Mass defection stares the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the face in Cross River State, as the issue of senatorial candidate for Cross River North Senatorial District heats up. Also, the issue of who controls the party structure in the state remains unresolved and controversial.
In the past one month, the party at the national level has been having sleepless nights on who becomes the party’s candidate for the senatorial bye-election. At the same time, PDP NWC has been trying to put in place a new state executive of the party.
But these have been made difficult because of the sharp divide between the governor, Senator Ben Ayade, and most of the National Assembly members, otherwise known as the Abuja group, and some stakeholders, who have accused the governor of not being a total party man, saying he has failed to take everyone along, just as he wants to install a successor. On the other hand, the National Assembly members have been accused of being selfish and trying to perpetuate themselves in office.
The Abuja group had won the ward and chapter primaries and the outcome of the congresses duly endorsed by the National Working Committee (NWC) of PDP through a letter dated April 26 and signed by its National Organising Secretary, Col. Austin Akobundu (rtd), saying that any other list, like the one dated April 27, is fake. Following the directive of the NWC, the ward executive committee members were inaugurated in 196 wards of the state on April 30, 2020 and were sworn-in.
Apparently not satisfied with the action by the NWC the Ayade-backed faction, led by Ntufam Inok, the state’s PDP Caretaker Chairman, in collaboration with some party members, like Pastor Otu Edet Marshall and others, went to court praying it to restrain the national leadership of the party from acting on any list except one submitted by Cross River PDP in relation to the recently conducted ward and local government congresses in the state, which they claimed emerged in the ward congress conducted by Ntufam Inok-led state executive committee, which was not inaugurated.
But this effort failed as the presiding Judge, Justice Elias Abua, pulled out of the case saying, “I am a man of integrity and have worked hard to earn my reputation and would not want to soil it for any reason. I would return the case file to the Acting Chief Judge of Cross River, Justice Maurice Eneji, for reassignment.”
Again, Ayade’s group failed in its bid to get the member representing Ogoja/Yala Federal Constituency in the National Assembly, Mr. Jarigbe Agom, disqualified in the forthcoming primary of PDP for Cross River North Senatorial seat, which became vacant following the death of Senator Rose Oko.
Recently, the party sent a five-man screening committee, headed by Olorogun Taleb Tebite and Secretary, Dare Adeleke, to the state and all five aspirants for the senatorial position were cleared to contest the party’s primary. Other aspirants cleared by the screening committee include Chairman of Cross River State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Steven Odey, former state House of Assembly Member, Mr. Ogana Lukpata, a member of Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Communication, Dr. Martina Odom and a lecturer at the University of Calabar, Mrs. Mary Iji.
But the clearing of Agom, who is seen as a formidable rival, did not go down well with Ayade’s group that is fronting Odey for the senate seat as it is rumoured that the governor wants Odey to be in the senate so that by 2023, he will voluntarily pull out for him to contest.
Probably as a strategy to get Agom disqualified, the former legal adviser and member of the state’s PDP Caretaker Committee, Mr. Pius Awah, petitioned the Screening Appeal Committee, asking to disqualify him on grounds that he took the party to court without exhausting the party’s internal mechanism of resolving dispute.
According to Awah, “It is an offence for any member of the party to resort to litigation without first exhausting the internal mechanism provided for by the party in section 58(1) (I), which provides that the party shall have power to discipline any member who resorts to court action or litigation on any dispute or any matter whatsoever concerning rights, obligations and duties of any member of the party without first availing himself of the remedies provided by the party under the constitution).”
Awah charged the appeal panel to disqualify Agom, noting, “We therefore consider it highly embarrassing to the party and a recipe for crisis which will open the floodgate of indiscipline and a mockery of our constitution. A man who seeks nomination from the party is allowed to benefit from his breach of the constitution and our party will become a mockery.”
