By Judex Okoro, Calabar
Cross River State’s chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) has been in the news since February 2020 when the National Working Committee of the party blew the beagle for commencement of processes for national-wide congress. Characteristic of politicians, it was a golden opportunity to install their trusted allies in strategic party offices ahead of 2023 general elections.
Since then, the state chapter of the party has been embroiled in crisis following the battle to take over control of ward, local government and state excos of the party. The development has not only pitched the National assembly members of the party from the state against the governor and outgoing state exco of the PDP, but led to series of litigations in various courts in Calabar, Port Harcourt and Abuja.
And as the struggle rages, Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe, representing Ogoja/Yala federal constituency had approached the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt Division, in Suit no FHC/PH/CS/125/2020, asking for declarations touching on the validity of which list was to be used at the senatorial primary election.
In its ruling, the court granted Jarigbe’s reliefs, as it found that, the lists of delegates presented by him were the ones authenticated by INEC and approved by the National Organising Secretary of PDP.
Dissatisfied with the judgment, the State leadership of PDP appealed against it and the Court of Appeal sitting in Port Harcourt affirmed the decision of the lower Court. Not satisfied again, Ayade faction of PDP went to Supreme Court and the Apex Court on January 6, 2021 upheld the ruling of the Lower Court just as it struck out PDP’s appeal on the Ward and chapter exco list.
Delivering judgment on the Suit no SC/CV/838/2020, between PDP and Col Austin Akobundu versus Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe and INEC, Justice Tijani Abubakar, JSC, upheld the ruling of the Lower Court and subsequently struck out PDP’s appeal on the ward and chapter exco list just as it ordered parties to bear their respective cost in the matter. It was a unanimous decision by all the judges. The Apex Court orders parties to bear their respective costs in this matter. It was a unanimous decision by all the judges.
From all intent and purposes, it seems that in spite of the Supreme Court ruling, the long battle over who controls Cross River PDP is yet to be over as Governor Ben Ayade and his die-hard supporters have intensified the lobby of the National Working Committee, NWC, members to dissolve the ward and local government chapter exco and in its place not only recognise Ayade as not only the leader of the party but his own exco.
Not resting on its oars to take over the party structures, sources close to national secretariat of the party disclosed that Ayade has intensified the lobby of some members of NWC aimed at dissolving all wards and local government chapter executives to pave way for him to install his cronies at those levels of leadership.
The source said the governor’s lobby team has equally suggested that for him to remain in PDP, they should concede the state executive committee to him after the expiration of state caretaker committee. And to achieve this, they have reached out to some governors to intervene by conceding the state executive committee members to him after the expiration of state caretaker committee.
The source further hinted that some party elders championing his course have argued that they don’t want to lose another PDP governor after David Umahi and therefore are exploring avenues to see how he can be accommodated. The elders are said to have muted the idea of surrendering the entire state executive committee, zonal and national representatives to Ayade to pacify him to stay on rather than defecting.
Support groups divided over leadership structures
As crisis rocking the party continues unabated, support groups, 7-ALIVE has demanded that PDP NWC recognises and accord Governor Ayade as the leader of the state chapter, else they would withdraw their support from the party.
According to 7-ALIVE group supportive of Ayade, and which drew its membership from the seven local government areas of Akamkpa, Akpabuyo, Calabar south, Calabar Municipal, Biase, Odukpani and Bakassi that make up the Southern senatorial district of the state, they warned of dangers of disrespecting Ayade as leader of party.
In a statement signed by prominent members of the party including a former state chairman, Ntufam John Achot Okon, 7-ALIVE said they would no longer sit and watch the systematic devaluation of Prof Ayade’s influence and leadership in the party, appealing to NWC to address the conflicts emanating from handling ward and local government congresses of the party in the state which has gone on for far too long.
Expressing worry at the turn, which have brought public opprobrium to the party, the group pointed out that during the administrations of former Governor Donald Duke and Governor Liyel Imoke, the duo were in charge of the administrative running of the party structure just as the leadership, instructions and directives on what to do and how to manage the party, had always centered on the governor.
It, however, noted that it has been an exception rather than the rule under Prof. Ayade-led administration as he has not received the same cooperation and respect from the NWC, thereby putting the party in utter confusion, lack of purpose and direction.
Condemning the attitude of some members of the National Assembly who have now formed an opposition wing in Abuja with the aim of conspiring to seize the structures of the party in the state, the group explained that “the party’s constitutional provisions restrain members from going to court without first exhausting the inbuilt conflict resolution mechanism.
