From Judex Okoro, Calabar
This is not the best of times for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Cross River State. The party is unarguably beset with many intractable problems. Between January and now, the party has had a series of internal crises ranging from party congresses to primary election for local government chairmen and councillors and now the senatorial by-election.
As usual, party congresses and primary elections come with intrigues, machinations, horse-trading and then consensus. But in Cross River PDP, it is a different ball game this time round as these processes have left bitter taste in the mouths of the party leaders and their followers.
Before now, the Cross River PDP, which was once taunted as one indivisible family, and on exhibiting cohesion at every stage of election or congress, has now become conflagrated. The untoward disagreements among members have led to a series of litigations, making what started like a smouldering fire to engulf the entire party, leaving it rudderless and in ruins.
Today, party members are not only singing discordant tunes, but are at daggers drawn with one another. They move about like sheep without a shepherd. The leadership is factionalised between the state governor, Ben Ayade and the National Assembly (NASS) members, just as their followers are at war with one another.
The battle over the control of the party’s structures between Ayade and other stakeholders comprising National Assembly members, founding fathers of the party, senior citizens, former elected and appointed members as well as former council chairmen and councillors has been raging for a while.
LG primary election fallout
The battle for the control of the soul of PDP in Cross River started during the local government election held on May 30, 2020. The build up to the election was characterised with power-play and machinations between some stakeholders and the Governor. Some aspirants, who were excluded from the processes on allegations of being sponsored by the NASS members, protested against the process that threw up the party’s candidates.
Not satisfied with the process adopted, some of the aggrieved aspirants petitioned the national leadership of the party, demanding the immediate cancellation of the entire process, which they described as a sham.
The petition dated February 3, 2020, and titled, ‘Protest against the undemocratic selection of chairmanship candidates for the fourth coming local government council election in Cross River’, was signed by 13 aspirants, including Godwin Offiono, Boniface Odey, Naku John and Sunday Igbaji among others.
The aspirants, who were drawn from the three senatorial zones of the state, claimed that the time-table signed by the party’s chairman, Inok Edim, and the Secretary, Mr. Victor Omaga Odo, for the conduct of congress for the ad hoc delegates as well as primaries were not followed and they headed for court.
Since then, the case has been dragging, with the Governor even initiating a discreet move for out-of-court settlement. A source at Mba Ukweni, the lead counsel for the aggrieved aspirants, revealed that Ayade has tried to engage some prominent lawyers to intervene and see how the matter could be withdrawn from the court.
Battle for ward, local government excos
However, the battle for the party’s control continued into the ward and local government congresses. Suspicious of the outcome of the local government election, other stakeholders rose to the occasion by oiling their political machinery in readiness for the congress.
To them, politics is a game of interest, so their interests must be protected, otherwise they would be politically asphyxiated. So, when the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party blew the beagle for the 2020 congresses to elect the new executives from ward to national levels, party bigwigs and their followers queued in and pushed for their own trusted allies to be elected into various party offices ahead of 2023 election, knowing their importance during party primaries.
The Governor’s faction led by the state party chairman, Ntufam Edim Inok, commissioners and numerous aides, are of the view that the Governor should be allowed to dictate the pace as his predecessors did, because according to them, every incumbent governor is the leader of the party in his state.
But, the stakeholders coordinated by Comrade Raymond Takon, disagreed and insisted that party members should be allowed to determine who leads the party at all levels. This, according to them, would reduce rancour and acrimony as well as endless recriminations. To Takon, they want to institutionalise internal democracy to avoid the mistake of 2015, where the party threw caution to the winds and subsequently paid dearly for it.
However, after much consideration, NWC in a letter dated April 26, 2020, and signed by the national organising secretary, Col Austin Akobundu (retd), released the approved authentic list for ward and local government executives for all the 196 wards and 18 local government councils in the state in accordance with the provisions of Section 65 of the party’s constitution as amended in 2017.
“In doing this, you’re please advised to also take into proper account the provisions of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) guidelines for Covid-19 as it concerns social distancing and the gathering of people in one place” part of the letter read.
