Who’ll Unseat Ayade?

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Although the 2019 governorship election is still over a year away, Joseph Ushigiale reports that governorship aspirants in Cross River State are already jostling to wrest power from the governor, Prof. Ben Ayade

In Cross River State, apart from the incumbent governor, Prof Ben Ayade who although has not officially voiced his interest to recontest except for his ‘body language’; there is already a line-up of governorship aspirants jostling to upturn the status quo in the government house.

So far, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) list has only the incumbent governor for now; on the All Progressives Congress (APC) platform there are Prof Eyo Etim Nyong (South), Mr. Venatius Ikem (North), Paul Adah (North), John Odey (North), Usani Uguru Usani (Central) and John Owan Enoh (Central).

However, at play in the state are two key factors: zoning and performance. Since 1999 when the country returned to democratic rule, PDP, the dominant ruling party adopted zoning of the governorship between the three senatorial zones.

It was based on this agreement that Donald Duke from the south led the state between 1999 and 2007. Senator Liyel Imoke from the central succeeded Duke from 2007 to 2015 before handing over to the incumbent governor from the north.
Regardless of the agreement to adopt a rotational/zoning formula for elective offices within the senatorial zones, federal constituencies and wards, there has emerged a new group of radical political theorists bent on redefining the term ‘rotation or zoning’ in the polity.

This group’s main argument is that zoning should adopt the old Calabar and old Ogoja power sharing agreement which recognized just two power blocs in the old Cross River State. The group believes that both the central and northern senatorial zones are one and constitute what is popularly known within political circles as the Atam Congress – a formidable political pressure group comprising heavy weights from the area.

But political analysts in the state have dismissed this argument describing it as archaic and dubbing those who think along this line as ‘living in the past’ and a bunch retrogressive thinkers. Indeed nothing can be further from the truth given the fact that, the so called Calabar/Ogoja accord promoted by former senate president, Joseph Wayah representing the old Ogoja province and the late Clement Isong representing old Calabar has been overtaken by events notably the creation of state.

Precisely this accord was repudiated as soon as a new state, Akwa Ibom was created thereby excising a huge chunk of old Calabar from the mix. Today, the federal authorities have put a nail to the coffin of that argument with the creation of three senatorial zones in each state to make power sharing within the state, a walk in the park.

Pan Cross River Endorsements Widen Ayade’s Support Base
Interestingly, ahead of Ayade’s decision to run for second term or not, his support base is already widening with the recent gale of endorsements. This is not surprising. The governor maintains the lead record of hiring the highest number of appointees in the country to whom he religiously pays salaries every 25th day of the month and sometimes the first day of the month depending on the circumstance.

The gale of adoptions of Ayade for the 2019 governorship race does not appear to be slowing down with several groups from the three senatorial zones throwing their weights behind him.

The latest adoption of the governor came from the leaders and people of Odukpani and Calabar Municipal Federal Constituency, barely two days following similar endorsement by Akpabuyo, Bakassi and Calabar South Federal Constituency of the state and about 80 political groups.

Speaking on behalf of the Calabar and Odukpani Federal Constituency, Chairman of the town hall meeting for the adoption of Ayade, Elder Ntufam Oqua Itu, said: “He is a rare gift to our generation. His agro venture project, the dualisation of Calabar Odukpani junction, the garment factory, the virgin city which will offer opportunities to decongest the city centre are a few of his several projects being executed in our Calabar and Odukpani Federal Constituency.”

According to him, the people of Odukpani and Calabar Municipal can proudly give the governor and his deputy a well-deserved pass mark.

While asking the governor to be given an overwhelming endorsement, he requested Ayade to among other things, “create additional federal constituency out of Calabar and Odukpani as well as an additional state constituency.
“We are grateful for the much you have done for us, but like Olivia Twist, may we plead, Your Excellency, that we need two more commissioners and help us address the perennial erosion menace in the city.

“No doubt, we are happy with you and surely, at the end, you will be happy with us.”
Also speaking on behalf of the traditional council, representative of the paramount ruler of Odukpani, Clan Head of Odukpani, HRM, Ekpeyong Effiok said: “There is no doubt that Ayade has acquitted himself in so many areas of socio-economic spheres.

He has been consistent in not only prompt but regular payment of salaries of workers. It is on this note that he needs our collective endorsement for 2019 to complete his many projects spread across the state. ”
The town hall meeting was attended by a House of Representatives member, Ntufam Eta Mbora Edim, Ntufam Asuquo Ekpeyong jnr, Ntufam Ekpo Okon, among others.

Threat of Court Action
Apparently sensing that Ayade may decide to opt out of the race at the last minute, a group, Team Ayade, has threatened Ayade with a lawsuit if he fails to seek a second term in office.

Addressing supporters, associations, women and youth groups bearing banners with different inscriptions at 137 Ndidem Usang Iso road, Calabar, venue for the unveiling of ‘Team Ayade’s office, Director-General of the group, Mr. Goddy Ettah, said although Ayade was not desperate for a second term, the team would view it as a disservice to the state should he fail to seek another term in office.

“Ayade is not desperate about coming back, so this platform is to remind him of so more things he has done,” he said.
He then turned to Ayade, who was present at the event and said: “We are here to beg you that you cannot stop, for it will be a disservice if you decide to change your mind considering that your dream in eight years would have succeeded in decoupling Cross River from federal allocation.

“The history you are making, we are happy and privileged to be part of it. We will encourage other support groups with our maturity and our experience since we are the mother support group. You cannot do Cross River a disservice by terminating in four years. We will go to court to get an order of mandamus restraining you from taking such decision.

