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Cross River 2023: When There is Silence, Noise Takes Over

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The political dynamic in Cross River State is, to say the least, now becoming difficult to understand. Ordinarily, it would be easy to predict the political climate in the State but not anymore.

What is the reason for this befuddling (what should have been a natural) outcome? The answer is not too far-fetched. Fifth columnists. But let us not get ahead of ourselves here. Let’s break it down.

In 1992, Clement Ebri from the Cross River State Central Senatorial District was sworn in as Governor. His Deputy was the late Mrs Cecilia Ekpenyong from the Southern Senatorial District. The Ebri/Ekpenyong regime was truncated in 1993 by the Sani Abacha interregnum.
When democracy fully resumed in 1999, Donald Duke from Southern Senatorial District became Governor. His Deputy was the late John Okpa from Central Senatorial District. In 2003, the late Walter Eneji from the Northern Senatorial District was Deputy.

When Duke was leaving in 2007, the principle of zoning kicked in. It was said to be a People Democratic Party (PDP) principle. Or was it? Anyway, Liyel Imoke from the Central Senatorial District became Governor with Efiok Cobham as his Deputy. By this time the Central Senatorial District was having its second go at the governorship.

In 2015, because of the zoning principle, only gubernatorial aspirants from Northern Senatorial District contested. They came from all the parties. The aspirants included Senator Benedict Ayade, Fidelis Ugbo, Legor Idagbo, Goddy Jeddy Agba, Patrick Ugbe, Gerald Ada, Francis Eworo, Emmanuel Ibeshi, Joe Agi, Peter Oti, Odey Ochicha, Lazarus Undie, Mike Ogar, Henrietta Henry, and Okwa Philip Ogbo. That election threw up Senator Ben Ayade as Governor and Ivara Esu as Deputy.

Having completed his two-term tenure, Benedict Ayade cannot run any further as a candidate. But that is not to say that he does not plan to run the show. Strategically, he has moved to the All-Progressives Congress (APC) from the PDP. When he moved, he did so like a hurricane. He took the entire state party machinery with him. He unflagged the PDP State Headquarters and it automatically began to bear the insignia and colours of the APC.

The most interesting thing is that the then PDP Party Chairman also went with Ayade’s hurricane to the APC. Then, ex-PDP stalwarts who had earlier left the PDP for the APC like Victor Ndoma-Egba and John Owan Eno congratulated him for the move.
The PDP camp rallied. Two friends who became foes became friends again – Donald Duke and Liyel Imoke. Donald Duke who had earlier returned to the PDP from his wanderings in the political wilderness issued a statement condemning Ayade’s defection and pledging his own loyalty to the PDP. The triumvirate of Donald Duke, Liyel Imoke and Gershom Bassey were back together. Night meetings went on in Calabar on how to counter the Ayade factor. The PDP set up their new shop at Mary Slessor Avenue. Then knocked.

Ayade intends to play the zoning card. All speculations point to a candidate from the Southern Senatorial District who is a leading member of his cabinet – Asuquo Ekpenyong. He is the current Commissioner for Finance and indeed Donald Duke’s son-in-law. Ekpenyong’s eventual emergence as APC’s gubernatorial candidate is expected to tie Duke’s hands and will be considered a major development. But Ekpenyong has other aspirants to beat including Bassey Otu and Ben Akak who are not minions by any chance.

PDP’s body language remains baffling. Without a fight, they gave up their state headquarters. Then, it seems that without a fight they will give up their claim to the governorship. Is this being presumptuous? Perhaps. But here is where things are beginning to go awry. Some individuals within the PDP have concluded that the zoning principle falls away since all the zones have had their turn at the governorship. Really? So, Sandy Onor, a serving Senator from the Central Senatorial District, and a great prospect no doubt, has been jostling to emerge as the next gubernatorial candidate of the PDP. This will be political hara-kiri for the PDP. Why? Ayade is going to make zoning the issue – in terms of governorship, Central has produced two, South one, and North one. Sandy trying to be the third from Central will sound the death knell for the PDP. Period.

Then, let us all agree that Benedict Ayade is no push-over. He is a calculating super-fox. Look beyond his linguistic verbiage. He did not become a Senator by accident; nor did he become Governor also by accident. Ayade plays the game well. If he goes with the zoning computation, which he will very well do, and the in-law factor it will be almost a fait accompli. The South will have their governor, an Ayade Governor, and thus be satisfied with it.

But that is only if the PDP allows Ayade to have his way. The PDP is tilting precariously only because one part of it seems to have taken a holiday – the Southern caucus. While it is heartening to know that the likes of Gershom Bassey and Sir Arthur Jarvis Archibong from the South are being speculated as aspirants, there needs to be a lot more fervour from the South. The Southern leadership of the PDP made up of elders like Donald Duke, Efiok Cobham, Bassey Ewa-Henshaw, Stella Attoe and including the likes of the Southern National Assembly Caucus – Gershom Bassey, Dan Asuquo, Essien Ayi, and Eta Mbora, is too quiet. They need to decide if the South wants to really come out, come together and then do the work. It is true that Efik edi Mbakara but that does not mean imbecility. Nature abhors a vacuum. The absence of representation is abdication. John Stuart Mill, British philosopher, and a member of parliament, in his 1867 inaugural address said, “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” Need I say more

• Efiom Okpo is an IT consultant and a public affairs commentator.

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