A meeting of Cross River State Southern senatorial zone stakeholders deadlocked and almost ended up in blows as attendees openly disagreed over who to support in the upcoming 2019 general elections in a battle royale that has pitched incumbent governor, Prof. Ben Ayade of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) against Senator John Owan-Enoh of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Eyo Ekpo of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
A source familiar with deliberations at the venue of the meeting which held in Senator Florence Ita-Giwa’s residence during the week in Calabar told THISDAY that the former presidential liaison officer to President Olusegun Obasanjo on National Assembly matters had called a meeting of select stakeholders, including Asuquo Ekpenyong, Asuquo Cowan, Orok Ironbar, Chief Boco, Bassey Mkposung, George Bassey, Eback Tony Boco and Mr. Eyoma all from the south to rally support for Ayade who is from the northern senatorial zone.
The source explained that Ita-Giwa opened deliberations by saying that they were witnesses to the circumstances that forced her out of the PDP, a party that they helped to build in the state; adding that it got so bad that her disagreement over the sharing of relief materials meant for Bakassi displaced people angered the governor to forcefully retrieve her official vehicle, a Prado jeep.
She reportedly told them that, over time, she realised that the APC to which she decamped to was a complete waste of time and comprised of a bunch of irresponsible people; pointing out that the south should rally support for Ayade against the vaunting ambition of Senator Owan Enoh from the central senatorial zone who she accused of propagating an Ejagham agenda from emerging governor in 2019.
Ita-Giwa was reported to have opined that the south was previously united by former Governor Donald Duke whom she said abandoned them in the middle of nowhere and leaving the zone to be drifting. She also added that Ayade had personally driven her round to showcase his projects which is why she was changing her mind to solicit their support towards reasoning that it would be beneficial to back Ayade to complete his last four years rather than backing Owan Enoh who will insist on being on the saddle for two terms at the expense of the south.
Ekpenyong who spoke next blamed some southern leaders for not being far-sighted enough to support his FIVE ALIVE initiative to support Ayade for a second term.
He added that even in the APC where two southern sons had contested, Prof. Eyo Etim Nyong and Edem Duke, there was no unity of purpose strong enough to wrest the ticket from Owan Enoh.
When reminded that Eyo Ekpo, another southern son was in the race on the platform of the SDP, he reportedly dismissed his efforts, saying he stood no chance, asking how Donald Duke could declare to run for president on the same platform without carrying them along.
He was quoted to have blamed Asuquo Cowan for scuttling attempts by some stakeholders to mediate between Edem Duke and Nyong so that one would step down to support the other in the just concluded APC primaries where Owan Enoh emerged.
It was at this point, THISDAY gathered that the calm and convivial atmosphere that pervaded the venue became electrified with Cowan calling Ekpenyong unprintable names including that he was a stranger element of Ibibio stock sojourning in the state and should not tell southerners what to do. At this point, the two men stood up lunging at each other, throwing punches and had to be placated by other attendees who sued for calm.
It was gathered that as the meeting managed to continue with Ita-Giwa promising to provide a bus to convey them to tour Ayade’s projects, some of the attendees asked her what Ayade had achieved in the last three years with potholes dotting Calabar metropolis, a backlog of unpaid salaries and pension arrears and no tangible project to showcase.
She was reportedly told that with Ayade’s dismal performance in his first term, allowing him a second term would signal the end of the state.
Meanwhile, rumours are rife that Ita-Giwa’s main reason for rallying southern stakeholders for Ayade was to show that she could pool political weight in the zone strong enough to replace Prof. Evara Esu the current deputy governor. Although she had earlier dismissed rumours of her return to the PDP fold, THISDAY can authoritatively confirm that Ayade has pencilled her down as his running mate.
It would be recalled that Ayade, whose initial plan was to tap Ekpo Okon, a former senatorial aspirant on the PDP platform to replace Esu was outsmarted by Enoh who succeeded in persuading Okon to decamp to APC after which he made him his running mate.