Based on the strength of the petition and scheming from the home front, it was alleged that the Secretary of the Screening Appeal Committee for Cross River North Senatorial District bye-election, Mr. Timothy Golu, was held hostage at the state’s Presidential Lodge to sign the disqualification of Agom, but Golu said, “I am not under any siege. I came here; I walked in here by myself. Nobody has abducted me; nobody has kidnapped me. I am free as you can see”.
However, the appeal committee went ahead to disqualify Agom, but it will be subject to ratification by the NWC.
The PDP NWC, after a marathon meeting on August 31, set aside the appeal panel’s report and cleared Agom to contest the party’s bye-election primary. The NWC also upheld the clearing of four other aspirants. But it is strongly rumoured that the Ayade group may engage in anti-party activities by making Odey to fly the flag of another party for the senatorial election as PDP primary may not go its way.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has earlier scheduled October 31, 2020 for all bye-elections across the country, including Cross River Northern Senatorial District, Obudu Constituency and seven other states.
Meanwhile, the thrice-postponed state congress is still hanging in the balance as the warring sides are still in the trenches, as they await the party’s NWC to consider the David Mark report. As soon as that is finalised, the congress will hold.
But sources said, “One thing is for sure: the NWC has said it will respect all court orders as regards the ward and chapter congresses. They are not contravening court order on this. So, it stands and remains intact because the party is committed to obeying court orders.”
Agom, who expressed satisfaction with the action of the NWC, had earlier warned that the party was in disarray in Cross River and might completely disintegrate if nothing was done to curb the megalomaniac disposition exhibited so far by the leadership of the party in the state.
According to Agom, “Leadership of the party in the state was trying to arm-twist the National Assembly members and other major stakeholders of the party by talking about harmonizing a process that has already been completed and officers at the ward and chapter levels already carrying out their duties.
“The PDP in Cross River State is factionalized, especially in the north. We are no longer together and this is not unconnected with the high-handedness of the leadership of the party in the state. I want to say that if the situation is not cured in the state, PDP will never be the same again in Cross River State. A house divided against itself cannot stand.
“We are not together in the PDP north. There is serious faction and if that is not also cured, I don’t think PDP would be a party to beat. There is difference between a military government and a democratically elected government. If you behave like the party is your personal enterprise, it is natural for people to revolt against it, because people cannot allow themselves to be arm-twisted. We are not captives.”
MEANWHILE, a founding member of All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, Chief Okoi Obono-Obla has warned against the imposition of any candidate for the Senatorial bye-election.
According to him, “I received with chagrin and consternation the news of a failed attempt by some people in Abuja to rig the proposed primary election that will produce the flag bearer of APC in the forthcoming Cross River North Senatorial District bye-elections in favour of a certain obviously predetermined candidate through the use of inferior and undemocratic methods.
“Yes, I may not be from Cross River Northern Senatorial District. However, as an ardent party faithful and one of the founding members of APC (in my capacity as Co-Secretary of the Joint Inter-Party Merger Committee in 2013), and a founding member of the party in Cross River State way back in 2013, I have the locus standi to comment on this matter. It is unconscionable, undemocratic and illegal to preempt the primary election for the nomination of a candidate under any guise. It is totally and completely condemnable and a subversion of the APC Constitution.
“It is only proper that all aspirants, who have been screened and cleared to contest the primary election be allowed to square against each other in the primary poll. Members of the party from the North Senatorial District are the only people qualified to decide whoever they want to fly the party’s flag and should be allowed to express their right without any form of external undemocratic and illegal influences. Anything short of that will portray the party in bad light and amount to usurpation of the will of the people.”
Obono-Obla therefore called on the “National Caretaker Committee of APC to give all aspirants a level playing field in the forthcoming primary election. The employment of chicanery or electoral roguery to give any of the aspirants an edge must be visited with severe sanctions.”
A former PDP governorship aspirant in 2015, Mr. Joe Agi, the outgoing Vice Chancellor of the University of Calabar, Prof. Zana Akpagu, former APC governorship candidate in 2015, Mr. Odey Ochicha, former Chairman of Ogoja Local Government Area, Mr. Wabili Nyam and few others are also in the race on platform of APC for the senatorial seat.