Judex Okoro, Calabar
In the beginning
In the beginning, there was an indomitable Cross River PDP. It was the toast of every politician aspiring for political office up till 2015. It became indefatigable and it loved power as well as flaunted it to the envy of other parties. Thus, the slogan power to the people or simply “Odudu’ in Efik parlance, meaning ‘power.’
As a behemoth, it is deeply rooted in all nooks and crannies of the state. It is a family of sort and had the characteristics of a good family. As a family, everybody knows its onions; knows who the leader from ward to national levels is. During the era of Donald Duke and Liyel Imoke, members knew who to consult and look up to during election and in times of crisis.
But what made the party more unique was its conclave structure of electing leaders. From ward to state, there was a conclave where they go into and after much horse-trading and strategic consultations, they come out with acceptable candidates that would fly the party’s tickets. And former Governor Duke once said: “As Catholics go into conclave to elect its Pope, so do we in Cross River PDP go into conclave to elect our leaders.”
From the conclave, they set up powerful campaign machinery that can give any opposing party a run for its money. Indeed, it had command structures that served as a veritable platform to breed leaders from ward to state levels, thereby not leaving leadership vacuum which is what party administration is all about.
But today, PDP is one family with many discordant voices. The new entrants into party since 2015 have thrown democratic tenets to the dogs. To some analysts, the cookies seem to be crumbling; the ideals upon which the founding fathers built the party on in the state seem to be falling apart and the centre can no longer hold. To them, the party is gradually becoming dysfunctional with cacophony of voices from the hills of Obanliku to the forest of Akamkpa and Bakassi, adding that, it is gradually becoming a party of no character and candour.
No wonder the party put up a dismal outing in last House of Representatives re-run in Ekureku I and II on Abi. The party and its candidate were pummeled by APC candidate, an indication that the PDP has become very unpopular amongst the grassroots and that imposing candidate on the people is gradually becoming unfashionable in modern day politicking.
Already, there are hues and cries over the handling of the just concluded so-called affirmation for LG chairmen and councilors. There are cries of marginalisation and alleged handpicking of party’s candidates for March 28, 2020 local government election. The party members are at daggers’ drawn over the brazen display of impunity by the party leadership in the conduct of local government primary election where internal democracy was thrown to the wind. They described the selection processes that led to the throwing up of some names as party candidates for chairmanship and Councillorship seats as fraud. They wonder how the party could sit at the comfort of the governor’s office and allegedly shortlisted names of party representatives without conducting primaries even when aspirants have coughed out hundreds of thousands of Naira to buy forms.
Checks revealed that in the party’s timetable released for primaries dated Monday, December 2, 2019, the ruling party pegged its nomination forms for chairmanship at one million, six hundred and thirty thousand Naira (N1,630,000) and councillorship at four hundred and twenty thousand Naira (N420,000).
For the position of Chairman, the intent form is N630, 000, while the nomination form is N1, 000, 000, making it a total of N1.63m. For the position of councilor, the intent form is N120, 000, while the Nomination form is 300,000 – making a total of N420, 000.The sales of intent and nomination forms commenced on Monday, December 9, 2019 and ended on Wednesday, December 11, 2019. The release stated that all those that bought the forms in 2017 are exempted.
According to the time-table signed by the party chairman, Inok Edim, and Secretary, Mr Victor Omaga Odo, the party fixed Saturday and Sunday, January 21 and 22, 2019 for congress for ad hoc delegates and councillorship primaries and Thursday, January 2, 2020 for chairmanship primaries. And in line with the constitution of PDP, Part III, Article 15 (2e and f) states that the ward congress elects ward delegates and conduct primaries for ward elections just as Article 18, 2b and c empowers the local government congress to elect local government council chairmanship candidate of the party and elect local government area delegates to the national convention respectively.
Aspirants take up the gauntlet
But not resting on its oars, some of the aggrieved aspirants in the forthcoming local government poll have petitioned the national leadership of the party, demanding for the immediate cancellation of the entire process and described it as a sham.
In the petition dated February 3, 2020, and titled ‘protest against the undemocratic selection of chairmanship candidates for the forth -coming local government council election in Cross River’, and signed by 13 aspirants including Godwin Offiono, Boniface Odey (all Yala), Naku John and Sunday Igbaji (all from Ogoja), Ikpi Ubana Eyong Yakurr, Nelson Ofem (all from Yakurr), Obi Stephen Owan (Etung) and Orok Bassey Duke (Odukpani). Others are Theophilus Abri (Obubra), Barr Iwaasam Adaga (Abi), Francis Ekeng (Calabar South), Ekeng Efiom Edet (Akpabuyo) and Christopher Ekpo (Calabar Municipality).
