In Cross River State, Governor Ben Ayade’s defection from the Peoples Democratic Party to the All Progressives Congress has continued to generate reactions across the state.
Although the governor’s action did not come as a surprise to the people, it has significantly altered the political landscape of the state.
Before now Cross River has been in the firm grip of the PDP since 1999. The party produced two governors, Donald Duke and Liyel Imoke, who ruled the state for 16 years altogether before the baton of leadership was passed to Ayade.
Ayade’s emergence as governor was made possible by a gentleman’s agreement between the three power blocs in the state. The decision to make him Imoke’s successor arose from a need to balance out the agreement because he hailed from the northern part of Cross River.
With only two years to the end of the governor’s second term in office, power was expected to return to the southern part of the state, but the power brokers felt that any other senatorial district was qualified to produce the next governor. Such thinking would give rise to an agitation that fuelled the crisis within the party.
Aside this, it is believed that the governor had been nursing the ambition to return to the Senate at the end of his tenure in 2023 and he hoped to be in full control of the PDP structure in the state before then. Unfortunately his inability to take over the structure of the party led to a number of crises within the party and this played out during the senatorial by-election for the northern part of the state.
During the by-election, Ayade did not really have his way as expected. He met a formidable opposition in Hon. Jarigbe Agom, who contested against the governor’s preferred candidate, Stephen Odey.
The PDP won the election, but status of the authentic candidate had to be determined in court. Although Agom won the appeal at the Supreme Court, his inauguration has been put on hold by the leadership of the Senate.
Sensing his frustration within the party, Ayade has been staying away from its functions. Earlier this month, he told a visiting delegation of PDP governors from Bauchi, Sokoto and Zamfara States that he was sitting on the fence and dancing.
He was said to have bitterly complained of being unfairly treated in the PDP.
As it turned out, the governor finally ended his dance on the fence by defecting to the APC.
With his defection, it appears that Ayade has finally got what PDP refused to give him by automatically becoming the leader of the APC in Cross River. This was affirmed by the National Chairman of the APC Caretaker Committee, Mai Mala Buni.
Although he has the power to call the shots in his new party, it is still unclear if the political titans in the APC will be willing to work with the governor.
The APC in Cross River itself has always been in crisis, which seems intractable at the moment. To underscore this, the party fielded two governorship candidates during the last governorship election in the state. Besides, it has not done much to tackle the internal crisis tearing its members apart across the state. As at today, it has no known executive and nobody has stood up to rally the dispirited members together.
However, with the defection of the governor, some stalwarts of the APC seem to be open to working with him. Former Senate Leader and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Victor Ndoma-Egba, among others, has congratulated him for moving from the PDP to the party.
Ndoma-Egba said, “Your Excellency will recall that Cross River State has always been in the mainstream of Nigeria politics. There is no gainsaying the fact that the past six years of being in the opposition has impacted the state negatively, even though you have consciously navigated the ship of governance in sync with the APC-led Federal Government.
“We can ill afford to remain in the opposition. I commend you for recognising this fact and doing the needful for the good of our dear state.”
However, in its reaction, the PDP in the state kicked against Ayade’s action, saying the party would be better and stronger without him.
While the major power brokers in the PDP have been silent on the issue, some local chapters of the party have reaffirmed their commitment to the party.
The Chairman of the party in Obubra Local Government Area, Chief Godwin Igwe, recently described it as “more united than ever.”
While awaiting further directives from the national executive of the PDP, Igwe and other stalwarts of the party in Cross River took turns to reassure its members that Ayade’s defection would not diminish their rights and the fortunes of the party.
Also, the Federal lawmakers from Cross River State who are members of the Peoples Democratic Party have described as most regrettable the decision of Governor Ben Ayade to defect to the All Progressives Congress.
Senators and members of the House of Representatives from the state vowed to remain in the PDP to further strengthen the party and ensure that the exit of the governor would not affect it negatively.
Speaking on behalf of his colleagues in Abuja, for example, the lawmaker representing Cross River South Senatorial District, Gershon Bassey, wondered why Ayade should dump a party under which platform he had won all his elections.
Bassey, who is also the leader of the Cross River PDP caucus in the National Assembly, insisted that no member of the NASS and state House of Assembly would follow the governor’s foot steps.
He also said that many appointees of the governor had also said they preferred to resign rather than defect to the APC.
Bassey said, “As a strong stakeholder in the Peoples Democratic Party, I find the defection of Governor Ben Ayade most regrettable because he won all his elections as a senator and two terms as governor.
“It is rather sad that after all the confidence that had been reposed in him by the PDP in Cross River State, he dumped the platform abruptly. But we wish him well“
“His defection will not have any negative implication on the PDP in the state because the party remains strong and is the dominant party in the state.
“Most of the national and state House of Assembly members are remaining firm in the PDP.
“The key stakeholders are still in the party and even some of his appointees have offered to resign rather than go with him. So, the PDP will continue to remain strong in the party.
“I foresee crises and conflicts happening in the APC but our party will remain strong.
“The majority of the National Assembly members are not sailing with Ayade. We remain strong and staunch members of the PDP.
“I am a founding member of the PDP and I have seen no reason in the last 22 years that I have been in the party, to move anywhere. The PDP is the only party owned by Nigerians and I don’t want to go to anywhere. I don’t need a godfather or godmother.
“Just like any other PDP members in the National Assembly, I just want to continue to be a member of the party. I am fully entrenched in the PDP.”
Meanwhile, the national leadership of the PDP has dissolved the Cross River State caretaker committee of the party and named a replacement.
The National Working Committee said it took the decision on behalf of the party’s National Executive Committee.
National Publicity Secretary of the party, Kola Ologbondiyan, said the decision was pursuant to the powers conferred on the NWC by the PDP constitution.
He said, “Consequently, the NWC has constituted a new State Caretaker Committee to pilot the affairs of the chapter of the party at the state level.”
He listed the new officers as Efiok Cobham (Chairman), Attah Ochinke, Dr. Uke Enun, Prof Walter Mboto and Rita Ayim (Publicity Secretary).
Others are Mike Usibe, Christopher Ekpo, Victor Effiom Okon, Prince K.J. Agba and Eko Atu (Secretary).
Political analysts and watchers of political developments in the country believe that Ayade’s defection may not affect the fortune if the PDP in Cross River State because the state has been predominantly been a PDP State from 1999 till date.
They also foresee leadership problem in the APC where the mantle of leadership has been placed on the lap of Ayade.