They contended that considering the strength of the governor and his structures across the 18 local government areas in the state, it is important that the party leadership knows that they are fully in his support and ready “ to follow his decisions in seeking redress in the face of intolerable and unnecessary machinations and aggressions towards him and the party in the state,” calling on the Senator Saraki committee to make their findings and recommendations public to save the party from further disintegration.
Describing the threat by 7–ALIVE as baseless and as indication that the governor has lost grip of the state structures, the Magnificent 7 has called on the National leadership to disregard their letter.
The Magnificent 7 in a letter signed by Messers Igbaja Echu Enyong, Dominic Effiom Bassey and Asuquo Tom Edem as President, Vice President and Secretary respectively and titled, “7 Alive Questions Ayade’s Leadership of CRS PDP”, pointed out that Governor Ayade is not in control of the state party structures as compared to the past administrations of Governor Donald Duke and Governor Liyel Imoke who engaged in series of consultations before arriving at consensus or electing party leaders at all levels.
The group, which claimed to be grassroots-oriented as its membership cuts across the 78 wards and 7 Local government areas of the Southern senatorial zone, said the perceived in-fighting would have been avoided if some appointees of the governor had adhered to the consensus arrangement agreed upon by the critical stakeholders of the party.
They rather blamed those overzealous appointees that flouted the governor’s instructions on consensus by sitting in their bedrooms and generating congress, thereby ignoring loyal party members and stakeholders in their different chapters. According to the group, it was the state party Chairman, Ntufam Edim Inok that first approached the court challenging the outcome of the ward and chapter congresses and not NASS members as being claimed in many quarters.
Commending the National Party Chairman for his leadership role in improving the fortunes of our great party, they urged the NWC to disregard the unsubstantiated misleading letter from the 7-ALIVE, just as they enjoined the governor to show wisdom and ability to lead as well as bring everyone together especially in these last days of his tenure.
Party stalwarts in war of words
Reacting to the political crisis rocking the state, the Chairman of the state’s Forestry Commission, Chief Tony Undiandeye, lamented that political buccaneers shopping for judgements from courts to courts to destabilise Ayade’s administration are behind the crisis rocking PDP in the state.
Also support for Ayade, the Forum of Local Govt Chairmen in the state, called on the national leadership of PDP to implement David Mark Committee’s recommendations on Cross River State PDP, imploring the national leadership to discipline members.
Kicking against ‘team authentic and National Assembly list’, a party stalwart and Managing Director, Cross River State Water Board limited, Chief Victor Effiom Ekpo, said it was high time the party hierarchy in Abuja called Cross River National Assembly members to order, to ensure that peace returns to the state chapter of the party.
At a meeting with stakeholders from Akampka Okoyoñ ward in Odukpani Local Government, Ekpo noted that the existing executives in the ward is drawn from a consensus list reached by stakeholders in the constituency and remains a representation of the desire of the constituents.
Keying into the ‘dissolution project’, one of Ayade’s ardent supporter, Kenneth Odey, from Obanliku, said: “Oga has told us to remain calm as the National body of the party has promised to look into it and possibly return the party to him.”
However, hailing the Supreme Court ruling on the authenticity of various elective congresses for wards and local government exco list, a member of the State PDP Caretaker Committee, Chief Austine Edibe, said: “The Supreme Court ruling shows that the people’s will shall always prevail. For us, the Judiciary has once again shown that they are the last hope of the common man as they have risen to the occasion.”
Another stakeholder, Ntufam John Egbe, 62, said the Supreme Court has finally settled the tussle of party leadership at ward and local government chapter as it has validated the congresses as approved by National Executive Committee, NEC, and National Working Committee, NWC.
Egbe from Abi chapter, said the victory at Supreme Court is a victory for democracy which PDP represents, adding that it is unfortunate that a party that was known to be peaceful and united has become a cynosure of all eyes in the area of in-fighting.
Opposing the plot to dissolve the ward and chapter excos, a party chieftain, Chief Ausquo Asuquo, from Calabar South chapter of PDP, said it is unfortunate that after Governor Ayade had driven the process that produced the ward and chapter excos, he turned around to lobby for its dissolution because the courts ruled against any attempt to infuse unknown names into it.
Urging all to accept the outcome as PDP is bigger than any individual, Asuquo said it would be foolhardy for NWC to contemplate dissolving the ward and chapter excos by fiat after the historic Supreme Court verdict.
According to him, any move by NWC to temper with the executives at those levels, after they have been authenticated by various courts as having been duly elected and inaugurated for almost a year now, would be tantamount to signing the death knell for our party.