The NWC said the new exco members shall hold office for a period of four years pursuant to Section 47(1) of the party’s constitution as amended. The letter further directed the state party chairman, Ntufam Edim Inok Edim, to inaugurate the new executive officers in accordance with the provisions of section 65 of the party’s constitution as amended in 2017.
Following the directive, the ward executive committee members in the state were inaugurated in 196 wards on Thursday, April 30, 2020, by a Notary Public, Okimasi Ojong, in accordance with the provisions of Section 65 of the PDP constitution as amended in 2017.
But shortly after the inauguration, the party’s leadership under Ntufam Edim discredited the list from the national body.
While addressing journalists at the party’s secretariat, he said the national chairman of the party, Prince Uche Secondus, has denied the list, hence he could not go ahead to inaugurate the exco, He added that they have been served with court injunction by aggrieved members who had gone to court to restrain him from inaugurating the executive at ward and local government levels.
The battle over who becomes the next state chairman of PDP has worsened the crisis within the party, leading to indefinite postponement of state congress by the NWC.
Checks by Daily Sun revealed that the party is yet to elect a substantive state executive committee four months after the botched state congress initially slated for August 8, 2020, as the party has been operating a caretaker committee.
While Ayade is backing the state’s Director General of Due Process, Alphonsus Eba, for the state chairmanship of PDP, the NASS group is totally behind the former PDP national publicity secretary and two time former Commissioner, Venatus Ikem, in the chairmanship race of the party.
In a press statement on August 8, 2020, signed by the National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, the party said it decided to postpone the congress after consultations with critical stakeholders.
The statement read in part: “The NWC, after due consultations and in exercise of its powers under the PDP constitution, postponed the Cross River State Congress from the earlier scheduled date of Saturday, August 8, 2020, to Saturday, August 15, 2020.
“The postponement is sequel to demands of exigencies of party administration. All critical stakeholders, elders, leaders as well as teeming members and supporters of our great party, particularly in Cross River State, are to be guided accordingly.”
But findings revealed that till date, the NWC has not been able to conduct a congress for Cross River as both groups are not shifting grounds or willing to arrive at a consensus of who and who constitute the state executive committee members for the next four years.
Senatorial by-election crisis
Like every other process, the Cross River northern senatorial primary election was not devoid of political undercurrents, controversies and series of manipulations. At the screening process, there were subterranean moves to disqualify one of the aspirants, Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe, from contesting the primary election.
While the PDP screening panel had cleared Ajarigbe, the appeal panel disqualified him. Dissatisfied with the development, Ajarigbe headed for a vacation court in Port Harcourt to determine the authentic delegates’ list and venue for the primary and he got a judgement on Friday, September 4, 2020.
The Federal High Court in Port Harcourt presided over by Justice I. M. Sani barred the PDP’s NWC from altering the ward and local government chapter exco lists. The court also annulled the disqualification of Ajarigbe, one of the aspirants on PDP’s platform for the Cross River North Senatorial primaries.
Furthermore, Justice Sani ruled that “PDP and INEC, which are defendants, have no right to alter or modify the list of elected officials emanating from the process that took place on March 7 and 21, 2020.
However, the party primary threw up two candidates who are laying claims to the northern senatorial district ticket. While Jarigbe insists that he won the primary having complied with party electoral guidelines and headed for court, Dr Steve Odey said he is the authentic party candidate. To show their seriousness in the battle for the coveted seat, they have also inaugurated campaign organisations.
Appeal for intervention
Appealing for peaceful resolution of the crisis, a member of the state caretaker committee, who doesn’t want his name in print, said: “This is the time for the Governor Ayade to settle down and discuss with the people who supported him to win election in 2015 and 2019 rather than undermining them and thinking he would have his way.”
The Coordinator of Northern Senatorial District Youth Renaissance Assembly, SSDYRA, Mr. Emmanuel Agba, noted that the unending in-fighting was not helping anybody or group and called on elders’ forum of the party to intervene and save the party from precipice.
Coordinator of the Movement for the Restoration of Cross River PDP, (MFTROCR), Comrade Raymond Takom, warned that if care is not taken PDP might lose out to the APC that is gradually mobilising and re-strategising.