From Judex Okoro, Calabar
In the last one year, Cross River State chapter of PDP has been in the eye of the storm. The party, hitherto known for peaceful co-existence among party faithful and in the conduct of party affairs, has been enmeshed in litigations, leading to unending enmities among the key political actors. These actors have been torn apart as they are engaged in the ding-dong battle for the control of party structures ahead of 2023.
All these have led to obvious factionalisation in character, actions and in words as evident in the plethora of court cases and judgments emanating therefrom. The bellicose supporters are seen these days in political and even in social gatherings, fighting and quarrelling than playing the game according to the rules.
The National Working Committee, NWC, of the party is in between the devil and deep blue sea arising from their inconsistencies in pronouncements regarding the contentious and vexatious congresses and the outcome of Cross River North senatorial by-election, which has become inconclusive of sort.
Ayade’s dancing-on-the-fence politics
Recently, Ayade’s highfalutin speeches in any gathering or event are usually an omnibus look at the issues confronting the party in the state. In any political forum especially, Ayade offers profound insights into what he wants and looks towards getting from the PDP leadership at all levels.
But more worrisome is the recent outbursts during the Bauchi Governor, Alhaji Bala Mohammed’s visit to Cross River in March 2021. Ayade cashed in on the visit and lashed out at the PDP national leadership for what he described as injustice meted to him. According to him, the party has refused to “hand over the party structures to him after leading it to a successful outing in 2019 general election and, therefore, frowned at moves by some external forces to cause problems and disunity in the party. He threatened to take a drastic action that may not augur well for the party if the national PDP leadership don’t retrace their steps.
In a diatribe about how unfair the party has been to the state, he said: “I have always played politics with ethics, but in the course of time, I have realised that ethical politics is mistaken for weakness. Time has come when we will put our foot down and take a decision on the basis of which will prosper their collective well-being”.
”I cannot blind myself to the challenges of PDP and decide not to know what to do at the right time for their sake. So let me say this as a very clear warning. I am a very smart person, but I carry humility.
“One single injustice, they will see a new Cross River State. I say it as a warning because it thus appears that your party (PDP) seems to celebrate people who threaten and stress them. Today, I am seated and dancing on the fence”.
”All the councillors, chairmen, commissioners, House of Representatives members, Senators are all PDP apart from one and all of them under my leadership into the elections. So, it is not now that somebody can discuss what structures and strategy I need,” adding that “time has come where all of us will gather and say enough is enough.”
Also speaking at the solidarity rally in his support organised by the 18 chairmen of the councils, Ayade said the social contract he signed with the people was to lift Cross River out of the doldrums and pledged to continue to create jobs through industrialisation.
He expressed concern over the influence of external forces in the state’s politics, enjoining Cross Riverians to unite and protect the state and its infrastructure from divisive and destructive agents.
A visibly excited Ayade said the solidarity rally came to him as a surprise as he had no inkling of it and commended the council chairmen for standing with him.
Lending support to the ‘dance’, the chairman of Akpabuyo council and chairman of the chairmen, Emmanuel Offiong Bassey, said they would swim and sink with Ayade until justice is seen to have been done.
Bassey: “Since God sent Governor Ayade to salvage the state, Cross River people would support his move, programmes and policies to the end. Ayade‘s administration is a grassroots movement that is ready to swim and sink with the governor in his political voyage.
“We, the eighteen council chairmen have come here with one hundred and ninety-six councillors and hundreds of other political office holders in the council in solidarity with the purposeful leadership you have provided and assure you of our continued support.
“Therefore, anyone who does not work for the good of the state should have a rethink. With the rally, we are sending a message that we are behind Ayade and we will stop at nothing to ensure that we give him necessary support to succeed.
“Our leader should go to sleep because his foot soldiers are on ground. Ayade is the leader of the PDP in Cross River State and whosoever plays with this fact does so at his or her own peril,” he stated.
Senior Special Adviser to the governor on political matters, Peter Ojie, said Ayade’s ability to industrialise the state in spite of lean resources, showed competence.
He added that “the rally is also meant to demonstrate that the support we gave him in 2015 and 2019 was not in vain,” appealing to all Cross Riverians to continue to support the governor so that he can finish strong”.
Even the 7-ALIVE group has joined the dancing-on-the-fence-song. The group made up of the seven local government areas of the South senatorial district of the state, has declared absolute loyalty and support for the governor just as they made a clarion call that it would be a disservice and a political miscalculation to deny Ayade the party structures in whatever guise.
Speaking on behalf of the group in one of the interviews, the former PDP state chairman, Ntufam Achort Okon, recalled that during the past administrations of Donald Duke and Liyel Imoke, they were totally in charge of political power including party structures, wondering why Ayade’s case should be an exception. Okon, therefore, advised the NWC committee to retrace its steps on the issue of who leads the party as anything to the contrary may spell doom for the party in the state.