“God has blessed our state with leaders who are focused, young, energetic and have the drive to change the terrain of Cross River. We started with the administration of Donald Duke. He did very well and left legacies. Liyel Imoke came and also did well and today, Ayade is here to crystallize all the achievements.”

He also lauded the governor for the sustenance of peace in the state, amidst other recorded achievements, pointing out that, “no one has lost a hand or leg because of politics in this state. This, indeed is a testimony that our governor has displayed a rare policy that is anchored on politics with ethics.”

Chairman, Board of Trustees of the group, High Chief Asuquo Ekpenyong, expressed delight at Ayade’s approach to the development of the state maintaining that “the next five years will see the state transforming from a civil service to an industrial state.”

Unveiling the secretariat, the governor thanked members of the team, describing them as a collection of young brains that will not only digitalize the people of Cross River but would serve as examples to other states in the country and indeed Africa.

Unzoning the North?
Yet, even as the torrents of endorsements continue to pour in, arguments are continuing in the background as to which zone will produce the next government. It has become clear that some elements in the south are bent on breaking the sacred zoning formula deliberately put in place to carry all the zones along.

The thinking within political circles in the state is that if the current status quo is to be maintained, aspirants like Etim Nyong from the south, Usani Usani and John Owan Enoh from central although legitimately and eminently qualified, have no business running. The race therefore should be an all north affairs allowing Ayade to slug it out with Ikem and Adah who are also from the north.

In the south, the gale of endorsements championed by Ntufam Asuquo Ekpenyong has in no small measure ruffled feathers and clearly shown the level of desperation by some elements within to scuttle the two-term zonal arrangement for which the north is currently benefiting.

Perhaps provoked by the groundswell of support swelling around Ayade from the seven local governments that make up the senatorial zone, a write-up titled: Caveat Emptor: Ayade’s Purported Endorsement by the CRS South Senatorial Zone purportedly signed by a former minister of culture, Edem Duke suddenly appeared online disparaging some leading lights in the zone for supporting Ayade.

However, the writer also succeeded in betraying the underlining reasons for wanting to cause a disruption to the current zoning arrangement: the suspicion that not only that Ayade will not hand over to the south in 2023, even if he decides to, he would only hand over to an anointed candidate – the son of Asuquo Ekpenyong a prospective inlaw to Duke.

Hear him: “While the Southern Senatorial Zone champions Ayade’s cause more aggressively than his homogenous brothers from the north and central senatorial zones who appear to better understand Ayade’s game plan and have decided on a unified path while waiting to execute, sadly, the southern senatorial zonne is disunited, wrongly motivated, cowardly and unmindful of the looming and guiding presence of the Atam Congress recently resurrected by the Ayades, who still privately insist that they haven’t promised to hand-over power to the South Senatorial Zone come 2023. Would you buy a second car from governor if he vouches for it?

“So what next for the South Senatorial Zone who need to unite and ask themselves certain hard questions, so that a charlatan like Chief Ekpeyong Asuquo doesn’t lead our people astray, in the hope that his disco-boy son eventually becomes governor in the unforeseeable future, particularly as the APC onslaught gathers momentum to oust the little despot from Government House Calabar and loosen the PDPs vice-like grip on Cross River politics as the general elections draw near?”

But less than 24 hours after the article went public, Edem Duke in a well couched rebuttal distanced himself from the press statement describing the authors as faceless persons intent on causing confusion in the polity. In his rebuttal personally signed by him and addressed to his people, Duke said the write up was a sick political gimmick.

Yet even within the southern fold, Team Ayade’s campaign theme of one last term is resonating and gathering support and momentum. Writing in an online forum Peoples and Politics, Michael Ekpang in his treaties titled – 2019: A Warning to Efik Politicians highlighted the dangers inherent in contesting against Ayade, warning that doing so would confine the south to a political wilderness of a sort.

According to him any politician from the Southern Senatorial District who dares to contest the 2019 governorship election in contravention of the zoning arrangement that maintains balance of power in the state, will inexorably condemn the Efik people to political wilderness as far as the office of governor is concerned.

He warned that “Donald Duke, an Efik minority became governor in 1999 because the Atam people made it happen. Northern Cross River, Central Cross River as well as Biase, Akamkpa and our Ejagham brothers and sisters in Odukpani and Calabar Municipality are one in many ways.

“With such a huge voting bloc, the ‘Atam people’ will ensure no Efik smells the governorship seat again if they violate the zoning arrangement by running for governorship in 2019. Killing the zoning arrangement will simply mean that Efik, who are minority, have kissed good-bye to the governorship of the state. Chinua Achebe says a man who brings ant-infested faggot to his home should not complain when visited by lizards. A word is enough for the wise.”

As it stands, Ayade is pulling the strings in the state and selling his agenda of one last term only. Ayade’s argument which is sinking in gradually is that he should be given another chance of four years to complete his two terms and consolidate governance. His selling point is that there is no guarantee that whoever emerges from the north to succeed him if he loses in 2019 will execute a one term only agenda.

Given the desperation in the south which has been out of power since Donald Duke left in 2007, it is a matter of the devil we know is better than the angel that is to come. As the horse trading and political darts continue to fly in all directions, Ayade as an incumbent holds the aces but it remains to be seen how he converts the groundswell of support into political capital in his party to win re-election in 2019.

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As the horse trading and political darts continue to fly in all directions, Ayade as an incumbent holds the aces