Judex Okoro, Calabar
Cross River PDP has become the cynosure of political eyes in recent times. The party once noted for its unique ways of doing things and resolving internal squabbles has been bedevilled by series of litigations as they have about three pending cases at various levels of courts over who becomes what; who takes what and who produces what.
Checks at the judiciary headquarters in Calabar showed that some party members are in court challenging the outcome of party primary for local government and councillorship election and the ward and local government congresses in suits No HC/MSC.28/2020 and No HC/178/2020 respectively. Again, there is a suit instituted in Abuja Federal High Court with No FCT/HC/1551/2020 and Motion No FCT/HC/CV/M/6886/2020.
These cases are instituted by the contending factions and have so far defied any resolution just as the battle for supremacy rages. The rumour mill has it that the newly-elected chairman and councillors may soon institute legal action against the state government with regard to local government administration and alleged plan to cut their salaries and allowances that are statutory.
In the light of the above, one can see that in the last six months, the “umbrella” has been torn into two. One controlled by Governor Ben Ayade and the other controlled by the founding members of the party but anchored by NASS.
At the head of the Abuja coordinated onslaught against Ayade is the man described in political circle as the ‘political avatar’ and former governor, Sen Liyel Imoke. His other lieutenants are former Deputy Governor, Efiok Cobham, Sen Gershom Bassey (a.k.a Obong Ekpe), Prof Sandi Onor (a.k.a Caterpillar) Essien Ayi (a.k.a Nsantim), Daniel Asuquo (a.k.a Dansuki), Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe, Eta Mbora and Chris Agibe, Venatius Nkem, Mr Efa and some former elected and appointed party members.
In other words, the big “umbrella” can no longer shield everybody either during downpour or in scorching sun. Party members in the state are all running helter skelter looking for shelter. If one runs into the shelter owned by Ayade’s people and one is averse to their political belief, they would push one out for being an enemy and if one seeks shelter in Abuja’s own, they may welcome one and preach repentance to one.
Infighting within the party has become a sort of neoteric innovation that makes political observers quirk. To Ayade, the NASS has been stymied to his political ambition and calculation. To founding members, it would be suicidal to totally surrender the party structure to the governor. So, wanting to control the party has become a kind of shaggy-dog story.
Investigations revealed that salaries of some Ayade’s aides, said to be sympathetic or have close affinity with the Abuja-based opponents, have been stopped in the interim. That is the fate of members now that the leaders are at daggers drawn over the soul of PDP.
Behold the ‘Isles of August 8’
In political circle, the sing-song is ‘beware-of-August 8 as our brand new chairman of the party emerges’. The contending factions are set to clash again over who becomes the next state party chairman. The NWC has tentatively fixed Saturday, August 8, 2020 for state congresses nationwide. Political observers have described it as the last battle if a truce is not reached before then.
While Ayade is totally committed to the aspiration of his confidants and the Director-General of State Due Process, Alphonsus Eba (a.k.a Okadigbo), the founding members and NASS are said to be queuing behind the former PDP national publicity secretary and two time commissioner, Vena Nkem. Interestingly, both are from Northern senatorial district where the position has been zoned to. While Eba is from Yala, Ikem is form Obudu.
To ensure the emergence of his preferred candidate, Ayade embarked on an intensive lobbying of who-is-who in PDP including his colleagues in governorship forum on the need to handover the party structure to him as was done to his predecessors and as the leader of the party. Government House sources confided in our correspondent that the governor has equally reached out to some Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SAN, from the state who are still in PDP, on the need to mediate in the lingering court cases and see how it can be settled out of court.
For the founding fathers and their allies, they are not resting on their oars as they have also reached out to the national leadership and other influential political actors within PDP to drum support for one of them who is also a founding member of the party, Venatius Ikem. The group is wary of going into any consensus arrangement as it may backfire and possibly render them politically irrelevant. So, they want congress conducted in line with party electoral guidelines to avoid further litigation.
Besides, the Abuja camp is said to be confident of pushing through their candidate as they seem to have upper-hand with regard to the delegates to the pending state congress. Sources close to them revealed that 75 per cent of the delegates are in their kitty. In addition, they produced the authentic ward and local government executive committees approved by the National Working Committee, NWC, of the party.
Checks revealed that out of the 18 local government areas in the state, the Abuja group controls 14 while Ayade controls four. While the 196 wards would produce five delegates each, local government chapters would produce about 18 delegates each. So, there lies the crux of the matter.
