Hanging On to a Slim Chance

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Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Demola Ojo write that supporters of an All Progressives Congress gubernatorial aspirant in Cross River State hope the recent much-criticised governorship primary can be revisited

The nationwide All Progressives Congress (APC) primaries have come and gone but most states still have unresolved issues, especially regarding the governorship candidates for the 2019 elections.

It is common knowledge that some states conducted parallel primaries that threw up conflicting results, with the National Working Committee of the party in some cases announcing results at variance with popular expectations, against the backdrop of accusations of manipulation.

Cross River is one of these states where there are reverberations of discontent in relation to the ratified governorship flag bearer for the party at next year’s general elections.

This is unfortunate, considering the fact that the APC – which is the ruling party at the centre but is in the opposition in Cross River – hitherto fancied its chances of giving the incumbent People’s Democratic Party (PDP) governor, Professor Ben Ayade, a tough contest next February. As things currently stand, with a much fractured, APC, which is the main opposition in the state and the likelihood that the wounds may not heal before the general elections in 2019, Ayade may be working on easy streets.

At the moment, the current governor seemingly has an easy route to being re-elected come the elections in a few months, with the emergence of Senator John Owan Enoh as the APC candidate, which has been met with opposition within his own party. There are many legitimate and some unwieldy reasons for this resentment against Enoh.

As a result, many disgruntled members, particularly of the APC, Ita-Giwa, who has been deliberately kept in the cooler of the APC hierarchy, decided to decamp to the PDP, thus boosting Ayade’s chances.
The recent return to the PDP of popular politician, Ita-Giwa, after about one-and-a-half years in the APC, is seen as an indication of what is to follow.
A former senator and an influential political figure in the state, Ita-Giwa’s defection to the PDP is a major blow to the APC’s aspiration in the forthcoming election at all levels in the state.

She has since enumerated the many reasons for her decision.
“I cannot understand how a party that seeks to unseat the PDP-led government in the state can be so factionalised going into crucial elections. I cannot understand how any party will have in its ranks popular and tested leaders who can muster tremendous goodwill for the party and yet treat them with disdain.”

She noted that, “the experience in the supposed recent direct party primaries was also a sour taste of experience where factional interests simply allocated figures and announced same as votes after shutting out other aspirants in the race.”

She also expressed reservations over the choice of APC deputy governor candidate, Ekpo Okon, who a few weeks ago, was contesting for the Cross River South PDP senatorial ticket only for him to jump ship after losing to Senator Gershom Bassey. He was said to have done that without formally declaring for the APC.

“There was no election, there was no primary (in Cross River),” Ita-Giwa further argued.

Dissenting Voices
However, Ita-Giwa is just the latest dissenting voice over the emergence of Enoh as the governorship flag bearer of the APC in Cross River. Three candidates of the five cleared to contest the governorship primaries in the state had, previously, written and co-signed a petition to the National Chairman of the party, Comrade Adam Oshiomhole to cancel the results of the primary because in their estimation, there was no election.

“We, three of the five governorship aspirants of the APC duly nominated, screened and cleared for the governorship primaries of Cross River State are totally dissatisfied and outrightly reject the purported elections.” and the result announced on the following grounds,” The petition signed by John Upan Odey, High Chief Edem Duke and Prof Eyo Etim Nyong stated a long list of infractions.

Their grouse includes but not limited to the fact that the party’s NWC submitted the entire process of election to the arbitrary control of the National Vice Chairman (South South) Chief Hilliard Eta, who in no way hid his preference for the candidature of Enoh.
According to the petition, Eta had at several meetings in his house prior to the primary told state excos that President Muhammadu Buhari and national leaders had adopted Enoh as the party’s candidate.

The petition detailed how the primary election was manipulated by “agents of Senator John Owan Enoh…that three governorship aspirants from Cross River North and South could not vote for themselves as there was no voting in their respective wards…”

Accusation of Marginalisation
Looking deeper into why there is disquiet over the choice of the APC governorship candidate in Cross River is the issue of rotation and marginalisation. Of the three senatorial districts of North, Central and South, the incumbent governor is from the North (albeit a member of the PDP), while the immediate past governor (Liyel Imoke) is from Central.

Members of the Southern Senatorial zone within the party believe the party’s candidate should come from their zone where Duke and Nyong hail from. (Others including Sen Ita Giwa think it’s only fair for Odey who is from the North, to be the party’s flag bearer and if he wins, rule for only one term, so the North can also get eight years at a stretch).

Notwithstanding, those from the Southern senatorial zone contend that they make up about 50 per cent of the voting population in the state, which should translate to the APC having a better chance of unseating Governor Ayade with a candidate from the South.

Secondly, there is the complaint that federal appointments are heavily lopsided in favour of the Central zone: Minister for Niger Delta; APC State party chairman; Chairman NDDC board; Special Adviser to the President on Prosecution; Auditor General of the Federation; Chief of Naval Staff…
In the estimation of some stakeholders within the party, Senator Enoh and Pastor Usani Usani – both from the Central zone – shouldn’t have contested in the primary in the first place.

Possible Resolution
In a report sent to President Buhari by the Inter Party Advisory Council for Cross River, it detailed how primaries were held in the state by two different factions led by Hon. Etim John and Dr Matthew Achigbe respectively. The former produced Usani Uguru Usani as winner while the latter (later ratified by the NWC) produced Senator John Owan Enoh as winner.

According to the IPAC, which is the umbrella body for political parties in Nigeria recognised by INEC, the first was free and fair, the second was fraudulently manipulated. The report also stated that supporters loyal to Chief Edem Duke who were in their large numbers, were not allowed to vote.

The report advised that the primary be cancelled and that the NWC look into the matter. However, the NWC endorsed the primary that returned Enoh as winner.

With the November 2 deadline for the submission of governorship and state House of Assembly candidates to INEC almost here, not a few members of the APC, especially in Cross River South, hold out slim hopes that the party’s NWC will take another look at the primary and present a consensus candidate that can help it win the state. And the odds favour Chief Edem Duke, whose towering achievements in public service and private enterprise recommend him.