By Fred Itua
After much horse trading and political showmanship, the All Progressives Congress (APC) under Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State appears set to slug it out with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in a state that was once a PDP-dominated state from top to bottom.
A pack of aspirants within the APC in both the central and southern senatorial districts such as Sen. John Owan Enoh, Chris Agara and former Minister of Niger-Delta Affairs, Usani Usani from central, and Sen. Bassey Otu, Commissioner of Finance, Asuquo Ekpenyong, among others left many confused within the APC.
The fear among APC members then was that APC was going to lose out over bickering on who flies the party’s governorship ticket in 2023. But when the pendulum spearheaded by Ayade swung into Sen. Bassey Otu’s court, many had believed that APC had gotten it right.
Although Enoh later surrendered to the will and supremacy of the party – by withdrawing from the race, his name appeared among aspirants screened for the APC’s gubernatorial primaries. Agara has refused to be botched, as he remains fully in the race. Usani on the other hand had dumped the APC and gone to another party.
Speaking in the light of the adoption of Sen. Bassey Otu, a senior member of APC from the Southern Senatorial District, Orok Duke maintained that, “for those who want to ruin our parade, the system has a way of taking care of them very well.”To make matters worse, a week ago, the APC screening committee disqualified Sen. Otu on grounds of a petition about his qualifications and alleged charges in which he was allegedly sentenced.
According to close watchers of events, this incident has inadvertently given PDP a leverage and momentum ahead of the 2023 polls.
But beyond the happenings in APC, it is the intrigues within the PDP that is now a source for concern. Although Sen. Gershom Bassey appears the leading aspirant on the verge of clinching the PDP governorship ticket, events in recent times, where former Governor Donald Duke attempted to push through a consensus candidate plan has now raised nerves across the three senatorial districts in the state.
Already, most PDP members in the Central Senatorial District are fully in support of Sen. Gershom, with just a handful of supporters in Etung Local Government Area with Sen. Sandy Onor. Despite Duke debunking any consensus plan, PDP members most in the Central and Southern Senatorial Districts are strongly opposed to the idea of consensus candidate, considering that majority have pledged their support to the Sen. Gershom Bassey camp.
At the purported consensus meeting, one of the PDP aspirants, Arthur Jarvis Archibong was said to have emerged the favourite, but given the outcome of APC and Gov. Ayade’s governorship moves in which Sen. Bassey Otu was pronounced as the consensus candidate, it is now clear that the contest for the 2023 Cross River State governorship will be between Gershom Bassey and Otu.
It is a repeat of 2015 and 2019 senatorial elections in the Southern Senatorial District, in which Gershom triumphed over Otu in the two polls. Still with the likes of Daniel Asuquo, Sen. Sandy Onor and Nkoyo Toyo still in the race, the pendulum appears to be swinging towards the direction of Gershom Bassey.
Having defeated Otu twice, there is now more hope within the PDP of victory ahead of the 2023 gubernatorial race slated for February. Although Bassey Otu is not a pushover, chances are that PDP is now constrained to focus only on Gershom for a better competitive governorship race in Cross River State.
With the desire of PDP taking the state after the defection of Ayade in May 2021, the stage is set as the two parties, APC and PDP square up in a battle royale. With several local governments in the central senatorial districts lending their firm support for the PDP despite some inroads by APC, a Gershom Bassey’s candidature within the PDP may move the party to great showing in the gubernatorial poll.
Taking cognizance of the high stakes, former Governor, Sen. Liyel Imoke while speaking recently during the last PDP State Caucus on the chances of PDP explained that “we have never lost elections in Cross River since the return of democracy in 1999; a defection is not a loss. In 2023, we do not intend to lose.
That’s why the Caucus meeting was convened to rub minds, share opinions and strategies on winning the 2023 election,” Imoke said. Besides Imoke, most of the major stakeholders in the PDP are somehow strong supporters whose agenda is to see the return of PDP back to Peregrino House – the state’s seat of power and authority.
In that light, strong party faithful like Bassey Eko Ewa, Chris Agibe, Dr Itam Abang, Mark Obi, former Attorney General of the State and Commissioner of Justice, Atta Ochinke, Chief Godwin Igwe, Mr Nicholas Ayua in the central senatorial district, former PDP State Chairman, Ekpo Okon, and other major stakeholders in the South are zeroing in on the candidacy of Gershom Bassey. Still, there is a long hurdle to cross in the campaign season.
The governorship primary is still a week long; permutations are at pitch levels. How will PDP navigate this turbulent season of electioneering in Cross River State?
For PDP, the power dynamics have changed. APC and Ayade having gotten it right with Sen. Bassey Otu as potential flag bearer, they appear to be in tandem with the mood in Cross River State that power should go to the Southern Senatorial District. Therefore, some opined that PDP must avoid the pitfalls of complacency and misdirection in a critical time like this.
Party members are eagerly waiting for the unveiling of their governorship candidate in the coming primaries. A wait that is long overdue, and that will shape the politics of the state and the PDP. Will PDP kowtow to the mood in the state for a viable gubernatorial candidate? Or derail by allowing a catastrophic disruption in the power sharing equation, and dampen the tempo?
With Gershom Bassey candidacy roaring with political fire storms, the PDP is now caught up in deciding its own fate through its governorship primary. Granted, Asuquo, Toyo, and Onor are still in the race, the fierce urgency of the current climate and the unveiled candidacy of Bassey Otu compels going back to the trenches where Bassey and Otu will repeat their political fights. In those fights, Gershom Bassey emerged victorious.
A departure from that trend may amount to jeopardy for the PDP. The stakes are really high; the APC seems ready as well. How ready and prepared is PDP? The coming weeks promises a great political deal, and uncertainty.