However, as at the time of this report, sources close to both camps revealed that nobody is willing to shift grounds or concede any position either, as they are all eying 2023 election. The source further disclosed that in one of the meetings convened in Abuja with National Assembly members in attendance, Governor Ayade was said to be very livid and wondered why the NASS should allegedly constitute a stumbling block. Most of the members in the meeting were said to be piqued at the governor’s disposition and it ended in deadlock.
The two gladiators
Reeling out his vision for the party, Venatius Ikem, one of the chairmanship candidates in the pending PDP state congress, said he is committed to bringing a new lease of life to the party, encouraging consensus building as a veritable instrument for leadership recruitment and dialogue as a sine qua non for peace building without which “development” will remain a hollow aspiration.
To achieve these lofty objectives, the Obudu-born politician, with various political experiences ranging from chairmen of council in 1991, Special Adviser to former President Obasanjo, said there is urgent need to return to the path of democratisation of the processes; uphold the idea of supremacy of the party as well as build a culture and temperament for democratic practice.
Ikem, the former PDP National Publicity Secretary, dismissed the notion that one can’t contest against the wishes of a governor as it is becoming alien to the nation’s political culture, adding that he has the total support of the majority of the stakeholders who have the burning desire to restructure the party and bring back its lost glory.
He is of the view that one of the ways to solve the lingering party crisis is to clearly rebuild that consensual way of arriving at decisions such that even if the governor’s preference prevails,” saying such arrangement “would be seen that other stakeholders were carried along in arriving at that decision. The summary of the problem is simply lack of consultation in major decisions making. This is not what we prided in calling ourselves the PDP family.”
On zoning of the chairmanship position outside his local government area, the former council chairman, said zoning is good as a policy, but that “it is wrong for a group of sycophants who are appointees of the governor to gather in Government House and presume to have zoned an office as important as the state chairman of the party and expect compliance.
On his part, one of the aspirants, Alphonsus Ogar Eba, DG Due Process and Price Intelligence Bureau, in his recently-released mission statement decried the spate of division and disunity among party members.
Eba said: “Permit me to use this medium to sue for peace and to humbly appeal to all members of our great party PDP to henceforth, refrain from making comments that tend to present us as a divisive and disunited people.
“While we must admit that the processes that led to the last LGA primaries and the last ward and chapter congresses may have left some of our members aggrieved, it has become a duty on you and I to find a meeting point and seek the most matured political solution to this avoidable issue by building a genuine sustainable win-win consensus.”
Insisting that he was overwhelmingly endorsed by the state caucus of the party in March 2020 to steer its ship, the DG promised to serve with absolute humility, honesty and hard work if elected.
On how he intends to reconcile the warring factions, he said: “While some have chosen the part of balkanisation and bent on deepening the tiny whole of our disagreement, I have in the last few months gone on my knees to appeal to the leadership of the party at the state and at the centre as well as all aggrieved members particularly, our leaders in the National Assembly to toe the part of peace because it is less expensive and more reliable than litigation.”
He cautioned against making inflammatory and derogatory appellations such as governor’s camp versus NASS camp if peace and harmony must reign supreme as the party is still one family.
Party members react
A party stalwart, Ntufam Joeseph Ogar, from the Northern senatorial zone dismissed insinuations in some quarters that Alphonsus Eba is a surrogate and electing him means a continuation of Gov Ayade’s political dynasty.
Ogar, 68, and a former appointee during the era of former Governor Donald Duke, said what the party needs now is a man who can continue the vision of Ayade, adding that being supported by the incumbent governor has never been an offence.
To him, it is an added advantage which all the former chairmen of the party had enjoyed.
But kicking against the circumstances of Eba’s emergence and the zoning arrangement that threw him up, Justine Agbor, from central senatorial zone, said Venatius Ikem is the right man for the right job.
According to him, Ikem has suffered for the party and this is the time to reward him for his doggedness, experience and contributions in the party from ward to national levels
Agbor, 44, and a former youth leader of the party in Etung, said: “Vena is a chip of the old bloc who would not only transform and re-position the party, but had the pedigree. He is a party man to the core who is abreast of the vision and mission of the party.
He, however, appealed to delegates to rise to the occasion this time and rescue the party by electing somebody that understands party administration and the workings of all organs.