he has fought the party so hard that he would not want to be identified with the party. So he could not have a hand because he has never wished the party well.”
On the future of the party, he said: “I can tell you that there was jubilation on the streets of Calabar over Agba’s choice. He will definitely work for the growth of the party because he has structures cutting across party lines. So he would work with the party to ensure that all those backlogs of problems-divisions, rancor, hatred and disloyalty-are all settled.
“The Presidency has gone for a more neutral person who is not aligned with any faction and would call for the alignment of others. Usani and Enoh have all lost out. Two of them battled to get it but the Presidency looked the other way, so it means the future of APC in the state is very bright.”
But the APC publicity secretary, Bassey Ita, disagreed that the party has been factionalised, saying the party is a solid rock and that interest in politics is the game and does not mean they are divided.
He appealed to those whose interests were not accommodated not to find another window to make it up, adding “ Goddy Agba may not have been everybody’s choice within the party but nominations are made at the President’s discretion. He has been a party man and we believe that his appointment will help to provide the window of opportunity for the alignment and unity of interests.”