Judex Okoro, Calabar
The House of Representatives re-run for Ekureku I and II in Abi local government area of Cross River State will remain evergreen in the annals of the state’s political history. Saturday, January 25, 2020 was the day the indomitable PDP in the state surrendered to the superior fire power of APC and fusillades launched by Dr Alex Egbona and his grassroots die-hard supporters in his community.
Unexpectedly, the All Progressives Congress, APC, recorded a resounding victory over the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, thereby brining to an end the over 20 years of PDP dominance. Announcing the results, the Resident Electoral Commissioner, Dr Alalibo Johnson, said Dr Alex Egbona of APC polled 29,716 against the PDP’s candidate, Mr John Gaul Lebo, who scored 26,039.
But what sent shivers down the spine of political observers, was the outcome as the ruling PDP and its candidate, John Gaul Lebo, only polled 311 votes out of 13, 800 votes in contention during the re-run held in 18 polling units in Ekureku I and II. This, they described, as a political tsunami. And going by all permutations, it was expected that he would have given his opponents a run for his money, considering the heavy weights and incumbency factor.
No doubt, the election may have come and gone but the echoes of the bye-election have continued to reverberate across the length and breadth of the state. Some analysts may have seen the victory as a reflection of the popularity of the APC’s candidate and the vow by his kinsmen and women to fight for their liberation as opportunity beckoned on them. These people had the notion that Alex is impregnable in his political base of Ekureku I and I1.
But to others, the victory of Alex is the beginning of the people’s revolution over political dominance and servitude. It is an anti-climax in which the political godson fought the godfather to a standstill, thereby signaling the end of politics of god-fatherism. Certainly, it is a clear demonstration of a revolt against the imposition of unpopular candidate and then coercing the electorate to swallow the bitter pill. They, therefore, rejected the candidate, the party and the god-father.
However, Alex’s winning strategy was a novelty. Sources close to his campaign organization told our correspondent that Alex mobilised the Ekureku people through various socio-cultural associations. He followed it up with a visit to major cities including Lagos, Abuja, Kaduna, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Enugu, Abakaliki, Benue, Nasarawa and Uyo where he delivered an emotion-laden message on the need for all of them, who are registered at home, to return enmass for the re-run.
According to the source, it was at those meetings that it was unanimously agreed that every Ekureku person whether registered at home or not would return home two days to the election, adding that every group agreed to contribute their widow’s mite to ensure total victory of their son.
Not prepared to take a gamble on the D-day, the campaign office went ahead to mobilise youths from the 18 polling units where the election took place, and handed the security of the units to them with a promise to continue to empower them if ‘Oga’ returns. This strategy was the last straw that broke the camel’s back as the youth not only locked down markets, stalls, shops, but all streets and borders leading to Ekureku I and II, but took the destiny of the community in their hands.
And on the Election Day, it was observed that these youths went extra mile to police election materials from Central bank branch, Calabar, where the sensitive materials were kept, to INEC office at Itigidi and down to various polling units to forestall any manipulation of the process. It was further observed that the youth embarked on a house to house mobilistion on the voting day and by 6: 00am, thousands of voters had turned up at their various polling centres just as materials arrived about 7:00 am.
Electoral officers, observers react
Speaking on the conduct of the election, the presiding officer for Gbagaro Agbara polling unit, Mr Isaac Oke, said: “I can tell you the election materials arrived at 8:00am and we commenced accreditation immediately because the voters were already on ground.
“There was large turnout of voters. We commend INEC for providing enough card readers and security throughout the election. Everybody that was accredited voted. Besides, the community was protective.
Also speaking, the INEC observer in Ekureku II, Mr Jubril Isa, commended the voters for their peaceful and orderly conduct. He enjoined INEC to try and improve upon what it has established in the re-run so that no voter at any time would be disenfranchised.”
One of the agents of APC in Akarefor play ground polling unit in Ekureku I, Mr Bassey Lawrence, said: “We didn’t leave any stone unturned and that is why we monitored all materials from disbursement stage to collation centre where the result was announced. We all agreed to swim and sink with him and that is why you saw such an unprecedented turnout of voters. I travelled all the way from Abuja to cast my vote.”
Also commending the outcome, the Federal Commissioner, who came in to supervise the re-runs, Dr Mohammed Lecky, said reports from the field showed that everything went on smoothly. We didn’t receive much complaint as usual. We deployed enough card readers on ground. So, any one that developed problem, we quickly replaced it. So, we are very satisfied.”
Equally speaking shortly after he was declared winner, the member representing Abi/Yakurr federal Constituency, and the APC candidate for the re-run, Dr Alex Egbona, said:” The turn out was encouraging and you know that the election is in my community. I am in touch with my community and that is why you saw this unprecedented turnout.
