Judex Okoro, Calabar
Saturday, January 25 remains a date with history in Abi/Yakurr federal Constituency in Cross River State. It is a date fixed by INEC for a re-run after the Appeal Court had nullified the declaration of Alex Egbona as the winner of the House of Representatives election held in February 22, 2019.
The court, in its ruling in September, 2019, ordered for a re-run in the two wards of Ekureku I and II, all in Abi local government area, where both leading candidates-, Alex Egona, APC and John Gaul Lebon, PDP, come from.
For the ruling PDP in Cross River State, it is a day it would want to taste its popularity and acceptability once again; a day to know whether its programmes have really impacted on Abi people positively or negatively.
For the rival APC, it is a day to put its axe together and prove doubting Thomas wrong that the party was not dead on arrival in the state; it is an auspicious day to etch its name in history books as an opposition party waiting on the wings by retaining the ticket in Abi/Yakurr and then probably prove to their national headquarters that they have dropped its bickering and disunity behind.
Again, the Abi/Yakurr federal seat is the only one occupied by APC in the Cross River and Akwa Ibom states. Therefore, it behoves on the party to fight it out to retain the seat and make an inroad into these two states, thereby making a statement ahead of 2023.
No doubt, both parties parade political heavyweights and those who have wealth of experiences in the murky waters of Cross River politics. While Egbona served Imoke as chief of staff from 2007 to 2015, Gaul represented Imoke and Egbona’s state constituency in the state legislature between 2011 and 2019 and became a Speaker of the House under Governor Ben Ayade in 2015 as a compensation for being at the fore-front of the campaign for the election of incumbent Governor Ayade.
Political analysts in the state see the fight as a biblical clash between Goliath and David. To them, in this contest, Gaul is the Goliath while Alex is the David, considering the political heavyweights against him and the fact that he is running against the tide as Cross River has been predominantly a PDP state in the last 20 years of this fourth republic.
Besides, they see the re-run election as a straight fight between the political god-father and the immediate past governor of the state, Sen Liyel Imoke, and his former godson, Egbona. Therefore, it is a golden opportunity for Imoke to reclaim the mandate he lost to APC and then restore the confidence reposed in him by the party as the leader in Cross River. Imoke, popularly called the political avatar, hails from Abi/Yakurr federal constituency; just as the two candidates.
For Gaul, he is naturally intelligent, would make a good legislature having been in the legislative arm for eight years. He has the ears and eyes of Governor Ben Ayayde, who he supported hook, line and sinker while as the third man in the state (speaker, 2015-2019); he is a great party man and the surviving grandson of Imoke political dynasty. He is of the ruling PDP in the state and going by Appeal Court ruling, he is already leading with over 7, 000 votes. For him, it is a straight fight between PDP and APC. All these have given him an added advantage.
But some analysts argue that his albatross is that he is not generous as his opponents, and plays elite politics. Above all, he is a master of political sophistry. According to them, he performed below expectations during his tenure in the House of assembly for eight years as he could neither empower the youths nor have any tangible project in Ekureku I and II. Therefore, some people may wonder why solicit for votes there at this critical stage of election.
For Dr Alex Egbona, APC, what is going for him is his humility, political capital and grassroots appeal and acceptability across board. He is very generous and a bonhomie. Besides, he is an incumbent House of Representative member and the rerun is to be conducted in his home town of Ekureku I and II, which are his strongholds.
The APC candidate is an old horse that has gone through the political mills and tutelages of Elder Bolaji Ananni, a political godfather in Abi politics, and Imoke’s school of politics. He has large pockets to prosecute the election; he is loved by his people and they are ready to swim and sink with him since this is the first time the Ekuraku communities are coming close to such an exalted elected political office. To them, opportunity comes but once, thus, the clarion calls to rally round their son.
Expressing optimism that the incumbent Egbona would still carry the day no matter the odds, the Director-General of Alex Egbona Campaign Organisatio, Chuks Agube, said 90 percent of the voters in Ekureku communities are ready for him because we have worked enough for him to win the re-run election.
Agube revealed that though the ruling PDP in the state has not been sleeping knowing that its candidate is literally a moving machine and on ground with the electorate, but the party is confident that on Saturday, it shall be victorious.
He accused opponents of plotting to use the security to scuttle the election in their favour, but added that the Ekureku people would come out enmass to defend their mandate just as he called on security personnel to be neutral and allow the people choose their leader.