The aspirants, who are drawn from the three senatorial zones of the state, aver that the recently released list of candidates of the party falls short of the provisions of the party and the danger of losing the state looms by this act of outright imposition and impunity. They want the party to do the right thing else the Zamfara episode which the party benefited from may be used against it, adding that what happened in the state was a meeting of a few people who wrote names and forwarded same to CROSIEC as candidates of the party.
“We therefore respectfully urge you to admonish the leadership of the party in Cross River State, to cancel the entire process, which was a sham and conduct fresh primary elections for the emergence of candidates. We foresee danger ahead for the party if the party and its leadership do not do the right thing. The precedent in Zamfara State is too fresh that our memory will be aloof, we benefitted.
“Otherwise, the danger of losing Cross River State as a PDP state to the opposition parties is gradually looming by this act of outright imposition and impunity”, they said.
The candidates emphasized that from the beginning, activities in the timetable were not observed as there were no forms; neither interest nor nomination forms were made available to the candidates despite the fact that some aspirants made payment to the party’s account.
They added that rather than do the right thing as stipulated by the constitution of the party, the leadership rather went ahead on January 30, 2020 and affirmed persons hitherto published as candidates in contravention of the date for submission of list of candidates by political parties.
Other stakeholders kick
Kicking against the alleged handpicking of candidates, Messers Comrade Raymond Takom and Emmanuel Agba, Coordinator and Secretary respectively, Movement for the Restoration of Cross River PDP, (MFTROCR), said: “The party is in comatose as their functions to conduct and screen candidates have been usurped by the Government House.
“The aspirants, who bought forms to contest for chairmanship and councillorship, were not screened. There were no primaries for them and when we asked the party leadership they told us that the governor has directed that there was no need for primaries except affirmation. The next thing we heard was that the names of the allegedly handpicked candidates have been surreptitiously submitted to CROSIEC.”
Describing the processes as an abuse of internal democracy that could spell doom for the party in the state, the group frowned at the treatment meted out to founding fathers and former party elected members who have stood with the party through thick and thin.
Also lamenting on the travails of some lawmakers, a national assembly member, who don’t want his name in print for fear of being suspended for anti-party activities, said:”We are in trouble as we speak, the party in the state is in deep mess. They have started the sales of forms at the national.
“The party is dying. PDP will soon be totally factionalised. We may not have PDP Chairmanship and Councillorship candidates because the governor took a unilateral decision to write the names alone and submitted to CROSIEC without primaries; and we are supposed to go through the processes of the Electoral act.
“Some aggrieved members would skinhead for court and when the matter comes up in court, APC that will naturally come second will take over and that it is a calculated attempt by the governor to move to APC. The issue of Zamfara will repeat itself in Cross River State if the right thing is not done.
“As National Assembly members, we don’t have any candidate because categorically, we have not gone through the Electoral College. In a few days away, expect a new PDP,” he stated.
A call on founding fathers to rescue the party
Expressing worry over the development, a former House of Assembly member, Christopher Ekpo, said it is high time founding members of the party rose up against such flagrant abuse of party constitution and guidelines for conduct of primaries. Ekpo, also a disenfranchised chairmanship aspirant for Calabar Municipality, said even in the midst of protestations, the governor has not created a forum for organs of the party to discuss on the future of the party ahead of the council election and congresses.
“Founding fathers should not go to sleep over what is happening now. They must come out and rescue the party because the present crop of people in the party has nothing at stake after 2023. Besides, elders of the party need to rise up before the party would go aground. If they succumb to illegal processes in the conduct of local government party primaries, they would be encouraging impunity. If they all follow Governor Ben Ayade to always have his way in all party matters, they would have killed the party in the state before 2023, but if they say no, they would rescue the party.
Another stalwart of the party, Ntufam Bassey Edor, said the elders of the party have been so docile in the last four-and-half years unlike before and wondered why they are not speaking out even when they have seen the party is gradually sinking as seen in the last re-run election in Abi.
Edor, a former cacaos leader in Etung local government said: “Enough is enough. We should all stand up now and be counted in this struggle to liberate the party. We have been relegated to the background in a party we suffered to build to this level. If we were not united, the party would have lost the 2015 governorship election to opposition party and the incumbent governor would not have emerged. Therefore, nobody should sit on the fence in the face of injustice and alleged manipulation of internal party primaries and who becomes the next state chairman. This is a clarion call for all to stand up and be counted in the fight to rescue our great party. So the time is now.”
Party chairman dismisses allegations
But reacting, the Cross River State PDP chairman, Mŕ Edim Inok, said: “Those people complaining about PDP are not our members. They are doing anti party and when we get them, they would face the music. Nobody can force us to conduct primary for local government election. Our party makes provisions for affirmation and that is what we are doing.”