“I encouraged all voters to vote according to their conscience. This is democracy, so they voted according to their choice and that is why I emerged victorious.”
Stakeholders hail the new ‘Sheriff’of Ekureku
Congratulating Alex on his victory, former Governor Liyel Imoke, also know as Alex’s god-father in political circle, in a statement issued in Calabar on Sunday, February 26, 2020 said now that the elections are over, it is high time all stakeholders united for the common good of the people of the federal constituency.
He said: “I acknowledge that through the course of this season, as is always the case, tensions were perceived to be high. But I am happy that ultimately, the elections were peaceful. I commend both the politicians and electorate for the maturity exhibited through this election season. Now that elections are over and I believe the better politicians won, we must all sheath our swords and unite for our common good.
“We must condemn and abhor the denigration and abuse of leaders and the perpetuation of divisive tendencies. Abi/Yakurr and indeed Cross River State can only grow if we give our representatives the requisite support. I also expect that Alex Egbonna and Davis Etta will provide qualitative representation for the federal constituency and the state constituency, respectively. I advise against pursuing the matter further in the courts even as they have constitutional right to seek redress.”
Extolling the doggedness of Alex, the former Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN), said: “I am particularly elated about this victory. This is more so that you are the only elected official produced by our Party, the APC, in Cross River State.
“That places on you a special mention in the annals of our political history. It also puts a special and enormous responsibility on you to be an integral part of all genuine efforts to reposition our party in Cross River State for greater outcomes.”
“You have a track record of generosity, affability, accessibility and a strong connection with the people as a grassroots politician which have endeared you to the people. Your victory is a clear validation of your leadership capabilities and acceptance by your constituents.
“Your people of Ekureku especially have demonstrated that indeed, power resides with the people by overwhelmingly voting for you leading to your victory. I have no doubt in my mind that you are capable of delivering on the expectations of your constituents as you re-take your seat in the House of Representatives.
“You possess the passion, experience, disposition and sagacity to satisfactorily represent the good people of Yakurr/Abi Federal Constituency. Therefore, go there in Abuja and shine for not just the people of the Yakurr/Abi Federal Constituency but Cross River State at large,” he stated.
Similarly, the State Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr Bassey Ita said “ the victory of Alex Egbona is a victory for all members of APC in the state.
“Let us all rally round and give him the necessary support as a united family to ensure he succeeds in his duty as a lawmaker for APC and the entire Cross River State. We are just excited and thrilled because he is a good man”
For the Vice Chairman, APC, Central senatorial district, Comrade Cletus Obun, the rerun in Abi was the triumph of powerless conscience over conscienceless power, adding that Egbuna has changed the tempo and color of Cross River State politics.
“The invasion of the progressive camp by the opportunistic conservative elements has brought the APC to its present pitiable state. Is it not ironical that during the defunct Acton Congress of Nigeria, ACN era, the opposition had councilors and a state House of Assembly member. But with all the ‘formers,’ we are looking up to a man, who was obstructed by even his own party men, as the new face of APC in the state. Alex was more opposed by APC big names than even the PDP.
“Before now, we had a band of political invaders on our landscape. They have exhausted their time on our stage as Alex’s emergence has put their ambition to expected ignoble end. With this victory, APC has a chance to redeem its fortunes. The only obstacle is the narrow interests populating and polluting the ranks of the party with narrow ambitions,” he stated.
Describing Egbona’s victory as ephemeral, a stalwart of PDP in Abi and a former aide to Governor Ben Ayade, Mr John Egbe, said: “I observed the election and I saw what happened. The PDP agents in all the polling units disappeared for fear of being lynched. Thus, the massive votes. But I can assure you that the victory song would soon end because that Abi/Yakurr federal constituency is PDP total, and we would reclaim it in 2023. Go and write it down.
Egbe, who expressed dismay at the way their candidate, John Gaul was abandoned by the party, explained that PDP in the state is actually undergoing internal problem as the party’s leadership doesn’t seem to know what it takes to win an election of such magnitude.
He said: “It was not impossible for PDP to secure at least 3, 000 votes in Ekureku I and II to clinch victory. But there was total conspiracy from the party to followers where there was lack of communication and commitment from all fronts.”
In a thank you tour around his communities shortly after he was declared winner, Dr Egbona, deputy chairman, House committee on petroleum (downstream), said: “I knew that I won my election fair and square last February and when the Court of Appeal felt we should go back to the field for a rerun. I did not fret; I never lost sleep about how God was going to complete what he started.
“Yet, I never took it for granted that it was going to be an easy ride. I actually knew that I was going in for a fierce battle, not with my opponent, but with the government in power in my state. Of course, my opponent knows that he cannot stand me. The truth is that if John Gaul, my younger brother, were to face me by himself alone, I would have simply gone on holiday and return to join in the victory dance. But he had some forces behind him.