However, others view the governor’s statement as not only being combative and an affront to the party that brought him to limelight, but a clear signal that defection is imminent. They argue that the present deposition of the governor is not surprising as he (Ayade) plays APC in Abuja and PDP in the state. They, therefore, further argued that defecting to APC is long overdue considering his body language all this while. To them, Ayade’s sitting on the fence is an old story as they had expected the governor and his supporters to stop organising rallies and holding nocturnal meetings with some critical stakeholders across the country and just take a causal amble through to another party.
Kicking against the rally and dance-on-the-fence, a party stalwart from Obanliku local government area, Ntufam Justine Agba, said PDP in the state is like a catholic church which has branches in all the villages in Cross River and therefore an indispensable party.
Agba, a former chapter caucus member of PDP, said pouring invectives on party leadership and perceived political opponents have become otiose, calling on Cross Riverians to stand with PDP amid speculations of massive defection.
He blamed the PDP NWC for their prevarications on the issue of ward and chapter congresses as well as Cross River North senatorial by-election until courts gave the final seal and the state congress, calling on them to stand firm and implement all court decisions and take necessary steps towards ensuring party discipline.
He further called on the like of former governor Imoke and other senior citizens to stop sitting on the fence with Governor Ayade and had better wade into the rifts in the party as the ‘dance-on-the-fence may eventually consume everybody and destroy the legacies laid down and gains the party had recorded in the past twenty-one years.
Describing the latest moves by the governor as expected having lost the structures, Bassey Bassey Asuquo, from Calabar South, said: “the like of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, former Governor of Kano state, Rabiu Kwankwaso, and recently Jerry Gana left for APC and saw light and returned. So, we advise the governor to also go there and experience a different political setting just as Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi has just done.
Bassey said: “All these sponsored rallies and sitting on the fence are geared towards Ayade’s senatorial ambition ahead of 2023. He is an open secret that the governor wants to return to the Senate after leaving Peregrino Government House, Calabar in 2023.
“Rather than appealing to his people and work towards it in a manner that would not throw up much blood and disunity among the North, he decided to intimidate every perceived opponent and throw darts at the party hierarchy.”
Contending that the governor’s outburst could send the wrong signals to those who are ignorant of the goings-on in the state PDP, Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe, representing Ogoja/Yala Federal constituency, in a statement made available to journalists in Calabar, wondered how the governor played politics of ethics when he (the governor) handpicked those to be ward and chapter executives to the exclusion of National Assembly members, some stakeholders and some serving commissioners.
Explaining how he was treated with levity when he complained of moves to impose party officers in his own ward and local government, Jarigbe stated that it was a premeditated move to throw them out of the politics even when they were in the forefront of Ayade’s emergence as governor.
Maintaining that the claim of ethical politics does not hold waters as the party was not run in tandem with what Ayade inherited, the lawmaker said: “As the leader of the party, the governor has been unjust as he appropriates every opportunity to suit him.
“We are in a democracy and this affords us the opportunity to challenge non- participatory and dictatorial decisions. We did not give you the party as a franchise. As leader of the PDP in CRS, the governor is not a franchisee. We got stakeholders.”
Recalling an old aphorism that he who goes to equity, must go with clean hands, Jarigbe said: “We cannot be fooled. The way forward is to come back as a family and discuss. No one intimidates anyone in a democracy just as they are natural laws that govern our co- existence as humans, not money, contacts or power.”
Political observers react
No doubt, Ayade’s stance has been viewed with mixed feelings by watchers of state’s politics. Some agree wholeheartedly that the foregoing statements lend credence to the fact that PDP in Cross River is at the verge of implosion; as a posteriori that Ayade is set to leave PDP if his demands of handing over party structures to him, as was the case with his predecessors, are treated with levity.
To them Ayade’s statements, actions and inactions so far are ventilations of his turbulent mind and innermost feelings at the moment, which should not be toyed with as the leader of the party. Therefore, the now popular Ayade’s-dance-on-the-fence-song is akin to macabre dance, which is a signal that the party maybe singing its Nunc Dimities ahead of 2023 if all the critical stakeholders failed to rise to the occasion.
However, others view the governor’s statement as not only being combative and an affront to the party that brought him to limelight, but a clear signal that Ayade’s defection is imminent. They argue that the present deposition of the governor is not surprising as he (Ayade) plays APC in Abuja and PDP in the state.
They, therefore, further argue that defecting to APC is long overdue considering his body language all this while. To them, Ayade’s sitting-and-dancing-on-the-fence is an old story as they had expected the governor and his supporters to stop organising rallies and holding nocturnal meetings with some critical stakeholders across the country and just take a causal amble through to another party.