He decried the massive appointment of about 25 Ekureku sons and daughters into non-existing board as members, alleging that it is a ploy to buy votes.
He said the present PDP administration, in the state has not done anything for the people of Ekureku including not even appointing an Ekureku indigene into any position or let alone constructing a culvert in Ekureku community.
He said: “Ekureku people did not vote for PDP in 2019. They voted for their son Dr. Alex Egbona massively in February last year. Go through the list of 90 special advisers the governor appointed recently, none is from Ekureku communities. But because of the re-run election, they quickly released a list of 25 new appointees from Ekureku into Recreation Park; Livestock Company; Rice Management Board; Maize Company; Cassava Company, Opportunity Committee and Banana Company just to buy votes. So, we can no longer be tossed like a dice.
“We have 13, 800 votes in Ekureku I and II. We need about 8, 000 votes to upturn the PDP’s 7,000 votes. During the February election, we polled about 10, 000 votes, which court had cancelled. But I can assure you that on Saturday, January 25, 2020, we would poll more than that and return APC’ Egbona. We see what is happening to Ekureku people as what is happening is an attempt to annihilate them politically. Therefore, we shall stand with him with all hearts and souls.”
But assuring that the PDP would regain its seat in the federal constituency in the state, the Cross River state Chairman of PDP, Chief Edim Inok, said: “PDP is the dominant party in the state and we are winning this re-run. Our candidate, John Gaul, is leading with over 7, 000 votes. So the APC candidate needs about 8, 000 votes to win and it is not possible. We are on ground even though the Ekureku I and Ekureku II wards, where there would be a re-run, is Egbon’s home town, we will still pull surprises.
“We are not a violent party, so we hope our opponents would conduct themselves accordingly. APC is noted all over the country as a violent party. So, we call on the electorate to come out enmasse and vote for the ruling PDP and also protect their votes.
“Our candidate, Hon John Gaul, had already got a spread based on the main election. I doubt if APC candidate can have such a spread. For us, it is a smooth ride to recapturing our lost constituency. We call on all supporters with valid voters’ cards to come out and cast their votes so that nobody would see empty ballots’ papers to thumbprint to avoid a repeat of what happened in Imo state.”
With regard to popularity of APC candidate over PDP, he said “election goes beyond being popular to being acceptable and also belonging to a popular party and that Abi is the home of our founding father, Liyel Imoke, so we don’t expect less.”
However, as the parties and candidates transverse the nooks and crannies of the Ekureku communities canvassing for votes, there is palpable fear and tension among the voters as well as stakeholders. There have been drums of war reverberating across the length and breadth of Abi local government, fueling speculation of poor turnout of voters and therefore leaving the field for the politicians to manipulate.
Daily Sun investigations show that both parties and their candidates are not relenting on moves to outwit each other all aimed at having an advantage over the other. This development has led to series of stakeholders’ meeting and subsequent signing of peace accord as usual by the parties concerned.
Warning candidates against perpetrating acts capable of truncating rescheduled re-run election for Abi/ Yakur federal constituency, the Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Cross River State Chapter, said the council’s code of conduct is still binding on all candidates irrespective of political divide and would be implemented to the later.
In a statement issued in Calabar on Tuesday and signed by the Secretry of IPAC, Comrade Castro Ezama, it described as worrisome the rising tension among the two leading contenders- John Gaul Lebo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Dr. Alex Egbona of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The Council revealed that it has intelligent reports that some of the contestants have allegedly amassed an army of miscreants and weaponry even as they have engaged hordes of private security personnel for the purpose of conducting surveillance and possibly unleashing terror on perceived opponents.
Condemning strongly such moves as it is against the nation’s constitution, it said it is unacceptable for some candidates to even mobilise police security from Abuja and other climes for their protection as only Commissioner of police in the state can only be deployed such security in an election as this.
He said: “We demand free and fair elections; one man-one-vote will be sacrosanct and non-negotiable. We shall not hesitate to call for a cancellation of the said elections and call in the security agencies to deal with anybody involved no matter how highly placed according to the political parties’ code of conduct 2019 as amended.
“IPAC), therefore, calls on the the Commissioner of Police and other Security Agencies, to as a matter of urgency, wade into this emerging threat and nip it in the bud as it can escalate hostilities that could undermine the safety of Abi people and other participants in this national duty.”