Quite expectedly, the local government councils’ elections in Cross River scheduled for June 17, 2017, has been postponed indefinitely. Political actors were apprehensive that the theatre of absurdities currently playing out in the State chapter of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would frustrate the polls. With the Cross River State Independent Electoral Commission (CROSIEC) announcement of May 4, 2017 suspending the elections, they have been proved right and accusing fingers point in the direction of Governor Ben Ayade. Our Assistant Editor, South-South, UBON EKANEM unravels the undercurrents and intrigues that gave stakeholders sleepless nights and eventually confirmed their fears of a non event performance by the electoral umpire.
Long before the official proclamation came that Cross Riverians will no longer be going to the polls to elect their grassroots’ representatives; strong indications had emerged of a no-show verdict. Sounding the early warning bell, political pundits contended that with rumbling distractions within the ruling PDP in the state, chances of holding the elections were pretty slim. In their submission, Governor Ayade’s alleged body language and patent maneuverings have taken such foothold on the political space that the State electoral body, CROSIEC will find it impracticable to organise elections on the proposed date.
All that is now history and our usual reliable sources said the pundits’ uneasiness arose from the governor’s smart moves and covert banning of all political meetings, gatherings or conferencing within the PDP unless with express permission from his office. One insider presented the scenario thus: “Distraught is the word as many PDP members are afraid to be on the wrong side of the man nicknamed, ‘Shoki, The Traveller’ by those that persistently criticize his maverick leadership style in the State.”
Weakening PDP Structures
According to our sources, courtesy of his stranglehold on the PDP’s structures; chairmanship and councillorship aspirants in the party as well as some highly placed members are reduced to mere onlookers, who daily wait on the Government House, Calabar for directives on what to do.
A top PDP official, who refused to have his name in print for fear of being victimized by the governor’s camp, told Forefront: “Most of us do not know what to do or who to meet for counsel and possible intervention. Unfortunately, matters are compounded by the fester national leadership crisis and its telling effects on the State chapter are quite visible. For now, there is a lull in activities, with PDP officials at the State, councils, constituency and ward levels wary not to offend the Governor by their actions or inaction.”
“I must also confess that the governor has cowed everybody into submission with his ‘highly bizarre leadership style’ and rumours of his ardent supporters’ planned defection to the All Progressives Congress (APC) have refused to go away. Some even acknowledge that this unhealthy state of affairs is preparatory to Governor Ayade’s ultimate move to the governing APC to further his second term ambition in 2019,” the official said.
Another PDP member in the Central Senatorial district admits that the internal cohesion hitherto enjoyed by the State chapter has been destroyed by the national leadership crisis and Ayade’s intrigues locally, saying, “Watching unfolding events within the government circles and the state generally, some of us were worried that the governor is apathetic to the council polls. Indeed, given CROSIEC’s present disposition and other telling events, we can safely assume that our governor is working clandestinely to erect structures for APC’s ultimate take-over of Cross River State.”
Worrying Speculations In The Air
Amid these uncertainties, speculations are rife that about 15 serving and former lawmakers in the National and State Assembly, led by a female Senator, have been identified as Ayade’s arrow heads in his strategic plans to create a new political base in the state. Forefront learnt that these men and women are wooing their grassroots’ supporters ready for the governor’s green light to dump the embattled PDP that brought him to power in 2015.
Forefront also gathered that in liaison with these men Friday, some of the governor aides are already sounding out key supporters across the 18 local government councils to soften the ground for what many fear could be a ‘political earthquake’ in the State preparatory to the 2019 general elections. Citing the recent defection to APC by Senators Florence Ita Giwa and John Owan Enoh, insiders said PDP supporters are apprehensive that such moves by party elders are clearly indicative of the direction Cross River’s political pendulum is swinging.
Compromised Assembly Members?
On the strength that Enoh is currently a frontline national lawmaker in the State and Ita-Giwa being not just a former political appointee but close ally of Prof Ayade, our source said so distressing in the whole spectacle is the apparent ‘quiescent carriage of the State House of Assembly members.’ “Bizarrely, the PDP lawmakers are voiceless, a development seen as an unspoken endorsement of all the Governor’s moves to totally decimate the ruling party and its structures in the state for his selfish political gains”, the source said.
But one of the Assemblymen from Cross River North hinted that, “it would be difficult, if not plainly suicidal, for the House or individual members to confront the Governor on current happenings within the PDP, given that almost everyone depends on government’s ‘goodwill’ for political patronage in the State.”
CROSIEC Suspends Plans
In what some analysts alleged as political gerrymandering to massage Governor Ayade’s ego, CROSIEC suspended indefinitely the councils’ polls, citing the on-going INEC Continuous Voters Registration (CVR) holding between April 27 and July 25, 2017 for its action.
The Commission said in a public notice, dated May 4, 2017 and signed by its Chairman, Dr. Mike Ushie, that the decision to put the polls on hold was reached following stakeholders’ consultations across the State. The statement, which did not fix a new date for the elections, called for ‘understanding’ from all political parties and stakeholders.
Parties Go For Broke
However, some stakeholders are already up in arms against CROSIEC, accusing it of barefacedly acting out the script written by Governor Ayade. Some of them also faulted the Commission’s claims that it consulted widely with all political parties and stakeholders in arriving at the decision.
For them, suspending the polls only confirms fears expressed by many that the Commission was out to do the governor bidding and did not show any commitment to hold the polls given evident lapses and its unpreparedness to deliver on activities captured in the elections’ timetable.
Forefront gathered that some opposition elements are set to fight the political battles of their lives by legally confronting the Ayade-led administration head-on over scuttled council’s polls. Also among their back-up plans are moves to challenge CROSIEC’s locus standi in charging the so-called violent-free deposits from aspirants. Their suspicion is that the ruling Party’s game plan may be to use its agents, in collaboration with CROSIEC officials, to instigate violence and abort the electoral process in areas the PDP are not on ground. In the process, the commission will now turn round to forfeit these deposits as the popular maximum goes, ‘he who pays the piper dictates the tune’.
Senators Ita-Giwa, Enoh; APC’s Growing Gains
With rumours of the governor’s planned defection to APC gaining grounds daily, a PDP supporter, Obi Ekure told Forefront that the recent exit of Senators Ita-Giwa and John Enoh is a clear pointer to the expected exodus of many other big wigs and their supporters from the party. According to him, with what many considered the ‘electoral value’ of the former lawmaker, popularly called ‘Mama Bakassi’, and the political shrewdness of Senator John Owan Enoh, both Cross River South and Central Senatorial districts are already becoming hotbeds of political activism in the state.
“As formidable forces to reckon with in the politics of Cross River South and Central Senatorial districts, their decisions have unsettled the political calculations of PDP in the State, especially with the suspended council’s polls still in sight. Without mincing words, both political actors have been the shining lights in the mix of their people’s political direction over the years,” Ekure said.
Another competent source, who amplified the likely political gains of both politicians’ entrance into APC, said, “I can tell you authoritatively that the duo have the political deftness to turn things around. And without doubts, these defections have set in motion events that will ultimately change the political equation in the State.
Speaking specifically on Ita-Giwa, our source said, “The truth is that ‘Mma’ has been a king maker; deciding who becomes Chairman or Councilors in the area, and even to a large extent, who gets what politically from area at both the state and federal levels.”
Forefront gathered that what should readily push ‘Mama Bakassi’ and Senator Enoh to work hard on changing the fortunes of APC in Cross River is the allure of incentives flaunted at them. These include Enoh’s return to the Senate; and Ita-Giwa’s likely emergence as APC’s gubernatorial running mate in the State come 2019. Others are appointments into federal government’s boards and commissions for their teeming supporters
APC’s insiders told Forefront that Ita-Giwa and Enoh are certainly big fish and they are expected to join forces with Niger Delta Minister, Usani Usani, Chairman of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Senator Ndoma Egba and Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution, Chief Okoi Ofem Obono Obla to give PDP a run for their money in the State.
With PDP national leadership crisis looking intractable, insiders said party stalwarts will continue leaving in droves, citing irreconcilable differences within the PDP, leadership tussle across board; failure by the PDP government to properly re-settle the displaced people of Bakassi; and lack of vision by the PDP administration in the state among others as reasons for their decisions.